Putting up shelves
Advice and ideas for putting up shelves in Edinburgh properties. What materials to use, considerations for different wall types, what supports are available and deciding on heights and depths.

If you are considering shelving of any type or size HomeForce can help by providing a Handyman or Joiner who can advise on the best course of action. Call 0131 315 0000 to arrange visit. 

In a traditional Edinburgh flat with its various nooks and crannies and Edinburgh presses there are obvious places to fit shelves but in a "new build" with limited storage space the bare walls may be the only option. 

Each situation may offer different options and indeed have different requirements for securely fixing shelves. In this guide we listed some points that you might find helpful when considering shelving options.


Firstly consider the volume and weight of the items you want to store. This will help you determine the thickness and material of the shelves. Here are some options:-

Melamine or conti board shelves


  • Inexpensive compared to wood
  • Available in a variety of colours and faux or real wood-grain finishes
  • Usually wipes clean with a damp cloth.
  • Can crack and chip while cutting.
  • Frequently requires glue in addition to screws and nails
  • Not moisture resistant
  • Requires finishing edge bands to cover cut edges.
  • Uses chemicals or adhesives to bond small particles together in its formation and releases some of these chemicals in the air.
Pine/wood shelves

  • Versatile and popular and lighter than natural melamine
  • Can be painted to match your decor, stained and varnished or treated with Danish oil.
  • Does not use chemicals or adhesives that release into the environment (though some treated woods release chemicals).
  • Wood is easy to cut and drill, takes nails and screws well and requires no glue for assembly.


  • Can be expensive. 
Tip: To create a very high quality looking shelf without breaking the bank real wood work tops from IKEA work well. They are thinner than standard work tops and so cheaper than worktops from other timber / kitchen suppliers. 

MDF (medium-density fibreboard)

  • Inexpensive, durable
  • Available in different thicknesses to accommodate varying loads
  • Ideal for painting or staining but you should always use a water-based primer or undercoat first.


  • Not suitable for a damp environment such as a bathroom or garage / shed
  • The time taken to prepare and paint them can negate the cost saving of using other materials

  • Tempered glass gives you a stylish, contemporary look
  • Very strong


  • Needs cleaning frequently as smudge marks show up
  • Expensive. Bespoke shelves are very expensive
  • Sizes available can be limited for "off the shelf" shelves

The strength of a shelf is only ever as strong as it’s fixing, and it’s fixing is only as strong as the wall. Here are a few pointers on wall types:

Solid Brick or Plaster on Brick

The most secure wall type to attach a shelf to is a plaster on brick (or just brick) wall. 

If you want to store heavier items it’s best to try to identify a solid brick wall. Ensure good secure fit by drilling to a depth of about 1.5 inches. A good hammer drill, or even, an SDS drill will be required.

Plasterboard / Cavity walls 

Plasterboard walls are good too, as there are many good fixings specifically developed for plasterboard. 

If you can position the shelf so that the brackets can align with a timber “stud” (i.e. upright post), then this is even better

Lath and Plaster walls

Plaster lath walls are far from ideal for supporting shelves. If shelves on walls of this type cannot be avoided then a pilot hole should be drilled and a screw fixed directly into the lath (The wooden strips onto which the plaster is fixed). It’s best to avoid putting heavy items on shelves on these types of wall. 


The four most common types of shelves that our tradespeople fit are ones that use: brackets, battens, uprights or are floating shelves. A bespoke shelving unit with struts and supports can be created, but we haven’t dealt with that in this article.

Brackets come in a vast array of shapes, sizes and colours can be made from wood, metal or plastic. They usually form a right angle along two edges with one edge secured to the wall and the other to the shelf. 
When fitting shelves in spaces such as alcoves, cupboards or Edinburgh Presses timber battens can be used along three sides with the shelf sitting freely on top or to be screwed into position.
Floating shelves 
Hanging or floating shelves have a metal strip with two or more support prongs that are fixed to the wall. The shelf slips over these prongs and is held in place by screws.
Whilst they are contemporary and modern, floating shelves can’t take too much weight. It is advisable to check the manufacturer’s instructions for load bearing capabilities. 
Uprights / Track Shelving
Two metal uprights are fixed to the wall parallel to each other, brackets are then fitted to the uprights and the shelves (usually conti board) laid on the brackets.
These can be an ideal solution if you may need to increase (or decrease) the space between shelves in the future without the need to completely refit the shelves.

  • Allow 3cm to 5cm space above books so you can easily pull them out.
  • For accessibility, a top shelf should be no higher than 180cm.
  • Shelves should be 30cm deep to fit larger books and 20cm for paperbacks, CDs and DVDs. Leave 25cm to 30cm between each shelf.
  • Hardback books are heavy, so need sturdy shelves. Slim shelves are only suitable for lighter paperbacks and ornaments.
It’s perhaps a little dramatic to say that shelves can change your life but there is certainly a sense of relief when able to declutter and organise your stuff on shelves. 

To discuss your shelving requirements we can arrange for one of our professional Edinburgh handymen to visit you. Cost are from as little as £30 per hour with no VAT to add. 

HomeForce are happy to help

To arrange for an HomeForce Edinburgh handyman to put up your shelves, call 0131 315 0000, complete the request a visit form on this website or email info@homeforcegroup.co.uk