thin and sturdy floating laundry shelves

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In this easy tutorial, I share free plans for how to create long and thin floating shelves with inexpensive materials. Plenty of support — without the bulk!

The thin floating shelves in the laundry room are now 100% done. And with these crossed off the list, I can finally start using them—which also means that I can finally make the cluttered floor of “Mount Washmore” a thing of the past and gain some extra storage.

thin floating shelves

Here’s the thing with these shelves: I’ve been contemplating them for a while. Because despite the many tutorials I’ve looked through, I’ve never been able to find the exact combination of features I was looking for. Specifically:

thin and sturdy floating laundry shelves

Long. Deep. Thin. Inexpensive. Secure. I spent a while looking, but I honestly had a hard time finding one that had all of these in one. My biggest issue was that most floating shelves require the frame of the shelving system to be rather thick if they’re going to be as long as I needed mine to be. And I may be alone in this, but I do. not. like. “chunky” floating shelves. For me, certain things are meant to be chunky—like a baby’s legs and cookie dough ice cream. And some things just aren’t—like peanut butter, Leonardo DiCaprio (sorry #dadbod fans), and my floating shelves.

I get that it’s a combination of personal taste and function. A certain thickness is to be understood for the sake of getting a long, wide shelf to be sturdy enough to last with a reasonable amount of weight on it (and without bowing in the middle over time). The inner structure has to bear the weight, and shelf thickness is often just a byproduct of that. Or some people just like them that way, and that’s good too. But considering that my laundry room space is really, really tight (and awkwardly shaped), I simply didn’t like the idea of thick, chunky shelves taking up the view. What wasn’t so simple is figuring out how to make something thin support a lot of weight…like chicken legs on bodybuilder. So, I worked on the idea for a bit and combined tutorial ideas that I spied on Pinterest until I came up with something that worked for me. And a lot better than the whole bodybuilder thing.

So let’s get on with the tutorial, shall we?

DIY Long and Thin Floating Shelves

Lumber:

  • 1x2s (frame & front shelf piece)
  • 1x3s or similar 1x scrap wood (frame)
  • 1/2″ sanded plywood (for the top of each shelf)
  • 5mm sanded plywood (for the bottom of each shelf; decorative purposes only)

Materials:

Tools:

For drilling into tile (see this post for the full tutorial):

First things first

My shelves were surrounded on three sides by walls; the entire tutorial is pretty much contingent upon that fact alone, so if you are trying to secure these on a wall that isn’t at least surrounded on two sides with studs or a place to put anchors, you may have support issues.

DIY thin floating shelves

To begin, mark the spot for your shelves along the wall. Using painter’s tape will help you visualize each shelf for placement and spacing. Remove the tape, then use a level to mark a pencil line along the entire wall to use as your level edge for adding the support (basically, you’re going to match the straight edge of the top of your support with this line).

DIY thin floating shelves

Shelf measurements

Each of my shelves (on the right side of the picture above) were approximately 69 inches long and 12 inches deep (I know, it sounds like the setup for a joke, but it’s true). The best part though is that the thickness of each shelf is only 1.5″, and still super sturdy!!!

By using a 1×2 on its thin side, I was able to keep the shelf thin but still provide a supporting structure. It’s also the reason why I created a full 4-sided frame rather than just installing the cleats and middle supports through the shelf; other floating shelf tutorials do not include the 4th piece in the front, which makes sense to me, but I found that it really came in handy for keeping the middle pieces secure, level, and ultimately supporting the plywood on top.

1. Create the frame

The frame is pretty easy to make; I used 1x2s for the sides of each shelf, cut to length for the back and front pieces (so 69″ or 5’9″ long) and width for the sides, minus the width of the front and back pieces (I wanted 12″ wide shelves, but the actual width of 1x2s are 1 1/2″ wide, so that meant only 9″ for the side pieces). I experimented a little with the inner pieces of each shelf though, first trying 1x2s on the lower shelf and some scrap pieces of 1x3s on the top shelf (so you’ll see some differences in each shelf’s structure in my pictures). I found the 1x3s to provide a much sturdier frame when using in combination with the Kreg Jig, so I’m recommending that you use this structure as well. I’m still very much a beginner with Google Sketchup (having done only one other post ages ago with it), so hopefully this makes sense!

