Knowing how to put up shelves is a DIY basic that’s worth mastering even if you have no intention of ever becoming a regular DIYer. The great thing about shelves – apart from the fact that you can put things on them – is that there’s a solution to suit every level of competency – from the complete novice looking for a first project, through to accomplished carpenters who want to show of their skills.
Shelving projects for the novice
There’s no shame in going for the flat pack option,but it’s important to check out the quality of what you’re buying. A lot of shelving units are composed of chipboard covered with some type of laminate or veneer. The problem with the cheaper units is that the screws eventually work lose in the chipboard and it can be tricky redrilling new holes. It’s important to check how units fit together and not be sidetracked by how great they look post-assembly.
For something more substantial, go for a solid wood – this doesn’t have to be expensive – ideally from reputable and sustainable sources.
Another option is MDF, or medium denisty fibreboard, to give it its full name. It’s denser and heavier than chipboard. It can be worked like wood but, as MDF contains a form of formaldehyde, you should wear gloves and a mask if creating MDF dust and you need to paint or seal it. I’d always advise amateurs to use pre-cut board if going this route.
And don’t just think about how the shelves fix together, but also how they secure to the wall. They may be sold as free-standing units, but anything of any height needs to be secured to the wall or risk toppling over and crushing you to death under an avalanche of Beano comics. Most decent shelving units come with simple fixings designed for attaching to the wall.
See our top tips on assembling flat pack furniture
Making a simple shelving unit
The simplest shelves involve simply resting the wood on substantial end pieces. You can’t go very high with this approach as it gets too unstable, but I’ve seen great shelving units created from reclaimed planks and breeze blocks.
Another option is simple support brackets. These are L-shaped metal brackets fixed to the wall and to the shelf. These can be very plain and utilitarian (if destined to be located in the graden shed) or quite ornate.
It’s sometimes possible to pick up decorative ones in second hand shops. The ones pictured right are from B & Q and only cost £6.98 each. They’ve also got some great wood and rattan options.
But it doesn’t matter how strong the brackets are if you don’t use the right fixings. And you may still have problems if the brickword or plasterwork you’re fixing to isn’t solid enough. If you’re planning to fix shelves to a plasterboard wall, you need special fixings and don’t expect them to bear as much weight as a solid wall. It’s worth having a good poke at the wall you plan to fix to before you buy.
B & Q are also a good source of practical DIY information including the basics such as How to fix shelves securely to a wall
So called ‘floating’ shelves create modern, clean lines. The wall fixings are contained within the shelf itself. Again, B & Q stock a number of options, but I also came across these great examples in the US. The Umbra floating book shelves come from The Shelving Store and are incredible clever, as well as something of a talking point.
Finally, my gran once made me a set of shelves from three cardboard boxes with the tops cut out, stacked one on top of the other and then covered with the same Forget-me-Knot wallpaper as I had in my bedroom. The whole thing held together with wallpaper paste. A little old fashioned? Probably – but it shows what you can come up with using just a little imagination.