How To: Built-in Shelving

After being asked on my post about the Half Bath Shelving how I made the built-in shelves, I thought a "how to" post might be a good idea. The method I used in the bathroom and in Dylan's room, is very straight forward and simple. Keep in mind, in both cases I ran my shelves from wall to wall and this tutorial follows that design.


  • wood shelving - I used 10" deep Eastern White Pine
  • 1x2 wood - these are for the supports. I used Eastern White Pine that matched the shelf piece.
  • 1x3 wood - this is for the front of the shelves. Knowing I was staining the wood in the bathroom, I did buy 2 smaller pieces here that had a nicer finish. I wanted to be sure they were nice, straight smooth pieces since they would be the most visible. 
  • drill
  • level
  • screwdriver
  • screws and wall anchors - I used some we had on hand. Keep in mind your wood thickness and wall type when making a selection.
  • stud finder
  • hammer
  • nails
  • nail setter
  • wood filler
  • stain (I used Minwax Red Mahogany in the bathroom and stained before installation) or paint

Start by cutting a piece from the 1x2 and shelving boards that match the width of your space. Next, measure the depth of your 1x2 board. Then measure the depth of your shelf board. Now subtract the depth of the 1x2 from the depth of the shelf. This will give you the length of the two side pieces to cut from the 1x2 board. Cut those pieces (you will want your shelf to fit cleanly on top of these pieces - see illustration 2).

Illustration 1: 1x2 shelf support pieces
Attach the longer 1x2 support piece to the back wall at height desired using screws at each end. Start by screwing one end loosely, then place a level on the board to align other end. Secure screw at opposite end and then tighten first screw completely. Add additional screws in the center as needed. For the bathroom, I added one extra screw directly in the center. Use a stud finder to help locate studs to screw into or use wall anchors. In my case, I had studs at each corner and one at the center.

Next, place the side supports so one end butts the back support. Add a screw at this end, but, as with the back piece, don't tighten completely. Use a level to align the board and then screw in the other end. Tighten both screws. (Tip: If you predetermine you screw locations, you can mark and predrill holes on one board then use that as a template for the opposite side. Just remember to flip the second piece so the holes are mirrored. Then you will quickly and easily have all your screws in the same place without extra measuring.)

Illustration 2: Shelf should fit cleanly over 1x2 support pieces
Measure the back wall again over the back support. Then pull a measurement from wall to wall at the front of the side supports. These may or may not be the same depending how squarely your home was built. Mine was slightly off. Cut your shelf board based on these measurements. Then place the shelf board on top of the support pieces. Use a small drill bit to start holes along the back and side edges. Then hammer nails into each of these holes to attach the shelf. Sink the nails slightly below the shelf top using a nail setter.

Illustration 3: Add front piece making sure to align the top with the shelf.
Add the front piece to the shelf and supports already in place. The top of the front piece should align with the top of the shelf. Again, use a drill to start small holes to nail into and recess each nail slightly using a nail setter.

The shelf is now fully constructed! Add a bit of wood filler to each of the nail holes and follow directions for drying time. Sand lightly and touch up with stain (or paint). Allow to dry and enjoy!


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