How to Put Up a Shelf

Here we show you in just a few simple steps how to fix a basic 2 bracket shelf to a wall. This guide covers fixing to a wall both a short shelf that allows you to fix the brackets to it and a longer shelf that can’t have brackets fixed to it.

Materials required

  • The shelf that you are going to put up
  • Pencil
  • Level
  • Wall fixings
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver

Difficulty rating: 2

Hands-on stuff that a moderately practical person can do. Basic info that everyone should arm themselves with before confronting a professional.

Can be done by one person, but easier with two.


Approx 30 mins

Before putting up your shelf:

Ensure you have a suitable wall surface for your shelf! The bracket must be screwed to a solid, sound surface that will take the weight of both the shelf and what you want to put on it. Use wall plugs for block and brick walls as these will help hold the shelf in place to the surface you are fixing it.

Fixing to a plasterboard wall

If you have a plasterboard wall you can find the wooden frame that the plasterboard is attached to and fix the shelf to this. This can be done the following way:

Locate the vertical wooden support using the Tomboy Tools or similar laser level and stud finder. The wooden supports should be 600mm or 400mm apart so use this as a guide when locating them.

It is advisable that the shelf to be put up must be wider than the distance between the supports so it overhangs the bracket and gets enough support to prevent bending.

If this is not the case then consider using fixings especially for plasterboard, making sure that you choose ones that will support both your shelf and what it is going to hold.

How to put up a short shelf

If a short shelf is being fitted, and the brackets allow it, then it may be worth fixing the brackets to the shelf prior to drilling holes in the wall.

How to put up a shelf 1
Put brackets on shelf

Step 1

Lay the shelf up-side-down on a flat surface and up against a vertical surface. Align the brackets against the vertical surface. This will ensure that the back of the bracket verticals are in line with the back of the shelf.

Step 2

Fix the brackets to the shelf using suitable fixings. The screws need to be as long as possible without breaking through on the back (i.e. top side) of the shelf material.

Step 3

Put the shelf against the wall at the correct height and horizontal position. If more than one shelf is being fitted then position the highest first.

Check shelf is Level
Check shelf is Level

Step 4

Use a spirit level to make sure the shelf is horizontal. Alternatively, use a Tomboy Tools laser level. Position the laser at the height of the shelf and hold to the wall making sure that the straight line beam is horizontal by using the spirit levels on the laser.

Step 5

Using a pencil mark the positions of the fixing holes on the wall.

Step 6

Remove the shelf, drill the wall as necessary and fix the shelf in position using the appropriate wall plugs and screws.

How to put up a shelf that you can’t fix brackets to

If fixing the brackets to the shelf is not practical then follow this process:

Step 1

Decide on the position of the shelf. If you are going to put up a number of shelves then start with the shelf that will be in highest position.

Put the shelf against the wall, mark with a pencil its height and each end position. If the shelf is too long for this then mark the height and, using a tape measure, measure the length of the shelf. Use this measurement to mark the position of both ends on the wall.

Step 2

Hold the first bracket to the wall 4 inches from the end mark and, using a pencil, mark the position of the holes.

Step 3

Remove the bracket, drill a hole into the marked positions and insert the appropriate wall plugs.

Step 4

Screw the bracket on, not too tightly but enough to hold it firmly in place.

Step 5

Put the second bracket to the wall 4 inches from the other edge. Carefully place the shelf across the top of the 2 brackets.

Step 6

Use the spirit level to check the shelf is level, move the unfixed bracket until the bubble is in the centre of the spirit level.

Alternatively you can use a laser level. Fix the laser level to the wall with the laser beam at the height of the shelf. Make sure that the laser line is horizontal using the spirit level on the laser level.

Step 7

Take down the shelf and repeat steps 3 and 4 in order to drill the holes and fix the second bracket.

Step 8

Place the shelf above the brackets and using the spirit level, adjust the position of the brackets until the shelf sits flat.

Step 8

Tighten all the screws on the brackets.

Step 9

To keep the shelf in position, the shelf needs to be screwed to the brackets.

If a number of shelves are to be positioned one above the other, once the first shelf is in place, use a laser level to mark the wall with a vertical line from the brackets down the wall and use these marks to line up horizontally the remaining shelves as they are put up.

Photo Credits: Author

Caroline Barnett-Philips

Director of Tomboy Tools UK, specialising in hands-on education in DIY for women.

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