How to Build Floating Shelves for Uneven Walls

February 15, 2019 separator DIY Furniture

Learn how to build floating shelves, even if you have uneven walls!

Wall of wooden floating shelves with books and knick knacks on them. Baskets and a globe on the floor in front of a yellow and white patterned rug.

When we did our IKEA living room basement makeover, one of the first things I knew I wanted to do was to add custom DIY floating bookshelves. 

Our basement is long but narrow and has a very low ceiling, so we were limited on what kind of furniture we could use without making customizations.  

Oh, and speaking of customizations, our DIY bar cabinet is one of my favorite custom furniture IKEA hacks!

FUN FACT: We found a “trashy beach novel” from the 1960s hidden in the basement when we moved in. We wanted to keep the fun going for the next people who might live here someday, so we built it into one of the DIY floating bookshelves. So now it’s kind of like our own little secret time capsule! ;) 

P.S. I’ve joined a group of 38 amazing home DIY bloggers for At Home DIY. We’ll each be sharing our own twist on a theme each month. This month, it’s “build to organize,” and I can’t think of a better time to finally share our DIY floating shelves! There’s a link-up of all this month’s projects at the end of this post. 

White living room with light grey sectional sofa, whitewashed wooden pallet coffee table, and wooden floating shelvesBaskets and globe on wooden floor in front of yellow and white geometric-patterned rug Wall of wooden floating shelves with books and knick knacks on them. Baskets and a globe on the floor in front of a yellow and white patterned rug.

Until I started looking through the photos for this project, I had totally forgotten that I was like 73 months pregnant when we built our DIY floating shelves.

Holy cow, you guys. Look at that belly!

Pregnant Caucasian woman with long brown hair in blue and white striped tank top paints light blue paint on wall on front of shelves being installed

Why to Make Invisible DIY Floating Bookshelves

It’s always easier to buy furniture that’s ready-made, and sometimes that even makes the most sense. 

But there are a few reasons why to DIY floating bookshelves instead of just buying a bookcase at your nearest furniture store:

  • Make bookshelves in any size you need. The space between the shelves, the width of the shelves, and how high they go are all totally customizable.
  • Choose the finish. Pick your favorite wood, and paint or stain the DIY shelves however you like. 
  • Use high quality materials. Instead of cheap laminate and particle board, you can have solid wood shelves that will hold up much better over time.

Small black terrier mutt dog in front of Wall of wooden floating shelves with books and knick knacks on them. Baskets and a globe on the floor in front of a yellow and white patterned rug.

Tips for Building DIY Floating Shelves

  • It’s a two-person job. You could probably do this by yourself if you were building short shelves. But if you’re going to do long ones like we did on the right side of the wall, you’ll need a second person to help with sawing and assembling. 
  • Measure the width of the wall for each shelf if you’re building them in between walls like we did. Many walls are not perfectly parallel and perfectly even. If you build one size of floating shelf for uneven walls, you’ll have a too-tight fit in some spots and a too-loose fit in other spots. Our measurements were different by as much as 3/4″ in width between the top shelf and the bottom shelf. 
  • Use a t-square to get your angles right when building the shelf frames. Being off by just a little bit can make a huge difference on a long shelf!
  • Paint or stain the wood separately before you assemble anything. It’s so much easier to do without having to worry about it dripping into the cracks between the wood. 
  • Use a level, but don’t be afraid to eyeball it if it seems way off. It turns out our floors are way off level, so leveling the DIY floating bookshelves with just a level actually made them look really crooked!
  • A nail gun makes the work much easier and more professional-looking. Whether you borrow one from a friend, rent one, or invest in one like we did, it makes all the difference! It was especially helpful for putting the face plates on the fronts of each DIY floating shelf. 

Wall of wooden floating shelves with books and knick knacks on them. Baskets and a globe on the floor in front of a yellow and white patterned rug.

How to Build Floating Shelves Between Uneven Walls

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all tutorial with building plans. Heck, none of our shelves were even the exact same size because of our crazy walls!

Instead, I’m going to walk you through how we built them with various tips so that you can figure out how to build floating bookshelves for your own space.

If you have questions, leave a comment, and I’m happy to answer the best I can!

P.S. This is the same whether you have your shelves sandwiched between two walls (like ours on the right side) or floating in the middle of a wall (like ours on the left side). 

Supplies

The amount of lumber you’ll need will depend on the size of your floating shelves and how many shelves you are building. My supply list contains affiliate links, so I may make a small commission from purchases at no additional cost to you. 

Tools to Build a DIY Floating Shelf

Supplies to Build Floating Shelves 

  • Lumber
    • 2 x 2 x 8 furring strips for the frame/base
    • 1/4″ thick birch plywood for the top and bottom
    • 1 x 3 x 8 select pine for the front edge (and optional sides)
  • Liquid nails
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint or stain

Building Instructions

Caucasian hands drilling a screw into a wooden shelf frame on a table covered in a blue tarp

1. Start by building a frame for each shelf using the furring strips. Put cross-beams every 8 inches for stability, using a t-square to make sure you have right (90-degree) angles. 

I recommend using a nail gun to tack the frame together initially. Once you’re sure you have everything put together properly and at right angles, you can screw the frame together to give it more durability. 

2. Cut a piece of plywood for the top and bottom of the shelf. It should be exactly the same size as the finished shelf frame. 

3. Cut a front (and two sides if your shelf won’t be sandwiched between two walls) from the select pine that is the length of the shelf frame and the height of the shelf frame plus the two pieces of plywood. You may need to do a rip cut along the full length if it’s too tall.  

