So, you’ve shunned the idea of buying a floating shelf kit that comes with hidden brackets. Instead, you’ve plumped for a bespoke shelf to provide the quality and style you’re after. Now you’re wondering how you can install it as a floating shelf without brackets.
To install floating shelves without brackets, use sturdy fixings like lag screws. Screw them about 3” (7.62cm) into the wall. Leave protruding ends of at least half the shelf width. Drill holes in the shelf to match the lag screw positions. Then mount the shelves on the lag screws’ protruding ends.
As impressive as a floating shelf looks, it’s not a complicated task to install one without brackets. Don’t believe it? Well, with the instructions below, you’ll see how easy it is to install your floating shelves without brackets and using lag screws instead.
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Tools and Materials Required to Install Floating Shelf
Here’s a quick checklist of what you’ll need:
- Powered drill (hammer drill if installing on a masonry wall)
- Nut driver drill bit
- Assorted drill bits: 5/16”, 5/8”, 3/8”, 11/64”, 15/32” (0.79cm, 0.71cm, 0.95cm, 1.19cm)
- Spirit level
- Stud, cable, and pipe detector
- Lag screws ⅜” x 8” (0.95cm x 20cm)
- Wall anchors — depending on the wall type
- Drill guide or eye hook and square
- Small woodblock
And, of course, you’ll need your shelf.
If you’re wondering what a lag screw looks like, take a look at this Prime-Line Hex Lag Screws 3/8” X 8”. The hexagonal bolt head is why you’ll need a nut driver for this project.
Mark Out the Location for Your Shelves
Once you’ve chosen where to place your floating shelves, you’ll need to mark the position on the wall.
So, grab your pencil and ruler.
The ruler is optional, but it’ll come in handy if you want to ensure your floating shelf is perfectly centered on a wall, for example. But you can just do this step by eye.
But, either way, mark at least two points on your wall at the desired location. These points should be at intervals, horizontally across. They’ll need to be where the horizontal center of your shelf will sit.
Check That Your Shelf Position Marks Are Level
The spirit level is essential for this step as the last thing you want is to hang your shelves only to find they’re sloping. That’ll really mess up the sleek look.
So, once you’ve marked the position you want to place your floating shelves, use your spirit level to join the marked points with a level horizontal line.
Remember, this horizontal line is where the center of the rear of your shelf will sit. So, it’s where the fixings will go, and it’ll be concealed by the shelf once it’s installed.
Mark the Fixing Points for Your Floating Shelf
Having drawn the centerline of your floating shelf, you now need to start thinking about where to drill the fixing holes.
But, before drilling into any wall, you should use a stud detector like this Tavool 4 in 1 Electronic Stud Sensor. As well as studs, this model also finds electric cables and metal pipes. You definitely won’t want to drill into those.
If you’re installing your floating shelf on a masonry wall, use the stud detector to locate pipes and cables. Avoiding those, mark fixing spots at equal distances along your line. A spacing of 12” to 18” (30.48cm to 45.72cm) should be okay.
If you’re installing your floating shelf on a stud wall, it’s the studs that will provide the best fixing spot for strength and stability. This detector will locate the studs for you. Hopefully, there’ll be at least one, but preferably two studs in your proposed shelf location.
Of course, ideally, you want to space your fixings equally along the length of your shelf. But, if, to hit a stud, you need to tweak the placement slightly, you can do so.
So, run the stud detector along your horizontal line. The stud detector will give a visual and audible signal when it detects a stud. Mark the stud’s center as that’s where you’ll attach the lag screws.
The following video will help you get to grips with using the stud detector mentioned above. It also shows how to calibrate and use its different modes:
If, as is often the case, you can’t drill all or any of your fixing holes into a stud, don’t worry. Just ensure you use proper anchors suitable for use with drywall. We’ll get to that next.
Drill Holes and Screw the Lag Screws Into the Wall
The process for this step will vary depending on the wall-type to which you’re fixing your floating shelf.
In all cases, you should ensure you drill horizontally, so the protruding ends of the fixings will be level. To do this, here’s a little trick you can use. You’ll need an eye hook like this Axesickle 2 Inch Metal Eye Hook.
