Heavy duty floating shelf brackets can be EXPENSIVE! But I figured out a way to do install them for under $10 per shelf!

In the past, I’ve shared about how to make an inexpensive board and batten wall, and how to totally transform your living room by lime washing your fireplace. Today we are going to talk about another amazing home renovation project!

What is a heavy duty floating shelf?

Floating shelves became synonymous with farmhouse style. I’m not crazy about a rustic farmhouse look. But I LOVE a shelf without brackets to distract from what is piled on them. So a heavy duty floating shelf is just a thick chunk of wood that’s attached to your wall and as a shelf – and has invisible brackets.

What brackets are normally used for floating shelves?

Floating shelves can be installed a few ways. It kind of depends on the look you’re going for and how much time and money you want to spend. I tend to want to spend very little, but make it look very expensive. Not super easy to do!

Floating box shelves

Some people build empty boxes that slide on to posts that are installed into studs in the walls. These are pretty and quite economical, but I wanted to use solid wood chunks, because I love that look.

Premade brackets for floating shelves

Another option for floating shelves is to install them with brackets specifically built to be invisible. This is not my favorite option.

First, they are EXPENSIVE when you’re doing a job as big as mine. I wanted to spend my money on quality wood in order to make them look impressive. I din’t want to spend a lot of money on the brackets that no one sees.

Second, they can look really bad. The metal is pretty thick on these brackets, so they should be set into the tiles or routered into the back of the wood shelf. If you don’t do that extra step, the wood doesn’t sit flush with the wall and it looks very “homemade”.

What is an inexpensive option for heavy duty floating shelf brackets?

I went back and forth on my bracket system. My husband begged me to consider using some sort of corbel or black bracket to hold them up since that would have been an easy solution. But I had my heart set on this particular look.

I decided that I would use 5/8″ threaded rods that are 12″ long from Home Depot. I planned to drill directly into the 2×4 stud about 3-3 1/2″. Then we would drill into the shelf about 8-9″ and then slide the shelf on.

I figured this would give me the most sturdy shelf I could make, while providing the look I was hoping for.

How do I install invisible shelf brackets that are secure?

It’s actually not hard at all to install the floating shelves this way. I found that the most complicated part was

  1. making sure we drilled straight into the studs
  2. tiling around the holes

If you aren’t tiling all the way up your wall like I did, you will save SO much work!

Supply List for Heavy Duty Floating Shelf Brackets:

5/8″ threaded rod – Under $3 each!

Hammer or mallet

2×4 chunk of wood

1X2 piece cut the same length as your shelf

3/4″ drill bit – or 2 if you mess up like we did

Electric drill – helpful if it has a level installed on it

3″ thick wood cut to size for shelves

General Finishes Water Based Satin Polyurethane

Determine Length and Prep Shelving

In order to make these look substantial, it’s best to use wood that is about 3″ thick. It’s also easier to drill into a piece of wood that is that thick. If you’re drilling into a 2″ shelf and your drill bit is 3/4″, it doesn’t leave much room for error.

I felt like it was worth spending the money on amazing wood because this is a statement piece in my kitchen. I’d normally have put cabinets there, so this was actually cheaper than doing that.

Cut the shelves to size and get them sanded and ready to install.

Where do I find reclaimed wood?

I located local reclaimed wood shops online and called around until I found a shop that had wood 3″ thick and at least 9″ deep so my dinner plates would fit on them well. It took some calling because that’s kind of a unique size wood, but I found it!

I drove an hour each way to get the wood for my shelving and I don’t regret it one bit! The only thing I regret is not taking my husband’s truck to pick it up.

The owner of the company used a chainsaw to cut the wood to length so I could fit it in my car. His cut was off by 3″ on one shelf! That meant that I had to cut another shelf 3″ shorter so they would line up. Kind of a bummer. But in the end I barely notice it now.

Just know that it might be worth it to bring a tape measure and circular saw if you need to cut them to length to fit them in your vehicle.

reclaimed wood shop
reclaimed wood for floating shelves
reclaimed wood shop for shelving

Determine the Height of the Floating Shelves

There’s not a set distance above the countertop that you have to have your first shelf. We decided that we wanted our lower shelf at around 20-21″ above the countertop. The next shelf we placed 16″ higher.

Our shelves are taking up the whole wall, and we were only installing 2 on each side. Because of that, we wanted to make sure they covered a lot of the wall space, while still being low enough to reach.

