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How to Build Thick Floating Shelves from Plywood

Alright everyone…if y’all are looking for a fun and entertaining blog post, then you’ve come to the wrong place! Today I’ll be sharing a detailed tutorial for the floating shelves we have installed all over the house, most recently in the office and bathrooms.

How to build floating shelves

I love these shelves because they are simple, functional, and budget-friendly. The thickness is my favorite part…they look like they cost a lot of time and/or money, even though that isn’t the case. They are made from plywood so the thickness is fake….they are actually hollow in the middle.

*This tutorial is for floating shelves that are attached to the wall on three sides. It is possible to make a floating shelf that is attached to only the back wall, but you will need to slightly alter this tutorial and buy a bracket LIKE THIS



First, you will need to locate studs in the back and side walls and mark them with a pencil. (If your shelves are not deep enough to reach the closest stud, you must use sheetrock anchors.)

build floating shelves

Then use a level to mark a line across the back and side walls at whatever height you choose for the shelf.

how to build shelves

Next you will cut your hidden shelf supports.

  • Back supports – Cut a 1”x2” board 2” shorter than the length of your shelf (you will need one of these for each shelf).
  • Side supports – Cut a 1”x2” board 1” shorter than the desired depth of your shelf (you will need two of these for each shelf).

Next you will attach them to the wall, placing the support on your pre-marked line. Start with the side supports, butting them up to the back wall and attaching to the studs using 3″ sheetrock screws (make sure you are drilling through the wide part of the board and not the narrow one). If there is not a stud near the leading edge of the shelf you will need to use sheetrock anchors.

After the side supports are in place, add the back support. The finished product should look like this –

shelves with hidden supports
shelf building tutorial



Once your hidden supports are installed it’s time to make the actual shelves. Here is what the finished product looks like…hopefully having this visual in your head will make these instructions easier to understand.

DIY thick floating shelves

First, you will cut the two outer shelf pieces. Measure your back wall, this will be the length of your shelf. Make this cut on the light side (maybe a 1/4 inch less than the back wall dimension) or else the shelf will be too tight to slide into place later. After you have cut your shelves to length, cut them to whatever depth you have chosen for your shelves, minus 3/4 of an inch. For example, our shelves are 12 inches deep, so we cut them to 11 1/4 inches. This is because you will be adding a front fascia piece later, which will add 3/4 of an inch in depth.

Next, you need to cut the inner spacers. Cut two boards 4” shorter than the length of your shelf. Make sure that the thickness of the spacer is either the same or slightly thicker than the wall supports. Then assemble the shelf as shown in the picture.

How to build thick shelves

Are you still with me? We’re almost finished! Now you will need to add the front fascia piece, which will cover up the innards and make your shelf look faux thick. Cut a 1” x 4” board to the length of your shelf and then rip it to the thickness of the shelves. Attach it with wood glue and brad nails, just like the rest of the pieces.

Faux thick shelving tutorial

Now just slide the shelf onto the wall supports! You shouldn’t need to attach the shelf to the supports as the tolerances should be tight.

how to make thick floating shelves
hidden shelf supports

Then just caulk and paint!

DIY shelf tutorial

Not too hard, right? I can’t tell if this tutorial was easy to follow or clear as mud, so if you have any questions please ask in the comments!

Update – CLICK HERE to see the finished office!

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  1. Great design. I have one argument however.

    You should never use sheetrock screws for any load bearing application. The have no shear strength and will snap eventually when loads are applied.

    Best to use a construction screw instead.

    Other than that, great project!

  2. Kyle is absolutely correct.
    My bad, I used construction screws in the project and referred to them generically as Sheetrock screws. I will get Ashley to update the post accordingly. Good catch Kyle!

  3. The thickness really gives it an upgraded look. I’ve built shelving before but I need to go back and make these thicker shelves, looks great!

  4. Thank you for your office finish out, gave me a good laugh along with the inspiration to tackle something productive today :-). It’s beautiful, congratulations! I’ll be browsing more of your posts if I fail at being productive on my feet….

  5. nice job, for the beginner, if you do not know how to use stud findder while doing some DIY home renovation , try to know the plasterboard by your fingure you will feel the different

  6. It is very clear and relatable. I’m not a skilled anything but I believe I can do this and will try it this weekend. I like the support shelves against the wall, but the plywood shelves appear intimidating to me. I will attempt to have my husband handle that part.

  7. Your shelf is 4″ thick? Sorry, I was getting lost. If the shelf.is.4″ thick, how’d you arrive to that if the plywood is 3/4 (top) and 3/4 (bottom) and then the middle is 2″. Wouldn’t that be 3 1/2″?

    1. I’d suggest build-in-place rather than pre-building the shelf. The supports go in as directed, then custom cut top and bottom; add the inner structural supports to bottom and brad nail to the supports; add top with glue and probably brad nails; add front piece and you are good to go.

    2. Then you would made the se.f in the wall area. Place top of shelf first , then place b I ttom of shelf from underneath….A ,title harder but easily durable

    1. If you use 3/4″ plywood as suggested, it’s going to be very sturdy. If you are concerned, check out using a french cleat.

  8. I’d suggest build-in-place rather than pre-building the shelf. The supports go in as directed, then custom cut top and bottom; add the inner structural supports to bottom and brad nail to the supports; add top with glue and probably brad nails; add front piece and you are good to go.

  9. Hello,

    I just came across this article via pinterest. I’d like to try it though I have a question. What are the small boards you use on the wall as well as the spacers? Do you need to have anchors on your screws? Ty.

  10. This looks like a cool way to make floating shelves, and I would like to try it. But there’s one thing I need a little clarification on. Are the supports, spacers and fascia cut from the plywood too? Or do I use 1×2 and 1×4 boards? It looks from the photos like it’s boards, not plywood, but I don’t see these boards in your materials list. Also, could you say a little about what type of plywood to use? Thanks!

  11. I have used the same idea to build a surround floating shelf in a walk in closet in my master bedroom of the house i built and with the price of 3/4 inch plywood why not use a thinner plywood for the cladding , meaning the top and bottom of the shelf, even with say, 3/8 ‘s plywood there is plenty of strength because that comes from the supports within the “sandwich”. I actually went a step further in that area i used a low grade 1/4 inch plywood and then clad it with a nicer looking luan with a veneer side, so i have a wonderfully rich grain pattern on the visible” bottom part of the shelf and the top is never seen as it is above eye level. so far the shelf has withstood all of our xmas decorations and lighting on top of my wifes clothing that she rotates on and off if the hangers, winter /fall/ summer etc 3tc. the floating shelf can have many different applications and as far as the thickness , that’s completely up to you to decide, i prefer the thicker look for shelving that holds larger items and the thinner look goes well for the inside of closets and in the kitchen..

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