Canadian Woodworking

Levitating shelf

Author: Steven Der-Garabedian
Photos: Steven Der-Garabedian
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: February March 2015

Whether you need a simple shelf near your bed or the front door, this fun project will serve you well.

  • COST

Any time I start a project that requires hardware, I like to have it on hand so any special needs can be addressed before cutting into a plank of wood. I chose the blind shelf supports from Lee Valley Tools Ltd. (00S05.21) and, as I decided to add a drawer, one of their 3/8″ diameter smooth insert knobs (05E01.01). The other consideration I had before starting was to actually measure the angle of the corner, 90.5º, and make a template with the angle and location of the one stud I needed. I chose zebrawood for the bulk of the shelf with pau amarello for the drawer front and poplar for the drawer sides, back and bottom.

Be Prepared
With hardware in hand Der-Garabedian made a full-size template on plywood, and marked all the necessary information on it, including the angle between the two walls.

Divide and Conquer
To create the slot in the center divider to accept the blind shelf support you can split the divider in two and run stopped dadoes in both pieces (above). When reassembling the two divider halves, use a properly sized locator stick to align them, and clamp the halves together (below).

Drill for Pegs
While the shelf is dry-assembled, drill holes through the top and bottom, into the outer dividers, so pegs can be inserted during assembly.

Assembly Time
Once the inner surfaces of the shelf have a finish, bring all the parts together with glue, insert the pegs and add clamps.

Flush the Pegs
A sharp block plane, or chisel, will shave the pegs flush with the top and bottom surfaces.

Final Finish
Now that the shelf is complete it needs a protective finish. Select the type of finish you apply according to how much wear you think your shelf will be subject to.

Side Cleat Groove
After the shelf is dry, a few passes on the router table will leave you with a groove to accept the side bracket.

Ready for the Shelf
Secure the side bracket to the wall at the correct height first. Next, apply double-sided tape to the back of the blind shelf support, insert it into the groove in the shelf, position the shelf properly and press the blind support onto the wall. Attach it with a few screws and enjoy.

Sizing It Up

I made the shelf 21-1/2″ long by 7-1/2″ deep and left a 1-1/4″ gap between the top and bottom. I wanted to make the gap narrow so as not to be a permanent place to house all sorts of items. With the stud centered 15-1/4″ from the corner, it left a 5-1/2″ cove for a small drawer. I don’t like to make drawers wider than they are deep as they tend to rack as you open or close them. The thickness of the upper and lower members, and two outer dividers, I left at 1/2″. The center I sized at 5/8″ to accommodate the specifics of the hardware, a 1/2″ x 7/16″ stopped groove 5-1/4″ long. All three dividers are 2″ long x 7-1/2″ wide, except the center divider, which needs to be shortened by 1/8″ to accept the hardware mounting plate. Arranging the dividers with the same grain orientation as the top and bottom not only continued the lines of the zebrawood, but also ensured wood movement would happen in the same direction. Your choice of woods, hardware and layout will dictate some changes but the process will be the same.

Slicing In

Mill your wood, leaving a bit of extra length on the top and bottom pieces to allow for flushing of the ends to the dividers. The piece for the center divider should be milled a little thicker and longer. Start that piece at roughly 8″ wide x 12″ long x 3/4″ thick. If placing the shelf against a corner, the adjacent divider will also need a stopped groove to rest against a shop made support. This is accomplished after glue-up, but before the finish is applied.

Re-saw the wood for the center divider in half and run it through the thickness planer, making each mating piece 5/16″ thick. Now cut each half to the final dimensions of 7-3/8″ wide by 2″ long. Make the stopped groove by using a 1/2″ straight bit in the router table, raising the bit with each pass until a depth of 7/32″ is reached. Check the instructions to accommodate its specifics. To keep the two pieces aligned during glue up, mill a scrap piece of hardwood to 1/2″ x 7/16″ and about 8″ long. Apply a generous coat of wax so it doesn’t become a permanent fixture in your divider. With a bit of glue and a few clamps, you wouldn’t have known the assembly was split in two. The other option here is to drill a 7/16″ hole 5-1/4″ deep, with a longer than standard drill bit, keeping the divider absolutely vertical during the process.

