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While it may seem like a small task in the vast expanse of DIY projects, many of us procrastinate when it comes to putting up a shelf. There are so many different wall types, fixings, and shelves available that a DIY novice can get easily overwhelmed. If that’s your current position and you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry - we’ve got you covered! Take a look at our top tips for getting started on putting up your perfect shelf.

What is the purpose of your shelf?

Before you do anything, ask yourself what the shelf will be used for. Knowing the purpose of your shelf before you start buying everything means you won’t end up spending money on materials that won’t hold what you want to display or store. If you’re wanting to create a bookshelf, it’s important to invest in heavy-duty components that won’t fail under a heavy weight. You’ll want the same for anything that might be holding valuable or breakable objects too. But shelves don’t always have to be functional. If you’re just wanting to add a bit of design flair to your interior - maybe just somewhere to perch your potted plants and photographs – you’ve got more freedom to choose a shelf based on looks rather than practicality.

Where will you be installing your shelf?

It’s not just the shelf itself that you need to think about. Some walls will require different fixings and screws, and not every wall can support the same weight. There are a few ways to quickly and easily find out exactly what your wall is made of before you commit to using it for a DIY project.

Plasterboard: This is one of the weaker wall types, so wouldn’t be the best choice for a particularly heavy shelf. You can tell if you’ve got a plasterboard wall if it sounds hollow when you knock on it, but these walls are generally supported by a frame so there will be vertical and horizontal sections that feel a little more solid. It’s advisable to screw your fixings into this frame as it will better support weight. To know exactly where the solid sections are, you can use a stud detector. Just run it across the area that you’re considering for installation, and it will beep if it finds any studs so you’ll know which parts will best hold weight. If you’re unable to place all of your screws into the frame, you can also use fixings that will anchor themselves to the back of the plasterboard, making them harder to pull out.


Masonry wall: This is the strongest wall you’ll get in your home and will usually be a supporting exterior wall. If you knock on it and get a very solid and inflexible feeling that doesn’t sound hollow, it will most likely be a brick or concrete masonry wall. This will hold the most weight, making it great for a heavy-duty functional shelf.

Once you have decided on your wall, it’s also important to consider whether its placement will be fit for purpose. For a functional shelf, you’ll want it to be at eye-level so you can easily reach what’s on it. You’ll also need to make sure that it’s not too near a doorway or narrow walkway as you’ll want to avoid anyone walking into it.

What type of shelf will be suitable?

There are loads of shelves available out there, so how do you know which will be suitable for your desired purpose and wall type? Here’s everything you’ll need to know before purchasing your all-important shelf:

Shelf with brackets: This is your classic shelf complete with supports to keep it up and stable. Generally you screw the brackets into the wall first, making sure they’re secure, and then attach your chosen shelf afterwards. A shelf with brackets is your best option for functional shelving that will be holding weight, but brackets do still vary in their weight capacity so it’s worth considering this when looking for a pair that’s right for you. 

Floating shelf: A floating shelf does exactly what you’d expect; It looks like it’s floating. It doesn’t use any brackets to keep it up as the wood itself is screwed directly into the wall without supports. This often looks better but generally doesn’t hold as much weight as a bracketed shelf, making it suitable for decorative purposes or holding a few books, but not so much for heavy-duty storage.

Built-in shelf: A built-in shelf will usually be installed in a nook where it can also be screwed into walls on either side. This gives it more support and will often use up space that would otherwise go to waste.