DIY Suspension Shelves

  • DIY Suspension Shelves

Join pine boards with wire rope to make shelving that borrows a design feature from bridge construction. 

These floating shelves look lightweight, but they are actually very strong and are able to support as much weight as a conventional bookcase.

Wire rope stretches very little under load, allowing the shelves to utilise similar design principles to those used in suspension bridges.

Secured to battens spaced to line up with the wall studs, the shelves are separated by cleats that add strength. 

The cleats are attached to the battens using brads and PVA adhesive, with a single screw and cup washer added to each for a decorative look.

The shelves get narrower as they go up but can also be left the same width. For this project, the front lower edges were chamfered using a router, but they could be left square instead.

Cut the pine components to size using a mitresaw and the wire rope to length with heavy-duty side cutters or linesman’s pliers. 

Apply two coats of stain and a clear finish to the shelves, battens and cleats before assembly.

DIY suspension shelves, handyman magazine,
Eye-catching and easy to build, these wall-hung shelves are a lot stronger than they look

Using wire rope

To suspend these shelves, you’ll need two lengths of 3.2mm stainless steel balustrade wire, which is readily available from hardware stores. 

Balustrade wire can be bought by the metre, and each piece needs to be at least 2100mm long. To be on the safe side, buy 5m of wire.

The wire is threaded through the shelf holes, with adjustable stops added to both sides of each shelf to provide support. Leave a tail at the base and cut it off at the end

Anchoring wire rope 

Thread the wire rope through the shelves, then use a 25mm Forstner bit to make recesses for 20 x 5mm washers and anchor the wire.

TIP Some adjustable stops have a slot so they can be secured after the wire has been threaded.


Step 1.  Secure the cleats

 Secure the top cleats 5mm from the end of the battens with adhesive and brads. Use a 4mm twist bit to drill a hole for the wire through each cleat and batten at a 45° angle.

secure wire rope , handyman magazine,

Step 2. Theads the wire ripe 

Thread the wire rope through the shelf holes, adding adjustable stops for both sides of each shelf as you go. Slide the stops into position against the shelves and secure with an Allen key.

thread the wire ropes, handyman magazine,

Step 3. Anchor the wire 

Anchor the wire by drilling two recesses in each batten behind the angled holes. Loop the wire, secure with a screw and washer, then fill the recesses with epoxy adhesive.

anchor the wire, handyman magazine,

materials list , handyman magazine,

Make the shelves 

Step 1. Prepare the shelves

Use a 4mm twist bit to drill holes for the wire rope through each shelf, 350mm in from the ends and 25mm from the front edge. Apply masking tape to improve the visibility of the setout marks, then position the top shelf on the battens, 279mm in from each end, and secure with brads.

Step 2. Assemble the unit

Secure a pair of cleats to the battens under the top shelf with PVA adhesive and brads, then attach the next shelf to the cleats using brads. Continue attaching cleats to the battens and shelves to the cleats in order, finishing with the base cleats under the last shelf.

Step 3. Reinforce the joints

Turn the shelves over and use a try or combination square to check all joints are 90º. Drill pilot holes to drive screws into the shelves through the battens. Turn the shelves right way up to drive a screw with a cup washer through the centre of each cleat. TIP Thread the wire before drilling.

Step 4. Mount the shelving

Cut two temporary support blocks from scrap 90 x 45mm timber and position the shelves against the wall. Find the stud locations, mark with tape and drive a screw through the top of one batten into the wall. Check the shelves are level, securing the battens with three screws in each.

Step 5. Tension the cables

Pull the wire rope tight using
an offcut of timber as a tensioning lever. Use a torpedo level to check the shelves for level, adjusting as needed. Use an Allen key to tighten the grub screw in each adjustable stop, locking the stops firmly in position above
and below each of the shelves.

Step 6. Add the dome nuts

Use a pair of heavy-duty side cutters or linesman’s pliers to cut the wire rope to length. Leave about 5mm of wire protruding below the adjustable stop under the base shelf, then cap the cut end for safety by attaching a dome nut over it using hot-melt glue or silicone.

Click on the diagram

Click on the diagram to see each element of these shelves.

Click on the cutting list

Click on the cutting list to see what parts, and in what sizes, you will need for the shelves.

Click on the fastener list

Click on the fastener to see what fasteners you will need for this project

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