With a stacked set of dado blades, cut rabbets 3/8″ deep on the inside faces of the top and bottom pieces to receive the dividers. Some extra attention needs to be paid in a couple of areas. First, the center divider’s width is different from the ends and must be centered on the supporting stud in your wall.

Secondly, the rabbets at both ends will have to be a little wider, as extra length was left in the top and bottom to allow them to be flushed to the visible divider after assembly. It’s not until final fitting of the shelf that you should trim the top and bottom overhang near the hidden end, so a close fit with the wall can be achieved. Run these rabbets, letting the outer dividers into the shelf about 1/8″. If your rabbets aren’t as clean along the bottom, use a router plane to make sure all are the same height and flat-bottomed. Dry-clamp the assembly to check for fit and finish and make any adjustments. While the shelf is clamped together, head to the drill press and drill 1/4″ through holes at the corners. Space these 1″ from the front and back, and centered over the outer dividers. Dowels will be driven through these holes to not only add a decorative touch but also aid with final assembly and glue-up.


Since the enclosed area is narrow apply a finish to it before assembly. Mask off areas that will need glue. The choice of finish is yours, but as this shelf will not typically have to resist moisture I chose shellac and applied seven coats, rubbing it down with 0000 steel wool between the last four layers and a fine furniture wax as a final layer of sealer and protector. If there is going to be some time between applying the finish and glue-up, apply finish to both sides, as your pieces will cup. Touch-ups on the outer surfaces can be accomplished near the end.

Remove any tape and glue the assembly together. Drive dowels through the corner holes and flush them with a saw or chisel. Clamp the assembly using as many cauls and clamps as required. Using pine cauls will allow it to deform around any protruding dowels yet still provide enough clamping pressure. Once the adhesive has dried, remove the clamps and flush the ends using a block plane. Flush the dowels completely to the top and bottom while you have your block plane out.

Fit to the wall

Now is the time to trim the end that sits in the corner with the matching angle on your template. Set your table saw’s mitre gauge and trim to the correct angle. When trimming, try and ensure the cut leaves the front of the divider the same width as the opposite side. Next, cut the stopped groove in the same divider using a 1″ straight cutter. The groove should run about 6″ long, starting from the back. Again, stop blocks, and several passes, until a depth of 1/4″ is achieved. Make a supporting bracket that will fit in the groove you just created. This will be attached to the wall and the shelf slid on to it and the blind shelf hardware.

There are plenty of ways to make a drawer. Choose which works best and easiest for you, with the tools you have on hand. Size the drawer to the opening you have and add a knob or handle of your choice. Remember to allow for wood movement so that important items don’t get stuck in a jammed drawer.

Final Preparations

Chamfer the inside of the enclosed area with a router bit. Use a file to square the corners. Soften the outside edges with a block plane. Polish all remaining surfaces with a smoothing plane and apply the outer finish.

To mount the shelf, attach the shopmade side bracket to the wall at the desired height. The closest screw to the corner will catch a stud but the remaining one will have to be attached with a drywall anchor. Use chamfered clearance holes in the side bracket so as to not split the wood. Attach double-sided tape to the back of the store-bought bracket and with a level on top of the shelf slide it into position. Slowly pull the shelf out, leaving the bracket attached to the wall. Mark your screw locations and mount the bracket permanently. Slide on your shelf and you’re done.

Options Galore

As with any project there are lots of options. Wood choice, overall dimensions and layout of shelves and drawers are some obvious ones. If you would rather the shelf be centered on a wall, size the unit to span at least two studs and use two supports. Pay attention to the depth of your shelf as deeper assemblies will have less weight carrying ability. If you want to make your shelf narrower than the support posts then cut them to suit your dimension. Drawers don’t have to be included, and for that matter a single solid shelf can be made without an opening. No matter what choices you make, you will have created some magic floating a shelf without any visible brackets. Do you have an easy way of making a simple shelf? Share your ideas at the end of this article, on our website.

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