DIY thin floating shelves underside shelf support

And just because I’m new to SketchUp, I thought I’d give you a color-coded version as well. Blue and white are 1x2s (9″ and 69″ long, respectively) and the green is 1×3 (9″ long).

thin floating shelves pieces of shelf support

The holes for all of the Kreg’d pieces were done before installing on the wall, but I wound up taking the side cleats off for the next few steps before putting it back together (I still recommend doing this since it makes screwing things back together much easier).

About the side cleats

For beginners, you might not be familiar with the term “cleats” – but these are usually the pieces that screw into the wall and help support/distribute the weight. I’m also a DIYer who uses whatever convenient term that pops into my mind, so cleats, frame, supports, etc. all share a similar meaning for me in this project. Essentially, what I’m doing here is turning these cleats into more of a frame so that there are other parts that also help support weight, but it all relies on how securely these first few pieces are installed. You’ll want to make sure these are nice and secure by either screwing them into studs or using wall anchors on all three sides that attach to the walls. I first began by installing these pieces on each side—the tile wall first (since it would be the least forgiving), and then the opposite wall using wall anchors. Be sure to leave a gap along the back wall for the back piece of the frame to fit in snugly (1 1/2″).

Tip from Pretty Handy Girl: Use Cobra Triple-Grip anchors for a solid hold.

2. Installing support through a tile wall

This needed a tutorial of its own, so you can find that here.

drilling into tile

3. Add the middle supports to the back cleat

With the longer pieces of each shelf cut to 69″ each, I used some remaining scrap 1x2s and 1x3s to fill in the middle section of the first shelf. I drilled pocket holes using my Kreg Jig and 1 1/4″ screws (determined based on the thickness of the wood, which is 3/4″). Use wood glue too (but only once you’re sure of how things will be installed; I had some trial and error figuring out each step, so I’m glad I waited to use wood glue!). As I mentioned above, I found after installing the first shelf that I liked the 1x3s for middle support better, so I recommend using them as you can see in the diagrams above.

Tip: Face clamps are your best friend; if you have a Kreg Jig, I highly recommend using their face clamp for projects!

I wound up not having enough scrap 1×3 laying around for both shelves, but I found that even with only 2 supports in the middle (I eyeballed the spacing), it was still very solid.

4. Add the frame to the wall

With the side cleats installed (remember to leave a gap to fit the back piece), screw in the back cleat and rest of the frame to studs in the wall. The front piece can either be screwed into the middle supports already or put on last; I wound up trying both ways and didn’t find that there was a significant difference (either way, the whole thing was still somewhat cumbersome to install by myself because of the length).

laundry room shelves

Tip: A brad nailer is a great substitute for a helping hand; it allows you to temporarily tack up the shelf support and get things level before screwing everything into the studs.

5. Add plywood

With the frame in place, you can then add plywood. Since I don’t have a table saw in my garage right now, I had my local Blue cut down a piece of 1/2″ sanded plywood and 5mm sanded plywood to 12″ lengths for me. The rest of the cuts I did at home using my circular saw and a piece of scrap wood clamped to the plywood to use as a guide.

thin floating shelves

Tip: Use painter’s tape to help keep a clean edge when cutting plywood.

thin floating shelves

thin floating shelves

For the underside piece of plywood (the thin 5mm stuff), I was able to cut it down with a utility knife quite easily (sidenote: OLFA** sent me several of their utility knives to try out this summer, and I’ve found that I prefer this utility knife to the rest. It’s my new go-to tool—great for small molding projects, and I’ve found that it’s been the leading reason why there are no more cardboard boxes in this house anymore*).

