diy built in shelves overview

DIY Built In Shelves Overview

If you’re looking to add storage and display space to your home in a cost-effective and space-saving way, this is the perfect project for you. 

With just a few materials and some handy tools, you can create customized shelves that fit perfectly into any alcove or niche. 

Let’s dive into the step-by-step instructions and tips to help you plan, measure, purchase materials, and install your very own built-in shelves.

Key Takeaways:

  • DIY built-in shelves are a cost-effective and space-saving storage solution.
  • Start by planning the layout of your shelves, considering the spacing and depth.
  • Accurate measurements are crucial for a good fit, so take your time to measure properly.
  • Choose the right materials, such as hardwood or birch plywood, for your shelves.
  • Cutting and installing supports and shelves should be done with precision.

Planning the Shelves

Before diving into your DIY built-in shelves project, taking the time to plan the layout is crucial. By carefully considering the spacing and depth of your shelves, you can ensure that they not only meet your storage needs but also enhance the overall aesthetics of your space.

To get started, assess the alcove or niche where you’ll be installing the shelves. Determine the number of shelves you want to add and consider the items you’ll be storing or displaying. This will help you determine the appropriate spacing between each shelf, allowing for easy access and a visually pleasing arrangement. Remember that you can vary the spacing to accommodate different-sized items and create a more dynamic look.

Another important aspect to consider during the planning phase is the depth of your shelves. Take into account the size of the alcove and your personal preference for aesthetics. Deeper shelves can provide more storage space, while shallower shelves can create a sleek and minimalist look. Find the balance that suits your needs and complements your overall design vision.

Creating a Shelf Spacing Plan:

  • Assess the alcove or niche
  • Determine the number of shelves
  • Consider the items to be stored or displayed
  • Ensure appropriate spacing between each shelf
  • Vary spacing for different-sized items

Deciding on Shelf Depth:

  • Take into account the size of the alcove
  • Consider your personal preference for aesthetics
  • Choose between deeper or shallower shelves
  • Find the balance that suits your needs and design vision

Taking Measurements

Before you begin the process of installing your built-in shelves, it’s crucial to take accurate measurements. This step ensures that your shelves will fit perfectly in the designated space. Use a tape measure to determine the width and depth of the alcove or niche where you plan to install the shelves. Record these measurements carefully to avoid any errors during the construction process.

Once you have the overall measurements, it’s important to mark the location of each shelf on the sides of the alcove. This will help you visualize the positioning of the shelves and ensure they are evenly spaced. Additionally, taking individual measurements for each shelf is essential to account for any inconsistencies in the walls or floor. By doing so, you can ensure that each shelf will fit snugly and securely in place.

Key points:

  • Measure the width and depth of the alcove or niche
  • Mark the location of each shelf
  • Take individual measurements for each shelf

By taking accurate measurements and carefully marking the locations, you can proceed with confidence to the next steps of your DIY built-in shelves project.

take measurements

Purchasing Materials

Once you have planned and measured your built-in shelves, it’s time to purchase the materials you’ll need for the project. Here are the key materials you should consider:

  • Wood: Choose the type of wood that best suits your budget and desired finish. Hardwood and birch plywood are popular options for durability and aesthetics.
  • Supports: You’ll need 1×2 and 1×3 boards for the shelf supports. These will provide stability and strength to your built-in shelves.
  • Additional Tools and Supplies: Don’t forget to stock up on wood glue, screws, finish nails, wood filler, sandpaper, paint, and caulk. These materials will help you complete the installation and finishing touches.

Types of Wood for Shelves

When choosing the type of wood for your built-in shelves, consider the appearance, durability, and cost. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and cherry offer a timeless and elegant look, but they can be more expensive. Birch plywood is a budget-friendly option that provides a smooth surface for painting or staining. It’s important to select a wood that suits your aesthetic preferences and fits within your budget.

Materials Needed for Supports

The supports play a crucial role in ensuring the stability and strength of your built-in shelves. For the supports, you’ll need 1×2 and 1×3 boards. The 1×2 boards will be used as vertical supports, while the 1×3 boards will serve as the facing boards. Additionally, you’ll need wood glue, screws, and a stud finder to attach the supports securely to the wall. These materials will provide the necessary support for your shelves and help create a professional-looking installation.

