Build Your Own Shelves

A Guide to Planning and Building Your Own Shelves

Often if you go looking for a specific shelf, to meet a specific need, that will fit into a specific location, it's not available. Furniture companies make standard sizes, so if you are in the market for something non-standard you probably won't find it ready made. If you have a clear idea of what you want, and you're ready to take a small risk, why not build shelves yourself?

We at the Home Shelving Guide have prepared a checklist for you before you begin to build your own shelves. This is a general introduction. From here, you can continue on to see our detailed pages on building bookshelves, storage shelves, floating shelves, and other kinds of shelves as well.

Also, check out our ever-expanding page of freebies. Here you'll find how-to articles and video clips on woodworking techniques, proper tool usage, and lots of other great info that will help you to build shelves yourself.

Do It Yourself

Building your own shelves can be a very rewarding experience. With a little planning, some basic understanding of tools and woodworking, and the proper equipment you can do it yourself.

In order to design and build your own shelves you should start by asking yourself some important questions: >

  • Where are the shelves going to be installed?
  • What type of material do you want to use to make the shelves?
  • What will the shelves be holding?
  • What accessories do you want to add to the basic shelves?
  • Where will you build the shelves and how will you get them to their destination?
  • If the shelves are going to be corner or floating shelves, How do you plan on installing them ?

Another really important consideration to keep in mind is who will be using these shelves? If you build tall shelves for a child who can't reach the upper shelves then the upper shelves are wasted if they hold things that the child can't reach.

It's essential to plan out the design, compile the list of materials required, and to collect the necessary tools BEFORE you begin to build. You don't know yet how frustrating it is to have to stop in the middle of your project because you are missing one small thing!

Before you begin, work out the budget for your project. Raw materials are not hugely expensive, but they do cost, and you want to enjoy the savings of a do-it-yourself project when it's completed.

Where To Begin

Before you can build shelves, you have to start by measuring the space where the shelves will be installed, design the shelves on graph paper, then sit back and go over the designs at least twice. Take into account the items that will go on these shelves. If you are building a bookcase, for example, measure the largest of your books in order to make sure that you've allowed room for it. Go over in your mind all of the stages of the construction, and prepare a list of tools and required materials as you ponder. We highly recommend measuring the space again at this stage, just to make absolutely sure that you haven't made any mistakes. If your planned shelves are in a niche between two existing walls, or in a corner, take measurements at a few locations low down, in the middle and near the top of the wall to make sure that the walls are straight from top to bottom.

Remember: Measure twice, cut once.

Construction Materials

Deciding on the materials beforehand is essential. Not all materials lend themselves to all types of woodworking projects. Garage storage shelves shouldn't be made from fine whole wood, it would be a waste of beautiful material. A bookcase in your living room, on the other hand, would certainly benefit from the nicer materials.

If you decide to build your shelves from prepared melamine then you have cut out the whole preparation process necessary with real wood. You won't need to sand, treat, stain or lacquer the wood. Of course, real wood has it's own beauty and luster that other materials can't compare to, but it's a lot more work.

What other materials will you need? It all depends on the construction style. Are you planning a free-standing unit, or one that will be supported by a wall? Brackets, screws, glue, braces, and nails are items you don't want to forget when building your unit.


Unless you're really gung ho about woodworking, and are ready to invest seriously in tools for many projects, you might want to try to borrow any tools you don't already own yourself. After you complete the project successfully, and you decide to continue, then you can start on the long and never-ending road of tool acquisition.

Necessary basic tools include:

  • Hammer
  • Screwdrivers
  • Pencils
  • Tape Measure
  • Builder's square
  • Saw
  • Clamps
  • Sandpaper
  • Spirit Level
  • Protective equipment
  • Drill

This is only a basic general list of tools that you'll need for building shelves. Of course, there's always the possibility that you'll need a special tool for your project.

For more details and info on tools, take a look at our Guide To Hand Tools.

Tools can be your best friend or your worst enemy. A good, dependable tool is like an extension of your hand. It allows you to create what you see in your mind. A cheap, bad tool will delay your work, frustrate your creativity and, in short, drive you nuts!That's why we recommend that you use only quality tools.

For a huge variety of really good and reliable tools, as well as all the other hardware and supplies that you'll need take a look at:

The people at Rockler Tools have everything you'll need, and they are real professionals in the industry.

Building The Shelves

When you have a clear list of everything you need, and your completed plans, it's time to talk to someone with experience. Take your designs with you to the lumberyard/hardware store and have someone there take a look and make sure you haven't missed anything.

When you have all the parts and the design in one room, smile, now the real fun begins. It's like a big jigsaw puzzle, but hopefully the final product won't fall apart when you pick it up!

Building your own shelves is very rewarding, but it can also be very frustrating. We've learned through experience that woodworking is a slow process, it can't be rushed. If you try to move too quickly you'll probably end up paying a price for it. If, for example, you try to continue after gluing without allowing the glue long enough to dry properly you'll end up doing it over again.

When you take your time, the finished product will show it. It will be straight, clean, true and beautiful. Hurry at your own peril!

Installing Your Finished Shelves

Once the shelves are done, you need to install them properly so that they will be secure.

Take a look at our Comprehensive Guide to Installing Shelves for great info on proper shelf installation in your home.

Build Your Own Shelving Projects

Storage Shelves

We haven't yet met anyone who has enough storage shelves. Stuff accumulates in our houses all the time and there is never enough space to store it all. Here's a good weekend project building a storage shelving unit in an unused part of your home like the attic or the garage.

Before you begin, take a look at our guide to Building Your Own Storage Shelves for more info on building it yourself.

Build Your Own Children's Shelves

Interested in building easy, light shelves for your children's rooms? Take a look at our page on how to build your own children's shelves. You will be surprised how easy it is, even if you've never built anything before. You'll find all the information, plans and tools needed to build your own children's shelves.

Build Your Own Corner Shelves

Corner shelves are a great way to take advantage of unused space in your home. Here's a great corner shelving project you can build yourself in a very short time and impress everyone.

For information on hand tools for building your own shelves see our Guide To Hand Tools

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