thin floating shelves

I attached the top piece of plywood with wood glue and my brad nailer. The bottom piece needed some clamping before it stayed up, so I used a few brad nails strategically to hold things in place toward the back and clamped the front while the glue dried.

thin floating shelves

6. Attach the front piece

When all pieces are attached, they wound up being just shy of 1 1/2″ thick, so I was able to use another 1×2 for the front to hide the plywood edges.

thin floating shelves

7. Finish and decorate!

After all of the finishing steps (filling holes with wood filler, sanding, caulking, priming, painting, etc.), here’s how things look now:

thin floating shelves

You can also see two other updates in these pictures: one, I added the rest of the trim around the tile to complete the back wall too (which looks a LOT better than before!); and two, I have begun RE-painting the walls. That makes this the third color I’ve put on them since moving in, and worth a serious eyeroll for taking so many tries to find what works, but I’ve known for a while that the color I’ve been using in the rest of the house simply wasn’t working with the lighting in this room. I tried to hold out as long as possible to see if I could live with it. But once I started painting the shelves, I figured now was the time to see if a leftover gallon of white paint I had from my office would fit—and it did! I’m now convinced that my search for the right color in this room is over. I’ll have more on that when it’s all finished.

DIY thin floating shelves

And for those wondering, the baskets I’ve added to the room are from Ikea and are VERY old, but they seem to work well in here. The white container on the right is an old kitchen container from Goodwill that I snagged last weekend (maybe a cookie jar?). It now holds my ugly detergent pods, which are nice to have hidden.

So, that’s it for now. I still have to do some trim work, paint things, and have a decorative project in the works for this room, which I’m hoping to finish up later this evening. I’m loving the way it’s turning out, so it may be the right project to work on while the forecast is predicting rain for the week. More on that soon, and you can catch sneak peeks on Instagram if interested.

Don’t forget to pin!

long deep thin sturdy floating shelves plans

———————————————

*I have honestly been finding excuses to cut up cardboard boxes lately because this knife cuts so well. Is that weird? That’s weird, I bet. But it’s also strangely satisfying, and my garden bed needed a lot of cardboard to help kill off the grass before laying down mulch, so this odd little obsession worked out great (it’s still mostly just the pure fun of cutting through each box like a tiny samurai sword, though).

**Full disclosure: As I mentioned above, OLFA sent me a package of products to try out and asked me to share those thoughts on the blog once I’d tried them. But, as always, all thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are 100% my own, and I never share something unless I really do like it.

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57 Comments

  1. I had the same issue – I needed long shelves that could hold a decent amount of weight and I wanted them to be as thin as possible. I purchased 24″ wide, slab style , hollow-core doors. I split them down the middle, then slid them over cleats I attached to the wall. I used glue and brad nails to fasten them to the cleats. I ended up with completely finished front edges. They’re 1 3/8″ thick and, so far, they’ve worked great!

    1. I nearly did the same thing! But I couldn’t seem to find hollow core doors that were cheap enough in comparison to the cost of the plywood.

      1. I know this is an old reply:

        If you got to the closest Habitat for Humanity ReStore you can find hollow core doors for $5-$10. A lot of times they are not marked. I ask the worker for the price and I specify I am using them for scrap or for sawhorses. This changes them from doors to plywood and you won’t pay a lot.

  2. They look amazing.I always appreciate your tutorials as they are very understandable and clear. Can’t wait to see the color you’ve chosen!

  3. These look amazing! So glad for this tutorial. We’ve been needing shelving in some rooms for a while now, and these look sturdy without taking up too much space. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Thank you , thank you , for the simple tutorial you really make it seem very easy. I will be adding shelves to a pantry and this is just what I needed

  5. Very cool and well done project. These would look great in our laundry area. Unfortunately, we’re missing the two side walls for support.

  6. im very glad to see this post. i learned how to make shelf and im waiting for the day to make it practically.

  7. Hi Sarah,

    I was trying to do something like this for my wife and the results did not come out as expected. I scrapped the project and am now starting over. I ran into an issue on the side cleats. I don’t have any studs that I can drill into for my sides. I might possibly be able to get one of the corner studs, but after that my next stud is 18 inches away. Any suggestions?