Cutting and Installing Supports

Once you have planned the layout of your built-in shelves and taken measurements, it’s time to cut and install the supports. This step is crucial for ensuring the stability and durability of your shelves. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to cut and install the supports for your DIY built-in shelves:

  1. Using a miter saw or a hand saw, cut the 1×2 boards to the appropriate length for each shelf. Take into account the width of the alcove and the desired depth of the shelves.
  2. Before attaching the supports, use a stud finder to locate the studs behind the drywall. Mark the stud locations on the wall to ensure the supports are securely anchored.
  3. Drill pilot holes through the supports and into the wall at each stud location. This will prevent the wood from splitting and make it easier to attach the supports.
  4. Apply wood glue to the back of each support and press it firmly against the wall, aligning it with the marked stud locations. Use screws to secure the supports to the wall, making sure they are level and plumb.

By cutting the supports to the right length and attaching them securely to the wall, you will create a strong foundation for your built-in shelves.

Cutting and installing supports for DIY built-in shelves

Attaching Supports to Wall

Attaching the supports to the wall is a critical step in the installation of your built-in shelves. It ensures that the shelves are stable and able to hold the weight of your belongings. Here’s how to properly attach the supports:

  1. Using a measuring tape or a ruler, mark the desired height for each shelf on the wall.
  2. Using a level, draw a straight line along the wall at each marked height. This will serve as a guide for attaching the supports.
  3. Apply wood glue to the back of each support and press it firmly against the wall, aligning it with the marked lines. Use screws to secure the supports to the wall, making sure they are level and plumb.

By following these steps, you can ensure that the supports are securely attached to the wall, providing a strong and stable base for your built-in shelves.

Cutting and Attaching Shelves

Now that you have your supports securely installed, it’s time to cut and attach the shelves themselves. Following the measurements you took earlier, carefully cut the shelves to the appropriate size using a saw. Make sure to double-check your measurements before making any cuts to avoid any errors.

Once the shelves are cut, position each one onto the supports. Use a level to ensure that each shelf is perfectly horizontal. If any adjustments need to be made, gently sand the edges of the shelf until it fits snugly onto the supports. Take your time with this step to ensure a precise fit.

Labeling the shelves can be a helpful way to keep track of their positions during the installation process. Use a small piece of masking tape or a marker to label each shelf and its corresponding location. This simple trick will save you time and avoid any confusion as you continue with the installation.

Fitting Shelves to Supports:

  1. Cut the shelves to size according to your earlier measurements.
  2. Position each shelf onto the supports and use a level to check for horizontal alignment.
  3. If needed, sand the edges of the shelf to achieve a snug fit onto the supports.

Labeling Shelves:

  • Use masking tape or a marker to label each shelf and its corresponding location.
  • This will help you keep track of the shelves during the installation process.

With the shelves cut and labeled, you’re now ready to move on to the next step of installing the facing boards. This will add a finished look to your built-in shelves and provide a clean edge to the front of each shelf.

cut and attach shelves

Attaching Facing Boards

Now that the shelves are securely in place, it’s time to add the finishing touch – the facing boards. These boards not only add a polished look to your built-in shelves but also cover any rough edges of the plywood. Follow the steps below to attach the facing boards:

  1. Start by cutting the 1×3 boards to match the width of each shelf.
  2. Apply a thin layer of wood glue to the front edge of each shelf.
  3. Press the facing boards onto the glued surface, ensuring they are flush with the top and sides of the shelves.
  4. Secure the facing boards in place by using finish nails, driving them through the boards and into the shelves at regular intervals.
  5. Wipe off any excess glue that may have squeezed out during the process.

By attaching facing boards, you not only create a seamless look but also provide extra stability to your shelves. The facing boards serve as a protective barrier, preventing any items from sliding off the shelves and adding a touch of elegance to your built-ins.

attach facing boards

Finishing Touches

Once you have installed the shelves and facing boards, it’s time to give your DIY built-in shelves those final touches. These finishing steps will ensure a polished and professional look.

Filling Nail Holes

Start by filling any nail or screw holes with wood filler. Use a putty knife to apply the filler, making sure to fill the holes completely. Smooth out the surface of the filler with the putty knife or a sanding block. Allow the filler to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


After the wood filler has dried, it’s time to sand the shelves. Use a fine-grit sandpaper or sanding block to smooth out any rough edges or imperfections. Sand the surface of the shelves in a circular motion, applying even pressure. Be sure to sand both the top and bottom surfaces of the shelves, as well as the edges. Once you are satisfied with the smoothness of the shelves, wipe away any dust with a clean cloth.

