Support Your Local Shelf With Adjustable Shelf Holes

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adjustable shelf holes - leighjigs dot comAll cabinets should have adjustable shelves. If yours don’t, then you must be assuming that everyone has the same needs and issues that apparently you have, and that your needs and issues will never change.  Flexibility to move your shelves around allows you to adapt to your current situation and needs and keep everyone happy.

Say you have a bookcase and the bottom shelf is fixed at twelve inches. Sure it fits most books, but now your wife or girlfriend wants to put her high school yearbooks in the bookcase.  Doh!  Stupid yearbooks!  Yep, twelve and a quarter inches.  Coffee table books like Maui On My Mind or Life’s Picture History of World War II might be fourteen and a quarter inches.  Maybe the top shelf ends up being for little tchotchkes and photos, so a fixed shelf won’t fly there either. Adjustability is the key, and the ability to adapt to changes in situations as well as bookcases makes for a, pardon the pun, well-adjusted life.  We woodworkers are well grounded, I must say.

old-school adjustable shelving
Old-school sawtooth adjustable bracket - so much work, so little appreciation

Old-School Adjustable Shelves – Too Much Work, Too Little Recognition

The old-school adjustable shelf used a sawtooth adjustable bracket.  [See photo from Contractor Talk.]  Now, you can pull out your old dovetail or back saw and have at it, but you’d better get some recognition for the time and effort you just put into something that no one’s gonna see unless you point it out to them.

50’s Style And Frankly Unseemly Options for Adjustable Shelves – Shelf Standards

So what are our other options? Moving forward in the evolution of shelf adjustability, as it were, we arrive at the shelf standard.  Popular in the 50’s, 60’s. and 70’s, these are pieces of metal  let into the sides of your cabinet so they are flush with the surface and use supports that clip into place holding your shelves.  They are somewhat unseemly and detract from the overall look of the cabinet, if you ask me.

The Modern Way – Adjustable Shelf Holes with Metal Supports

So where are we now? Adjustable shelf holes with metal supports where you want them give you the best bang for your buck. Used extensively by European manufacturers for Euro style cabinetry, they have found a home in traditional face frame cabinetry as well.  Home Depot or Ikea run holes from top to bottom for the most versatility in utilizing euro hinges and shelf pins. Set 37mm back from the face of the side panel, these allow you to put  hinge plates and shelf pins where you want. Of course, the last thing we want to do is look like Ikea or Home Depot, so we put holes only where we need them. Usually 36” tall kitchen uppers get two shelves that really won’t change that much in spacing. So for a custom look, put five shelf pin holes per shelf.  If the situation calls for a full run of holes like in a bookcase, stop the holes six to ten inches from the top and bottom of the cabinet and you’re still looking custom.

Best Supports for Shelves – 5mm Shelf Pins

Which shelf support to use? I like the 5mm straight shelf pin, 24mm long.  Set 10mm (almost a half inch) deep, it leaves 14mm (a little over a half inch) for support.  Here in earthquake-friendly California, you can notch your shelves to fit over the pins or dado the shelf to slide right over the pins to hide them completely and still help stay put during one of our numerous shakers.  Leigh Jigs is a good source for tools for this.

Also decent are paddle shelf supports, glass shelf pins with rubber pads, pins that screw in and grab, and magic wire shelf supports – the options are out there for the look that you like. Go to Hafele and look up shelf supports for a complete selection of what can make your project look and feel super custom.

Me? I’m sharpening that dove tail saw for my next classic masterpiece.  Yeah, right…..

Photo of author

About Brad

Brad Baker is Vice President of Operations at Miller Woodworking in the Los Angeles area, designers and builders of custom cabinetry and interior millwork for the rich and famous. They make the impossible, and their work has been featured in fancy schmantsy architectural glossies more than a few times. All that high end creative stuff aside, he maintains a strong spiritual belief that the real sign of a good woodworker is all 10 fingers. He and his wife Ann Baker co-write for HomeFixated. Ann is CEO of Publicity Pros, a firm that provides “All Things Publicity” services and training for small businesses. She’s a hopeless nerd who revels in anything and everything having to do with the technology of attracting attention. And, no joke, she loves to bake.

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2 thoughts on “Support Your Local Shelf With Adjustable Shelf Holes”

  1. Or; you could set up a tablesaw/radial arm saw/sliding mitersaw with dado on angle to cut those sawtooths into a 1×4/2×4/?x? then rip that to width; no dovetail saws were harmed in the making…

  2. When I built my wall of built-in bookshelves, I used the guide hole kit from Rockler. It came with the template and the plunge bit to drill the holes. It was much easier than dealing with metal brackets (either surface or flush mounted). It didn’t add that much total time to the project, and produced a killer result. That and drilling all those holes was so very oddly theraputic.


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