Buying, Selling, and Decorating Your Dream Home

Putting up shelves: Fixed, Adjustable, And Alcove Shelving


Putting up shelves is the DIY activity most often attempted after painting and decorating. You can support shelves on individual brackets or, if fitting them in an alcove, on battens fixed to the side walls of the recess.

Alternatively, you could use an adjustable shelving system.

Putting Up Shelves

Fixed Shelving

If your shelves are less than about 75 cm (2 ft 6 in) long, first fix the brackets to the shelf.

For longer shelves, mark the bracket positions on the shelf and then the wall. Fix the brackets to the wall, then attach shelving.

Short Shelves

  • Using screws that won’t penetrate the top of the shelf, screw the brackets to the underside of the shelf at your chosen spacing.
  • Hold the shelf against the wall where you plan to fit it and rest your spirit level on top.
  • Get the shelf level and use a bradawl to mark the wall through the screw holes in the brackets.
  • Set the shelf aside. Drill the holes and insert wall plugs.
  • Hold the shelf back in place and drive in the top screw in each bracket, then the bottom screw.

Long Shelves

  • Mark the bracket positions at your chosen spacings on the edge of the shelf; you are likely to need at least three brackets.
  • Hold the shelf flat against the wall with its rear edge in line with the proposed fixing position.
  • Mark the bracket positions vertically on the wall, using the marks on the shelf as a guide.
  • Hold the first bracket in position so you can mark the wall through its screw holes.
  • Drill and plug the holes, then screw the bracket into place.
  • Rest the shelf on the bracket with a spirit level on top. Get the shelf level – you may need help with this part. Draw a horizontal pencil mark on the wall where the lower back edge of the shelf meets each of the bracket position marks you drew in step 1.
  • Lift the shelf away and fix the remaining brackets to the wall.
  • Finish the job by replacing the shelf on the brackets and screwing them to its underside.

See also video below

Adjustable Shelving

Space the tracks on a solid wall to suit the shelving material and the likely loading.

On a timber-framed wall, the tracks must be fixed to the studs.

  • Hold the first track at its chosen fixing position and use a pencil or bradawl to mark the wall through its topmost screw hole. Drill and plug the hole, then drive the screw in part-way so the track can swing freely.
  • Use your spirit level to get the track truly vertical. Then mark the other screw positions on the wall with the pencil or bradawl as before. Swing the track aside (or take it down if it’s easier), and drill and plug the remaining screw holes. Put the track in position and drive in all the screws.
  • Mark your chosen track spacing on a batten – any thin straight strip of wood will do – then hold it on top of the first track with your spirit level on top. Line up the first mark on the batten with the first track, get the batten level, and mark the wall where the second track should be.
  • Hold the second track up to this mark and repeat steps 1 and 2 to fix the second track in place. Repeat this sequence of operations to fix further tracks as necessary to complete the arrangement of shelves.
  • Slot the brackets into place at the intervals you want and put the shelves on them. If you want to screw the brackets to the shelves, hold the shelf down on its brackets and push the bradawl up through each screw hole to make pilot holes in the shelf underside. Lift the shelf and its brackets down, screw on each bracket, and replace.

Alcove Shelving

The simplest way of supporting shelves in an alcove is to screw wooden battens to the side walls at whatever spacing you need.

If your alcoves are wide or your shelves will have to carry heavy loads, you can provide extra support by fixing a third batten across the back wall, between the two side battens.

  1. Work out the shelf spacings you need, and mark the shelf positions you want on one side wall.
  2. Cut support battens from 38 mm x 25 mm (1 1/2 in x 1 in) softwood to a length just less than the shelf width.
  3. Drill two clearance holes (to take the body of the screw) in each batten, then use a drill countersink bit to make the recesses at the top of each clearance hole, so that countersink screws will fit flush with the batten.
  4. Hold one of these battens against the lowest shelf mark on the wall and punch the hole positions in the wall with a bradawl.
  5. Drill and plug the holes and screw the batten to the wall.
  6. Check whether the alcove side and back walls are square to each other at each point where you want to put a shelf. A try square is the best tool for this.
  7. If the walls do form a true right angle, measure and cut the first shelf to length.
  8. If they don’t, cut out the shape of each internal angle on a piece of card, and measure the width of the back wall. Use the card to mark the first angle on your shelf, and cut that end of the shelf. Next, mark the alcove width along the rear edge of the shelf, then mark the second angle on the shelf and cut it. The shelf should now match the irregular shape of the alcove.
  9. Rest one end of the shelf on its support batten, put your spirit level on top, and hold the second support batten beneath the shelf at the other end. Get the shelf level and mark the screw hole positions through the batten as before.
  10. Lift out the shelf, drill and plug the holes, and screw the second batten into position.
  11. Lay the shelf on it and test its fit.
  12. Repeat steps 1 to 11 to fix the other shelves. You may find it easier to work in the alcove if you leave the shelves out until you’ve finished fixing all the battens. If you want them fixed in place temporarily, nail them to the battens with panel pins.

Watch also this floating alcove shelves idea

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