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This project appeared in our June 3, 2006 Newsletter.

Picture Shelf

Well once again I ran out of time on this project and didn't quite get the finish for the newsletter but at least you get a good idea of what it looks like. This is another one of those projects that will change depending on what size your pictures are, what type of molding you choose to use and other factors. I'll just show you how I made mine and you can go from there.

Picture shelves are a cool way to display pictures as opposed to hanging them on the wall. It makes it easy to rearrange the pictures when you want a different look.

Here's what you'll need:

Molding, your choice of style
1/2" X 6" X 8' oak
Headless nails

There are a number of different ways to make a picture shelf. I started with one idea and sort of adjusted it as I went. I'm still not completly crazy about the ends but it works OK.

To get an idea of how it would look and how things would fit together I made a mockup of the shelf only about 10" long. It really helped work out some of the issues.

Shel Mockup

Start out by cutting the top and back of the shelf. My top is 43" X 3 1/2" and the back is 43" X 3 3/4".
Glue and nail the back onto the top. I clamped mine also while the glue dried.

Nail Shelf to Back

Cut a piece of 2" X 4" X 12" to make the supports. I marked the end of a 2" X 4", 2 13/16" on the bottom and 1 13/16" on top. I drew a line between the two points. Using a T-Bevel Sliding Square, I aligned it with the marks. Using the T-Bevel as a guide I set the table saw blade to that angle.

T-Bevel Sliding Square
T-Bevel Sliding Square

I cut the 2" X 4" at the angle lengthwise.

Cut Angle

Cut this piece into three 4" lengths.
Equally space, glue and nail the spacers between the back and the top.

Cut the bottom front piece using the same angle as the supports, 44" X 1/2" X 2 3/8" width from point to point.
Glue and nail this piece onto the supports.

Bottom Front Piece

Porter Cable 18 Ga. 1'' Narrow Crown Stapler Kit - NS100
Porter Cable 18 Ga. 1'' Narrow Crown Stapler Kit - NS100

Cut the molding 44" long.
I glued the molding onto the bottom front piece and the standoff's without any nails. The glues are getting so good these days that you shouldn't need any nails. This is just a decorative piece and not load bearing.
I made a cardboard template for the ends of the shelf. Carefully draw out the inside pattern for the end and cut out the pattern.
Test the pattern on your shelf for alignment.


Align the pattern to the edge of a 1/2" piece of oak. I used my tablesaw fence to align the flat edges. I also had not allowed for the edge that will go around the top of the shelf so I added 3/4" above the pattern.

Draw Pattern

I very carefully cut out the end pieces on my jig saw. Notice that I placed X's all the way around the cut line on the side that I want to cut so I don't get confused.

Scroll Saw Ends

Delta SS350LS 16'' Variable Speed Scroll Saw
Delta SS350LS 16'' Variable Speed Scroll Saw

Carefully fit the ends onto the shelf and make any adjustments that may be requried.
Glue and clamp the ends into place.

Clamp the Ends

Cut the top front piece (lip) to fit the end pieces height by 44" long.
Glue and calmp it in place and let it dry. Again I didn't use any nails because there should only be slight pressure on this piece. I may be sorry later but I don't think so.

Clamp Lip

Irwin® Quick-Grip® 6'' Mini Bar Clamp
Irwin® Quick-Grip® 6'' Mini Bar Clamp

Bessey Tradesman Bar Clamps
Bessey Tradesman Bar Clamps

I use Irwin Quick Grips and Bessey Bar Clamps.

All that's left is routing the holes for mounting. I was going to use a French Cleat to mount it but I didn't have the right router bit in my stock. I decided to use a Keyhole router bit instead.

Hanging Slot Router Bits
Hanging Slot Router Bits

It turned out that this was not an easy task, especially on my router table (table saw). It took some cretive fixturing to get the slots set to the right location and length. Here's a picture of the set up for the center keyhole. I had to do a different set up for each hole.

Keyhole Setup

Route the slots on the back of the shelf, install screws in the studs of the wall and hang the shelf.
Of course you'll want to put a nice finish on it. I've been using some of the new water based polyurethanes from General and have been having pretty good luck with them. You might want to give them a try.

EF High Performance Polyurethane Top Coat
EF High Performance Polyurethane Top Coat

That's about it. We hope you liked this project. If you build it and your friends ask where you got such a clever idea, please tell them that you got it at

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This is what it looks like: