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Tips for Installing Shelf Supports

by Seth Keller

Drilling shelf-support holes is not difficult, but you only get one chance to get it right. If you make a mistake, you’ll get holes that don’t line up and shelves that rock or are way out of level. Here are some tips to remove the guesswork from drilling the shelf-support holes and to improve your accuracy. I’ve also included some tips on which supports are good for glass and other specialty shelving situations. 

Mark It Up—Prevent an Oops!

Mark the top of your template. This will help you avoid flipping the template top for bottom and suffering the big mistake of misaligned holes. In addition, drilling shelf-support holes after the cabinet is assembled helps eliminate the risk of drilling holes on the wrong side of a panel.

Use a Self-Centered Bit

For perfect alignment every time, use a self-centering bit and a shop-made template. The self-centering bit has an outer sleeve that guides the bit. It also has a built-in depth stop so you don’t have to worry about drilling through your cabinet side. The outer guide also prevents the hole in the jig from becoming oversize, which it would if you used an ordinary drill bit. 


Click on any image to view a larger version.

Practical Spacing for Holes


A practical spacing between shelf supports is 1 in. to 2 in. between holes and from 4 in. to 8 in. below the top and above the bottom. A setback of 1-1/2 in. to 2 in. from the front and back of the cabinet will give your drill enough room to maneuver when the back is on or if there is a face frame. 


Soft Support for Glass Shelves

Straight 5-mm shelf pins with a piece of 1/4-in. outside-diameter (O.D.) aquarium air hose are great for glass shelves. They provide a cushion for the glass, keep it from sliding and reduce the shelf’s rattle when the dog runs through the house (see Sources, page 36).

Dress Up, Strengthen Holes

These little metal grommets will dress up your cabinet and, for shelves whose position is frequently adjusted, will prevent the holes from wearing. The grommets, available for both 5-mm and 1/4-in. holes, come in chrome or brass tone. An oversize drill bit is required to make holes for the grommets (see Sources).

5-mm Holes Look Better

Most shelf supports come in both 1/4-in. and 5-mm diameters. I prefer the smaller 5-mm hole peg, because it provides a lighter look and it is less noticeable than a 1/4-in. hole (see Sources).

Shelf Supports for Any Occasion

Some are specialized, others are used mainly for aesthetic purposes and some will save you money if you are using a lot of them. Use pins with a collar when the holes go all the way through a partition. Colored supports blend with the cabinet. Plastic supports are about half the price of metal supports. Supports with locking tabs will keep the shelf in place (see Sources).

Keep Shelves from Moving

Some L-bracket shelf supports have a hole in the support that allows you to screw it to the shelf (see Sources, below).


Hide Your Supports

Hidden wires are fully concealed when the shelf is in place. Use a 1/8-in. self-centering bit and a template to make the holes. The edge of the shelf needs to be slotted. This can be done on your tablesaw or with a slot-cutting router bit. Tip: To simplify the slotting process, do it before you edge band. That way you can simply slot the entire edge and not have to worry about stopping the slot before you reach the front of the shelf (see Sources).



(Source information may have changed since the original publication date.)

Woodworkers Hardware,, 800-383-0130, 5-mm Self-Centering Bit, #VB5MM, $22.35; 5-mm Spoon Shelf Support, Nickel, #THB6144, $3.20 for 20; 5-mm shelf pin support with collar, Nickel,
#G401ZN, $2.80 for 20; 5-mm Shelf Pin Support with Collar, Antique Copper, #G401AC, $2.80 for 20; 5 x 24-mm Shelf Support, Nickel, #G402BN,
$2.80 for 20; 5-mm Spoon Shelf Support, brass, #THB6034, $3.20 for 20;
5-mm L-Shaped Shelf Support, Nickel, #G707BN, $4.00 for 20; 1/4-in. Spoon Shelf Support, Brass, #THB0034, $3.20 for 20; 9-3/4-in. Hidden-Wire Shelf Support for 1/8-in. Hole, #SYX 5209, $10.40 for 20; 5-mm Shelf Support, Vinyl Cover, Nickel, #G708WBN, $4.40 for 20.

Rockler,, 800-279-4441,  9/32-in. Self-Centering Bit, #34368, $22.99; 7/32-in. Self-Centering Bit, #34342, $21.99; No. 10 (1/8-in.) Insty-Drive Self-Centering Bit, #69007, $10.99; 5-mm Pin Support Sleeves, Brass,#22963, $3.19 for 16; 1/4-in. Pin Support Sleeves, Brass, #81836, $3.99 for 16; 5-mm Shelf Support, Black, #22955, $3.29
for 16; 5-mm Shelf Support, Antique Brass, #22880, $3.29 for 16; 1/4-in. Locking Shelf Support, #24398, $5.39 for 16.

Local pet store, 1/4-in O.D.
aquarium hose, $1 for 10 ft.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker November 2005, Issue #118.

November 2005, Issue #118

Purchase this issue.

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