How to make decorative wooden shelf brackets

Written by denise nyland
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How to make decorative wooden shelf brackets
Use clear lumber (without knots) for decorative shelf brackets. (wood image by Andrii Oleksiienko from

Making shelves is one of the first projects that the novice woodworker successfully completes. After mastering perpendicular cuts and simple wood joinery, beginners can produce sturdy and functional shelves that can be proudly displayed and utilised indefinitely. Shelf brackets are triangular in shape, with one right angle (90 degrees). The wall surface and the shelf surface form the right angle. The triangle's hypotenuse (line opposite the right angle) is formed by the decorative front surface of the bracket. Using a scroll saw and a router, you can turn a wooden plank into a decorative shelf bracket. Design choices are limited only by your imagination.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 1-inch thick clear lumber
  • Poster board
  • Pencil
  • French curve drawing tool
  • Scissors
  • Chop saw (mitre saw)
  • Scroll saw
  • Router with edge bit
  • Wood clamp
  • Scrap 1-inch stock, approximately 2 by 2 inches
  • Sandpaper, fine and medium grit
  • Safety goggles

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  1. 1

    Determine the size of the bracket, based on which items and how much weight will be supported by the shelf. Assembled and mounted correctly, 1-inch stock planks will hold a surprising amount of weight. 2-inch thick planks may be used, but for most household shelves, it is overkill. Brackets are typically shorter than the shelves they support, so an 8-inch wide shelf could be easily supported by a bracket with 7-inch shelf and wall surfaces.

  2. 2

    Draw your pattern, full-sized, on poster board. The angle between the shelf surface and the wall surface must be exactly 90 degrees. Using the French curve, draw the front surface. The front surface may be concave, convex, or any shape you like. Bear in mind that gentle, sweeping curves are easier to cut on the scroll saw and to rout than are acutely angled or jagged lines. Use scissors to cut out your design. This will serve as a template to use for making multiple, identical shelf brackets.

    How to make decorative wooden shelf brackets
    Cut the brackets at exactly 90 degrees. (Protractor Background image by Janet Wall from
  3. 3

    Put on safety goggles before using power tools. Cut a piece from the plank, slightly larger than the shelf pattern, with the chop saw set at 32.2 degrees C. Position the pattern template on the plank so that the 90 degree corner of the template is lined up with a 90 degree corner of the plank. Use a pencil to trace the front edge of the pattern onto the plank.

    How to make decorative wooden shelf brackets
    Chop saw for cutting a perfect 90 degree angle. (construction tools, saw image by Greg Pickens from
  4. 4

    Cut the front edge of the shelf bracket with a scroll saw. Work slowly to ensure accuracy.

  5. 5

    Move the shelf bracket to the top of a sturdy work surface, near the edge. Place a small piece of scrap lumber on the 90 angle corner of the bracket, then clamp the bracket and scrap lumber firmly to the work surface. This will prevent the bracket from sliding as you use the router to round the edges. The scrap lumber will prevent the clamp from marring the surface of the wood.

  6. 6

    Carefully rout only the front edge of the bracket to make a decorative, smooth edge. Flip the bracket over, clamp, and rout the other side.

  7. 7

    Sand the surfaces and edges of the shelf bracket with medium-grit sandpaper to remove any burrs or ridges in the wood. Repeat with fine-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish that is ready to paint, seal, or stain. Always sand parallel to the grain of the wood.

Tips and warnings

  • When you buy poster board, its corners are already cut to 90 degrees. Use the corners to draw your design.

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