How to put up shelves

A look at the DIY tools and techniques needed to put up your own shelving. Whether for storage or display, fixed shelves must be sturdy, spacious and perfectly level.

Tools required when putting up a shelf

  • Pencil
  • Spirit level
  • Drill
  • Masonry or wood bit to fit wall plugs
  • Screwdriver
  • Possibly a straight wooden batten


  • Brackets
  • Screws for fixing brackets to wall
  • Wall plugs to fit screws
  • Shelf
  • Small screws for fixing shelf to brackets

Before you start 

Check the walls with a battery-powered pipe and wire detector so as not to drill through any hidden pipes or cables. Use it to detect the positions of the studs on a timber-framed wall. 


1. Hold a spirit level against the wall at the point where you want the shelf. Check that it is level and draw a light pencil line on the wall. For a long shelf, rest the spirit level on a straight wooden batten. 

2. Hold one bracket against the wall with the top against the mark. Use the spirit level to check that it is vertical, and then mark the wall through the screw holes with the pencil. 

3. Repeat for the second bracket. If there are more than two brackets, it is best to fix the outside ones to the wall, and then tie a piece of string tightly between them across the tops. Then the intermediate brackets can be lined up exactly. 

4. Drill holes about 45mm into the wall. Use a masonry bit (or a twist bit for wooden studs).

5. Insert plugs into masonry, and screw the brackets tightly to the wall. If the plug turns in the wall as you drive in the screw, remove it, insert a larger one and try again. Do not use plugs in wood.

6. Lay the shelf across the bracket. Using a pencil or bradawl, mark the underside of the shelf through the bracket holes.

7. Drill pilot holes for the small screws and screw the shelf into position.


Helpful tips

  • Right-angled brackets will need screws about 45mm long to fix them to the wall. The screw must go through the plaster and at least 25mm into the brickwork, or into the wood stud if it is a stud partition wall.
  • Don't use winged wall plugs to fix brackets to thin hollow walls unless the shelf is only to be used to hold a light decorative object.
  • The screws should be the heaviest gauge that the holes in the bracket will take – usually No. 8 gauge on small ones and No. 10 or 12 on larger ones.