Easily Build a Floating Shelf

This is the shelf tutorial you need! I love the look of floating built-in shelves, but most tutorials have shelves that look very bulky and are at least 3 inches thick. I looked and looked for the perfect way to make a THIN 1.5 inch floating shelf, and liked the ideas from Young House Love’s tutorial. So, with a few changes, I gave my thin floating shelves a try in my bathroom (where if I totally messed it up…it wouldn’t matter!), and I LOVE how they turned out!

Here are my step by step instructions. Now go build some shelves!


Start by visualizing where you’d like your shelves to go. Blue painters tape helps give you a good idea.

Once you know where you want your shelves, mark your studs with a pencil.

This project is cool, because it takes a 1 x 2 in pine board (actual dimensions .75 x 1.5 in) for supports and puts it on it’s side so it’s thin. All three sides of your wall will have the 1 x 2 pine supports. See the picture below so it makes more sense.

For the size of your shelf, measure how wide and deep you want it. Here’s what lumber you’ll need:

1×2 common board: cut to length of shelf, also cut 2 support cleats (one for each wall). You will cut these the depth of your desired shelf, minus 1.5 inches and minus 3/4 inch)

1×3 common board: these are used for the cleats every 8 inches or so. Cut these to match the 1×2 support cleats (the depth of your desired shelf, minus 1.5 inches and minus 3/4 inch)

1/2 plywood: this is your shelf top. Cut this the length of your desired shelf, and the depth minus 3/4 inch

5 mm plywood: this is your shelf bottom. Cut same as plywood top.

1×2 select pine: this is your shelf front, so get a pretty board! Cut this the length of your shelf. Be precise! I wait until the very end and cut it on my home saw so I can cut it exactly.

(To make this easier, I drilled small pockets into the side of my 1 x 2 so that the screws didn’t have to go through the whole board. Make sure to mark on your board where the studs will be, so that you can drill the pockets in those locations. I used 1 x 3 in pine boards for my middle cleats for extra support, and prepped them by making pocket holes with my Kreg Jig.

Attach 1 x 2 support along back wall and into the studs. Make sure it’s level!

Next, attach your 1 x 2 side supports. Check that these are level too. Clamps are your friend.

Now it’s time to attach the cleats. To keep these totally even with my other boards, I used a clamp again.

For the top I used a 1/2 inch plywood (depth should be 1.5 in of the back support board + the cleat). I have them cut this for me at Home Depot…I am pretty sure they love or hate me there since I come every other day! It also can be easier to stain your wood before you attach it if you’d like. I attached the top with 1 inch screws, and screwed them from underneath so they’d be hidden.

For the bottom, I used 5 mm plywood and attached it with wood glue and finishing nails (and clamps to hold it in place.

And finally, the last piece! I took a piece of select 1 x 2 pine and cut it to fit that front opening exactly. I wait to cut this until the end to get an exact fit. To attach it, I used wood glue and some finishing nails.

Hooray for floating shelves! Now go build some!

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  1. Hey, I’m so not handy, like at all. But, I’m attempting these floating shelves. I have a few questions, first of all, what size screws did you use for your support, support cleats and regular cleats? And, when you did the small pilot holes on the support board (1×2) how did you do those? They look different than the Kreg Jig holes. TIA

  2. Hello,

    I need something exactly like this except the left side is not up against a wall.I plan on the shelf being 22 wide by 15 inch deep. Do you think it would support a microwave?

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