DIY Office Basics for Freelance Writers: How to Hang Shelves

If you’re anything like me, your office is a tiny cell of a room where there's barely enough room for your bed and your fainting couch, and opening the filing cabinet can turn into an acrobatic feat. When saddled with limited office space, its time to think vertical and utilize your wall space. This month’s freelancer DIY project is how to hang shelves. Even if you’re already shelf savvy, there’s something in here for you, too. Skip ahead for a pro-tip from a Master Carpenter on efficient shelf painting!

How to Hang Shelves

You Will Need:

  • Shelf
  • Shelf brackets (2 for most shelves, more if you plan to hang a long shelf)
  • Screws (regular multi-use)
  • Level
  • Measuring tape
  • Drill
  • Pencil
  • Wall Stud Finder (Optional)
  • Paint or Spray Paint (Optional)
  1. Find the wall studs in the area where you want to hang your shelves. You can use an electronic stud finder, but often you can find studs simply by knocking on the wall. The studs will feel harder and more solid than the rest of the wall, and your knock will sound solid rather than hollow when you’ve found a stud.
  2. Measure the area where you want to hang your shelves. Then measure again.  You don’t want to get home with shelves that are the wrong size.
  3. With a pencil, mark the location (on the stud) where you want the bottom edge of the shelf to sit. Use a level to make sure that the shelf will be perfectly straight.
  4. Buy your shelves, brackets, and screws. This is your chance to decorate, so make sure you buy something that you want to live with for a long time.  Many stores sell pre-painted shelves, but for a cheaper alternative, you can paint your own.  (See below for a Shelf Painting Pro-Tip).
  5. Line the brackets up with your pencil marks, and then use your pencil to mark the position of the screw holes.  Set the brackets aside.
  6. Using the drill, make shallow test holes in the wall, but don’t screw in all the way.
  7. Replace the brackets and, using the drill, screw them in firmly.
  8. Position your shelf atop the bracket, and then screw the brackets to the bottom of the shelf.
  9. Get organized!

If you plan to use your shelf for decoration rather than holding weight, you may not need to secure your shelves in your wall studs. Use wall anchors instead.

Shelf Painting Pro-Tip

I was once lucky enough to observe a Master Carpenter as he built a bookcase. Instead of painting his shelves on one side then waiting hours for each coat to dry, he had this trick up his sleeve. Be warned – getting this process just right may take a little practice.

You will need:

  • 1 Screw (multi-use)
  • Drill
  • Strong Twine
  • Shelf
  • Spray Paint (designed for wood, in the color of your choice)
  • Clear polyurethane spray
  • Protective Goggles
  • A well-ventilated garage or basement that can get a little messy

You will be hanging the shelf lengthwise from a ceiling joist for this project.  Make sure you have a strong ceiling joist available in a well-ventilated area.

  1. Always wear your protective goggles when dealing with spray paint or power tools.
  2. Prepare your shelf. If it has flaws or imperfections, use sandpaper or an electric sander to remove them.
  3. Stand the shelf up lengthwise on its narrow end, and then drill a screw into the opposite narrow end.  (Think as if you are hanging your shelf from the ceiling like a side of beef.)
  4. Affix a nail or screw into the ceiling joist.
  5. Affix the twine to the nail or screw in the ceiling joist, then affix the other end of the twine to the screw on the end of your shelf. Your shelf will now be dangling from the ceiling, and should be at least a few feet off the ground. Choose a height that will be comfortable for you, because you are about to spray paint.
  6. Spread a drop cloth or tarp underneath the shelf.
  7.  Hold your spray paint 12 to 24 inches from the shelf and begin spraying. Start at the top and work your way down in a side to side sweeping motion.
  8. Let the first coat dry thoroughly, and then apply the spray paint again to form a second coat.
  9. After that coat dries thoroughly, apply the clear polyurethane spray to the entire shelf.
  10. Enjoy your newly painted shelf!

If you find your shelf moving around on you, stand back a bit farther before aiming your spray paint.

Have a question, idea or shelf-hanging adventure story? Let it all out in the comments!

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