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What You Need To Know Before You Install Floating Shelves

by - Thursday, July 09, 2020

It's rare to see a kitchen these days without a floating shelf. Floating shelves are a design element that have made their way into today's kitchens, living rooms, laundry rooms, and even bathrooms. They are a great way to break up an expanse of cabinetry, add interest to a blank wall, or provide a place for display. But with the popularity of floating shelves, there are some definite tips and words of wisdom you should know before you try installing your own.

We recently installed floating shelves in our basement kitchenette. It's not too difficult of a DIY project and had it done in just a few hours. We could have installed shelves with brackets, but floating shelves have a cleaner look that I prefer.

These gorgeous shelves were courtesy of Kitch, a company which makes floating shelves and doors for IKEA cabinets. I love the look of wood paired with white walls and decor and this was an opportunity to get that look.

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Basement kitchenette featuring Kitch floating shelf in Cannes and Kitch cabinet doors in 3DL Shake Mist


The Cannes floating shelf features a beautiful woodgrain finish, is 10" deep and 1.5" thick - and it's very heavy. Even if your floating shelf is more lightweight, it's important to install a floating shelf correctly - you don't want it to come crashing down, smashing your belongings, or hurting someone. With some pre-planning and clever installation techniques, you can ensure your shelves are strong, can bear weight, and won't sag.



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What You Need to Know Before You Install Floating Shelves


1. Plan To Install Your Shelf Directly into Wall Studs


There are some sites that will tell you it's okay to install floating shelves without hitting the studs. That is possible, but I highly recommend you don't do this. Without studs you'll need to rely on additional support such as using wall anchors or toggle bolts to hold up your heavy duty shelf. This also requires you to drill bigger holes and take a leap of faith that that the bolts open properly and don't hit anything behind the walls like wiring or the studs.

With just a few anchors or bolts supporting your shelf, there is more chance for sagging and your shelf won't be able to hold as much weight. And if you can't display your pretty dish ware or pottery, what's the point of installing a shelf in the first place?

2. Reinforce Your Wall or Studs If Needed

Even if you are attaching your floating shelves to wall studs, you can have more peace of mind by reinforcing your wall or the wall studs themselves.

In our situation, our basement kitchen wall had metal studs. Unfortunately, metal studs are more flexible and cannot hold as much weight as wood studs. We made the decision to open up the drywall and reinforce the metal studs with wood studs.

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Metal studs are typically used in basement framing. We confirmed our studs were metal when we were installing the suspension rail for our IKEA cabinetry. Luckily, as we knew we were going to install a tile backsplash beneath the floating shelf, we had a chance to open up the wall anywhere below the shelf line and not have to worry about having a perfect drywall patch after.

Here you can see how we've screwed in a wood stud perpindicular to the metal stud. The wood stud extends beyond the top of the cutout by about 4". The floating shelf will be installed along that horizontal line and into the reinforced metal stud.

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In this photo, you can see the drywall patches. It was an extra step but proactively reinforcing the studs was a good decision that likely saved us a lot of frustration down the road.

Add Blocking To Your Walls 

Another option to reinforce your walls is to install blocking in between the studs. Here's an example of how we put plywood blocking in between the studs of our fireplace frame:

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We installed blocking as we knew we were going into hang a flat screen TV above the fireplace. With blocking, you can screw into the plywood or the wood studs.

Similarly, if you are planning for floating shelves in a kitchen and are renovating down to the studs, take the time to put in some blocking. It will make hanging those shelves so much easier!

3. Mark Your Studs

It goes without saying but you should drill into as many studs as possible. This more studs you hit, the more weight your shelf can hold. Studs are spaced 16" apart on center. Once you find one stud, you can identify where the others fall along the wall.

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As we installed our tile backsplash over the reinforced metal studs, we kept track of where the studs were (marked by the green tape). Once we decided where the floating shelf would go, we transposed the stud position onto the face of the cleat.

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We carried that marking onto the underside of the cleat. Since the cleat is typically very thick, it's easier to match up the stud mark on the wall with a mark on the underside, as opposed to the face of the cleat.

4. Use Pilot Holes Where You Can


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Make your job easier by drilling pilot holes into your cleat and into the wall. Follow these simple steps to make sure you get your screw positions just right.

  • Once you have your stud locations marked on your cleat, drill pilot holes at each marking
  • Take the cleat and put it in position on the wall. Make sure your cleat is level. Still using your smaller bit, drill through the pilot hole just enough to poke into the drywall. Do this at every pilot hole. 
  • Remove the cleat and use your drill to slightly ream out the holes you've marked on the wall


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Now install the cleat. Take your proper sized wood screw and drill it slowly through the cleat. Ensure the screw catches the pilot hole in the drywall and then fully drill the screw in.  With pilot holes, you ensure that your wood screw goes in straight, that your cleat is level and hasn't moved, and there is less likelihood that your wood cleat will split.

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5. Level And Support Your Shelves Properly 

Once your shelf is installed, you need to support and level it properly while the glue sets. When you have two floating shelves against each other, you'll want to ensure they are level from back to front. You can use clamps to do this. If you want to give the appearance of a single long shelf, you can also fill the seam with wood filler.

Another tip for levelling your floating shelf is to cut your supports slightly short. Then use shims or cardboard to slowly bring the shelf level. It's easier to do this than to try and cut your supports at exactly the right size.


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With these tips in mind, you can install your floating shelves easily and securely. This is one of those projects where it's wise to take extra precautions and do things right. Floating shelves can add interest to your kitchen design and make a bare wall more interesting.

install floating shelves, floating shelves diy, floating shelves studs drywall

install floating shelves, floating shelves diy, floating shelves studs drywall

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