How to Support a Long Wooden Shelf

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This is How to Support a Long Wooden Shelf. Long shelves are very beautiful for a lot of reasons, they are also a little hard to support. Use these different methods, and you won’t have to worry about sagging or unsafe shelves. Enjoy.

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Building a Long Wooden Shelf

how-to-support-a-long-wooden-shelfThere are a number of reasons to build long wooden shelving in your home. Long shelves can unify a big wall, and can provide a lot of storage space for items that you want to keep out on display.

Longer shelves are also easier to make and install then many small shelves. It’s far less work to put up one shelf instead of six, and there’s a lot less to do with lining everything up so that the shelf looks good.

The only real problem with a long shelf is support. Not only do valuables and collectibles that you put on shelves add up in weight, they do it in a sneaky way. Every single item your place on the shelf is typically light, but collectively they end up weighing quite a bit.

Once your shelf is loaded up, a poorly supported shelf will sag. Over time, the shelf can even collapse, bringing down everything with it. This is not safe, especially if you have children or pets that play around the shelves.

Thankfully, supporting a long shelf is easy. There are several options are coming up, and they range from extremely simple to mostly simple. There is nothing hard or difficult about supporting the shelf, so pick a method you like and go with it.

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See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker

Gussets in Several Places

By far the easiest way to support a long wooden shelf is by using gussets. You can buy these anywhere, and odds are you already have at least two of them under your shelf right now. Adding more of these creates more support, it makes your shelf more safe.

Gussets are also called brackets. These are triangle shaped items that screw into the wall, and support the shelf from the bottom. Not only will adding more of these make the long shelf stronger, but where you place them also makes a difference.

Try to keep them evenly distributed for a good visual look, and if you can get a couple of them over wall studs it’s even better. If not, just use wall anchors. Placing these every 2 to 3 feet is a good starting point depending on how much weight you put on your shelf.

The Best Wall Anchors for Wooden Shelves

Wall anchors are not all created equal. There are many you can buy, but only a couple of them are really good for holding a lot of weight. 

These toggle strap anchors are the best you can buy. Not only are they easy to use, but they are also really strong, and they hold a lot of weight. I have personally used these for a long time, and in lots of different hanging applications.

I’ve even hung flat panel tvs using these anchors without a single issue. These anchors will provide many pounds of resistance for your wooden shelves, and they can provide support in the couple places where you cannot anchor directly into a stud.

See Also: 20 Easy DIY Woodworking Projects With Tutorials

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Long Wood Supports Under the Shelf

If you don’t like the idea of using brackets, and you want something that is a little bit more discrete, think about a long wooden support. Most shells are made from stone or wood, so it flexes fairly easily.

Adding a just one or two supports underneath the shelf can make a big difference. These supports help prevent flex, and also help the shelf support more weight. Making supports is easy, you just need to cut strips and glue or screw them in place.

The best strips will run perpendicular to the shelf itself. Make these a couple inches tall, and have them run the entire width of the shelf. Two of these, placed it in thirds can add significant strength to a long wooden shelf.

See Also: 13 Woodworking Ideas to Help Any Beginner

Use Thicker Wood for the Shelf

Another way to strengthen your shelf is to use thicker wood. The wood that is used for most shelving is around 3/4 of an inch thick. While this is fine for standard size shelves, long wooden shelves can do better with thicker material.

If you can’t find something thicker, then consider gluing two pieces of the standard thickness together to form a larger piece. If you double the thickness, you double the strength. The shelf will be heavier of course, but it will be much more difficult to flex.

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When you glue up a piece of wood like this, it’s important to lay it somewhere flat while the glue dries. This is important because if the shelf is curved while the glue dries, it will remain in that shape when you take off the clamps.

Depending on how long your shelf is, this can be a difficult proposition. However, most of the time you can get away with using a garage floor, or even a back patio or driveway to lay out the shelf on a flat surface.

