Interior Storage

How To: Install Floating Shelves


Photo: Apartment Therapy

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Before hanging anything, it’s important to find out what your wall is made of. Ideally, you should attach floating shelves (or anything else you’re hanging) to a wall stud, as this will give you the most supportive base for your project. A stud finder—a hand-held device that uses a magnet to detect metal, such as the nails and screws in the wall studs of your home—can help you locate these.

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Installing Floating Shelves on Drywall or Plaster

But what if you want to hang a shelf in a spot with no stud? First, check to see if your wall is made of drywall or plaster. To do this, simply knock with a light fist against the wall. If it sounds hollow, it’s drywall. Not hollow? Probably plaster. Another test is to see how readily a nail goes through. If it slides right in, you’ve got drywall. If it takes a few more taps, then you’ve either got plaster or have found a wall stud (tapping around the sides of the hard area will help you determine which). Knowing the type of wall you’re working with will help you decide what kind of hardware is necessary for your project.

Photo: Ana White

Installing Floating Shelves on Wall Studs

If you’re going to be attaching your floating shelf and bracket to a wall stud, you do not need any anchors. If you are working with plaster or drywall, however, additional support is necessary. Wall anchors, also called molly plugs, will help you build a sturdy foundation for your shelf. Regular hollow wall anchors are fine for plaster; for drywall you will need butterfly or toggle anchors. Before deciding which anchors to buy, consider what you want your shelves to hold. Anchors are rated for how much weight they can support, but to be safe, it’s best to stay on the low end of an anchor’s max weight rating.

Popular Mechanics-Floating-Shelf-Illustration-By-Gabriel-Silveira
Illustration: Gabriel Silveira for Popular Mechanics

How to Install Floating Shelves

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  1. Measure and mark the spaces on the wall (on both ends) of where you want the shelf to go.
  2. Using a level, draw a discreet line in pencil across the wall to ensure that your shelf will sit straight.
  3. Use the hand drill to drill pilot holes into the wall for the anchors.
  4. Insert hollow anchors into the holes, following specific directions on the package.
  5. Align your bracket with the anchor-filled pilot holes. Using a regular screw driver, attach the bracket to the wall by screwing into the anchors.
  6. Slide shelf onto bracket.