//Our Founder and Chief Shelf Geek, Kevin Anderson talks shop with Associate Editor of Domino Magazine, Morgan Bulman about what makes the perfect floating shelf//
Q: Define a floating shelf: What characteristics, mechanisms, etc. does it need to have?
A: So, basics first. A “floating” shelf is, of course, a shelf that projects off the wall—seemingly floating—without any kind of visible support. Hence the silly moniker. Is it Magic? Sure. Some call it that, we just call it engineering. The engineering side looks deceivingly simple—like an iPhone—but still requires a bit of unseen wizardry by means of an invisible floating shelf bracket.
Q: What purpose do floating shelves serve?
A: In a nutshell: a floating shelf is minimalist, jaw-dropping storage for all of your geeky baubles. Beyond that, a shortlist of sexy use cases beyond your basic “shelves” would include night tables, bookcases, entertainment centers, standing bar tops, fireplace mantels, picture ledges, and plant stands. Our customers are constantly thrilling us with creative uses. One of my latest faves was cat stairs leading up to a cat perch. Floating cat stairs for the win!
Q: Does it count as a floating shelf if there are visible brackets? Why or why not?
A: No. If there are visible brackets, it would be considered a regular wall shelf. No visible brackets and seemingly magical levitation are the requisites for a floating shelf.
Related Radness: 9 Floating Shelf Tips
The original (and often imitated!) Shelfology heavy duty floating shelf bracket features a flat plate that mounts to the wall and horizontal shelf support rods that project away from the wall. For a floating shelf bracket to be truly invisible the rods need to be strong enough to support the shelf and everything on it, yet still small enough to disappear completely when the shelf slab is installed over them. If you have a shelf and one of these bad boys working in concert, you have a true floating shelf.
Q: Can you walk me through the different materials and finishes most floating shelves are made from today and what readers should know about each?
A: Here are the basics: Typically your shelf is going to be made from Plywood, Solid Hardwood, or Steel. There are pros and cons to each of these material types.
Plywoods: cheapest, easiest to manufacture. Offers a wide range of laminate finishes. Fits most performance needs. Because they are assembled they have seams that can swell or come apart in humidity or with spills. Different cores of plywood can perform better or worse. MDF cores are most typical and most stable but lately with MDF shortages are becoming the most expensive. Ply cores are harder to assemble and more likely to split. Can have pre-finished surfaces or have applied finishes, Shelf thickness from 1-½” up to any thickness is quite easy to achieve with plywoods.
Solid hardwoods: Generally the most expensive but the quality is much higher than plywood. Woods have different densities hence the shelves themselves will vary in weight. Several grades of woods are available from premium down. More knots = lower quality wood that is more prone to warping. Fewer knots = premium quality wood and generally will not warp. Solid hardwoods, like all good quality furniture, require finishing and maintenance (polishing, dusting, etc) furniture. Shelf Thicknesses from 1” to 2” are quite easy but thicker has to be glued up.
Steel: Generally higher priced because metal fabrication tends to be expensive labor. Powder coat finishes are much more durable than most spray-on wood finishes. Steel shelves are typically much thinner (e.g. ¼”!). Despite the thin dimensions, steel is the heaviest of all floating shelf options but also the strongest by far. ¼” steel shelves can hold up to 90lbs PER FOOT! This makes them equally great candidates for supporting stone slabs or displaying heavy collections on ultra-thin shelves.
MORE Related Radness: What is the Best Material For Floating Shelves?
Shelfology Floating Shelves: Designed To Hold Lots Of Weight
Weight limits are WHY we started Shelfology. In 2013, we couldn’t find a truly heavy duty floating shelf or bracket that could support real depths and weights. By real, I mean 12” deep with 40+ lbs capacity...
Q: What about weight limit—how does shelf capacity factor into the shopping equation? Or how can it be used to differentiate one shelf from another?
A: Weight limits are WHY we started Shelfology. In 2013, we couldn’t find a truly heavy duty floating shelf or bracket that could support real depths and weights. By real, I mean 12” deep with 40+ lbs capacity, or, for example, a kitchen shelf that needs to hold a set of dishes for 6-8 people. Those aren’t even extraordinary dimensions or use-cases, honestly… but the brackets on the market back then just couldn’t get it done. So we engineered the solution, put it up for sale and the rest is history. Now you can buy floating brackets and floating shelves that will support real life situations.
So, yes… weight limits are a major factor when selecting floating shelves. If you need your shelf to hold weights above 25lbs and/or if your shelf needs to be over 6” deep, buy a heavy-duty bracket like our original Aksel floating shelf bracket. It has been engineered for the job. Also, be assured: you get what you pay for when it comes to quality floating shelves. Seriously… this is no time to be cheap. Inferior shelf brackets hold much less weight than the more expensive brackets.
See these blogs for more details on what makes a good bracket/shelf
If your needs are more decorative, AKA getting performance out of a specific weight and depth are not critical, then just about any of the brackets or out of the box floating shelves are great solutions.
Q: Any advice on the best way to mount a floating shelf? Or how readers can make/reinforce their shelves to be stronger?
A: Yes. There are best practices. TLDR: Attach the floating shelf bracket to wall blocking and/or studs. This ALWAYS results in the strongest shelf possible. ALWAYS install floating shelf brackets into MINIMUM one wall stud. Attaching to 2+ wall studs is highly recommended. Never use just wall anchors as they will be levered right out of the wall by the weight of the shelf. The MOST BESTEST BEST practice is to install your shelf into wall blocking. Meaning you may need to involve a professional. Here are some helpful blog posts: