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DIY Open Shelving (With an Unexpected Twist!)

We’re breaking down how we made strong open shelving using an unexpected material. See the step-by-step in this tutorial!

A small kitchen with black base cabinets, square tile, brass hardware and open shelving. | via Yellow Brick Home
tile | hardware | shelf brackets

An Alternative to the Floating Shelf

May I suggest an alternative to the floating shelf? (Not to be confused with my love of the floating shelf, but sometimes, change is good.) Same idea, less complicated and equally as strong – if not more so! The shelves we recently added to the Unit 2 kitchen took us less than a day to complete, making it a quick DIY that can be done in a single weekend with time to spare. But don’t let the fast pace of this project fool you; they’re handsome, can be tailored to your aesthetic, and really, really sturdy. The secret is in the twist!

A small kitchen with black base cabinets, square tile, brass hardware and open shelving. | via Yellow Brick Home
tile | hardware | shelf brackets

So, What’s the Twist?

Instead of using (inexpensive) knotty 2-by lumber or (more expensive) select wood planks, we made these shelves out of stair treads! Oak stair treads are a few dollars more than common lumber, but they have a smooth, finished appearance, less noticeable grain and knots, and oak is a more durable, hard wood. In addition, they’re an inch+ thick, making them the perfect companion for these budget-friendly metal shelf brackets we’ll be using in this tutorial!

Tip: You can purchase 36″ – 48″ stair treads in most big box hardware stores. In this tutorial, we’ll be ripping off the bullnose with a table saw. If you do not have a table saw, 2″ x 12″ common lumber would also work (with a little extra sanding for a more uniform appearance).

Stair treads and brackets to make open shelving in the kitchen | via Yellow Brick Home
metal shelf brackets

Tools + Supplies Used

  • wood stain
  • water-based polyurethane
  • black touch-up paint
  • paint brush
  • toggle bolts
  • measuring tape
  • painter’s tape
  • level
  • pencil

What We Did

1| Find + Mark the Studs​​​​​​​

Our first step when hanging shelving is to look for studs. To prevent marking up our freshly painted walls, we use painter’s tape and a pencil to make a mark wherever there’s a stud. Sometimes we can utilize a stud during install (which is ideal), but sometimes we can’t for visual purposes. I’ll share what we do in the latter situation further along in this tutorial!

Marking studs in a kitchen to prepare for open shelving | via Yellow Brick Home

2| Rip the Bullnose + Cut to Length

Our brackets can accommodate a shelving depth of 11 1/4″, and our stair treads are 11 1/2″. Using our table saw, Scott took 1/4″ off the bullnose on our stair treads, which gave us a pretty square edge. Afterwards, we cut the lengths with a miter saw.

3| Sand the Oak Stair Treads

We used our orbital sander to sand down the top, sides and bottom, which helps to remove any rough texture from cuts. Sanding the top and bottom will also allow for a more even stain application. We typically start with rough 80 grit sandpaper, and then we move up to 120 grit and finally, 220 grit. The higher the number, the more fine the grit and more smooth your surface will be!

Sanding down our open shelves for the Unit 2 kitchen | How to make open shelves | via Yellow Brick Home

4| Join Any Corners

We designed our shelves to hug an inside corner, and although straight cuts would do the trick, a mitered cut always looks better! We used Kreg Pocket Hole System to create 3 pocket holes that would allow us to join the seam tightly.

Scott shows what the shelves look like once joined using a Kreg Pocket Hole System | via Yellow Brick Home
Scott shows what the shelves look like once joined using a Kreg Pocket Hole System | via Yellow Brick Home

We added two pocket holes on one side, and a third on the other. By staggering our pocket holes, the screws will pull the two pieces together nicely while also being hidden! You can also wood fill the holes if there’s a chance they’ll be visible. (We skipped this step, since you’d need to be an ant on the countertop to see those holes!)

Scott shows what the shelves look like once joined using a Kreg Pocket Hole System | via Yellow Brick Home

5| Stain + Protect​​​​​​​

As Scott completed cutting, sanding and joining each stair tread, he passed it along to me for staining! Oak stair treads have a slightly reddish hue, and the floors throughout the apartment are maple, showing no redness whatsoever. It was up to me to knock down the red as best as possible, and I was able to do so with stain!

Taking a cue from our floor staining adventures, I found that a very light layer of Minwax Weathered Oak stain applied with a rag helped tone down the red tremendously! Afterwards, I applied 3 coats of water-based polyurethane with a paintbrush to protect the wood. Between each coat of stain, it’s best practice to give the previous coat of poly a light sanding with a 220 grit sanding block.

Water-based polyurethane adds protection to wood without the yellowing over time! via Yellow Brick Home

Tip: With every layer of polyurethane, you may notice raised wood grain. Sanding with a 220 grit block between layers will help to knock that down, and a final sand with 400 grit sandpaper will polish up the top layer.

