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DIY Tips for Hanging a Shelf

Keep it up on the wall where it belongs with these shelving do's and don'ts
By Kurt Anderson
Published: January 2, 2014
shelf hanging tips
CHOOSING YOUR SHELF MATERIAL – For a long-lasting shelf, choose real wood instead of a composite material like MDF. The stiffness of real wood also makes it optimal for longer shelf runs and for holding heavier loads.
If a shelf falls down at the cabin, and nobody’s there to hear the mementos break, who does your significant other blame? The person who didn’t read this simple list of shelving do’s and don’ts, of course.

DO:

First, find your wall studs – 16 inches on center – so you can solidly screw your shelf brackets into the studs instead of using anchors.

Try to keep bracket spacing to 16 inches. If you need to go to 24-inch spacing, consider using solid wood instead of medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Set the brackets so that there is no more than 8 inches of unsupported overhang on the ends.

Use coarse-threaded screws, like cabin screws, to secure the brackets to the wall and keep it there for decades. Fine-threaded screws lack the gripping power needed.

Distribute the weight evenly on your shelf. If possible, position the heaviest items directly over the brackets.

Keep moisture out. All shelves, especially the particle board type, will weaken quickly if moisture content is too high. Seal your shelving thoroughly with either polyurethane or adhesive laminate, and don’t forget the back, or “wall” edge.

DON'T:

Overburden your shelf. The brackets you use to hang your shelf will be rated for a specific weight, e.g., 250 pounds. Theoretically, four of those brackets under an inch-thick piece of solid wood shelving could support a half-ton of knickknacks. Actual load-bearing capacity is reduced by factors including the integrity of the hardware, anchors, shelf and even stud quality. To be safe, divide the actual capacity by four if securing by anchors, and by three if securing directly to studs. Then add up the total to get a conservative, but safe, shelf weight limit.

Anchor shelves directly into drywall or thin paneling without using proper anchors. While they might hold for a while, screws that aren’t attached to a stud or an anchor will eventually work free. Note: Not all anchors are created equal. Avoid the cheap bag of multi-colored, flimsy plastic anchors; opt instead for sturdy anchors.

Skimp on shelf quality. MDF is a common, economical shelving material. But consider skipping MDF in favor of plywood or solid wood if your shelves will support a heavy load, you’re located in humid conditions, or if you may need to relocate the shelving in the future (screw holes in MDF cannot be reused).
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