A shelf with hidden hardware is often called a floating shelf. This type of shelf is mounted so the shelf hides the brackets and mounting cleats. There are many variations in how the finished shelves look, but generally the techniques used to mount the shelves are similar. Often this type of shelf has a limited weight capacity and size, making the shelf more decorative than truly useful for heavier items.
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Glass shelves are becoming common in the space between the bathroom mirror and the top of the counter backsplash. These shelves are added to provide an extra surface for bathroom items, particularly when counter space is limited. This type of shelf often uses a plastic mounting bracket that is the full length of the glass shelf. The real bracket is mounted to the wall with screws into studs or wall anchors. The face bracket is installed over the real bracket, and the glass is inserted through the face bracket into the real bracket, often in combination with a silicone adhesive.
Some shelves use a rod-style cleat. This looks like a flat metal bar with 6-inch rods emerging perpendicular to the bar every few inches. This metal bar is mounted to the studs of the wall, and the shelf is constructed so there are slots for the rods. The shelf is slid over the rods until it contacts the wall. There is usually a set screw or other holding mechanism on the bottom side of the shelf to hold it in place.
A traditional cleat is the most common of the floating shelf hardware systems. The shelf is designed to be hollow on the inside and back. A wooden board --- sometimes a 2-inch by 4-inch piece of lumber --- is mounted to the studs of the wall. The shelf is slid over the top of the cleat, and finish nails are nailed through the top of the shelf into the wood cleat. This is a very secure shelf when it is well-constructed, and many mantel systems are now made this way for do-it-yourself installation.
A lightweight shelf, box or cube is usually mounted by placing an installation paper on the wall at the location where the shelf will be mounted. The installation holes are poked through the paper to make a mark on the wall. Wall anchors are screwed into the wall, and screws are partially screwed into the anchors. Often, 1/8-inch of the screw remains away from the wall. The shelf or box has an opening the size of the screw head that goes over the head and drops along a small groove to hold the shelf in place. There will be several screws to make this a secure shelf.
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