How to Install Closet Shelves

Power tools, cutting wood, drilling into studs… a DIY project involving any of those tasks completely intimidates me. But, I did all of those things for this project and I lived to tell the tale. Here’s how I installed closet shelves into an awkward, too-small closet nook.
how to install closet shelves
I swear it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. Power tools, ledgers (side note: I had no clue what these were before this adventure), and measuring definitely sound like a not-so rookie level nightmare, but I promise that you CAN do this!
closet before
Prior to this project, I had very limited experience hanging things alone. And prior to this, I also had a closet that was completely wasting space and a whole lot of craft stuff that needed a new home. Lucky for me, I completely disregarded the fact that I was not nearly qualified enough to tackle this project alone and did it anyway. (The things I will do for my beloved craft supplies).
draw lines
To kick off my project, I did some measuring and drew lines on the wall where I wanted to hang my shelves. I made them far enough away from each other to stack some boxes, which was a total crap shoot. Other than the boxes that needed to fit on the shelves, the placement of the shelves were completely eye-balled and totally random. I used a level to make sure the lines were straight and also noted the measurements of the back of the wall and the sides of the wall in order to get accurately sized material.
I picked up some long 1×2″ sticks of wood, which can be called ledgers when holding shelves, they are also referred to as closet cleats.  I bought all of my supplies at Home Depot and for rookies like us, Home Depot cuts any of the wood/material you buy there for FREE, so of course I took them up on this. I gave the lumberman my measurements and he cut down my large “sticks” of wood to small, accurately sized ledgers.
I also picked up 2 large boards of melamine. Just like the wood, I gave my measurements to the amazing employee and walked out with pre-cut boards of melamine that were the perfect size to sit atop the ledgers and fit perfectly into the closet.
Melamine Shelf tutorial
Oh, and if you don’t have screws or anchors around the house, make sure you pick up a package of each (Rookie tip: make sure the screws are heavy enough to hold the shelves and long enough to drill through the ledgers AND the wall).
Total in Supplies: about $38 (but if you don’t have screws and anchors on hand, your total may be a little more).
positioning ledgers
Following the pilot lines and using a level, I positioned the ledgers along the back of the shelves. I used a power drill to drill these nails right in the wall. I was lucky that the back wall had two studs available to drill into. If you aren’t as lucky, make sure you use anchors during this step instead.
level ledgers
Three ledgers and six screws later, I had my back ledgers DONE and I was more than a third done with this DIY.
screw vs. anchor
When I started on the side ledgers, I wasn’t as lucky & didn’t have the opportunity to hit studs on both sides of each of the pieces of wood. I had to use some anchors on this side. Using an anchor is a tad more tedious, so if you can find a stud instead…. do that!
steps to hang shelves
After about an hour of more leveling and clueless careful drilling, I was almost DONE!
ledgers installed
I did have an oops moment when I drilled a little too close to the edge of the ledger and caused it to split. Yikes. Luckily, the ledgers seemed secure even with the oops, so I ignored it and moved on. (Probably not the best policy).
DIY shelf
And the last and most rewarding step of them all…slide in the pre-cut shelves and examine your impressive work.  My shelves seemed pretty sturdy with the shelf just laying on top of the 3 ledgers. However, you could drill a screw from the bottom up into the ledger and the shelf. That might provide some extra stability.
In the perfect world, I would recommend you to paint the ledgers (and maybe even the whole closet), let them dry and theennnnn slide on the shelves and enjoy your hard work. Because it was like -15 degrees that day, I hung these bad boys without painting them first. My plan is to finish up with some paint in the Spring.
finished shelves
Without the paint, the shelves are clearly looking very “unfinished”. However, in a closet where these are completely hidden, I am okay with function over fashion.
the view from above
box of ribbon
organized crafts
craft supplies
In the meantime, these unfinished shelves are home to most of my craft supplies. I love that I know where everything is now and can easily walk into the closet, peruse the shelves and pick out exactly what I need without making a mess of everything else.
install closet shelves: before and after
No, this organizing DIY does NOT belong in a glamorous organizing magazine (yikes). But YES, this DIY does deserve an award for awkward-small-space-function-on-the-cheap. And as much as I am obsessed with pretty organizing projects, I can appreciate a plain jane one that simply does the job without all of the cute bells and whistles. For less than $40, these shelves help organize my crafts and have given me a brand new confidence to tackle what seems to be daunting DIY!
Still to do:
Paint ledgers
Paint closet
Create a system to STAY organized
Add Wrapping paper storage?


Anyone else tackling DIY projects that seem way scarier than they actually are?! 

The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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