Asked on Jul 23, 2014

The best way to do Built-in Shelves

Honeybear Lane
by Honeybear Lane
When building Built-ins: What is the best way to do shelves? Using cleats/supports around the shelves, doing the pre-drilled holes with pegs, or using a dado type groove to slide the shelves in?
drilled holes with pegs
  9 answers
  • I personally like the small holes with the dowel pints myself. it allows for greater modifications to what you can put on the shelves once they are complete. Done correctly as its shows in your photo combined with the proper sealers and colors these holes will not even been seen once everything is done and finished. Nice Job!
  • Z Z on Jul 23, 2014
    For our built in bookcases in our home library, we did a combination of dado and holes for dowel pins. The dado helps give extra "square" support when used for the shelf near the middle of the unit, especially when you are building a backless unit. This works for both built in or free standing units. I recommend it even when backing a free standing unit for added stability. The dowel pin holes allows for greater versatility when placing books or other items on your shelves. I draw up all our plans and hubby and I work together to build those plans. I decided instead of buying a jig, we could use pegboard we had scraps of to make sure the holes were evenly spaced on both front and back of the inside of the sides of the units. After deciding how far apart we wanted the holes I drew circles around the holes in the pegboard. Hubby clamped it to the side pieces and, using our drill press, drilled only the holes that had read circles around them. I'm sorry, I've yet to move my photos from my old computer to this one or I'd share how he did it.
  • Follow your H Follow your H on Jul 26, 2014
    Hi, it really depends on the size of the unit and the span. For something like in the photo you should have a glued in shelf with a dado in the sides of the unit. This should be around the middle, vertically of each section. This keeps the sides from bowing in or out. After that I prefer pin holes because I find the cleats look cumbersome, and they do not leave the shelves adjustable for different sized objects. Also, you cannot span across a long section without the shelf itself bowing. There are charts for this which explain what the maximum span would be. Obviously if the shelves are made of thinner material, they will not hold up to a lot of weight (books) without bending. (MDF bends as well)
  • Darla Darla on Jul 26, 2014
    The shelves will be stronger if you use good quality 3/4 inch plywood. If you glue edge molding to the front of the shelf, it will look good and help make them more rigid. I made built-ins for our living room from 3/4 inch plywood, basically boxes with fixed shelves in the middle and adjustable shelves for the rest. Molding on the fronts of the shelves and the box. You can fasten a backing like thin plywood or beadboard on the back to keep it square while you're putting it together.
    • @Darla I agree with you about using these materials. When I did shelves way back when however, instead of using moldings on the front edges I used a glue on veneer so the plywood looked like solid boards. This stuff comes in rolls that is easily fastened onto the edge of the plywood using a old clothes iron. The glue is already on the roll veneer when you purchase it. It comes in a variety of types of wood so it always matches the plywood that you purchase.
  • Darla Darla on Jul 26, 2014
    I've used the iron-on veneer before, and it works great for finishing plywood edges.
    • Kalsti Kalsti on Jul 26, 2014
      @Darla could you possibly post a pic or two of your shelves??? I am very curious now~ Thx!
  • Wendy Ann Short Wendy Ann Short on Jul 26, 2014
    I like the Built-in Shelves
  • BeadSiren BeadSiren on Jul 26, 2014
    Why don't you try a sawtooth shelf system. They carry them at Lee Valley Hardware. You can find them here:
  • Norma Jones Norma Jones on Aug 09, 2014
    I've seen Martha Stewart use a similar system to the sawtooth shelving system. She raves about it, and I agree it is awesome! The interlocking feature actually makes shelf becomes stronger when additional weight is added rather than weakening the support. This is the first I've seen it available as a kit.
  • Blb2 Blb2 on Mar 22, 2015
    Did you think to drill a few holes in different areas of your shelving so the lights will go all the way thru? It will not weaken the boards by staggering them. Pictures, special objects on top 2 shelves and books lower. By putting the holes toward the front, where nothing heavy sits any way, some light will show all way down. Just a thought. This is what I have been looking to do for basement stairs to close them off and will do this lighting. I hope my idea works.