One thing to make sure to know is that if you have 3″ thick shelves, you need to realize that they will be 1 1/2″ above and below the rods. Same thing with the upper shelf. So take that into account when you are deciding the distance between the rods. It won’t equal the distance between the shelves.

kitchen renovation

Mark the Studs for Rod Placement

At the time of the picture above, we had built our countertops and installed the green board and were adding the cement board. We marked the studs at this point because we weren’t sure how strong the stud finder was and if it would go through cement board.

Make sure to mark the studs on both sides. So make a mark where the stud finder starts beeping and another when it stops. That should show you the exact placement of the stud and allow you to drill right into the middle of those two marks.

Drill Holes 3″ Deep into Studs

We used a cordless drill for this portion. Our drill happens to have a level on it, but if yours does not, you can just set a small level on the top to make sure you are going in nice and straight. Since you’re drilling in far, you want to make sure they are all really straight and not tipped.

Finish the Wall around the Holes

Finish the walls after you drill your holes. Paint it or tile it. If you choose to tile it, you can use a tile cutting drill bit to drill through the tiles to give you the ability to slide the rod through that as well.

Slide Rods into the Holes

Slide the rods into the holes after the wall is either painted or tiled. Because we used a 3/4″ drill bit, ours slid right in. We had thought we would want to glue them in, but the tension when we added the shelving kept them in perfectly

rods installed for heavy duty floating shelf brackets

Make Template on Scrap Wood for the Floating Shelves

We decided to make a template on scrap wood and drill the holes in the 1×2. Then we slid that over the rods to make sure it was perfectly aligned to the rods for that shelf. We did that 4 times – once for each shelf.

I could just kick myself for not taking a picture of this process. It is exactly what you would imagine, though. I held the 1×2 (cut the length of the shelf) exactly where I would want the shelf to be, but below the rods. Then we marked the 1×2 with the rod placement. We drilled holes through the middle and then tried it on for size by sliding the rods into the holes.

The reason we decided to do a template is because each of our shelves cost about $75 for the wood. We did NOT want to drill 9″ into that wood and then realize we were slightly off. So this extra step took some time, but it was well worth the effort. Each shelf we made ended up fitting on perfectly.

Use Template to Mark Holes on Floating Shelves

We used our template to mark the holes on the back of the shelves. Make sure you remember what side was facing the wall so that the proper side of the template is against the wood. We spent too long verifying that we were putting the template on the end of the wood correctly. Measure twice, cut once, right?

Drill 8″ into Floating Shelves

Make sure your drill bit is long enough to go in 8-9″ and drill away! This part was a little harder than my husband anticipated. Again, we used the level on the drill to make sure he was going in straight.

The spoiler is that he didn’t get it perfectly straight. However, it turns out that when that human error makes them a tiny bit off, it creates tension on the rods when you install them. In a funny turn of events, this is what made ours fit so tightly and not need to be glued!

Tips:

Have an extra drill bit on hand!

The wood we had was white oak, we think. It was SO hard and we broke one or two drill bits along the way.

If drill bit gets stuck…

Yes. This happened to us and it was SO frustrating!!! It turns out that after spending hours trying to get the drill bit out, my husband found a video that explained that the sawdust can sometimes make the drill bit seize up.

We ended up using a skewer and sticking it in there to loosen all the shavings up and it worked like a charm!!!

Since prevention is better than dealing with a problem once it happens, we realized that drilling a little at a time, and then turning it upside down to get the shavings out of the hole as we went was the best option. Once we went slowly and cleared the sawdust as we went, it kept it from reoccurring.

Fit Rods into Shelving Holes and Pound in With 2×4 and Mallet

This part is so fun! Slide the shelves onto the rods. They should fit tightly. Then take a large chunk of a 2×4 and pound that chunk of wood to get them to go on. The chunk of wood spreads out the pressure from pounding and keeps the shelves from getting damaged.

pounding in shelves onto heavy duty floating shelf brackets

Finish Heavy Duty Floating Shelves with Poly

We pounded them on until they were a couple inches away from the wall. Then I finished them with 5 coats of General Finishes water based satin poly. I wanted to wait to do this until we had mostly installed them. That way if they got a little damaged, it was before I put all the work into putting polyurethane on them.

top coat for floating shelf

Pound in the Rest of the Way After Completely Dried

After they are completely dried, use the same method to finish pounding them in until they are flush against the wall. Be very careful not to damage the coat of poly.

heavy duty floating shelf on bracket

Remember that it’s reclaimed wood. It’s not going to be absolutely perfect. I could drive myself crazy if I wanted to by seeing a slight gap like this one because of imperfections in the wood.

But honestly, I think the whole point behind using reclaimed wood is to give new life to something that may have just been discarded. It’s a beautiful thing!

If you try these heavy duty floating shelf brackets, I’d love to hear about how it went!!!

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