You only need to keep the shelf there while the glue dries. Once it does, the shelf will actually be stronger than it was before, and that’s because the glue holding the two layers of wood together will prevent it from warping.

See Also: 19 Incredible Tips on Working With Wood Glue

Screw the Shelf Into Wall Studs

You can actually support a long shelf with less brackets if you screw the brackets them selves into studs. The only downside with this method is that it requires a bit more planning, because the studs aren’t always evenly placed on the shelf.

Studs are typically pretty even in most walls, but depending on where you want to place your wooden shelf, they may not look even on the shelf. If you can adjust either the length of the shelf or the placement, you can even out the look and make the shelf stronger.

Make your shelf so that the studs are even, and select a place to put a bracket at each end, and one in the middle. Depending on the length of the shelf, you may need to do two brackets in the middle, but start with one first.

Anchor those brackets deep into the studs. You can use lag bolts for this purpose, or you can use deep reaching wood screws. However you do it, the point is to secure the bracket to the wall so well that it will support far more weight than you would ever need.

Do this in all three places, and then add the shelf on top. Test the shelf, and you’ll be surprised to notice that it holds quite a bit of weight. Also, if you concentrate your items in the general area of the brackets, your shelf will bow a lot less as well.

See Also: 15 Important Tips on Woodworking With Pallets

Tall Lip on the Front Edge of the Shelf

A classy way to add strength to a shelf in a secret manner is to add a lip to the top or the bottom of the front edge of the shelf. The reason I say this is a secret method is because it looks like a tasteful design feature, but really adds strength.

Cut a lip that is a couple inches tall, and glue it to the top of the front edge or to the bottom of the front edge. The actual joint should be on the face of the board, not on the face of the new piece you were using for the lip.

When the shelf flexes under weight, it will have to overcome the resistance of this lip in order to bend. Since the lip is glued in perpendicular to the shelf, it provides a lot of resistance and prevents your shelf from bending.

Support a shelf from the bottom this way, and it will create the illusion that the wood for the shelf is thicker than it actually is. Support a shelf from the top using a lip, and it helps keep your valuables from being slid around and knocked off.

Using a lip on the front on the top edge is also good if you have kids. Since things fall off a lot less easily, you don’t have to worry as much about your kids playing around and underneath the shelving.

See Also: 15 Great Places to Get Woodworking Wood

Tips on Putting up a Shelf

The following is a list of tips that can help you put up the shelves. These are best practices, and you can adopt them to your specific situation.

  • When in doubt, try to anchor into the studs as often as possible.
  • If you can’t find studs, then use wall anchors on every single screw.
  • Invest in good wall anchors, like toggle strap anchors.
  • Don’t use those little plastic anchors that come with picture frames. These are terrible, and don’t add very much strength to the wall board.
  • Level your shelves right from the beginning, and don’t wait until the end before you check.
  • You can use the level on the wall brackets themselves without the shelf.
  • Nothing wrong with being redundant. Screws and glue are better than either alone.
  • It’s easier to put up one long board than several short ones.

Your Action Assignment

Now that you know how to support a long wooden shelf really well, it’s time to either fix your existing shelving, or make that shelf you’ve always wanted. Consider all of these tips in your design process, and you will be happy with yourself for a very long time.

If you were just starting out, give yourself the best chance of success by plotting out your shelf location based on your wall studs. Anchoring as many brackets into the wall studs as possible is the best way to support your shelf.

Not only will your shells be stronger, it will also be safer. You won’t have to worry about what you place upon it nearly as much, and you won’t have to worry when children and pets play under and around it.

The Book Store is Now Open!   Happy Building!

It only takes a little bit of planning to support a shelf really well. Take your time, and you’ll be very happy with this simple woodworking project.

If you have any questions. please Post a Question in the Q&A Forum and I’ll be glad to help. Happy building.

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brian forbes westfarthing woodworks llc owner

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