Put the metal eye hook over your drill bit and center it on the bit. As you drill, if you don’t keep your drill bit horizontal, the hook will slide backward or forwards. Keeping it centered will ensure your holes are straight. Using a carpenter’s square may also help.
It’s a simple yet effective trick. But if you’re a skeptic and seeing is believing, watch this video:
Fixing Into a Masonry Wall
If you’re installing your floating shelf on a masonry wall, you’ll need to use anchors suitable for use with a lag screw in this wall-type. A lag shield like this CONFAST 3/8” Lag Shield Anchor is ideal.
- Drill a hole for the lag shield using a hammer drill and a 5/8” carbide-tipped bit.
- Then insert the lag shield and tap it in with a hammer so that the lag shield is flush with the wall.
- Then screw the lag screw into the lag shield. Doing so will force the ends of the lag shield apart, securing it in place.
Want a visual? Watch this video:
You should aim to drive the lag screws about 3” (7.62cm) into the wall.
Fixing Into a Stud in a Stud Wall
To fix lag screws into a stud, pre-drill pilot holes into the studs first. An 11/64” drill bit should do the job in softwood studs.
The pilot hole will make it easier to screw the lag screw into the stud. You won’t need an anchor for this.
Again, aim to have about 3” (7.62cm) of your lag screw in the stud.
Fixing Into Drywall
As luck would have it, you’ll probably find that there are no studs where you want to place your floating shelf. Of course, you could adjust the position of your shelf so you can attach it to at least one stud.
But if you’re set on the position you’ve chosen, no worries. You’ll need to use good quality drywall anchors.
There are various types of drywall anchors available. There’s usually an indication of the weight-bearing ability on the pack. So, make sure you check this.
The Fischer DUOPOWER is a good example of the type of quality anchor you should consider. You’ll need about a 15/32” drill bit for the hole to put this in.
As you’ll see in the following video, when you insert a screw into the Fischer DUOPOWER, it forms a knot on the inner surface of the drywall, and that’s what provides a firm fix:
This type of anchor is stronger than the standard kind you often get packaged with screws. Still, if all your fixings are in drywall, it’s not a good idea to place heavy items on your floating shelves.
Check the Fixings Are Level and Trim the Bolts
Once you’ve screwed the lag screws into the wall, put your spirit level across them to ensure they’re still level. They should be if you’ve used the metal hook trick outlined above.
You’ll then need to trim the hexagonal bolt end off the lag bolt using a grinder.
Drill Holes in the Back of the Floating Shelf
Next, you’ll need to drill holes in the back of the floating shelf matching the position of the wall fixings. Hold the shelf’s rear edge up to the fixings, and mark those points on the shelf. Make sure your markings are centered along the back edge of the shelf.
Now for the tricky bit. You have to ensure that the holes you drill in the shelf are perfectly straight.
If you don’t have a drill press to guide your drill, don’t worry. There’s a cheaper alternative.
You can use a hand-held drilling guide like the Milescraft 1312 DrillBlock. It’s relatively inexpensive, so ideal if you don’t usually have a use for such a tool.
It’s easy to use, as you can see in this video:
Alternatively, you can use the trick mentioned above for keeping your wall fixing holes horizontally, using the metal hook.
Slide Your Floating Shelf Onto the Fixings
Now the moment of truth. It’s time to hang your floating shelves. Just slide them onto the lag screws.
You may need to apply pressure to force the shelf toward the wall. Often, a mallet and a small block of wood come in handy for this. Place the block on the front face of the floating shelf and use the mallet to tap the shelf into place.
Let’s boil it down to the essential points to remember when installing floating shelves without brackets:
- use sturdy wall fixings like lag screws
- aim to have 3” (7.62cm) of the lag screws in the wall
- aim for protruding ends of at least half your shelf’s width
- mark a level line on your wall
- drill your fixing points along your line avoiding cables and pipes
- use wall anchors for masonry and drywall installations
- if possible, secure fixings to a stud if you have stud walls
- ensure the holes you drill in your wall and floating shelf are straight
As you can see, this journey of shelf-discovery wasn’t as complicated as it might have seemed.