How to Install Level Shelving

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Surfaced lumber
Saw / Chop saw
Rawl Plugs
Spirit level / laser

Installing shelving seems like a walk in the park. Take some shelf brackets, screw them to the wall, add the timber shelf—job done. If not done properly, though, the results will annoy you every time you look at the shelf. When building shelves, there are no shortcuts. A friend of mine once tried to get away with using a spirit level app on his phone rather than the real thing. The best way to describe the final installation is wonky.

So, let's start with the obvious questions. What will the shelves be used for and what do they need to look like? If they're going to store lots of heavy books, then it's imperative that the wall mounting and fixings are going to be strong enough to take the load. I wouldn't recommend putting book shelves onto a plasterboard stud wall without screwing into the studs, for example. The plasterboard simply isn't designed to take that kind of weight.

When it comes to wall mounting, there are generally a couple of options. First, there is the batten method, whereby a piece of timber is screwed horizontally along the length of the shelf and then the shelf lumber is attached into the top of the batten. Effective—but not necessarily elegant.

The second option is to purchase (or make, if you're feeling adventurous) some purpose-made shelf brackets. These days they come in all shapes, sizes, and materials depending on requirement, taste, and cost. With the brackets, the attachment to the wall is dictated by the amount of holes and the layout of the brackets. If using the batten method, then the screws should be every 6 inches for a secure mounting to the wall.

For the purpose of this tutorial, I'm going with the batten attachment because the process to ensure that the shelf installation is level is the same. It's all about accurate measuring, cutting, and use of the spirit level.

As ever, please ensure that the area you're working in is safe and there are no trip hazards. You should always use a pipe / cable detector to ensure that you're not going to be drilling through anything other than plaster / brickwork.

Time: 1 hour || Cost: $20, depending on mounting solution used

Step 1 - Mark the Wall

A man marking on a wall with a level.

Mark out on the wall the height where you'd like the shelf to go. Use a spirit level or laser level to mark this line across the length of where the shelf is going to go.

Step 2 - Measure and Cut Lumber

Mark the desired length of the shelf on both pieces of lumber and cut. Sand off any rough edges.

Step 3 - Predrill Holes

Someone drilling into a wall.

I decided on five screws across the wall to support the shelf. I predrilled these using a wood drill that's bigger than the screws at the following points:

  • halfway along the wood and halfway down
  • 3 inches in from each end of the wood and halfway down
  • halfway between the middle and end holes

Step 4 - Fix Batten to Wall

Align the batten to the line on the wall, so the bottom of the lumber sits on the bottom line and is horizontal. Use the pencil to mark the center hole. Using a small masonry drill, drill the hole. I've used size 8 rawl plugs, so I also used a size 8 drill. Fit rawl plug into hole (you may need to tap in with a hammer if it's a tight fit). Screw in the timber through the middle hole, but not too tight. Ensure timber is horizontal by using the spirit level.

Once satisfied, mark the remaining four holes on the wall using the pencil. Remove timber from the wall, and drill holes, using the smaller drill first. Fit the rawl plugs. Screw lumber to the wall and tighten up. This should now be fixed firmly to the wall.

Step 5 - Fix Shelf to Batten

As we've already cut the shelf to the required size, all we need to now do is screw it to the batten. The important part here is to ensure that the screws don't fowl the screws holding the batten against the wall. Again, I recommend using the same number of screws to hold the shelf in place that hold the batten in place. Mark out and drill the pilot holes into the timber. I would also then countersink just so the screws sit snugly within the shelf and don't protrude. Screw the shelf to the batten and you should have a shelf that will last for years and keep your possessions safe.