    1. Check out the section “About the side cleats” in the post. I had a similar issue with no wall studs in a couple of spots, so I used wall anchors instead. I made product recommendations as well, so you’ll know which kind to get! Good luck!

      1. Thanks for the quick reply. Just one more question. So do you put your anchors in the wall and then place the wood over the top of the anchor? Then drive your screw through the wood and then to the wall (assuming they both line up). Will the anchor engage properly even though your screw will not be flush to the wall since it will stop at the wood?

        Thanks again.

        1. I typically pre-drill through the wood & have it poke out a little bit to mark the drywall, which lets me know where to put the anchor and has a much better chance of lining up. Switch out the screw from the package for a longer & better one to go through the wood & secure into the anchor. If the screw stops at the wood, it’s too short.

  8. How do you use a 1×2 to cover plywood on the front of a 1.5″ shelf? Did you cut the 1×2 down to a 1×1.5?

    1. Nope, the term “1 by 2” is what’s called a nominal size. Basically, it’s called a “1×2″ even though those aren’t the exact dimensions of 1 inch by 2 inches; instead, it’s actually 3/4″ by 1.5”. I’ve read that it comes from the “rough sawn” cut at the lumber mill, which is a true cut to the dimensions, and then when the board gets planed down for use, it becomes its actual size of 3/4″ by 1.5″. So, the 1×2 piece was 1.5″ wide all along, and it didn’t need to be cut down except on the ends to fit the length of the shelf (the length of wood, such as a 1x2x8, is still the actual length of 8 feet… crazy, I know!). I should actually write a post about it just to explain some basics about working with wood, so I’m sorry for the confusion, but thank you for inspiring a new post!

  9. Love the way these look but I’m confused on the front edge. How did you use a 1×2 to cover the front of a 1.5 Inch shelf? Thanks!

  10. Hi Sarah,
    I’m curious how far from the ceiling your top shelf is. I am having a hell of a time trying to decide how close is too close!
    Thanks!

  11. What an awesome tutorial! Thanks for all the details. I was a little overwhelmed trying to figure out how to do this myself, but you’ve broken it down in easy steps that even I could probably follow!

  12. Now I guess my question is much more utilitarian…how much weight does a lighter thinner floating shelf hold? If you give up thickness due to size constraints and personal preference how does it impact its usage? I want to build floating shelves above my computer since my wife is a home schooling mom but I am concerned that thinner shelves will give up weight capacity and storage load.

    1. It all depends on the support it’s got. I used heavy duty drywall anchors on the tiled wall and the rest of the supports were screwed into studs, so considering that the shelf is screwed in on three sides, it’s a VERY sturdy shelf despite the lack of thickness. I didn’t stress test it or anything, but they definitely aren’t coming down anytime soon. If you have to use wall anchors like I did, note the weight capacity limits mentioned on the package.

  13. Hi,
    Just curious: if I wanted 16″ deep shelves but 1 1/2″ thickness, using the same materials and method as yours, would that still be sturdy or do you think going 16″ deep compromises the sturdiness? I need my shelves to be deep to house blankets/linens/towels, but also want to avoid the “chunky” shelves. Thoughts??

    thanks

    1. It’s hard to give advice on what-ifs that haven’t been a scenario I’ve had in my own house (given that most projects are ones that I’ve only done for my specific circumstances), but I think it heavily depends on how many sides are supporting the shelf. If it’s on three sides like mine and screwed into studs on all three sides or heavy duty wall anchors (on the box, it will say a weight limit), you can still create deep and sturdy shelves, though I couldn’t say to how much weight. The challenge with floating shelves lies in where/how the middle area gets supported, because the deeper shelf means that the middle section has less support. If I were worried about it enough, I might actually use a low-profile metal shelf support or a “countertop” bracket in the middle that could then be painted to match the wall color to blend in. The linens would potentially hide the visible support even further but would put my mind at ease about the shelves falling down! Hope that helps!

