Step-by-step guide to create a floating shelf

DIY: your very own floating shelf
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Have you been considering starting a new project and making your own floating shelf? Then you’ve come to the right place. Nothing compares to the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve built something with your own hands. Follow our step-by-step guide, and you’ll have your floating ledge hanging in no time. From routing the edges to treating the wood, we’ll guide you from start to finish. Read on, learn your way around your router tools, and start creating today.

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Let's go - step by step


Choose a piece of wood for your shelf

For your floating shelf, pick a wood you like

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If you’re keeping your floating shelf natural, choose a wood with a nice grain. If you plan on painting the ledge, opt for a sturdy piece of MDF. For this tutorial, we’ve opted for oak. The beautifully patterned grain gives a luxurious finish – but it’s a hard wood, so go slow when it’s time to rout. If you press your router bit too hard into a piece of hardwood, such as oak, it may burn. Another option is fir; a readily available and reasonably priced European wood. It is softer however, which means it’s easier to work with, but more prone to chipping.


Draw a guide for your shelf’s groove

Draw where you want your groove to be in your floating shelf

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The placement of your groove depends on how big the shelf is, but also what you plan to put on it. If you plan to display photo frames, measure the width of your largest frame so your groove will be wide enough. We’ve chosen a width of about 4cm. When you’ve decided where you want your groove to be, it’s time to get drawing. Hold a ruler a few centimetres away from the edge. Next, take your pencil and move it simultaneously with your ruler to get a straight line along the length of the wood. You can slide your hand along the wood as a guide for the ruler. Repeat 4cm away from the original line, and then connect the two lines for a clear outline. Now you’re ready to pick up your router tool.


Rout the edges of the groove

Routing the edges of the groove in the floating shelf

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Clamp the shelf to the workbench. Insert Router Bit 652 into your Dremel Rotary-Tool and attach the Plunge Router. To guarantee the neatest result, use the edge guide that comes with the Plunge Router. Set the edge guide at the right distance, and then set the depth of the Plunge Router to 3mm. For example, if you want a depth of 1cm, you’ll have to rout the surface three times. For this project, the groove has a total depth of 0.5cm. When you first start with the router, hold the tool at a slight angle so you can enter the wood. Move slowly and wear the correct safety gear. Find more tips on how to use and hold the router in our Beginner’s Guide.


Remove the rest of the wood from the groove

In the floating shelf, rout the groove’s inside area

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Now the outside edges are routed to the desired depth (let’s call them the ‘border’), it’s time to remove the remaining wood. Remove the edge guide from the Plunge Router, and move freely, using the routed border as your guide. Move your tool in the same direction that it’s rotating in. This way, you’ll remove more wood than if you were to go in the other direction. TIP: moving in this direction also means the sawdust will end up behind (not in front of) where you want to rout.


Sand the routed edges

Sand the edges of the routed groove

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Once you’ve finished routing your groove, it’s time to sand the edges. Remove the router bit and insert the EZ SpeedClic Mandrel (SC402) and an EZ SpeedClic Sanding Disc (SC413) into your Dremel Rotary-Tool. The Sanding Disc lets you reach the bottom surface of the groove, and ensures you’ve got a smooth finish. Switch to the EZ SpeedClic: Finishing Abrasive Buff 320 grit (512S) to sand the sides of the groove. Now, you’ve got a splinter-free surface to lean your picture frames against.

If you’d like to give your floating shelf rounded edges, watch the Masterclass with Peter Heuveling.

Mark up the keyhole grooves

Draw guidelines for the keyhole-shaped grooves in your floating shelf

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Let’s turn our attention to fixing the shelf to the wall. It’s called a floating shelf, or a floating ledge, because, unlike traditional shelves, there are no brackets holding it to the wall. In place of brackets, you’re going to use your handheld router to create keyhole-shaped grooves in the back of the shelf. These grooves then hook neatly over screws in the wall. If your shelf is a metre in length, four keyholes are best. Mark a hole 3cm from each end of the shelf. Then mark a hole 28cm from each end of the shelf. Use a ruler and draw lines where you’ll soon be cutting the holes.


Make the keyholes

Use your Plunge Router to make keyhole-shaped grooves in the floating shelf

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Insert Router Bit 655 and attach the Plunge Router. Set the depth to mirror the length of the whole working part of the bit. In order to slot the keyhole over the wall screws, the shape of the keyhole should face downwards. Start by routing a small circle – this will be the top of your keyhole. Because of the limited space, you won’t be able to angle your router tool like in step 3. Instead, make very small circular movements, and slowly rout through the wood. Once you’ve routed the entire depth of the circle, start routing the straight line towards the outer edge of the shelf (and away from yourself). This straight line will create the keyhole shape.


Finish your floating shelf with a suitable coating

Treat your floating shelf with a topcoat of beeswax or lacquer

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Now it’s time to finish your handiwork with a topcoat of beeswax or lacquer. A natural product, beeswax sinks deeper into the wood to really bring out the wood’s grain. Lacquer results in a hard topcoat, protecting the wood against UV light. This is a great choice if your floating ledge is in a sunny spot. With beeswax, you can use a paper towel or scrap fabric, while lacquer should be applied with a brush. The beeswax finish will be matte, while lacquer gives shine; so the treatment method really depends on the look you’re after.


Fix your floating shelf to the wall

Fixing the floating shelf to the wall

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Before you fix your floating ledge to the wall, mark up its position with a piece of masking tape. That way, you can stand back at a distance and see if the height works for you. Once you’ve decided on a height, hold the picture ledge against the wall and use a spirit level to make sure it’s straight. Draw lines where the screws should go, drill the holes, put in the plugs, then the screws. Attach your floating shelf to the wall by pushing the keyholes down over the screws, so the shelf fastens firmly against the wall.


Admire your work

DIY: your very own floating shelf

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Congratulations! You’ve followed all the steps for this DIY project and your handmade floating shelf is up on the wall. You can put some nice frames or books on it – and you’re all finished! All that’s needed now, is to stand back and admire your beautiful work.