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How To Install Shelves

While you can certainly learn how to install shelves yourself, you need to know how to do it right. You can make mistakes with the color, size, or price of your shelves, but you never want to make any mistakes when installing shelves. An improperly installed shelf will look bad, won't last very long, and is a safety hazard.

Installing shelves properly all begins with understanding how the walls of your home are built. There are different methods and wall anchors that are designed for the different types of walls. It can all be a bit confusing, but it comes down to 2 main factors, the type of wall and the weight of the shelves that you want to hang on them.

All shelving installations are done with anchors. These are plastic or metal pieces that are installed in the wall. Then, you put screws into the anchors and they hold them securely. All anchors are rigorously tested and are assigned a shear load rating. This is to give us an idea of how much weight the anchor can bear. Since you don't want to test the limits of these anchors, a general rule of thumb is to divide the rated number by 4. So an anchor rated for 120 pounds will safely hold 30. Divide the total weight of the shelves plus their contents by 30 (for this example) in order to find out how many anchors you'll need. Take into account the future as well. The shelves you put up today might be intended for a few pictures and a vase, but in a year maybe you'll want to put books there. Don't skimp!

To learn more on installing shelves, and also see online video demonstrations, take a look at our freebies page. Here you'll find lots of free info and video clips showing you home shelving techniques, woodworking ideas and also storage solutions.

How To Install Shelves on Brick Walls

If your walls are made of brick or poured concrete, then you need plastic plugs in order to put up shelves. Plastic plugs are cone-shaped plastic sleeves that are inserted into drilled holes in the wall. You drill a hole that is the same diameter as the plug, and then insert it and tap it into place with a hammer. The plug should fit very snugly into the hole, and be flush with the wall. When the screw is screwed in, the walls of the plug are pushed outwards, and the anchor is secured in place. This is very strong and dependable. The downside to this is the difficulty in drilling into concrete or masonry. Hammer drills are very useful for drilling into hard walls. A good trick to know if the hole you drilled is deep enough to fit the plug is to put a piece of tape on the drill bit, so that the exposed part of the bit is the same length as the anchor. When the tape reaches the wall, the hole is deep enough.

How To Install Shelves on Studs in Drywall

Most homes nowadays are built with drywall interiors. It makes sense. It's flexible, easy to install, inexpensive, and is easy to repair or to tear down if you want to move walls. The drawback is that drywall isn't very strong. Improperly installed lights, hooks, or brackets in drywall will sag and then fall out, tearing out a chunk of wall along with them. The safest and strongest way to hang shelves on drywall is to screw the screws into the studs of the wall. Studs are the upright frames that hold up the sheets of drywall. They are made of metal or wood. They are spaced usually 16 or 24 inches apart. If you are putting up anything that is heavy on drywall, you should position it so that you can insert the screws directly into the studs.

In order to find the studs simply knock on the walls with your knuckles until you hear a solid thud. Mark it lightly with a pencil, then move along the wall until you hear another solid sound. Most wall systems are built with studs every 16 or 24 inches. Measure the distance, and you will know how far apart your studs are placed. This isn't always reliable, especially in older houses where the studs were sometimes placed more randomly.

Another method is to buy a stud finder at a hardware store. Stud finders work by "feeling" the depth of the wall, and being able to recognize a solid stud behind the wall. This will help you to easily locate the stud, and also the center of it. They aren't too expensive, either. Stud finders aren't always 100% reliable, since they might "see" wiring or conduits in the wall as a stud. To make sure that it is a stud, continue to scan along the wall until you find the next stud. If it's 16 or 24 inches from the first one, then they are probably both studs.

How To Install Shelves on Drywall Between Studs

Many times you'll find that the studs are not in the right places for where you want to put up shelves, and then you need to find a way to secure them on the drywall. Fortunately there are quite a few types of anchors made for this. All of the ratings listed are for a 1/2 drywall.

  1. Plastic toggle bolt.
    A "butterfly" shaped anchor. You squeeze the "wings" and push them through the hole. They then spread out on the other side and grab onto the back of the wall. It is rated for 40 pounds.

  2. Toggle bolt.
    Basically a long screw with a spring-loaded "wings" that pop open after being pushed through the hole and brace on the back of the drywall when the screw is tightened. They are rated for 50 to 115 pounds.

  3. Self-tapping Toggle Bolt.
    Similar to a toggle bolt but you don't have to pre-drill the hole. It is rated for 25 to 60 pounds.

  4. Molly Bolt.
    A screw with 3 fins around it. When the screw is inserted and tightened, the fins bend and flatten out on the other side of the wall holding the bolt securely in place. Rated for 40 to 50 pounds.

  5. Spiral anchor.
    A self-tapping (no pre drilled hole necessary) screw with a hollow core. You screw it into the wall, then screw a regular screw into the hollow part in the center. Since a spiral anchor doesn't have anything that holds onto the back of the wall it is only rated for 17 pounds.

No matter which bolt you use, make sure that it is rated for the weight that you want to put on it.

When you hang shelves, make sure that the holes are drilled evenly. If you mess up, it's better to redo it, and then patch the mistakes. Since most brackets come with multiple holes for screws, it is recommended to use most if not all of them. The more anchoring that you do during the installation means the more you'll sleep comfortably at night, knowing that nothing will come crashing down.

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