  14. Great tutorial! I am working a set of these shelves in a corner in our laundry room. My shelves will be 72 1/2 in long and 12 inches deep. Plus 18 in past the corner so they will be L-shaped. I only have the corner and not 3 sides so I am hoping they will be sturdy enough with this configuration. I may add an extra support 1×2 between the shelves for added support. One question: I was a little unclear how you attached the long back cleat to the wall. Did you use wood screws to attach to the studs and/or wall anchors to attach to the drywall?

    1. The back ones were just screws sent through the studs. You ideally only want to use wall anchors when you have to (when studs aren’t in the spot you need to screw into).

  15. Hi Sarah, pretty looking shelves. How deep do you believe you could make shelves with the same framing materials you’ve used while still retaining sturdiness?

  16. If you used 1×2 for the frame, then added plywood on top and bottom, how did another 1×2 front plate cover it all? I️ built a floating shelf using 1×4 box slid over a 1×2 frame, but my wife says it’s too thick of a shelf and she’d like a thinner shelf for where we’re using it. I’m trying to figure out how to do floating shelf that when said and done, is only 2 inches thick. So I like what you did, just tying to figure out how you got the 1×2 front plate to fit.

    1. Double check the photos and the plan… the 1×2 is turned on its side so that the thinner 1″ width is what is used for the frame. Then the 1×2 on the front is turned so the 2″ width is the face. That means you can really use ANY 1x for the frame, 1×3 or 1×4 could also be good supports. I suspect you’re turning the 1×2 in the wrong direction. Good luck!

  17. I know this is an old post, but hopefully you will see this comment. I love your shelves! I want to make some but need them to be 8.5 feet long and 12 inches deep. I would obviously put several more cleats in the middle. Do you think that would be enough to keep them sturdy and not sagging in the middle? Thanks so much!

    1. Wish I could give you a definitive answer, but I don’t have any experience with installing a shelf that long, so you’ll have to use your judgment on that! I built this design specifically for my home’s needs, so my little alcove area does a fantastic job of supporting the shelves the entire length. When shelves are suuuuper long, there’s always a chance it could sag in the middle over time. It would also depend on what you put on the shelf, too.

  18. This is awesome!! Great level of detail. I will hopefully be at the level to do this one day. But sooooo far from there right now!!! Right now I am just looking to install a wire shelf over the tile in my shower. Your provide great details that would make that possible. But I do have a question: How do you know what size screws you need to use (or, put another way, how do you know how thick/deep your wall is)? Thanks for any response/guidance!

    1. When in doubt, go for heavy duty wall anchors that have a greater weight load (listed on the package) than you ever think you’ll need. They come as a set, where the screw and wall anchor comes in the same package so you know you’re matching them up correctly. I cover wall anchors in more detail in this post.

  19. Hi,
    Disclosure, I know nothing about building anything, but I want to. :) I have a blank wall space in my master bathroom that used to be a closet, but it is 10 feet wide. Would something like this be possible? 10 feet wide with 12″ shelves? It still seems you might need some sort of center support? I don’t like ugly shelf supports and i also eventually plan to build storage underneath the shelves, so I don’t want ugly shelf supports in the way.

    1. The main advantage of my shelves is that they have supports not only in the back, but are anchored on each side, too. So if you have a long expanse in the middle that only has support in the back, you’d have to make sure those are well-anchored to every stud possible. You may want to consider “rebar floating shelves” with metal brackets that support. Also check out Chris Loves Julia’s shelves… they added some metal support underneath and they seemed to love theirs, and the shelf was very long (the shelves look a bit thicker than mine but should help your research at least!). Good luck!

      1. Just wanted to let you know, it is up! All 10 feet using your method. I had sides and a lot of studs, plus we did put an L shaped cleat under one of the sides as I plan to put up a clothes hanging rod, so it helped with the reinforcement and will be covered by clothes anyhow. We have not put the face on yet, but I’m just super happy it seems sturdy enough to put whatever I might store there. Thanks for the input.

