How to Hang a Shelf

Decorative shelf hung on brackets

The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Yield: Wall shelves
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $30 to $50

Wall shelves are one of the best ways to add both beauty and visual interest to a space while also increasing the space's functional storage. With a vast selection of hardware available, there's seemingly no end to the style and storage possibilities. Follow along with this step-by-step guide to learn the simple steps to hanging stylish shelves in a safe and secure way.

Before You Begin

Before you set out to purchase your materials, first determine your desired shelf placement, as this will help determine what materials you should select. For example, let's say you're planning to hang shelves in your bathroom, centered just above the toilet. There are a couple of things to keep in mind in this scenario. Ideally, shelf hardware should be fastened to the studs. But, unless the toilet is perfectly centered between two studs, the shelf hardware cannot be evenly spaced without using heavy-duty drywall anchors. Additionally, because of the placement of the shelves, you should plan on using fairly narrow boards. This way, people will be less likely to hit their heads.

Nearly everywhere you plan to add a shelf will have at least one variable to consider that will affect the materials necessary for the job. Pay close attention to the function of the area where you're placing the shelves and choose your materials accordingly.

Safety Considerations

The safety of wall shelves lies in both the secureness of the fastening as well as the strength of the shelf materials and shelf hardware. Always pay special attention to weight limits on hardware and shelf materials. If you plan to place heavy items on the shelf, opt for heavy-duty hardware and a thicker shelf board. When in doubt, choose materials that are overqualified rather than under.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Level
  • Stud finder
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Drill
  • Drill bits


Wall Shelves

  • Shelf brackets
  • Long wood screws
  • Short wood screws
  • Shelf boards
  • Drywall anchors (optional)

Faux Floating Wall Shelves

  • Shelf boards
  • heavy-duty steel corner braces


Materials needed to hang a shelf

The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

How to Hang Shelves

Follow along with the steps below to learn exactly how to hang both heavy- and light-duty shelves in whatever space you choose.

  1. Plan Shelf Height and Spacing

    Determine the height and spacing of your shelves by factoring in the amount of shelves you want and the space you want to use on your wall. In general, 10 inches is a good starting point for space between each shelf. Consider the thickness of your shelf material and the height of your shelf hardware.

    Measuring shelving width

    The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

  2. Find Wall Studs

    Use a stud finder to locate the studs and mark their position along the wall with a pencil. If there aren't wall studs available to use, buy appropriate anchors for your shelf's weight requirements.

    Using a stud finder on the wall

    The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

  3. Draw Horizontal Lines

    Using a long level or laser level, trace a horizontal line on the wall where you want the bottom side of your lowest shelf to sit. From there, measure up every 10 inches (or however far you've determined) and create a horizontal line for each additional shelf.

    Tracing horizontal lines over a level

    The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

  4. Mark Hardware Screw Holes

    Place a shelf bracket on the marked wall stud (or in your desired position if using anchors) and slide the top up until it rests perfectly against the horizontal line. Mark the screw holes using a pencil. Repeat this process for each shelf bracket.

    Marking where to draw pilot holes on the wall

    The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

  5. Drill Pilot Holes

    Using a drill bit that's smaller than the screws you intend to use, drill pilot holes at each marked point. If using drywall anchors, drill holes using the anchor's specified bit size.

    Drilling pilot holes in the wall

    The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

  6. Screw Shelf Brackets to Wall

    Securely fasten the shelf brackets to the wall with long wood screws.


    Using strong wood screws that are long enough to penetrate the stud by at least one inch (preferably more) is as important as choosing strong shelf brackets. If you're hanging shelves that will support a lot of weight, consider swapping wood screws for 1/4-inch lag bolts.

    Screwing the brackets to the wall

    The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

  7. Fasten Shelves to Brackets

    Place each shelf on each row of brackets, adjust until it's perfectly centered, and then screw it in place using wood screws that are shorter than the board's thickness.


    If your shelves are tightly spaced, fasten the shelves to the brackets one at a time, working from the top. This ensures there's always room for your drill or screwdriver.

    Fastening the brackets to the shelves

    The Spruce / Jason Donnelly

How to Create Faux Floating Shelves

Everyone loves the look of floating shelves, but installation can sometimes be difficult and expensive. To get the look of floating shelves without the expensive, complicated hardware, simply swap out traditional shelf brackets for heavy-duty steel corner braces. The L-shape of the bracket allows them to support the shelf from underneath with the wall portion visible only above the shelf, while the thickness of the steel creates a super strong hold. Once decorative items are placed on the shelf, the hardware becomes nearly invisible.