What Wood to Use for Floating Shelves

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Floating shelves offer a sleek and modern look to any living space, simultaneously serving as both functional storage solutions and stylish décor elements. They appear to hover without visible support, giving a clean and uncluttered vibe to the room. The type of wood you select for your floating shelves is not just a matter of aesthetics; it also determines the shelf’s durability and load-bearing capacity.

In this post, we dive into the different woods that are perfect for crafting your floating shelves.

Strength Meets Beauty

Before we get into specifics, it’s important to note that the strength of the wood is a critical factor for floating shelves. They need to withstand the weight of whatever you might place on them without bending or breaking. So, while softer woods might be appealing for their color or grain, they might not always be the right choice if you plan on storing a substantial amount of weight.

What are Floating Shelves?

Traditionally, shelves have always been known to have brackets or visible supports. In contrast, floating shelves take a step forward in design by hiding the mounting mechanism within the shelf itself. This not only enhances the visual appeal by providing a clean and uncluttered look but also makes them versatile for any room in the house, from the living room to the kitchen, bathroom, and even the office space.

Hardwoods: For Strength and Beauty

What Wood to Use for Floating Shelves

When it comes to the robustness and visual allure of floating shelves, hardwoods are second to none. These woods are derived from trees that grow slowly, contributing to a denser and more durable material. Such woods are well-suited to bear substantial weight, making them ideal for floating shelves intended for heavy items.


Oak wood is synonymous with strength and sturdiness and is a traditional favorite for builders and furniture makers. It has a distinct wavy grain that offers a tactile and sophisticated finish to your shelves. Given its hardwearing nature, oak shelving can withstand the test of time and maintain its composure under significant weight.


Walnut wood is a high-end option that brings a touch of luxury to any space. Valued for its deep, chocolate hues and strong grain patterns, walnut is as sturdy as it is stunning. It lends a sense of warmth and refined elegance to the room, perfect for shelves meant to be a focal point.


Maple wood comes in a variety of species, each bringing a different shade and grain to the table but all sharing common properties — resilience and adaptability. A maple floating shelf can sustain high weight and resist wear, making it a practical choice for everyday use. Its naturally light tone provides a fresh, modern look or a rustic feel if stained.

Softwoods: Economical and Accessible

What Wood to Use for Floating Shelves

Softwoods come from faster-growing trees and generally offer a more cost-effective yet still an aesthetically pleasing solution for floating shelves.


Pine is a lighter, softer wood but by no means lacking in charm or functionality. It’s frequently chosen for its affordability and workability, making it a favorite among DIY enthusiasts. Pine’s pronounced knots and grain bring a rustic quality to interiors, and its light color can brighten rooms or be stained for a customized look.


Cedar is renowned for its natural aroma and resistance to decay, qualities that make it not just a practical choice for floating shelves, but also a sensory addition to the home. It features a playful grain pattern and a warm color palette, enhancing spaces with a rustic yet sophisticated touch.

Engineered Woods: Consistency and Cost-Effectiveness

What Wood to Use for Floating Shelves

Engineered woods, also known as man-made or manufactured woods, are modern alternatives to traditional lumber that come with their own set of advantages for making floating shelves.


Wood veneers are glued together in thin layers in different directions to create plywood. This cross-graining technique minimizes expansion and shrinkage, providing a stable and strong base for floating shelves. With a variety of thicknesses available, plywood can be customized to meet the specific needs of your shelving project, whether you’re displaying light trinkets or heavier books.


Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is a cost-effective and popular choice among those seeking a smooth, uniform finish. Made from composite wood fibers and resin, MDF shelves are easy to paint and can be cut into various shapes and sizes. They’re ideal for modern interiors but are best kept away from high-moisture areas due to their reduced resistance to water.

Considering the Finish

Whatever wood you decide on, consider the finish you use. A good finish will protect the wood from moisture and wear, and it can even enhance its natural beauty. Options like polyurethane, varnish, or even natural oils and waxes can make a difference in the longevity and look of your shelves.

Weight and Support Considerations

Remember, the weight that your floating shelves will need to support is not determined only by the wood but also by the mounting system. Ensure that the brackets or supports you choose are rated for the weight you intend to place on the shelf. For heavier woods or loads, you might require more robust mounting hardware.

Sustainability and Environment

The environmental impact of your wood choice should also be a consideration. Look for sustainably sourced woods certified by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). This way, you know the wood was harvested in a way that is mindful of environmental, social, and economic standards.


Yes, hardwoods like oak, walnut, and maple generally support more weight than softwoods or engineered woods. Proper mounting is also a crucial factor.

Woods with high resistance to moisture, such as cedar, are suitable for moist environments. However, it’s not advisable to use MDF or other engineered woods in such areas.

Installation can vary based on wood type and shelf design, but with the right tools and instructions, anyone comfortable with household tasks can install them.

Regular dusting and occasional cleaning with a damp cloth tend to be sufficient. Some woods might benefit from occasional oiling or waxing.

Shelf thickness depends on the wood type and the weight the shelf will bear. Typically, a thickness of 1.5 – 2 inches works well for most needs.


Floating shelves aren’t just about adding storage—they can reflect your style and bring warmth to your home. Whether you choose the strength and beauty of hardwood or the affordability and charm of softwood, ensure your selection blends seamlessly with your space’s aesthetic and your practical needs. With the right wood and proper installation, your floating shelves will be a conversation piece for years to come.

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