How to put up a shelf for display using fixings or brackets

How to put up a shelf for display using fixings or brackets

Put up a display shelf like a pro

Embrace your walls, declutter your cupboards and show off your beautiful books, ceramics and photos on a display shelf. However you decide to style your shelves, the Exceptional Team is here to guide you on how to put up a shelf for display using fixings and brackets. We’ve called in the experts for their top tips on putting up a shelf like a pro.

A floating shelf with items displayedCredit: Shutterstock/Luoxi

It’s not a necessary to be a DIY master before putting up a shelf in your home, but a little knowledge can help. James Cork, a handyman at Taskrabbit, an online platform for finding help with odd jobs, says: As long as you follow a clear stepbystep guide and have the correct tools, anyone can do it. 

How to put up a shelf – the kit you’ll need

  • Shelf
  • Brackets/fixings
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver
  • Tape measure
  • Masking tape
  • Dust sheet, mask and goggles
  • Drill
  • Spirit level
  • Pencil
  • Wall plugs for masonry or fixings for plasterboard. These are sometimes branded Rawlplugs. 

Whatever type of shelf you’re going to put up, it’s always wise to tick off a checklist of equipment before you get started. Nothing is more frustrating than finding you’ve misplaced your tape measure or lent your hammer to a neighbour when you’ve already kicked off the project.  

Before you start, check the walls

Know what you’re drilling into

To avoid being faced with any unwelcome surprises, you’ll need to check what’s behind the walls. Are there any wires or water pipes hidden out of sight? It’s important to be sure, to avoid the hazard of banging any nails into live wires or the costly expense of drilling through water pipes. 

When doing any DIY project, it’s essential to follow safety procedures and best practices to avoid any injury to yourself and others.  

Cork gives Exceptional his top tips on how to detect pipes and cables behind walls: “Take a look at the location of your sockets and knock on either side of the wall to make sure you’re not going to hang the brackets where any pipes or wires are placed,” and he warns: “I’d recommend never making a hole anywhere directly above a plug or light socket.”  

Why avoid drilling holes above plug or light sockets? That’s where the supply cables are most likely to be. 

It’s slightly easier to check for water pipes. “Turn on the water, one tap at a time, put your ear to the wall and listen for the flow of water,” advises Cork. If you can hear water flowing, you’ll need to locate your shelving elsewhere. 

If you’re in any doubt about whether there are electrical cables or water pipes behind the wall, he suggests contacting a professional to avoid making an expensive mistake. Alternatively, you could invest in a pipe, cable and stud detector, like the Bosch Truvo Multi detector, available at B&Q for £38. 

What’s the wall made of?

It will determine how heavy a shelf you can hang

Will you be knocking into a drywall or brick wall? Simply knocking on the wall will give you the answer. If it sounds hollow and airy, it’s most likely a drywall, and if it sounds dense, it’s probably a solid material, like brick, concrete or plaster.  

But why is it important to know? “It will determine the weight of the shelf you’ll be able to hang, what it will be able to hold, and the type of fixings you will need,” says Cork. “If you’re working with plasterboard, you’ll need a shelf that is lightweight, while something heavier is better suited to a masonry wall.” 

When it comes to fixing the screws to the wall, with brick, you can use standard wall plugs, but with plasterboard, which is thinner and more brittle, you’ll need to ensure you’ve got fixings suitable for plasterboard walls. If you’re putting up a light shelf for display that isn’t going to take a heavy load, standard plasterboard fixings will do the job. 

Safety first

If using a step ladder, make sure it’s correctly set up on a level surface and that all work items are clear of the bottom of the ladder. However tempting it might seem, don’t improvise with a chair – it’s an accident waiting to happen. 

What’s the wall made of?

Will you be knocking into a drywall or brick wall? Simply knocking on the wall will give you the answer. If it sounds hollow and airy, it’s most likely a drywall, and if it sounds dense, it’s probably a solid material, like brick, concrete or plaster.  

But why is it important to know? “It will determine the weight of the shelf you’ll be able to hang, what it will be able to hold, and the type of fixings you will need,” says Cork. “If you’re working with plasterboard, you’ll need a shelf that is lightweight, while something heavier is better suited to a masonry wall.” 

