January 05, 2020

TUTORIAL: DIY Knick Knack Shelves Tutorial (Super Easy and Fast to Make!)

As I mentioned before, Eli is pretty obsessed with Rubik's Cubes. He's got a big collection going and I can almost constantly hear the clickety clack noise as he works on them constantly (I actually just signed him up for a competition next month--he's going to do five events!)

Anyway, I used to keep his cubes in a Tupperware box in his closet, but the collection outgrew it. He asked me if I could make some shelves for him to display his cubes. I thought three would be a good amount, but those filled up fast, so I had to make three more. I took pictures to hopefully make a decent enough tutorial.

First, I normally don't mark up the wall with this much pencil--but for the sake of the photos as well as the fact that I still have leftover blue wall paint, I just marked them a little more than necessary.


  • (1) 1" x 2" x 8-ft board*
  • (1) 1" x 3"x -8-ft board* (for this, I used a random 12" x 24" board that I had leftover from shelves, and I ripped it--which means cutting it with the grain; but a 1" x 3" x 8" would be easiest.
  • screws (these ones are my very favorite for all my projects)
  • drywall anchors if your studs are more than 16" apart (ours are 24")
  • drill
  • miter saw (or any saw to make a couple of short cuts)
  • drill bits (one smaller one--the size isn't super important, but I used 3/32"; for the larger one, use the size for your anchor--in my case, I used a 1/4" bit to fit the anchor. I will write more about this later.)
  • straight edge
  • hammer or rubber mallet (to tap the drill bit into the drywall)
  • stud finder
  • tape measure
  • pencil
  • level

[*Side note: For some stupid reason, when buying lumber, the actual dimensions are different than the given dimensions. For example, a 1"x 2"x 8-ft board actually measures 0.75"x 1.5" x 8 feet. The 1"x 3"x 8 ft actually measures 0.75" x 2.5" x 8 ft. Since I ripped my own 1x3's, my actual depth measurement for the shelf tops was 3" and not 2.5". Not that it matters much, but I wanted to point that out.]


First, make your cuts. I wanted my shelves 24" long (simply because that was the size of the scraps I was working with). I used a miter saw to cut the 1x2 board into four pieces (you only need three if you're making three shelves). Make sure you measure twice and cut once ;)

Then cut the 1x3 the same way, making sure to measure them to 24" long.

You should have three (or four, but we'll say three since that's what I used) 1x2's and three 1x3's all cut to 24" long.

Next, measure and level where you want the shelves to be. In my case, I wanted to stagger them from the previous shelves I made, so it required a little more measuring, but you can ignore that.

The first thing I always do before hanging shelves is locate the studs--and I spent a few extra moments on this, checking several areas, just to be SURE before I drill.

I use this stud finder:

You just press the button on the left side and hold it while you slide the scanner to the right while it's against the wall. As you get close to a stud, the arrows start to light up, and then when you hit the left side of the stud, it will beep and the arrow will turn green. I make a little mark with pencil on the wall.

Then you repeat that, only you start from the right side (about six inches to the right of where your pencil mark is) and slide it to the left. Again, the arrows will start to light up as you get close--so slow down a bit--and then when it beeps and shows a green arrow, place another mark. The two marks should be roughly 1.5-2" apart.

I do this 3-4 times above and below those marks, so you should have a fairly accurate line where all the marks stack up vertically. I line up the straight edge against the marks, and hold the level (vertically) next to the straight edge to make sure that the edge is completely level. Slide the straight edge so that it runs vertically between all the little marks, about halfway between each left and right mark.

You ultimately want a vertical line that runs in between the marks you made. Those little marks are the left and right sides of the studs, so you want to drill in between them--therefore, drilling into the center of the studs. So, when you line up your straight edge vertically about halfway between the stud edges, make sure it's level and then draw a light pencil line. That line marks the center of the studs.

In my photo, I have two lines--I drew lines along each edge of the stud. But when you drill into the wall, you want to drill between those lines so that you hit the stud.

If you have studs that are 16" apart, you can skip the whole steps with the anchor (instead, just repeat the process of locating the stud). But if yours are 24" apart like mine, you can either make longer shelves (28"-30" or so) or use an anchor. I used an anchor to keep my shelves 24" long. Anchors are a pain in the ass, but necessary when hanging something into drywall.

To make sure I hit the correct positions for the stud and the anchor, I held one of the 1x2 boards where it was going to be (remember, you are adding the shelve itself on TOP of the 1x2, so the top of the shelf will actually be 3/4" higher than the top of the 1x2 support underneath).

Get your drill ready and within reach. Use the smaller drill bit for this, as it is only going to be a guide for where the screws will go.

Hold the 1x2 where you would like it, lining up one end horizontally at least a couple of inches past the stud line. Place your level on top of the 1x2 and make sure it is level. This is crucial if you don't want your shelves to look lopsided!

Once it is level, grab your drill with your third hand (I know, there is a lot of juggling--just try doing it while taking photos with an iPhone! haha). Pressing the 1x2 against the wall hard so that it doesn't move, drill a hole through the 1x2, the drywall, and into the stud. You should definitely feel when the drill bit goes into the stud. If it feels really loose, you probably mislocated the stud. DO NOT MOVE THE BOARD when you remove the drill bit. (I only moved it on here so you could see.)

(If you have a second stud 16" apart to drill into on the other end of the shelf, lucky you! Otherwise, it's time for the anchor stuff.)

