How to build alcove shelving

Alcove shelves can make the most of an otherwise empty space, giving you additional storage for books and equipment or an attractive display for trinkets and photo frames.

For most people, an alcove will be at the side of a chimney breast. But this guide will also work if you want your shelving inside an existing storage cupboard, or any space with a back wall and a wall either side.

You must ensure your build can proceed before buying all the materials by checking for pipework and cables. Below is a complete guide on how to build alcove shelving and maximise your wall space.


Step by step: How to build alcove shelving

You will need:



  • 2x2 wood timbers (as a frame)
  • ½” plywood (for shelving)
  • Wood adhesive


When drilling and using a saw, there will be dust and debris. Always wear eye protection, a dust mask, and gloves when using power tools. You can purchase your PPE when hiring your tools online through Speedy.

½” plywood should be enough strength for your shelves, but you may want to choose something thicker for extra stability.


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Step 1: Check for cables and pipes

This is an essential step before drilling in your home, but especially important if you live in an old house and will install your shelving between an internal/external wall and your chimney breast. Wiring and pipework can be unpredictable here.

You must utilise all three surrounding walls, so check the area for pipes and cables. Mark any areas which can’t be drilled into.

If you’re instead drilling into a stud wall, detect the studs. The back support must be attached to at least two studs, and each side support must be connected to at least one stud.

Then, determine where your shelves can go. Mark with a pencil as a guide before using your tape measure and spirit level to create an almost complete pencil line around the area.

Repeat this for every shelf you want, ensuring each has enough height availability for your chosen display.


Step 2: Cut your frame

Use 2x2 (at a minimum) timbers as a frame. Measure the length of each required piece, including the side and back. This will be what you need to purchase or cut to size using a circular saw.

SPEEDY TOP TIP: Measure each piece of timber separately. There is a chance your walls are not even.

If you want your shelving to look like it’s floating, you will also need timber at the front. You want this to be in line with your wall, so bear this in mind and reduce the size of the side timbers accordingly.

Once purchased or cut to size, it is time to fit the frame.


Step 3: Attach the frame

Position the back frame, double-checking that it is straight using your spirit level. When happy, drill pilot holes through the wood to the wall. One hole on either side, plus one or two in between, would be ideal.

Mark with a pencil where these holes are. Remove the timber and drill a pilot hole in the wall. Install rawl plugs suitable for your wall type, tapping in with a hammer to tightly secure them.

Then, secure your timber to the wall using suitable screws. Once fixed in place, repeat for your side frames.

If attaching a front frame, use long wood screws to attach this to the side frames.

SPEEDY TOP TIP: Need additional strength? You can add extra timbers within the frame. Either attach by driving screws at an angle or use small brackets, remembering to fix at the sides so you don’t affect your shelving.

Your front frame will likely hide these screw holes, but if you wish, you can use wood filler to fill the screw holes. Wait for this to dry before sanding and moving to the next step.


Step 4: Cut the plywood shelving

Measure the size of the required plywood, remembering that your walls may not be even. If easier, you can make a frame out of cardboard once you have your measurements to double-check everything is correct.

When happy, cut your plywood using a jigsaw. Test and adjust as necessary. Repeat this for each shelf and the underside of each shelf. Attach using nails or small screws.

Once you’re happy and the plywood is flush, measure for a front piece before cutting to size. You can use an adhesive such as No More Nails, which is better for an invisible attachment. Use tape to secure it until it is dried.


Step 5: Sand and finish

Sand to create a rougher surface ready for painting and minimise any joins. Use filler to smooth any rough edges out. Allow to dry before re-sanding.

You’re probably going to then want to finish off your shelving. Use a primer to seal the wood before either painting or staining.

Remember to use masking tape if painting a different colour to your walls. Allow to dry before giving a second coat, and then decorate and style once dry.



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