Diy: built-in shelves

Written by b.t. alo
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Diy: built-in shelves
Make your own built-in shelves. (Yellow and green shelves image by Charlie Rosenberg from

Built-in shelves are typically installed in a nook or to cover the span of a wall above a cabinet system. Built-in shelving has the advantage of being integrated into the overall decor of the room, so feels better incorporated into a space than stand-alone shelving. A "do-it-yourself" job on built-in shelves is not difficult, but requires precision and rudimentary knowledge of woodworking. Because it is a permanent feature in a room, it's probably not the best project for a total newbie to carpentry.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • Plywood, 3/4-inch
  • Saw
  • Dado blade
  • Wood glue
  • Drill
  • Screws, 1 5/8-inch
  • Plywood, 1/2-inch
  • Hammer
  • Finishing nails
  • Small shelf brackets
  • Screws, 3-inch
  • Wood putty
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint/varnish

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  1. 1

    Measure the space where you want the shelves to go. You'll need the desired height of the shelves and the width of the nook or area where they will be installed. You will also need to decide how deep the shelves will be. For purposes of example, a standard shelf measuring 36-inches high, 24-inches wide and 12-inches deep will made.

  2. 2

    Cut two pieces of 3/4-inch plywood to the length and depth--in this case 36 x 12-inches. Cut two pieces to the width and depth, or 24 x 12-inches.

  3. 3

    Set the dado blade to cut 3/4-inch wide and 1/2-inch deep. Cut a rebate (groove) into the edges of one long side and the two short sides of the 36-inch pieces and into one long side only of the two 24-inch pieces.

  4. 4

    Assemble all the pieces into a rectangle. The 24-inch pieces should abut the rebate edge on the short sides of the 36-inch pieces and all of the long side rebate grooves should be facing upwards. Glue in place then screw together through the corner joints.

  5. 5

    Cut the 1/2-inch plywood into a back for the shelves. It should be the height and width of the whole unit minus 1/2-inch to compensate for the rebate groove. In this case 23.5 x 35.5-inches. Sit the back piece into the rebate edges of the frame; it should fit snugly. Secure in place with finishing nails.

  6. 6

    Measure the inside width of the shelf frame. In this case it will be 23-inches, taking into account the 1/2-inch inset from the rebate edge. Cut your shelves from the 3/4-inch plywood to this length and the depth of the shelves; 23 x 12-inches for this example, three shelves all up.

  7. 7

    Measure and mark every 3-inches along the inside of the 36-inch sides of the frame. Drill a 1/2-inch deep hole 2-inches away from each edge at every 3-inch mark. These are the holes for the small shelf brackets and will allow you to have adjustable shelves.

  8. 8

    Fit the shelves into the nook or area where they are to be installed. Drill pilot holes through the back into the wall as well as the side of the shelves into the wall. Screw in place with the 3-inch screws.

  9. 9

    Fill the screw holes with wood putty and let dry. Sand the shelving unit, including the shelves, then paint or varnish as desired. Insert the shelf brackets into the holes along the interior walls of the shelves then place the shelves on top to finish the job.

Tips and warnings

  • An optional decorative touch is to install moulding along the top and sides of the shelving. If you already have moulding in the room, this can tie the shelving in with the rest of the decor

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