Kitchen Shelf Tutorial

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A lot of people have asked for details on our kitchen shelves and I’m finally getting around to explaining how we did ours. Now bear with me, it was a while ago, so I’m doing my best to remember allllll the details. Also keep in mind, our shelves aren’t true “floating shelves” because we have a wall on one side and a cabinet on the other. Ours are attached to the wall and also these sides as well. Its very lucky we could do it this way because they’re sturdier, can be a little deeper, and can hold a lot of weight. (Which we REALLY needed because we were sticking our microwave up there. That took a little more planning to do the microwave part- there is a metal post in there for support (Dan informed me its called an all-thread), etc, so that’s for a Q&A with my dad at a later date if you need help with that. Let me know!)


First you will want to find and mark your studs in the wall. Using a large level, you need to mark where your shelf (shelves) will sit. We went with the middle of our first shelf at 18” and then our second shelf is that same distance above the bottom shelf. I wanted to start the shelves at the same height as upper cabinets, which is normally 18” above the countertop.


Make the “frame”:

Once you know where you’re placing your shelves, its time to measure and cut your 2x2s. You’ll need long pieces for your back and front. You will also need shorter pieces to hold the front and back together/ support your shelves. We spaced ours at about 11-12” apart. Our “frame” ended up being 11” deep. The trim piece you add to the front later on will be about 1” thick, so you end up with shelves that are 12’ deep. It will kind of look like a ladder with a top and bottom once you’re done. (See super rough sketch below) This is where our shelves are different from other floating shelves you will see. Normally, there isn’t the piece on the front. So your “ladder” would be missing a side and the shelf would slide onto this “bracket” you’ve made that’s sticking out of your wall. Does that make sense? I feel like if you’ve looked up “floating shelf tutorial” you will know what I mean. I also wanted to point out, before I move on, that we used a countersink bit on the drill to make a little recess for the head of the screws when needed. That way, the screw heads don’t stick out of the frame and interfere with the plywood or 2x2’s being flush. If you can get the screw head to be a little more than flush without the countersink bit, that’s fine too!

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Next, you want to measure and cut your oak plywood to fit your frame. It should cover it completely and line up with the edges. (See photo) You’ll need to cut a piece to fit the top and the bottom. Finally, cut your trim piece to fit the face/front of your shelf. *Note- the shelves end up being just about 2” thick. I know I say to buy 2x2 pine board for this, and then 1/4” plywood, but wood measurements are always off. The 2x2 is actually less than 2”. It’s weird, but its the way it is. You will need to use a router with a rounding bit to make your edges of this piece nice and smooth. We used a 1/8” roundover bit so the edge is still a little square, but not sharp.

Attach your frame to the wall. Be sure to use a level so its straight in all directions. In our case, we also attached the frame to the side wall and refrigerator cabinet.

Next, I sanded and stained the plywood. You can use a wood conditioner or not. I used one for our laundry room counter but didn’t use one here. I didn’t see that much of a difference so its up to you. Be sure to use tack cloth in between coats to get all of the dust off. There are good staining tutorials out there if you need more detail, but you just use a rag and wipe it on in thin coats. Have a dry rag handy to wipe off the excess. If my memory is correct, we used two or three coats of stain to get our color. Once the stain is done, you can apply your clear satin polyurethane. I used a 220 grit sandpaper on my poly to make sure it was nice and smooth so I could dust up there without the duster getting caught up. I just did a nice, light sanding until my hand felt smooth going over the surface. Wipe off any excess and then use the tack cloth before your final coat of poly is brushed on. Buy a good brush for this like Purdy brand. Nothing worse than bristles coming off of a cheap brush and ruining your hard work. The brushes are a little more money, but much less than a therapy bill after you go nuts for ruining your shelves when you’re so close to the end. lol


You will need to sand and stain your front piece of oak as well in this same manner. Just a heads up- the plywood and the front piece are going to take the stain differently. I may have done one more coat on the front piece to try to make them match a bit more. Play with it on a scrap piece and see what color makes you happy. Best way to know. Mine looks better in person than the photo below- you really cant tell.


Now its time to put it together. Bring the plywood in for the top and bottom and attach to the frame with a brad nailer. Attach the front trim piece with the brad nailer as well. You will need to buy some colored wood wax to fix/fill in the nail holes.


That’s it! Style those pretty babies up and enjoy your hard work. If you make these, or use our shelves as inspiration for your home, please tag me @hartley_home on Instagram so I can see! :)

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Kelly Hartley