3. Sand the top, bottom, front, and optional sides. Stain or paint them, and let them dry. 

4. Use the nail gun to attach the bottom piece of plywood to the frame. 

Man installing a pine shelf frame onto a white wall over a blue tarp

5. Position the shelf frame with the top open where you want it on the wall, and make sure it’s level. 

Man installing a pine shelf frame onto a white wall over a blue tarp

6. Screw the back of the frame into the wall at every stud that it touches. Use long screws for better support. 

Floating shelves being built and installed against a very light blue wall

7. Use the nail gun to attach the top of the shelf once you’ve finished screwing it into the wall. 

Man gluing the front of a floating shelf against a very light blue wall

8. Use Liquid Nails to attach the front (and sides if you’re using them). 

Floating shelves being built and installed against a very light blue wall

9. Use the nail gun to tack the front (and sides if you’re using them) onto the frame to hold it on while the Liquid Nails dries. The nails are so small that they won’t be noticeable. 

Pregnant Caucasian woman with long brown hair in blue and white striped tank top paints light blue paint on wall
10. If you’re sandwiching the shelf between two walls, you’ll probably have some dents, scratches, and chips in the paint from pushing the shelf into place. Use the wall paint and a small paintbrush to touch up any spots that need it. 

Printable Instructions: How to Build Floating Shelves

Yield: 1

How to Build Floating Shelves for Uneven Walls

How to Build Floating Shelves for Uneven Walls

Learn how to build floating shelves and all my tips and tricks for DIY floating bookshelves. Get a totally modern, minimal, beautiful wooden shelving system to organize a living room or any room in your home!

Prep Time 2 hours
Active Time 4 hours
Total Time 6 hours
Difficulty Advanced

Materials

  • 2 x 2 x 8 furring strips for the frame/base
  • 1/4" thick birch plywood for the top and bottom
  • 1 x 3 x 8 select pine for the front edge (and optional sides)
  • Liquid nails
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint or stain

Tools

  • Drill
  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Measuring tape
  • T-square or triangle woodworking ruler
  • Saw
  • Paint brush
  • Wood screws
  • Optional: Nail gun, air compressor, and brads

Instructions

  1. Build a frame with the furring strips. Put cross-beams every 8 inches for stability.
  2. Cut a piece of plywood for the top and bottom of the shelf. It should be exactly the same size as the finished shelf frame. 
  3. Cut a front (and two sides if your shelf won't be sandwiched between two walls) from the select pine that is the length of the shelf frame and the height of the shelf frame plus the two pieces of plywood.  
  4. Sand and paint or stain all wood except the frame. You only need to do the tops and edges of the plywood.
  5. Use the nail gun or a hammer and nails to attach the bottom piece of plywood to the frame. 
  6. Place the shelf frame with the bottom but no top where you want it on the wall, and screw it into every stud that it touches. 
  7. Attach the plywood top to the frame.
  8. Use Liquid Nails to attach the front and optional sides. You can use the nail gun to hold them in place while they dry.
  9. Touch up any scratches or gouges in the wall with a small paintbrush.

Notes

  • I recommend using a nail gun to tack the frame together initially. Once you're sure you have everything put together properly and at right angles, you can screw the frame together to give it more durability. 


This Month’s At Home DIY Projects

1905 Farmhouse, Abbots at Home, Bitterroot DIY, By Brittany Goldwyn, Creative Ramblings, Cribbs Style, Delicious & DIY, DIY Beautify, DIY Danielle, Dukes and Duchesses, Girl, Just DIY, Happily Ever After, Etc, Health, Home & Heart, House by the Bay Design, House on Longwood Lane, Just Measuring Up, Kenya Rae, Little Bits of Home, Living Letter Home, My Kitchen My Craft, Pinspired to DIY, Red Cottage Chronicles, Refashionably Late, Renovating Mapleson Manor, Savvy Apron, Shine Your Light, Songbird Blog, Southern Revivals, T.Moore Home, The DIY Dreamer, The DIY Village, The Frugal Homemaker, The Handyman’s Daughter, Two Feet First, What Meegan Makes, Zucchini Sisters

32 comments

  1. These look gorgeous- and ONG- 73 months prego! I almost peed my pants. I remember the feeling. These shelves have me inspired! They turned out great. Congrats on the baby!

  2. Lindsay these shelves look amazing! Great tutorial also. I love the stain color you chose and how much storage these give you. I’m guessing your sweet babe will grow up to be a DIY boss!!

  3. I love seeing how you built these shelves. They turned out beautiful! And that pregnant belly, so cute. Now I want one. ;)

  4. Pregnant Brittany wasn’t doing jack sh!t so I am impressed by your dedication to DIY. Also, I love the trashy beach read story. So cool. We’re in a new build, so we should start a tradition like that…

  5. These look amazing! I love a good floating shelf! The surprise hidden inside might be my favorite part though. That or knowing I wasn’t the only one who was once 73 months pregnant and in the middle of a project! LOL ;)

    1. Thanks so much, Jamie! We got such a kick out of that! And ohhhh my gosh looking back at these pictures is surreal with that crazy bump. We were down to the wire! ha

  6. Oh my gosh I love these shelves. I wanted floating shelves surrounding my tv but didn’t want the super thick ones made with 2x4s. I wish I’d seen this post a few years sooner. I know it will be very popular, great job!

    1. Thank you, Toni! That’s exactly why we Frankenstein-ed our own DIY together. We loved the look of a lot of the ones we’d seen but didn’t want them as thick as 2 x 4s!

  7. I love that these floating shelves are for uneven walls, who has even walls, not me! Plus I love that you are pregnant during this project. I really want to add a faux fireplace with this style of shelves around, thank you for the fantastic tutorial!

  8. These look great! They add beautiful character to the space. And the fact that you are working is awesome. When i was at that point with my son i was just giving instructions and watching the work happen. Lol

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