How to Install Built-In Shelving

How to Install Built-In Shelving
  • Opening Intro -

    Ask most any parent of young children what their biggest storage challenge is and they may say, "I don't have enough shelves to keep everything organized."

    Once your children are beyond the toy box stage, they are ready to put everything in its place.


That place can be shelving, but unless you are using built-in shelving, you may be concerned that a free standing bookcase or other shelving is too dangerous to place in a young child’s bedroom.

With built-in shelving, you can make good use of a limited amount of space, with years of enjoyment possible. This job can be done inside of a day, making use of tools you probably already own and material that are available at Home Depot, Lowe’s or your neighborhood hardware store.

1. Identify your shelving area. Find an area in a room that is ideal for built-in shelving. It may be that empty space between two windows, a corner of the room or even part of a closet. Consider your lighting concerns as such shelving can benefit from natural and artificial light.

Measure the width and height of that space, subtracting one inch from the height. Remove the baseboard as you will need to fit in the shelving unit. Use pencil marks to denote where each shelf will be placed. Use a level to ensure perfect balance of each shelf.

2. Cut or buy your pre-cut wood. If you have a circular saw, you can cut your wood to size. Otherwise, your hardware or home store can cut each piece to suit your needs.

Your two side panels should come in one-inch shorter than the ceiling to floor measurement. The shelving units should come in 1.5 inches shorter than the width measurement for the unit, and measure no wider than four feet.  Cut four 2×2 frame supports, to measure the unit’s width, subtracting 1.5 inches from the width.

3. Drill holes. Using your drill, you need to place holes on the inside of each side board, spaced every 9 inches horizontally and 2 inches vertically. Drill holes 3/8 of an inch deep, using a bit attachment as your guide.

4. Prepare the wood. Whether you want the shelving stained or painted, complete this step before assembling your shelves. If you’re painting inside of the home, open windows and make use of fans to reduce the accumulation of paint fumes. This is especially important when choosing solvent-based paint.

If you are planning to use at least two coats, allow for extra drying time during humid weather conditions. A good rule of thumb is to double the prescribed drying time when it is humid.

5. Begin to assemble the shelving unit. Connect each side to the frame support ends. Use 2-inch finish nails, driving each one through each sides and through the end support.

6. Position the unit. With boards attached, position the unit flat to the wall. With a power screw driver, screw through the upper frame support as well as the lower frame support into the wall studs with 3-inch wallboard screws.

7. Finish up. Connect the built-in unit top and bottom by driving the 6-inch nails in into the sides. Use the scrap baseboard to trim the bottom of the shelving unit. Put away your tools and materials; decorate your shelving as desired.

Shelving Considerations

Place the most used items within reach of your children, reserving the top shelves for seldom used items. Consider painting the wall behind the shelving with a contrasting color, especially if your shelves are white. Use decorative storage, such as boxes and baskets, for easy organization and for visual appeal. The heaviest items should be placed on the bottom shelf.


Home Improvement 1-2-3. 1st edition. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Publishing Group, 1995. Print. <>.

Author Information

Jay Preston is Brand Manager at Tool HQ, premiere supplier of Discount Tools in Australia.


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Categories: Home Improvement

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".