How To Build A Shadow Box Shelf With An Old Frame

by Spruced.Sticks
3 Materials
2 Days

If you’re a fan of wooden picture frame upcycles, I’ve got a great DIY for you! I built a shadow box shelf with an old frame and it looks amazing. It was a really cute way to decorate my wall with an antique and create an area to display some of my treasures. It only took a little bit of wood to do it and it was an easy beginner project. It wasn’t expensive to make and it could be free if you have a frame and some old wood on hand. Check out the step by step guide.


  • Old Wooden Frame
  • Wood For Shelves
  • Paint
  • Brushes
  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Metal Corner Braces
  • Screws
  • Wood Glue
  • Clamps
  • Rags
  • Gloves
  • Drop Cloth
  • Mask

Step 1: Grab A Frame and Clean It Up

I started this project with a shopping trip. I went to the antique mall and picked up a decent sized, old wooden frame. I didn’t worry about the finish, because I knew I was going to paint it, but I did want one big enough to make a shelf to hold my larger decor accessories. Once home, I wiped it off with a damp rag and cleaned it up. 

Grab A Frame & Clean It Up

Step 2: Measure the Wood for Shelves

Now that I had my frame, it was time to measure and cut the wood. I used 1 x 4’s and cut them to the lengths necessary to form a box on the perimeter of the back of the frame. I also measured one long board to make a horizontal shelf and two smaller pieces to make a vertical separator, inside the box. Your lengths will vary based on your frame size. If you don’t want to cut the wood yourself, you can bring your measurements to a box home improvement store or lumber yard and they’ll cut it for you. 

Measure the Wood for Shelves

Step 3: Paint the Frame

Next up, I needed to make it all pretty. So I painted it. I started by painting the frame, using a high gloss white. I applied it with a brush and it took about four coats. I made sure to put down a drop cloth to protect my floors and I worked in a well-ventilated area, with a mask. 

Paint the Frame

Step 4: Paint the Wood Shelves

To unify the piece, I painted the wood shelves, as well. I used the same high gloss white paint and applied it with a brush. The wood only took about two coats and since I like the rustic look, I didn’t prime it first. You could add that step if you want a more polished finish. However keep in mind that most of the box will be hidden behind the frame. 

Paint the Wood Shelves

Step 5: Screw the Box Together

When all the painted pieces were dry, it was time to put my shelf together. I used screws to build my box. I connected the boards at the corners, using a drill and two screws. Then I added the interior horizontal shelf with screws, fastening it to the box I had just made. 

Screw the Box Together

Step 6: Attach the Box to The Frame

Next up, I had to connect my box to the picture frame. I decided the best way to do this would be to use wood glue. I applied the glue to the shelf and then placed the shelf on the backside of the frame. I clamped it into place, to hold it while it set, and then I let it sit overnight to dry. 

Attach the Box to The Frame

Step 7: Secure It with Braces

While I was pretty sure the glue would hold my shelf in place, I decided to add metal corner braces for extra strength. I screwed the braces into each corner, attaching one end to the box and the other to the back of the picture frame. I used the same braces to connect the two small vertical separators to the interior horizontal shelf. 

Secure It with Braces
Shadow Box Shelf With An Old Frame

And there you have it, a beautiful shadow box shelf made from an old antique picture frame. It was a makeover and a small building project all in one. It was easy to do and, while I made a large shelf, this DIY can be customized to work with any size frame. Whip up a smaller version to display your tiny collectibles and a larger one for books or bottles. The options are endless and totally up to you!

Take a look at these 17 shadow box ideas and you will soon be making your own fun, stylish shadow boxes.

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Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
  1 question
  • Jacqueline Moore Jacqueline Moore on Feb 23, 2020

    What did you put on the back to hang it? Or do you just set it on something?

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2 of 15 comments
  • Betty Jo Gray Betty Jo Gray on Feb 24, 2021

    Awesome, I love this, definitely on my to do list ❤️

  • Clayton Clayton on Feb 24, 2021

    Great idea! Suggestion.... if you cut the two crossbars snuggly, they could be glued in, thus eliminating the L - brackets. The glue would be strong enough to hold bric-a-brac.