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Picture Shelves

These narrow shelves allow you to instantly change or rearrange photos and art. Build them in a day with basic tools.

Picture Shelves

Project Overview

Skill Level


Estimated Time

1 weekend

Estimated Cost


Tools & Materials


  • Handsaw and miter box
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Cordless drill and driver bit
  • Countersinking drill bit
  • Level
  • Electronic stud finder
  • Painter’s tape
  • Fine-grit sanding sponge


  • 2- 1 x 2 poplar boards, see instructions for length
  • 1 x 4 poplar board, see instructions for length
  • 4d finish nails
  • 2-1/2-in drywall screws
  • Wood filler
  • 100-grit and 120-grit sandpaper
  • Paintable latex caulk
  • Valspar latex primer
  • Valspar paint, Bistro White, #7006-4

Items may be Special Order in some stores. Product costs, availability, and item numbers may vary online or by market. Paint colors may vary slightly from those shown. Availability varies by market for lumber species and sizes.

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Each shelf consists of a board cut from a 1 x 4, a wall cleat cut from a 1 x 2, and an edging cut from a 1 x 2 (Project Diagram, Drawing 1). Customize part lengths to suit the wall width. Both ends of each shelf stop one inch from the adjoining walls to make installation easier.

Make the Shelves

Step 1

After determining the shelf lengths, cut the long and short shelves, wall cleats, and edging to the finished length for your wall. If the shelves are shorter than 8 feet, make the parts from single boards cut to length. For our 154-inch-long shelf, we needed material longer than standard board lengths.

Step 2

Glue and nail the shelves (A, B) to the wall cleats (C, D) (Project Diagram, Drawing 1 and Drawing 2). Then glue and nail the edging (E, F) to the shelves. We staggered the connections between pairs of parts for added strength (Project Diagram, Drawing 2).

Step 3

Fill nail holes with wood filler. When the filler has dried, sand the assembled shelves with 120-grit sandpaper. Apply a primer and two coats of paint. Sand between coats with a fine-grit sanding sponge.

Install the Shelves

Step 1

Using a level and painter’s tape, mark a level line on your wall where the shelves will be installed (Project Diagram, Drawing 3). For the pictures we displayed, we needed almost 25 inches of clearance between the shelves. Mark the shelf locations with tape. Position the tape to indicate the top of the wall cleat – this will provide the best visibility when fastening to the wall.

Step 2

Use an electronic stud finder to locate the studs for the lower shelf. Mark each stud on the painter’s tape.

Step 3

Align the shelf with the tape and secure to the wall studs.

Working with a helper, position the first shelf against the wall with the top of the wall cleat aligning with the lower edge of the painter’s tape. Center the shelf left-to-right and drill slightly angled countersunk pilot holes through the wall cleat at the wall stud locations. Fasten the shelf to the wall with 2-1/2-inch drywall screws.

Step 4

Transfer the stud locations from the lower shelf to the tape for the second shelf.

After installing the first shelf, use a level to quickly transfer the location of the studs to the next row of painter’s tape.

Step 5

Picture Shelves--Lowe’s Creative Ideas

Install the remaining shelves and apply a paintable latex caulk to the screw holes. When the caulk has cured, touch up the paint and let dry.