Designing a Wall Shelf – Mounting Options

For a wall shelf, the best place to start is at the beginning – the wall.

How will the shelf be mounted to the wall?

Perhaps the biggest challenge in designing a successful wall shelf is attaching it to the wall strongly enough to support it and whatever it supports. The method of attachment will in part dictate the design of the shelf. Consider these methods of attachment when designing your shelf.

Angle Brackets and Screws

Probably the simplest attachment method involves store-bought metal brackets and screws to attach the shelf to the wall. This method is simple and effective, but hardly  elegant. To improve the look, use fancier metal brackets or make your own corbels from wood, metal, or another material. Screws can be visible or hidden. If you want to anchor the brackets into studs, you will have to consider that in your design and mount them accordingly.

If your shelf has a structural back, you can screw directly through it into the wall. It’s typically not very discreet, but with the right design and right choice of fastener it can look very good. In this case, as soon as books are loaded on the shelf, the back plate and screws are hidden.



A special keyhole-shaped slot that is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top captures a screw head to hang an object. The keyhole mount is mortised into the back of the piece and not visible from the front or edges. Cut keyhole slots with a special router bit, or buy metal keyhole brackets that attach with screws. These require a degree of precision to install, and may dictate where the shelf hangs on the wall if you need to hit a stud.


French Cleat

A versatile and strong method of hanging something, a French cleat is usually invisible once the shelf is installed. A wide cleat provides a good chance of being able to hang it where you want and secure it to at least one stud. Comprised of a pair of matching strips with mating chamfers on the edges (usually 45 degrees), one is mounted to the wall and the other to the back of the shelf. You can hide it in a recess in the back of the shelf to make it invisible. The cleat allows simple drop on/lift off installation.


Variations of this exist, including the narrow cleats I use on my tusk tenon wall shelves, and low-profile manufactured metal cleats.


Slide-On Floating Shelf Systems

This style of mount consists of one part that fastens directly to the wall, and the shelf slides right over it for installation. Shop-made versions typically involve a strip of wood or wooden frame screwed to studs, and a hollow shelf that slips on and covers it completely. Like a wide French cleat, a wide mount makes it easy to fasten to the wall wherever you like.


Metal hardware exists too, which typically requires two or more deep holes cut into the back edge of the shelf. These holes can be drilled, or routed in if the shelf is laminated. If the hardware must be mounted to a stud, this style of hardware makes it more difficult to mount it exactly where you want.

Need More Ideas?

If you need some more ideas, try wandering the aisles of your local hardware or home decor store. You can also check out my Wall Shelf Build-Off Pinterest board, and remember to register for the #WSBO!

Wall Brackets for Hollow Chisel Mortiser

Yesterday, at 2:05 pm, I decided that I needed to get my benchtop mortiser off my bench.  I documented the process of building and mounting wall brackets live on Twitter and what you see below are the updates.  This was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.

(If you are not familiar with the format used on Twitter, the @ symbol indicates a username.  Every update, or “tweet” below starts with a username and they are the author of that tweet.  Sometimes, you will see two or more usernames in a tweet.  The second (and third, etc) usernames are people to whom the author is talking.  The other symbol you will see is #, which serves as a category.  I tried to remember to categorize all my tweets pertaining to this project under #flairww.)

@FlairWoodworks: I need a pair of brackets to mount my mortiser on the wall here. Follow along with #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:05 pm

@FlairWoodworks: This is my mortiser. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:06 pm

@FlairWoodworks: These are some hardwood scraps I had in the shop. The wood on the right is interesting but there isn’t enough. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:13 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I use a short fence on my sliding tablesaw to cut the parts to length. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:17 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I used the jointer to flatten one face, then used the bandsaw to make the other face parallel. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:22 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I used the smallest of my seven bench planes to clean up the bandsawn surfaces. This wasn’t really necessary though.
January 10, 2012, 2:34 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I dry-fit the bracket and marked the cuts for the cross-brace. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:38 pm

@FlairWoodworks: Some of the cuts for the cross braces were angles greater than 45 degrees. This is how I cut them. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:50 pm

@DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks great, simple strategy.
January 10, 2012, 2:50 pm

@FlairWoodworks: Here’s your first look at what they will look. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:52 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I’m using 8mm Dominoes for the joinery so I had to switch the bits from the last time I used the Domino Joiner. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 2:56 pm

@FlairWoodworks: To get this mortise accurately cut, I clamped a stop 10mm down from the centerline. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 3:08 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I forgot to readjust the depth setting for the angled ends. I’ll plug this cavity with a Domino and try again. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 3:14 pm

@FlairWoodworks: One glued up! #flairww
January 10, 2012, 3:26 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I use Extractor nail pullers to remove the Dominoes after dry-fitting. #flairww
January 10, 2012, 3:41 pm

@DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks good idea. I use pliers.
January 10, 2012, 3:55 pm

@FlairWoodworks: @DyamiPlotke The jaws of the Extractors remain parallel for a better grip.
January 10, 2012, 3:56 pm

@DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks yeah. I’ll try an extractor next time.
January 11, 2012, 4:00 pm

@FlairWoodworks: The glue is dry now so it’s time to continue making the brackets for wall-mount the hollow chisel mortiser.
January 11, 2012, 5:20 pm

@FlairWoodworks: The next step is to flush up the joints. #flairww
January 11, 2012, 5:22 pm

@FlairWoodworks: If the brackets are out of square, I use the tablesaw to cut them square. #flairww
January 11, 2012, 5:34 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I drilled two angled holes at the top and one straight at the bottom. #flairww
January 11, 2012, 5:45 pm

@FlairWoodworks: I attach one bracket at the measured height on the wall and use a level to determine the vertical placement of the second.
January 11, 2012, 5:58 pm

@FlairWoodworks: Finally, I hefted the mortiser onto the brackets and bolted it down. #flairww
January 11, 2012, 6:16 pm

@woodbard: @FlairWoodworks Well done, Chris! The mortiser has found a permanent home, out of the way of other tools. Support planned for long boards?
January 11, 2012, 6:20 pm

@FlairWoodworks: @woodbard And it only took two months! When I need outfeed support, I will probably just set up a sawhorse.
January 11, 2012, 6:24 pm