How to Put Up a Shelf

Putting up a shelf is one of the most basic, but important, DIY jobs. Shelving offers easy and convenient storage space, and allows you to make much more effective use of the wall space in your home.

preparing to put up a shelf

Tools Needed

To put up a shelf you will need:

  • A drill
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • A nail
  • Stud detector
  • Spirit level

Step-By-Step Instructions

If you are hanging a shelf on a plasterboard wall, you will need to find two studs on which to anchor the shelf brackets. A stud is a wooden support that runs up the wall, and to which your plasterboard is attached. Use a stud detector to locate the studs, and then draw vertical guidelines using your pencil so that you don't lose the location. You are now ready to start work on hanging the shelf.

  1. Take one of your shelf brackets and hold it against the wall so that the holes line up with the stud guide lines. Use your spirit level to make sure that the bracket is vertical, and then mark the screw holes with a pencil. Make a cross-shaped mark, and then use a nail to make a small dent at the centre of the hole.
  2. Use a wood drill bit that is a size smaller than the screws you will be using to secure the shelf. Drill into the wall as far as the screw length (taking into account the thickness of the bracket too).
  3. Screw in the first bracket and check that it is secure.
  4. It is now time to put the second bracket in place. Take your shelf and place it on the first bracket, then check that it is level by using your spirit level. Draw a line across the underside of the shelf. The point where the shelf line intersects the second stud line marks the spot where the top of the second bracket should sit. Put the second bracket in place and use your spirit level to make sure that it is completely upright.
  5. Screw the second bracket into place.
  6. If you are hanging a long shelf, or a shelf to hold very heavy objects, you may need to repeat this process with a third, central bracket.
  7. Put the shelf in place, and check that the shelf is level.
  8. If necessary, secure the shelf to the brackets with screws.

shelf fitted to wall with brackets

Tips and Hints

  • This how-to guide is based on hanging a simple, single shelf which is supported by brackets. The same principles can be applied to any wall bracket system, including hanging a TV or speaker system.
  • If you don't own a spirit level, you can use the bubble level app for iOS or Android instead.
  • To ensure that you drill to the correct depth, measure the depth of the screw by putting it through the bracket and then checking the remaining length against the drill bit. Mark the desired depth by wrapping a small amount of tape around the drill bit. Remember that plasterboard can be between 9mm and 13mm in thickness, so for secure bracketing you will probably need screws that are more than 30mm in length. Ideally you should have more than 20mm of screw anchored into the studs.
  • If you are working with a solid brick or masonry wall then you will not need to locate studs before you secure the shelf into place. You can simply put the shelf wherever you please. However, you will need to use plastic wall plugs to hold the screws in place. Choose a masonry drill bit that is the correct size for the plugs.
  • Note that you should take care to avoid electrical wiring when drilling. Wires usually run vertically near the plugs and switches, or horizontally at the same height as your light switches. You can purchase detectors that will help you to avoid mistakenly hitting wires, pipes and other metal objects.

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