6| Install the Brackets

While we waited for our stain and poly to dry, we got right to work on installing the brackets! We were lucky that two of our brackets were able to go right into a stud, but for the rest of the placement, we used toggle bolts:

Securing metal brackets to the walls using toggle bolts for extra strength! via Yellow Brick Home

Toggle bolts are not as scary as they may look! After drilling a large pilot hole (every pack of toggle bolts will let you know which size drill bit to use), you push the metal part in, ‘zip’ the strap flat against the wall, and ‘snap’ it off! Most toggle bolts are capable of holding up to 100 lbs. of weight or more, and they’re able to distribute the weight evenly. Win-win!

Leveling and securing metal brackets to the walls using toggle bolts for extra strength! via Yellow Brick Home

We leveled along the way, and installed 3 brackets per shelf. We never had a span more than 18″ apart, which felt like a safe bet knowing that our future tenants will be piling heavy plates and glassware on these shelves.

Securing metal brackets to the walls using toggle bolts for extra strength! via Yellow Brick Home

7| Attach Shelving to Brackets

Finally, we brought in our shelves and attached the brackets using the included screws! All the brackets that required toggle bolts had a silver screw head, so I touched those up with a dab of black paint. Literally any black paint will do! I used leftover from our exterior doors.

Scott securing black metal brackets into our wood shelving | via Yellow Brick Home

8| Enjoy!

Of course, there’s no need for me to load up these shelves since we’ll be leasing this unit, but what fun is a tutorial without a little styling?

Open shelving close-up with ceramic serving plate and blue bowls | via Yellow Brick Home

We imagine that these shelves will be filled up with mixing bowls, cookware, everyday dishes and tumblers. With all the brackets, we have no concerns about weight distribution! These shelves aren’t budging.

A small kitchen with black base cabinets, square tile, brass hardware and open shelving. | via Yellow Brick Home
ceiling light | wall sconce | faucet
Open shelving close-up with ceramic serving plate and blue bowls | via Yellow Brick Home
A small kitchen with black base cabinets, square tile, brass hardware and open shelving. | via Yellow Brick Home
tile | range | counter-depth refrigerator | ceiling light

Let us know if you give these a try! We’d love to see them in your kitchen – or office, playroom and more!

PS: How we built wall-to-wall workshop shelving (one of our most popular tutorials on the blog!), how we built thick floating shelves, and a case for open shelves in the kitchen.


Unit 2 Kitchen Sources

Wall color: Sherwin-Williams Heron Plume SW 6070 | upper cabinet color: Sherwin-Williams Magnetic Gray SW 7058 | shelf bracketsbase cabinet shaker panels | Stitch Indigo 5″ x 5″ tile | Grey High pencil liner | gas range | counter-depth refrigerator | brass ball knobs | brass pulls | ceiling flush mount light | wall sconce | bridge faucet

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  • Austin10.14.20 - 8:37 AM

    YES! Exactly what I’m wanting to do in our kitchen — saving to refer to in the future. I only with those stair treads came in 60″ (granted, that would be a crazy wide stair!).ReplyCancel

  • Stacy10.14.20 - 9:49 AM

    Ok, so toggle bolt math – if you have a toggle bolt with a 100lb weight limit, but then you use two toggle bolts, is your weight limit now 200lbs? Or is it like SPF where just because you used a moisturizer with SPF 30 and a CC cream with SPF 30 you still only have SPF 30 (NOT 60 as an uninformed person like me might think) on your face? These are the real questions.
    The shelving looks great either way :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.14.20 - 11:26 AM

      Honestly, every brand is different and I would refer to the packaging! I don’t want to lead you astray 🥴ReplyCancel

  • Celeb Networth10.14.20 - 10:49 AM

    Love the shelf! Thank you for sharing the post!ReplyCancel

  • Julie Rossman10.14.20 - 11:54 AM

    What a great idea to use stair treads – I’m definitely going to use them in the future! Just another question – where is the range hood?ReplyCancel

    • Scott10.14.20 - 12:39 PM

      Hi Julie! Due to the slant of the ceiling, there was no way to accommodate a range hood. In its place, we installed a standard vent In the ceiling.ReplyCancel

  • Zoe P10.15.20 - 3:39 PM

    I was hoping you guys would show the corner shelf on the fridge side!ReplyCancel

  • Ashley10.21.20 - 10:40 AM

    Just ordered these in gold for some shelving in our bathroom!  I am SO excited about getting them up!ReplyCancel

  • […] laminated together two 3/4″ pieces of MDF cut to fit the cabinets. We built the shelves using this tutorial from Yellow Brick […]ReplyCancel

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