Keeping the shelf perfectly level and pressed against the wall so that the hole goes right through the wood into the anchor, move your drill to the other side of the board. A couple of inches from the edge, drill through the wood and into the drywall.

Now you will have holes in the wood and in the wall that are perfectly lined up where they need to be.

Next, if you are using an anchor: Switch to the larger drill bit (whatever size will fit the anchor you are using). When I am in doubt, I always go with a smaller bit and keep increasing until it's the right size. You don't want the hole to be bigger than the anchor!

It should be a tight squeeze. Use your hammer or rubber mallet to gently tap the anchor into the hole.

Now, whether you're using the anchor or not, switch out the drill bit for a driver bit that matches the screws you are using. I like to drive them partially into the 1x2 (through the pilot hole) before I put it on the wall (then you only need two hands instead of three! ha). I always drive the screw until it just pokes out of the other side of the wood. That way, I can line up the screws with the holes easier.

Once you get the screws into the 1x2, with the point just slightly poking out the back, line up the screws so that they are going into the holes/anchors you already drilled in the wall. Then just use the driver on the drill to drive the screws into the holes.

I like to countersink the screws where I can (like when screwing into the stud--to countersink it just means to drive it deeper than the surface, so I can fill it in later with wood filler.) When using anchors, that usually doesn't work for me.

If you'll be adding more shelves, then you'll just need to measure from the one you already did. I think I measured mine 10" apart. Remember: The 1x2 you just screwed in is the bottom support; so the shelf top will actually be 3/4" higher than that.

You should already have the lines drawn where the studs are (I use a long straight edge so that I only have to draw it once). So you can skip locating the studs. Just measure the distance you want between shelves, and make a small mark there.

Then, using the level and the straight edge, make a horizontal line where you want the next shelf support to be. Line up your second 1x2 piece (making sure the edges match up with the one above or below!). Then do the same thing with the drill--use the small drill bit to drill a hole through the board into the stud, and then do the same on the other side (for the anchor or other stud).

Repeat the process of driving the screws into the board until the end just starts to poke out. Line it up with the holes in the wall. And use the drill to drive the screws all the way in. Repeat the process for the number of shelves you want. It should look like this when you're done:

Now comes the easy part! But this is IMPORTANT: Make sure you start with your bottom shelf when adding the shelving on top of the supports. I learned the hard way that your drill may not fit underneath the shelves above it, so you want to work from the bottom up.

Take one of your 1x3 boards and set it on the bottom support. Make sure it lines up okay.

Then take it off and using your small drill bit, you'll drill some pilot holes. Usually, with these types of screws, you don't need pilot holes. However, since these will be close to the edge, it may split the wood. So, using the small drill bit, drill some holes that are roughly 1/2" from the (long) edge of the 1x3. I drilled five, about the same space apart (just eyeball it). It should look like this:

[Note: When drilling the pilot holes, I drilled them at an ever-so-slight angle away (so that when sitting on the support, they angle just slightly toward the wall). I didn't want to risk the screw showing up on the front of the support, so I angled it a bit.]

After drilling pilot holes, drive the 2" screws partially into the holes so that they are easy to drive in when you set the shelf on top.

Set the shelve on top of the support, tight against the wall, with the pilot holes/screws just above the support. Then holding it steady, drive one of the screws into the support nice and tightly (like I said, I like to countersink them). I start with the middle screw and work my way to each end. Just make sure that the ends are lined up against the support underneath.

Drive all five screws into the support, and there you have it--a shelf!

Repeat with the other shelves, moving from the bottom up. If you'd like, you can fill in any gaps with paintable caulk.

Once the shelves are hung on the wall, you can use paint tape on the wall and then paint the shelves. I always use oil-based paint on furniture of any kind--it's a pain to use, but it is much more durable. With these shelves, I used Sherwin Williams oil-based paint--I just did two coats of it instead of using a primer. Oil-based paint takes at least 24 hours to dry, so don't touch it until then.

When they are dry, just remove the tape and then if you have leftover paint from the walls, you can paint over the pencil lines you drew on the wall. If not, a Magic Eraser works well (just use it very lightly so that it doesn't take off the paint as well as the pencil).

Then, just fill up the shelves with knick knacks--in Eli's case, Rubik's Cubes! ;)


  1. You did such a great job explaining every step! Thank you.

    1. Thank you! It's so hard to describe some things, so I'm glad you found it easy to understand :)

  2. The shelves look so nice! Thank you for the tutorial!

    1. Thank you Jan! I'm happy with how they turned out :)

  3. Can I ally why you painted after mounting and not before?

    1. You could certainly do it beforehand! I just prefer to paint after I've done all the drilling and screwing it together, because I paint over the screws. Also, I use paintable caulk if needed in order to fill in any gaps (if the wood is slightly warped, it may not fit together perfectly square). Since oil-based paint takes forever to dry, waiting until afterward was just easier for me :)

  4. My older son also had a Rubik's cube obsession. My favorite one was (and is) the "mirror cube" (the one on the bottom far right on Eli's shelf). There's only 2 on Eli's shelves that my son didn't have, but I think he had a few different ones. I never got him the giant one that you got for Christmas, but my son would have been the same as Eli. :-) My son is 21 now with a baby, so he doesn't mess with his much anymore, but he certainly got a lot of enjoyment from them.


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