How to put up a shelf – a guide to hanging shelves on the wall with brackets

A step-by-step guide and video on how to put up a shelf with brackets – whether you're working with drywall, plaster or masonry walls.

Placing the shelf on top of the brackets
(Image credit: Future)

Knowing how to put up a shelf successfully is a must for everyone's repertoire of DIY jobs. It's one of the most rewarding and easiest tasks going, that is, when you know what you're doing...

Our step-by-step guide will help you learn how to hang shelves on the wall with brackets – which are essential if your shelving ideas are on the creative side and likely to take a fair amount of weight. Rest assured that whether you're working with drywall, plasterboard or masonry walls – using a drill or not – you'll be able to complete this job with every success. All without calling in (or paying) someone to help you!

Building contractor, Aaron Donovan of AD Services (opens in new tab) adds, 'Putting up a shelf is a very easy job, just be sure to plan. Before doing anything, consider the size and depth of your shelves. Don’t place particularly deep shelves near doors or busy areas of the home where there is a danger of people bumping into them. Generally, shelves should be mounted at eye level.'

What you will need

White shelving with brackets and decorations

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

1. Check the construction of the wall 

First check what kind of wall you are attaching your shelf brackets to – masonry or plasterboard? This will dictate the weight of the shelf you are going to be able to hang (not to mention its contents) and the fixings you will need. To test your wall type, knock on it; if it sounds hollow, chances are it’s plasterboard or drywall. 

Checking wall type when hanging a shelf

(Image credit: Future)

2. Choose a suitable shelf style and fixtures

If you are working with a plasterboard wall, go for a lightweight shelf for pictures or house plants. Be aware that a bookshelf maybe too heavy for plasterboard, unless you can locate the brackets on the studs, and better suited to a masonry wall. If you are hanging a floating shelf, that's a different DIY job altogether.

3. Check your wall for pipes and cables 

Before drilling any holes, much like when hanging pictures yourself, run over the area using a digital detector to check it’s free of any pipes and cables. If you don't have one, then take a look at the location of sockets and taps on either side of the wall and make sure you're not going to hang the brackets where any pipes or wires might fall.

Checking for wires when hanging a shelf

(Image credit: Future)

4. Mark out the position of your shelf

'Generally, shelves should be mounted at eye level. Next, grab your mounting brackets and effectively eyeball the first one, see how it looks and if you’re happy with the height. The brackets are the most important part as they actually hold the weight of the shelf.' adds Donovan. 

Once you've decided on the height you want your shelf, 'Mark your desired position of the bracket on the wall using a pencil. Place the tip of the pencil inside the screw holes of the bracket and make a small dot on the wall. Then, grab a level and draw a line from your first marked spot all the way over to your second bracket position. This will ensure you’ve got a level shelf.'

Marking up a shelf

(Image credit: Future)

5. Prepare the wall

Using a counterpunch, tap a small dent into the centre of each mark, this will stop your drill or screwdriver from slipping. Place a small strip of Sellotape over the drill hole to stop plaster or paintwork from cracking.

'Next comes the drilling, you’re far better off drilling a pilot hole into the wall for the screws instead of trying to directly screw the brackets into place in one go. It’s recommended to use a drill for this but you can struggle on with a screwdriver if you have the patience and arm strength.' Recommends Donovan.

Mark up the wall with a counterpunch to hang a shelf

(Image credit: Future)

6. Fasten the brackets to the wall

'Next up, fasten the brackets to the wall ensuring that they are flush to the surface and secured tightly.' Says Donovan.

  • For worm-style fixings: If you are using a worm-style fixing, screw your wall plugs into the pencil marks. Place the bracket on top and use a spirit level to ensure it is vertical before loosely fixing the top of the bracket to the wall. Once you have checked again that the bracket is plumb straight, screw in the bottom of the bracket. Then go back and tighten up the top. Repeat for the second bracket.
  • For sprung plasterboard fixings: If you have chosen a sprung plasterboard fixing, drill holes in your marked positions. Push the fixing into the holes and then screw the top of the bracket loosely to the wall. Ensure your bracket is straight and then repeat for the bottom of the bracket. 

'Double check again that they are straight and level before completely tightening.' says Donovan.

Attaching the first bracket to the wall when hanging a shelf

(Image credit: Future)

7. Attach your shelf

Place the shelf on top of the bracket, use a ruler to check there is the same overhang on each side. Once the shelf is centred, mark the position of the screw holes underneath the shelf. Drill pilot holes, using a small drill bit, into each mark. Be careful not to drill all the way through the shelf. Return the shelf to the brackets, line up the drill holes with the screw holes and screw in your fixings from beneath. 

'Depending on what type of shelf you’ve got, this may be all the work done or you may need to screw in some additional screws to anchor the shelf.' Adds Donovan.

Placing the shelf on top of the brackets

(Image credit: Future)

8. Check the shelf and brackets are secure

Once everything is securely fastened, wipe off any dust and get creative with styling your newly hung shelf however you'd like.

Wooden shelves holding vintage ornaments, house plants and chopping boards with herringbone tiling and marble surfaces

(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies)

Time for a shelfie.

Hebe joined the Real Homes team in early 2018 as Staff Writer before moving to the Livingetc team in 2021 where she took on a role as Digital Editor. She loves boho and 70's style and is a big fan of Instagram as a source of interiors inspiration. When she isn't writing about interiors, she is renovating her own spaces – be it wallpapering a hallway, painting kitchen cupboards or converting a van.