How to Measure and Install a Wooden Shelf With Brackets

Updated on September 4, 2019
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Paul has been upgrading his home for the past five years. This labor of love has proved to him that learning is a lifelong journey.

So you have a wooden shelf, and you want to know how to take measurements, install the brackets and mount it. This may seem like a simple task, but to ensure your shelf is properly supported and level, you must take several measurements and be certain the holes you drill are in perfect alignment.

In this case, I installed a freestanding wooden shelf on a painted drywall surface. The wooden shelf brackets I used have pre-installed sunken metal hardware. I needed to install two wall anchors and screws per shelf bracket. Below, I outline the materials I used and the steps I took to successfully install my new display shelf.

This is my completed wooden display shelf that I mounted below a mirror.
This is my completed wooden display shelf that I mounted below a mirror.

Tools and Supplies for Wall-Mounting a Shelf

  • Level with surface measuring guide
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver
  • Drill
  • 3/16" drill bit
  • Wall anchors (4)
  • Screws (8)

These are the tools I used to install my brackets and shelf.
These are the tools I used to install my brackets and shelf.

Shelf Installation Instructions

This is the process I used to take measurements and install my own wooden shelf. Step two is only applicable if you intend to install your shelf below another wall-mounted object.

1. Decide Where the Shelf Will Be Located

First, decide exactly where on the wall you wish to mount your shelf. Remember that the shelf itself will add an inch or more to the height. This is especially important if you intend to install the shelf below another object on the wall (mirror, painting, sconce, etc.). If there is not an object above the intended location of your new shelf, skip step two.

2. Determine How Much Room You Will Need to Install the Shelf

I wanted to install my new shelf below a mirror. The brackets I used needed to be fitted over wall-mounted screws then slid down into a locked position. Therefore, I had to take measurements to ensure there would be sufficient space between the mirror and the tops of the brackets.

First, measure the height of the shelf, then measure the distance on the wooden shelf bracket from the end of the bracket to the top of the screw slot. Add these measurements together, then add 1" to allow for the brackets to be slid down into position. For my shelf, this total measurement was 2 1/2 ".

3. Mark the Position of the Left Bracket's Top Screw Hole

The positioning of your two brackets will depend on how long your shelf is. My shelf was 40" long, so I planned to place the brackets 24" apart so they would be centered under the shelf. To find where the first shelf bracket needed to be located, I subtracted 24" from 40" and divided by two. 40 - 24 = 16. 16 \ 2 = 8.

Mark the wall for the left bracket's top screw hole. This should be the distance as measured aboveā€”in my case, the mark was 2 1\2" below the mirror and 8" in from the left side of the desired shelf location.

4. Mark the Position of the Left Bracket's Bottom Screw Hole

Measure the distance between the two screw slots on your shelf bracket. In my case, the distance was 5 1\8". Next, use your level with the measurement guide to align your second mark with the first mark noted above.

To do this, hold the level vertically on the wall and ensure the level bulb is centered. Mark the second screw hole according to the above measurement. Mine was 5 1/8" directly below my first mark.

Note: These measurements must be exact for the brackets to fit properly, so always measure twice and record your numbers.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
It is important to be extremely precise when measuring the distance between your brackets' top and bottom mounting holes.Once you've made your marks, use your level to ensure they are in line vertically and are the appropriate distance apart (ignore the wall anchors in this image).
It is important to be extremely precise when measuring the distance between your brackets' top and bottom mounting holes.
It is important to be extremely precise when measuring the distance between your brackets' top and bottom mounting holes.
Once you've made your marks, use your level to ensure they are in line vertically and are the appropriate distance apart (ignore the wall anchors in this image).
Once you've made your marks, use your level to ensure they are in line vertically and are the appropriate distance apart (ignore the wall anchors in this image).

5. Mark the Position of the Right Bracket's Screw Holes

The holes for the first bracket are now marked. Next, you have to repeat this process to mark the holes for the second bracket. I had determined above that I would place the brackets 24" apart. My level is exactly 24" long, so I positioned it on the wall with the upper left corner touching the top left screw hole.

With the level bubble centered, I marked the position of the top screw hole for the right bracket. Now, repeat the process noted above to mark the location of the bottom screw hole for the right bracket.

Use your level to ensure your top left and right marks are  level and appropriately spaced. Do the same for your bottom left and right marks (ignore the wall anchors in this image).
Use your level to ensure your top left and right marks are level and appropriately spaced. Do the same for your bottom left and right marks (ignore the wall anchors in this image).

5. Drill Four Holes Where You Made the Marks on the Wall

With all four holes measured and marked, use your drill and a 3\16" drill bit to drill the holes through the drywall. The size of the drill bit you use (and holes you drill) will depend on the size of the anchors you have.

Note: It may be a good idea to use a stud finder on the wall to locate any studs prior to drilling. If you do find a stud directly behind where you need to mount your bracket, you will not need a wall anchor. In this case, do not drill a 3\16" hole. Just insert a longer screw directly into the wall using an appropriate screwdriver. Generally, screws used with wall anchors are shorter than screws used to fasten directly to a stud.

Keep your drill bit perpendicular to the wall when drilling holes in your four marked locations.
Keep your drill bit perpendicular to the wall when drilling holes in your four marked locations.

6. Insert the Wall Anchors

Once your four holes are drilled, place a wall anchor into each of them. Gently tap the anchor into the hole using your hammer until the lip of the anchor is flush with the surface of the wall. Repeat this step for all four holes.

Use your hammer to lightly tap the wall anchors into the four holes you drilled.
Use your hammer to lightly tap the wall anchors into the four holes you drilled.

7. Insert the Screws

Using your screwdriver, manually insert a screw into each wall anchor. Be sure to leave approximately 1/8" of the screw's thread exposed. Do not insert the screw flush with the wall, as the bracket needs to slide between the wall and the screw head.

8. Slide Your Brackets Onto the Screws

Once the screws are in place, take one of the brackets and gently fit it over the tops of the screw heads. Gently slide the bracket down until it rests firmly on the screw heads.

If the bracket is still a little loose, slide the bracket up and off the screw heads, tighten the screws another half-turn then reinstall the bracket.

If the fit is a bit snug, use a hammer to gently tap the bracket down and into place. The best fit is a snug fit. Repeat this process with the other bracket.

Make sure the brackets feel snug once you slide them onto the screws.
Make sure the brackets feel snug once you slide them onto the screws.

9. Place and Secure the Shelf

Once both brackets are installed, place the wooden shelf on top of them. Centre the shelf over the top of the brackets, then use two 2" screws to secure the shelf to each bracket.

Use two final screws to secure your shelf to the brackets once it is in place.
Use two final screws to secure your shelf to the brackets once it is in place.

You now have a shelf that is centered, levelled and securely mounted. I hope these instructions and images helped you to navigate the installation process. Your new shelf is now ready to use!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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