        1. Glad to hear it, and good to always anchor more than less if you’re unsure. Hope it serves you well for a long time!

  20. Hi Sarah
    I appreciate ur post ! Im actually planning to make sheleves in my kitchen using ur method. but i have 3 questions.
    1, how did u attach the 1×2 in the front? screws or only wood glue? im planning to stain the wood so im worried that screws or nails could be too obvious …
    2, how did u deal with the extra 0.1 inch or so of the front lumber when u use it to hide the plywood. in the picture, ur shelves look pretty flash on the top n the bottom surface.
    3, what did u use the caulking for?
    Thank u for any respond

    1. 1. I used wood glue and finishing nails (the heads of the nails are so small that it was a very easy patch up… if you’re staining, you might not bother with patching at all… on a paint job, that little indent is very noticeable when the light hits the paint sheen, so I patched it).
      2. If I remember correctly (this was a couple of years ago when I installed) I think I let that extra .1 overhang on the bottom and created a faux smooth look with the wood filler (or caulk) & paint. It’s so small that no one really looks that hard at it to know the difference. To get it truly even, you may have to break out a palm sander and some coarse sandpaper to knock down that lip.
      3. I used caulking around the edges between the wall and seam of the shelf. It creates less of a harsh shadow so they look more built-in than if I’d left the gap visible.

  21. Hi! Wondering if anyone has done this for a desk? I have a 12ft wall I’d like a floating desk on and love this idea. Not sure if I can extend it further from the wall without an issue and it still being supportive. Thanks!

    1. Eventually, the middle supports aren’t going to be strong enough to support both a wide and long setup. You may have to add secondary support. I did something similar when I made a plywood countertop for the laundry room. You can see that here.

    1. Couldn’t say. I made these shelves to fit my own circumstances. The deeper you make a shelf, the more support it needs. So it also depends on how wide the span of the shelf is, what kind of anchoring you’re able to do, and how much weight it needs to hold. If you make it too long or too wide, it can bow in the middle.

      1. That’s awesome! My brain tells me that it *must* weigh down and bow in the middle. It’s great to hear that that’s not happening!

        1. Center support is definitely important, which is why it was so necessary to anchor the middle into the wall as best to you can where the studs are! The longer the length of the shelf, the more the center area risks bowing.

  22. I read your top shelf was 14″ from the ceiling. What was the height between the 2 shelves–was that also 14″? How far off the floor was your bottom shelf?

  23. I want something like this in my laundry room, but it hurts up against the washer so I only have The back wall and one side wall. So you think the frame would be enough to hold it without that 2nd side wall? I don’t be dancing on it but I do want to put a clean load of laundry on it

    1. I really couldn’t say for sure. Putting a clean load of laundry on it sounds like it would be a much deeper shelf than the ones I built.

  24. I hope you will answer this question

    * Can I follow these instructions to build a floating shelf that is 172.5″ long with the shelf being 18 inch deep

    *another shelf will be 99.5″ long and also 18″ deep

    *3rd shelf needs to be 24 inch deep and 123 inches long

    1. My shelves are 70″ deep and 13″ wide. The challenge with building floating shelves is making sure the middle is sufficiently supported, and it gets that support from screwing into the studs, the anchoring of middle supports, and the front piece on the shelf. I’ve never built shelves as long as yours.

  25. Those look pretty sweet and I am right with you in terms of chunky shelves! What is the weight capacity of these shelves?…could they be used for books along a similar span (about 6 feet)? I’m wondering if sag would be an issue and how stiff your shelves are in the middle.

    1. Thanks! I don’t experience any sag (it’s been a few years since install btw) and I usually keep some heavy items on them, but I can’t really speak to weight capacity with any accuracy (anyone installing this in their home may have different results than me, and I don’t do weight testing like something made for sale). I think enough time has passed that I would have noticed sag. It’s also important to add that front piece because support comes from both the internal structure and the front attachment. Hope that helps!