When it comes to fixing the screws to the wall, with brick, you can use standard wall plugs, but with plasterboard, which is thinner and more brittle, you’ll need to ensure you’ve got fixings suitable for plasterboard walls. If you’re putting up a light shelf for display that isn’t going to take a heavy load, standard plasterboard fixings will do the job. 

TIP

For most home improvement jobs, you should be able to manage adequately with a bubble spirit level. However, if you like gadgets, you might be interested in a laser level. The Bosch Pii 1P Laser Spirit Level is available at Wickes for £36.  

How to put up a floating shelf

Your step-by-step guide for shelves with ‘invisible’ support

Woman using a spirit level to put up shelfCredit: Shutterstock/CCISUL

1. Mark out the shelf’s position

Indicate where you will need to drill

Place the metal strip on the wall at the height you want, making sure the hole along each prong (the bars inserting into the shelf) is facing downwards.

Use a spirit level to ensure the metal strip is horizontal. Then mark the fixing hole positions with a pencil, having made sure you’ve already checked behind the wall for pipes and wires.

2. Tape up your drill bit

This will stop you drilling too deep

Mark the length of your wall plugs on the drill bit using a piece of tape. To do this, measure the length of the plug, then take the same measurement from the tip of the drill bit toward the drill.

This indicates how much of the drill bit you want to disappear into the wall, so that you know exactly how deep to drill each hole. The wall plugs will help the screws to grip the masonry and secure the wall fixing. 

3. Protect the floor, then drill

A second pair of hands may help

Here’s the fun part but it could get messy, especially if you’re drilling through brickwork, so lay down a dust sheet and pop on a dust mask and some goggles. And if you’ve got a helper at hand, ask them to hold a dustpan below the drill to catch the dirt.

Now you can begin to drill into the wall until you reach your tape mark. Put your drill in reverse to bring it out of the wall without causing damage. 

4. Add your wall plugs

These will give you a more secure shelf

Tap the wall plugs into the holes with a hammer until they are flush with the wall. 

5. Screw everything into place

Attach the supporting bar and shelf

You can now screw the supporting bar into place and slide the shelf onto the prongs. 

Finally, secure the shelf on the underside with the supplied screws. And that’s your shelf complete!

How to put up a shelf with brackets

Learn how to put up this sturdy shelf type

Three shelfs with brackets displaying kitchen crockery and glasswareCredit: Shutterstock/Demkat

1. Mark out your shelf position

Start with the first bracket

Hold the shelf against the wall and make a pencil mark where you’d like the bottom of the shelf to be positioned. As detailed above, make sure you’ve already checked behind the wall for pipes and wires. Then, mark where the first bracket should be, and the distance to the next bracket.

To avoid anything rolling off the shelf, check that your marks are level by holding a spirit level to the wall where you’ve placed your pencil marks

2. Mark out your other brackets

Start from the outside, and work in

Hold the first bracket up to your pencil mark, check it’s straight and place another pencil mark through the bracket’s fixing holes onto the wall. Do the same again for the second bracket.

If you are attaching more than two brackets, fit the outer brackets first, and then add any supplementary brackets, ensuring they are equal distances apart. 

3. Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4, above

Follow the same process for drilling into the wall

Follow step 3, 4 and 5 above, in the section How to put up a Floating Shelf, to prepare the wall for the wall plugs. 

Man putting up brackets on wooden shelfCredit: Shutterstock/pundapanda

4. Attach the brackets

Drill pilot holes so as not to ruin your shelf

Now the holes are drilled, and the wall plugs are inserted, you can screw in the brackets. 

Place the shelf across the top of the brackets and make a pencil mark through the bracket holes underneath the shelf. Remove the shelf and place on a flat surface. Drill pilot holes into the bottom of the shelf, making sure you don’t drill through to the other side. (If your shelf’s upper and lower surfaces are different, check that you’re drilling into the underside).

Why drill a pilot hole? 

Creating a pilot hole reduces the risk of the wood splitting and allows the screw threads to cut directly into the hole, giving a better fit. 

5. Screw your shelf in place

Make it nice and tight, for security

Place the shelf back onto the brackets and secure the short screws through the brackets to the underside of the shelf. 

A shelf styling tip

Remember, don’t overload your shelf with heavy items – particularly not if it’s a floating shelf. Many shelves will be sold with a maximum load listed on the packaging, so don’t exceed this. If you want to put heavier items on your shelf, a shelf with brackets will support a heavier load. 

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her

Published:

With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.