top of page
  • Writer's pictureMatt Weber

Install Floating Shelves Made of Solid Wood

Updated: Sep 6

Live edge wood slabs can blend raw beauty with a refined appearance for

countertops, shelves, tables and more. The term “live edge” refers to the natural edge that has been left uncut along the bark-side of a wood piece, preserving its unique look and character.

Selecting a Slab

You probably won’t find wood slabs at a “big box” home center. Local sawmills and lumber yards can supply them, but a kiln-dried slab will best reduce shrinking and swelling of the wood, so you might need to purchase from a hardwood supplier. You’ll also find many slab suppliers online and on social-media marketplaces.

The required thickness of your slab will depend on how it will be used. Thicker slabs usually look more natural. Tables and countertops should be 3 to 4 inches thick, but shelving can be as thin as 1 to 2 inches, depending on how they’re fastened to the wall. Ask your lumber supplier to cut the slab, and choose as flat of a workpiece as possible, because slabs are often too large to fit into a planer.

You’ll find a huge assortment of wood species available as slabs, and they vary greatly in

appearance and price. Keep in mind that a hardwood species will better withstand scratches and dents than a softwood variety. Choices include Sweet/Red Gum, Eastern Red Cedar, Cypress, Sassafras, Walnut, Maple, Cherry, Red Oak, Poplar, White Oak and other species.

Available from sawmills, lumber yards, and hardwood suppliers, live-edge slabs retain the natural outer edge of the tree on at least one side. The cherry slabs shown were purchased from City Hardwoods of Birmingham, Alabama.

You can strip off the bark and sand the wood smooth, or preserve the bark and the rough surface texture for a more rugged appearance.

Floating Shelves

Shelves can be installed in many ways, but metal hardware will help when anchoring “floating” slabs to a wall so no fasteners are visible. Live Edge shelves will need to have the opposite edge cut to mount flush against a wall.

The Floating Shelf Brackets shown in this article are sold by and each consists of a 1/4-in. steel bracket that is screwed into the wall studs. To carry the shelves, 6-in. steel rods bolted to the bracket will slide into holes drilled into the back of the wood slab, which conceals the hardware when the shelf is pushed flush to the wall. The slabs should be at least 1-1/2 in. thick if using this method of installation.

To drill the shelves for the hardware, it’s important to arrange a stable work surface and to clamp the shelves securely in place.

A chalk-line can help mark the mid-point along the rear of the shelf slabs.

Center the metal bracket and mark the holes for the metal rods.

The installation process is fairly simple, but it’s important to use the right tools. The rods are 5/8-in. diameter, and a lot of power is required to drill a 5/8-in. hole 6 inches deep into hardwood, as shown with the solid cherry shelves shown here. An entry-level cordless drill might not cut it, so I recommend using a high-torque drill with a side handle. A 5/8-in. auger bit or spiral bit will do the best job of making accurate holes.

You’ll need to align the metal bracket along the lengthwise center-line of the rear shelf edge. Once in place, mark the holes for the steel rods.

To drill the 6” deep 5/8” diameter holes in hardwood, we recommend using a high-torque drill with a side handle. An auger or spiral bit will work best.

Note that the holes drilled in the wood must be perfectly square to the bracket and aligned with the rod locations, or the wood will bind against the metal and resist sliding over the rods. For this reason, avoid trying to drill the holes free-handed. Using a drill press would be ideal, but the length of drill bit plus the depth of the shelf (10-1/2”) means only a large, floor-model drill press will have the capacity to drill the shelf edge. Most people don’t have that tool at their disposal, but you can use a homemade “guide block” as an alternative.

Avoid drilling the slabs with the plunge-type accessory that guides a drill-chuck down to the workpiece along parallel bars. We've tried that method, but the torque was too much for the 1/4-inch drive of the accessory chuck, and it broke before we completed two holes.

You can, however, use one of those dual-bar drill guides or a small drill press to fashion your own “guide block” with which to drill your shelves. To do so, first drill a 5/8-in. hole at 90-degrees through a square block of hardwood that is a couple of inches thick. Then, screw or clamp the hardwood block to the rear edge of the shelf and use the 5/8-in. hole as a sleeve to guide your drill bit in a perfectly square trajectory through the back of the shelf. The only downfall of this method is that with repeat use, the guide hole will wear around the edge and lose its accuracy, requiring you to drill new guide holes.

To keep the drill bit at a 90-degree angle, we first drilled a 5/8” hole in a scrap hardwood block and screwed it to the shelf. The 5/8-in. hole serves as a sleeve to guide the drill bit into the shelf back.

You’ll need to remove the guide block to finish drilling the last couple of inches deep.

After drilling the rod holes a little more than 6 inches deep, work the bit along the inside of the holes to widen them slightly and create extra clearance to fit the shelves. You can also flare out the openings with a step bit to help the rods slide inside more easily.

If you plan to make a lot of floating shelves, we recommend using the metal V-Drillguide from Big Gator Tools. It matches eight different bit sizes—up to 5/8 inch—and its durable steel construction won’t wear out from repeat use.

A step bit provides a handy way to flare out the mouths of the holes for an easier fit over the rods.

Be sure to test-fit the brackets onto the backs of the shelves before mounting them to the walls, because it will be much easier to make any necessary adjustments from your workbench. For the tightest fit against the wall, use a router to create a recess in the shelf as deep as your bracket to hide the hardware.

Test-fit the hardware on the shelves and make any necessary adjustments.

After prepping the shelves for installation, sand the surface, clean it thoroughly, and apply your finish of choice. You can strip all bark from the live edge and sand it smooth, or leave some bark and even add distressed texture for more rustic appeal. Apply a durable clear-coat to the wood finish to protect the surface from moisture damage or stains.

You might find it helpful to leave the rods slightly loose on the bracket, which allows a degree of movement that can help when sliding the slabs over the rods.

When hanging the shelves, you’ll get the strongest hold by mounting the Floating Shelf Brackets into wall studs. Use a stud finder to find the solid framing. Otherwise, use the appropriate wall anchors or screws (i.e., drywall, masonry, concrete).

For stud mounting, carefully level the bracket at your desired height and drive 3-in. wood screws through the holes provided in the hardware into the solid wall framing. Repeat

this for each shelf bracket. Slide the slabs onto the bracket rods and enjoy your new shelves.

Mark the studs, align the mounting holes, and carefully level the shelf hardware. When hanging multiple shelves, I prefer to mark the studs with vertical strips of painter’s tape.

When driving screws close to a mounting rod, a bit extender can be helpful to keep the screw aligned with the wall studs.

To hang the shelves, align the rods with the mounting holes and slide the slabs in place.

This vertical shelf application can be used with virtually any number and size of shelves that match the hardware, and the wood can be finished in wide assortment of colors and finishes to suit your home’s décor.

But wait, there's MORE! Are you planning to install an even larger shelf, such as a fireplace mantle? Then read this first...

201 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page