In my previous article on the Floating Shelves from The Container Store, my focus was primarily from a woodworker/furniture maker type of view. During a couple of conversations I had about the article yesterday, I thought it would be useful to provide some additional information relating to the actual install/attachment choices to the wall, and how this dovetails into design choices.
When you read my previous article on this topic, you likely notice I chose 26″ as the length for my shelves. Now this could have been completely arbitrary, but it wasn’t and I’ll share with you what helped me to decide on this length.
As a bit of background, this type of shelf has the most strength when it is attached directly (or indirectly) to the studs in the wall. Just so I don’t leave anyone behind, the studs are usually 2″ x 4″ boards (actually sized 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″, and the narrow side is what usually is against the drywall) spaced somewhat evenly throughout a wall, that provide support for the materials above it (like the roof and framing for the roof), as well as what the drywall (or other wall materials) can attach to. Different house builders may space the studs differently, throughout the wall, and a common range is between 12″ on center to 24″ on center. (This means 12″ from the center of one stud to the center of the next stud, or the same for the 24″ version, but just twice as far apart). Some may be wondering how they can tell what they have inside their walls, since its completely covered already. Thats a good question! The easiest way, and what I use, is a battery-operated tool called a stud finder. Shocking, I know. These tools have come down in price quite a bit over the last 20 or so years, and you can find them in many stores. Some of the new versions also have modes you can choose that alert if there is an electric wire in the near vicinity as well as a mode for deep scanning, just in case a thicker drywall was used or there is more material between the stud and the tool. The stud finder basically sends out a signal and checks to see if it bounces back, which it will do if a stud us under the tool.
There are times that the stud finders can provide erroneous information, so here is what I do, before I start any drilling. I scan the wall in the area I’m planning to install my shelves, with my stud finder, and make light pencil marks relating to the two edges of any stud I find. Most stud finders either beep or have a light that displays when it first discovers a stud. This is the first edge so make a little pencil mark. Continue the scan and you should see the indicator light/beep go out or stop, which is the other side of the stud. Make another light pencil mark. After repeating this across the area for my shelves, I can decide what length shelf will both look good and will stay within the guidelines of the shelf-hardware manufacturer. I like to add an inch to each end of the shelf, over the stud dimensions, so with my 24″ on center studs, my shelf is 26″ long. You may like to have a couple of inches added onto each end, rather than just one, like I did.
Now, I take a thin awl (looks somewhat like an ice pick) or a very thin nail, and push it into the wall (or you can drill a very small hole, using one of your smallest bits) between the two marks that indicate a stud. Remove the awl or nail. I take a paperclip, unwind it so it is somewhat straight, and push it into the hole I just made, to see if I am hitting the stud, which is not always the case. Recently, I tested one hole and the paperclip hit nothing but air. It somehow just barely missed the stud. If you do miss, check your marks again, and test again towards the center of your marks, which should be successful. This just helps provide feedback, so you have a solid shelf. The shelf mounting hardware comes with screws as well as wall anchors (a conical piece of plastic, that is pushed into a previously drilled hole in sheetrock, providing very light weight support when there is no stud involved), but the weight the shelf can handle is diminished fairly dramatically if you don’t mount the screws into the studs.
When I have the solid feedback from my paperclip, I can prepare to drill the pilot hole(s) in the studs. Look for a drill bit that is the same size as the shank of the included screw, which will create the proper sized hole, while leaving enough wood for the screw to bite into. Before marking the second stud’s hole, put a level across the wall from the first hole, and mark your second hole when the bubble shows its level. This is the best way to end up with a level shelf. Now you have the second stud marked, repeat the process and you’re almost home.
The attachment screws included require a phillips screwdriver to install them. As a note, if you start to install one of these screws, and you reach a point prior to full depth where it is too hard to turn, remove the screw and think about re-drilling with the next larger drill bit (some bit sets advance by 1/64″, which will likely make the screw drive properly, but other sets move up by 1/8″ or so which is too coarse and may leave the screw too loose) and then re-installing the screw. If you find the screw is too loose, after re-drilling, you can glue a small wooden toothpick into the hole. Wait until it is dry, then see if you can drive the screw in and have a snug fit. If this fails, you can either buy some wooden dowel material to completely fill the previously drilled hole, or you can patch the first set of holes and try again in a nearby region. The size of the washers that comes with this kit, give you almost an inch of coverage out to each side, so you could effectively let the washer hide the first hole if you can safely drill in that range to the first hole.
When you have your holes drilled, with the screws and hardware attached to the wall, it is very simple to finish the install. I place one back bracket and front bracket onto the shelf, and slip the attachment piece down onto its mate that is screwed to the wall. I move on to the other side and repeat that same process. If you try to apply both back brackets, and then both front brackets, you’ll need at least one more hand than most of us have. Seriously, it probably can be done, but I’ve found working on one side of the hardware at a time works much easier for me.
After both sides are attached, you can shift the shelf around while pulling on the wire cables, so you can orient the shelf so it is parallel to the ground (or even so the front is slightly higher than the back, which can prevent items from falling off the shelf). At this point you are finished with the install and you can do one of two things. Start placing your cool nick-nacks on your awesome shelf, or call someone to show off just how great you are at installing a floating shelf!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this project and might check out some of my other articles, both here and at Highland Woodworking. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
|The top shelf is the first I made, while I wanted to show how they look together.|
|This is a closer view of the shelf I made from two boards.|