Choosing shelves: the dos and don'ts of shelving

Shelves can be put up just about anywhere – alcoves are a good choice, but any wall space can be used. There is a huge selection to choose from, ranging from adjustable track systems to flat-pack units or tailor made

Choosing track shelving

Consider what you will put on your shelves and choose a shelving system that is suitable – overloading is obviously very dangerous.

For heavy loads 

Made of steel in lengths from 430mm to 2400mm. Uses brackets from 120mm to 610mm. Available in frost white, black, cream and gloss aluminium.

Look for double hooks for extra strength. Accessories may include square book ends, spring rod book supports and universal book supports. Brands include Swish Steel-Lok.

For medium loads 

Fully adjustable slot-free systems that can be used for most work around the house. Made of steel in lengths from 188mm to 2500mm. Uses brackets from 100mm to 570mm.

Finishes: silver, white, brown, black, red, magnolia, gold and gloss aluminium. Accessories may include book ends, book end shelf supports, end caps, wall plates, clip on shelving supports, a fixing pack and upright connectors.

Continuous shelving possible. Brands include Tebrax, Element Single Slot, Element 32 and Swish Design.

For light loads 

Easily adjustable, wall-mounted steel shelving systems suitable for light domestic storage. Made of steel in lengths from 500mm to 2000mm. Uses brackets from 125mm to 320mm. Finishes: frost white, black, magnolia. Accessories may include a fixing pack. Brands include Swish Edge Slot.


Choosing shelves

The hardest part of chosing a shelf is understanding the material qualities and terms.

Cheaper materials

Coated chipboard 

Inexpensive and needs no finishing. Choose 15mm board for light items and 18mm for heavier loads, such as books.

  • White melamine: coated chipboard
  • Coloured melamine: coated chipboard
  • Heavyweight melamine: veneered chipboard

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) 

Versatile and easy to work with but must be sealed or painted. It is relatively inexpensive. It is sold in sheets and comes in several thicknesses.

  • MDF clear varnished

More expensive

Timber and wood-veneered chipboard 

More expensive than coated chipboard and needs to be sealed, with varnish or paint, for example.

  • Softwood (pine) stained and polished
  • Wood-veneered chipboard
  • Plywood, coated with varnish
  • Hardwood (oak) polished

Acrylic sheet 

Perspex and other acrylic must be at least 12mm thick for a light-to-medium load. Bracket spacing must not be more than 400mm.


Glass shelves 

Must be at least 6mm thick or, ideally, toughened 9mm glass. Bracket spacing must not be more than 400mm. Get the edges of glass bevelled by the supplier, and use sturdy brackets as glass is heavy.