Painting and Caulking

Now it’s time to add a pop of color to your built-in shelves. Choose a high-quality paint that matches your desired finish and complements your home’s decor. Apply several coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next. This will ensure a smooth and even finish.

Once the paint has dried, use caulk to fill any gaps between the shelves and the walls or facing boards. Apply the caulk along the edges of the shelves, smoothing it out with a caulk smoothing tool or your finger. This will give your shelves a seamless and polished appearance, while also preventing any dust or debris from getting trapped in the gaps.

filling nail holes

With these final finishing touches, your DIY built-in shelves are complete. Take a step back and admire your handiwork – not only do you now have functional storage and display spaces, but also a beautiful and customized addition to your home.

Advantages of Built-In Shelves

Built-in shelves offer numerous advantages that make them a popular choice for homeowners. These customized storage and display solutions are not only practical but also enhance the aesthetics of your living space. Let’s explore the benefits of incorporating built-in shelves into your home:

1. Maximizing Space Utilization

One of the key advantages of built-in shelves is their ability to utilize otherwise wasted space. By transforming alcoves and niches into functional storage areas, you can make the most out of every square foot in your home. Whether it’s a small corner or a large wall, built-in shelves help you optimize storage and display options.

2. Customizable Storage and Display

With built-in shelves, you have the freedom to customize the number, size, and arrangement of shelves according to your specific needs. This allows you to create storage solutions tailored to your belongings, whether you want to showcase books, decorative items, or organize household essentials.

3. Seamless Integration

Unlike standalone furniture, built-in shelves seamlessly blend with the existing architecture of your home. They provide a cohesive look, enhancing the overall design and adding value to your property. With built-in shelves, you can achieve a clean and integrated aesthetic that complements your interior style.

advantages of built-in shelves
  1. Maximizing Space Utilization
  2. Customizable Storage and Display
  3. Seamless Integration


Building your own built-in shelves is a rewarding DIY project that can enhance the functionality and aesthetics of your home. With the step-by-step instructions and tips provided in this guide, you have the knowledge and confidence to embark on this project. By carefully planning, measuring, and purchasing the right materials, you can create beautiful and functional storage and display spaces.

When it comes to design ideas, the possibilities are endless. Consider incorporating unique finishes, such as painting the shelves in a bold color or adding decorative trim to the facing boards. You can also experiment with different shelf arrangements, including varying the heights and depths to create visual interest. Personalize your built-in shelves to reflect your style and make them a standout feature in your home.

Remember to take precautions and follow safety guidelines throughout the process. Measure twice and cut once to ensure accurate and precise results. Use proper tools and techniques when installing the supports and attaching the shelves. Take your time and enjoy the journey of creating something with your own hands.

So, whether you’re looking to optimize space, organize your belongings, or showcase your favorite items, DIY shelves are a fantastic solution. Start your project today and transform your home with practical and visually appealing storage and display options. Good luck!


Can I build built-in shelves myself?

Yes, building built-in shelves can be a cost-effective and space-saving DIY project.

How do I plan the layout of my shelves?

Assess the alcove or niche, determine the number of shelves needed, and consider the spacing and depth based on your storage and display needs.

How do I take measurements for the shelves?

Use a tape measure to measure the width and depth of the alcove and mark the location of each shelf. Take individual measurements for each shelf to ensure a good fit.

What materials do I need to purchase?

Consider using wood such as hardwood or birch plywood for the shelves and 1×2 and 1×3 boards for the supports.

How do I cut and install the supports?

Cut the 1×2 boards to the appropriate length, use a stud finder to locate the studs, drill pilot holes, and attach the supports using wood glue and screws.

How do I cut and attach the shelves?

Cut the shelves to size and attach them to the supports using wood glue and finish nails. Fit each shelf flush with the outer edge of the supports and label them for easy installation.

How do I attach facing boards to the shelves?

Cut the 1×3 boards to the width of each shelf, attach them to the front edge using wood glue and finish nails, and wipe off any excess glue.

How do I finish the shelves?

Fill nail or screw holes with wood filler, sand the surface, apply several coats of paint, and caulk around the edges for a polished appearance.

What are the advantages of built-in shelves?

Built-in shelves maximize the use of alcoves, provide customized storage and display options, and add value to your home.

Can I personalize the design of my built-in shelves?

Yes, you can explore different design ideas to make your built-in shelves a unique feature in your home.

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