How to Construct Hidden Shelf Supports

What You'll Need
Stud finder
Masking tape
Measuring tape
Table saw
Drill, with 1/4 -inch and 1/8-inch bits
Lag bolts, 6-inch long
Block plane

Hidden shelf supports help you to attach a shelf to the wall, and make the shelf appear to float. The supports, also known as cleats, are commonly used on shelves with an opening at the back, which you slide onto the cleats. You can purchase the shelves ready-made, or cut them out yourself. It is easy to construct hidden supports, as outlined below.

Step 1 – Locate Studs

Slide your stud finder across the wall where you want your supports installed. As you find each stud, mark an "X" with a pencil. Find as many studs as will accommodate the length of your support. Run masking tape along each stud, to guide you as you determine the position of the support in the next step.

Step 2 – Mark Position of Cleat 

Use your level to draw a straight line across the studs where you intend to attach the support. Draw as many lines as you need for each support to be installed. Remove the tape once you've traced all the lines required.

Step 3 – Determine Cleat Measurements

Take the width of the shelf opening with your tape measure. This serves as the thickness of your support. Measure the length of the shelf opening. Deduct ½-inch from the length to allow the shelf to easily slide onto the support. Use this measurement for the length of your support. If you intend to cut out your own shelves, it is best to allow a width of 2 inches for the support to extend into the shelf. 

Step 4 – Cut out the Cleats

Cut out a support with a table saw from a 2x4 board, based on the measurements obtained in Step 3. Use a block plane to slightly shave off some wood from both surfaces of the support. This allows the shelf to fit snugly onto the support. If you intend to install more than 1 shelf, be sure to cut a support for each shelf.

Step 5 – Mark Stud Locations on the Cleat

Place the cleat against the line traced in Step 2. Mark the location of each stud along the length of the cleat with a pencil.

Step 6 – Drill Holes in Cleat

Bore holes through the cleat on each of the markings. Use a drill bit of the same size as the lag bolts you intend to use. It is best to use bolts that are 6-inches long.

Step 7 – Attach to Wall

Remove the ¼-inch drill bit and replace with 1/8-bit. This ensures that the bolts fit securely when driven into the studs. Hold the support just below the line traced on the wall. Drill through the first hole into the stud underneath. Drive a lag bolt through the support, into the stud. Drive another bolt in the same manner, on the last hole of the support. Proceed to drive in the rest of the bolts in between the end bolts. Finally, slide the open edge of your shelf onto the support and secure with screws.