Tools Needed:

  • 1/2 Plywood sheet (This was a 2′ x 4′ sheet)–this is our shelf,
  • 1″ x 3″ x 8′ board (this is a furring strip board)–this will be cut into 3 pieces and act as cleats: pieces that will support the shelf,
  • 1″ x 2″ x 8′ board (this is also a furring strip)–this will be the face finish of the shelf,
  • drywall screws and drywall screw anchors. We needed sheet metal screws that will screw into steel studs, because this is installed in a commercial facility.
    Close-up of a tip of a sheet metal screw.

    Your home most likely will be wood studs, with a few exceptions. If you aren’t sure, there’s a metal testing stud finding procedure you can do. (Comment below if you would like those instructions.)

  • wood glue,
  • a level,
  • stud finder.
Closet before shelf was added. Not a functional space.

So, this one was not all me. I was the “job site coordinator” on this one. That is to say, I asked a coworker to help me do this, and my co-worker did it. Sometimes it’s great to have another (more experienced) mind thinking about your project with you, so they can make it better. Plus, I learned so much about working with lumber.


I wanted a basic shelf for a closet at the office, and the closet is not a standard size.  I was thinking about this one way: maybe I could put two finished shelves together with brackets underneath? But I saw a stray piece of sheathing one day, and it got me thinking about this project another way: maybe I could cut the shelf out of this sheathing and put brackets underneath? My co-worker improved on my idea: instead of brackets, use a few pieces of 1×3 as a cleat to hold the shelf up. This means more space underneath, and less sagging of the shelf (which is 24″ deep) in the front.

Instructions (Basic):

Before getting materials:

  1. Measure where you want the shelf to go, because  in most cases you can get your wood cut for free (see lessons learned #1). Remember to allow 1″ width for the face. Then measure again, to confirm.
  2. Sight your furring strips to make sure they aren’t warped or bowed.  This video is a good guide for how to sight a piece of wood.

After getting materials:

  1. First, we dry fit the cut plywood to determine shelf height and width.  We marked the wall on top of the plywood, then put it aside.
  2. Then, we installed the 1 x 3s below that mark (enough for width of shelf). When screwing the 1 x 3s to the wall, make sure you are screwing into studs. If an area doesn’t have a stud in it:
    1. mark where the screw should go on the wall and on the cleat,
    2. then drill a hole into the cleat and corresponding point into the wall,
    3. insert a wall anchor into the wall,
    4. screw the cleat onto the wall, making sure to line up the hole in the cleat with the wall anchor.
  3. We checked the cleats for level.
  4. We dry fit the plywood shelf a second time to ensure  it will sit on cleats and it fits into the opening (and checked for level again), then removed it to attach the face.
  5.  We glued the face onto the front edge of the plywood, making an “L” shape.  We clamped the glued pieces together, wiped off excess glue and let them sit overnight to dry.
  6. The next day, we set the shelf back on the cleats with the front facing out. Ready for use!

(If you want: you can stain or paint the shelf. Here’s a post with tips about painting wood, and here’s one with tips about staining wood.)


Lessons Learned:

  1. Get your wood cut at the store (if an available option): The big box home improvement (HI) stores will give you a few straight lumber cuts for free when you purchase their lumber. Our shelf is 40″ x24″ so we just had to get one cut there.  My co-worker cut the furring strips on site, but you can get those cut too. Make sure you have CORRECT measurements! Stores will not do miter (that’s angle) cuts, so you have to do those yourself. I have not worked myself up to that yet. Soon. But this project is straight cuts only.
  2. If you can’t figure out a project get another view from someone else: Even a web search can’t give you an idea that isn’t already in your head. I talked with a couple of people just to get to the point where I realized I needed a custom shelf.
  3. Learn about how to pick out wood. Getting a great piece of wood makes your project easier. Not all wood (even if it’s cut straight) is exactly straight on all sides. I got a firsthand tutorial about wood bowing and corkscrew pieces. This video mirrors my tutorial.
  4. Pre-drill your holes slightly smaller than the screw or nail (especially when attaching the shelf lip). This ensures that your wood doesn’t split.

Daily Prompt: Shelf

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