How to Make a DIY Wood Shelf on a Budget

For a while after Austin and I got settled in our Montana apartment, we kind of put together what we already had and then stopped decorating altogether. Our TV wall suffered a lot due to this. One entire wall in our apartment had a 55 inch TV and a cord running down to the outlet. That’s it! I set out to spruce this wall up a bit and the first thing I wanted to do was build a shelf to go under the TV to resemble a mantle. This post shows how I made my DIY wood shelf and how you can make one, too!

Now, Austin is the experienced woodworker in the relationship, so a lot of this was his knowledge. We scoured the aisles of Home Depot trying to decide if we would use pine and then have to buy a wood conditioner to use before we apply stain, or if we use a nicer piece of wood and simply put a few layers of polyurethane on top.

–>Read: 5 Things to Consider When Working with Different Types of Wood<–

I ended up using pine with a wood conditioner, stain, and polyurethane. This seemed like the least expensive route to take and it ended up working well! Here are the steps I took to make the DIY wood shelf on a budget.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • A pine board
  • A small can of wood conditioner
  • A small can of wood stain
  • A small can of polyurethane
  • 80, 120, and 220 grit sandpaper
  • 3 foam brushes
  • A tarp
  • Wall mount brackets

1. Pick out your wood

You’ll want to start by deciding how long and wide you want your shelf to be. We wanted it to go right below our TV and resemble a mantle. Our original pine board was 8 inches wide, 8 feet long, and 1 inch thick. We ended up having to cut about 2 feet off the end so it was just longer than our TV.

When you’re picking out your wood board, make sure you either have means to cut it yourself (Austin cut ours with a hand saw, but a circular saw is ideal) or you have the hardware store/lumber yard cut it for you. Of course, that’s assuming you’ll need to cut it! You may just get lucky enough to find the perfect size board.

2. Sand the wood board down

Depending on how smooth your wood board is, you’ll start with either 80 or 120 grit sandpaper. Our board was relatively smooth when we bought it, so I started by sanding the entire thing with 120 grit sandpaper, making sure all of the edges were smoothed. However, if your board is a bit more rough, then start with 80 grit sandpaper and then move to 120 after that.

Once you’re done with the 120 grit sandpaper, sand the entire thing with 220 grit sandpaper. This will make your pine board buttery smooth and ready for wood conditioner.

3. Apply wood conditioner

After sanding, make sure you wipe away all the shavings and debri with a damp rag and let everything dry.

Since we’re using a softwood, we’ll need to add a wood conditioner before we stain to make sure the stain spreads evenly. We always start with the back (or bottom) of the board, so apply the wood conditioner to the bottom using a foam brush. Let it sit for about 15 minutes and wipe it off with a rag or paper towel.

You’ll want to apply the stain after you wipe the wood conditioner off, but before it actually dries. I waited about 15 minutes after I wiped it off and then applied the dark walnut stain.

These are simply the times that I used for the specific conditioner and stain I was using. Make sure to check the instructions on the products you’re using!

4. Apply stain

After you wipe the conditioner off and before it dries completely, you’ll want to apply the stain. The amount of stain you use and the time you let it sit will depend on how dark or light you want your shelf to be. If you want it to be relatively dark and saturated, apply a thick layer of stain and let it sit for 25-30 minutes. However, if you want it a bit lighter, you can still apply a thick layer of stain, but wipe it off after about 15 minutes. This is something you’ll just have to play with until you get it right.

Remember, you can always apply another coat of stain to make it darker, but you can’t make it lighter!

For our board, I used a thick layer of stain and wiped it off after about 20 minutes. I also propped the board up off the ground so the stain didn’t puddle up around the board on the tarp.

5. Repeat for the other side

After you wipe the stain off, you’ll leave it for about 2-3 hours or until it’s completely dry. Then, just flip it over, go back up to step 3, and do the same thing to the top of the board and the sides.

If you’re having trouble figuring out which side is the “top” and which is the “bottom,” I usually just make that decision based on whichever side I want to look at more! Honestly, it’s that simple. I love the knots and natural texture in wood, but if there are any unnatural imperfections in one of the sides, I usually make that the bottom.

6. Apply polyurethane

You don’t necessarily need to use polyurethane, but you should use some type of wood sealer to make your shelf last as long as possible. It’ll also protect it against any spills. You can get the sealer in a glossy or matte finish – we usually go with glossy.

You’ll want to apply your sealer to the bottom of your already-stained board, first. This is usually the best part of any woodworking project because the polyurethane really brings out the rich color of the wood you’re using. You’ll spread the sealer along the entire length of the board using a foam brush.

Then, wait until the bottom is completely dry, flip it over, and do same to the top and sides. Once everything is dry, you could be done with your DIY wood shelf! If you like the way it looks with just one coat, then congrats! You have a new shelf. If you want the finish to be a bit shinier or glossier, then continue with steps 7 and 8.

7. Sand with 220 grit sandpaper

When your first coat of polyurethane is completely dry, sand the entire board with the 220 grit sandpaper again. This will help get out any bubbles in the first coat of polyurethane and get the board ready for the second coat.

When you’re done sanding, wipe the entire board down with a damp rag or paper towel to get rid of any debri.

8. Apply second coat of polyurethane

Now, just repeat repeat step 6 starting with the bottom of the shelf and then moving to the top and sides. Once the board is 100% dry, you’re done!

Hanging your shelf

To hang your shelf, you’ll want to use two or three brackets to mount the shelf to the wall. The easiest way to do this is to use a drill to first attach the brackets to the wood and then attach the opposite side of the brackets to the wall.

Keep in mind that if you plan to put something heavy on your shelf, you’ll want to figure out where the studs are in your wall and attach the brackets to the studs so the shelf doesn’t rip your dry wall and fall off the wall.

There you have it! If you’ve followed these steps, you now have your very own DIY wood shelf!

If you make this, I’d love to know! Let me know in the comments or shoot me a DM on Instagram with a photo.



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