By Jean Nayar

One of the easiest ways to add accessible storage to a room is to install a wall shelf. Wall-mounted shelves are available in different formats. Free-floating shelves are designed to support lightweight objects. Stand-alone shelves that are supported by L-shaped or decorative brackets can support medium weights (between 30-50 pounds). Shelving systems mounted on metal standards and adjustable brackets can support heavier weights if they are mounted onto wooden wall studs.

Mounting shelves to studs is preferred, regardless of the weight that the shelves will support. Doing so, however, isn’t always possible. If there’s no stud in the area where you want to place your shelf, you’ll need to use hollow-wall toggle anchors to secure the shelf in place. The following directions explain how to install medium-weight shelves mounted on metal standards with adjustable brackets. These instructions are intended for a standard two-by-four hollow wall construction. (NOTE: Hollow-wall toggle anchors can’t be used in plaster or concrete walls, narrow walls or walls filled with rigid foam insulation.)


Stud finder (optional)


Hammer (optional)

Finish nail (optional)

Tape measure

Carpenter's pencil

2-3 twin-track metal standards

2-3 adjustable shelf brackets per shelf

Variable-speed drill

Drill and screw bits

2 1/2-inch-long flathead screws

Phillips screwdriver (optional)

Carpenter’s level

Shelves, cut to fit the width of the brackets

1 1/4 inch-long flathead screws

Hollow-wall toggle anchors (optional)


1. Locate the studs.

Following the instructions on the stud finder, locate the positions of the studs by moving the electronic sensor horizontally along the wall until you see a red line or hear a beep. Mark the location of the stud with a pencil. Slide the stud finder toward the mark from the opposite direction to find the stud's other edge. Mark the edge once you’ve found it. Move 32 inches away from the location of the first stud and repeat to locate and mark the position of the second stud (in standard U.S. drywall construction, studs are placed 16 inches apart on center). If you have wood-lath plaster walls, use a stud sensor with a metal setting to locate where the lath is nailed to the stud. If you have metal-lath plaster, punch tiny holes with a finish nail along the wall near the baseboard until you hit a stud.

2. Drill pilot holes.

Hold one of the standards on the wall between the marks of one of the stud’s edges. Lightly mark where the top screw hole falls on the stud. Using a drill, bore a 1/8 inch-diameter pilot hole at the pencil mark.

3. Screw in the standards.

Hold the standard in place and, using the drill and a Philips screwdriver or a Philips screwdriver bit, drive a 2 1/2 inch-long screw through the standard into the pilot hole, making sure the screw is snug but not over-tightened.

Hold a level against the vertical edge of the standard, adjusting the standard until the level reads plumb. With a drill, bore a 1/8 inch-diameter screw pilot hole through the bottom screw hole in the standard. Drive a 2 1/2 inch-long flathead wood screw through the bottom screw hole. Then drive screws into the other screw holes in the standard.

4. Mount the other standard(s). 

Hook a bracket into each standard at the same location. Hold the second standard against the wall, centered on the wall stud 32 inches away. Use three standards if the shelf will be holding a heavy load, spacing them 16 inches apart. Place the shelf on the brackets and lay the level across the two brackets, raising or lowering the unsecured standard until it's level with the first. Mark the top screw hole location and, with a drill, bore a 1/8 inch-diameter pilot hole at the mark. Fasten the standard to the wall following Step 3.

5. Install the shelf.

Attach the remaining pairs of brackets. Slide a shelf onto one pair of brackets and, with a drill, bore a 1/8 inch-diameter hole through the front of each bracket at the small mounting hole. Drill about halfway through the thickness of the shelf. Holding down the shelf, drive a 1 1/4 inch-long flathead wood screw up through each bracket and into the bottom of the shelf to secure in place. Repeat this step to secure the remaining shelves.


If you can’t mount the standards into studs, simply mark the desired positions of the standards on the wall and use toggle anchors to secure the standards. Follow steps 2 through 6, but instead of drilling 1/8-inch pilot holes, drill holes sized to fit your toggle anchors (3/8-inch diameter is common). Following the directions on the toggle anchor package, pinch the prongs of the anchor, insert in the hole and tap into place with a hammer. Use screws sized to fit the anchors to secure the standards in place.

Jean Nayar is a journalist, the author of eight books on decorating and design, and the founder of, a blog on decorating and home improvement.

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