The Best Wood for Floating Shelves

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Selecting non-durable floating shelves can be both a hassle and a costly endeavor. If you pick the wrong type of wood, you risk sagging, warping, or even complete collapse of the shelves.

You don’t want to risk your safety with shoddy shelving, so I’m here to recommend the best wood for floating shelves that guarantee durability and integrity. 

Importance of Choosing the Right Wood Type for Your Floating Shelf

Floating shelves are a popular choice for homeowners and interior designers alike for extra storage space or display space, thanks to their minimalist and modern aesthetic. 

Plywood Floating Shelves

However, selecting the right type of wood for your floating shelves is crucial to their functionality and longevity. Choosing the wrong wood can cause the shelves to collapse under the weight of your items, which not only looks unsightly but also poses a safety hazard.

Top 11 Wood Choices for a Floating Shelf

#1: Walnut

Walnut wood texture

Walnut wood is highly resilient and robust, possessing a 1010 lbf on the Janka hardness scale. Walnut is capable of supporting objects that weigh over 50 lbs, and its comparatively light weight makes it manageable for DIY shelf installation. 

Moreover, the wood has a straight grain and varies in color from yellow on the outer layer to dark brown on the inner portion.



#2: Alder

Alder wood grain pattern

Although not the strongest hardwood, alder wood is resistant to bending and bowing, and is easy to glue and machine. It also stains evenly and beautifully, with a rustic, reddish pink hue grain and attractive knots. 

These natural features make alder wood the best wood for both modern decor and rustic applications, as well as common carpentry projects such as furniture, shelving, and cabinetry. 

The abundant availability of this particular wood type adds to its sustainability and environmentally conscious appeal.



#3: White Oak

Oak wood

Its remarkable hardness makes it a desirable option for various applications such as furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and of course, shelving for extra storage space.

Moreover, white oak is naturally resistant to decay and the elements, making this wood an ideal choice for outdoor spaces, kitchens, and bathroom shelves. 

With its charming character and beautiful staining capabilities, it can be used in almost any area. It is no wonder that white oak is the best wood choice for customers time and time again.



#4: Red Oak

quarter sawn Red Oak

Red oak wood is a versatile and robust hardwood with a 290lbf Janka hardness rating. Despite being lighter in weight than white oak, this type of wood is capable of bearing a reasonable amount of weight, specifically up to 35 lbs, when utilized for a floating shelf.

Red oak is known for its ability to polish without bloating and absorb stains. Compared to white oak, red oak is easier to work with and has a higher propensity for staining. Thus, it is an excellent choice for the best wood for shelving projects, as it is easy to cut, handle, and finish.



#5: Maple

Maple wood

Maple is a sturdy type of wood with a rating of 1450 lbf on the Janka hardness scale. This makes it one of the strongest wood options in the market. 

Its wood grain is straight, and it has a white color with reddish-brown undertones. Compared to other hardwoods, maple is an affordable option.

Because of its remarkable strength and durability, maple can resist scratches and dents. It is the best wood choice among woodworkers for making furniture and flooring, as well as floating shelves.

However, maple can be challenging to work with, but with the help of machinery tools, it can be easily manipulated. It also takes stains very well. When used for shelves, maple can hold up to a moderate weight capacity of 50 lbs per stud that attaches to the bracket.



#6: Mahogany

stained Mahogany boards

This is a heavy hardwood that has a hardness rating that ranges from 800-900lbf. Despite its hardness, mahogany is easy to work with using tools, and it is highly receptive to staining and polishing.

This makes it an excellent option for displaying heavier objects. Because of this, I often recommend mahogany as the top choice for crafting floating bookshelves that can support a substantial weight, with a storage capacity exceeding 65 lbs for each individual shelf. Additionally, it’s one of my preferred wood types for constructing bed frames.



#7: Koa

Koa wood

Koa is highly regarded for its resilience and durability, boasting a Janka hardness rating of 1220lbf. It is also known for its strength and longevity. 

This hardwood’s natural beauty and interlocking wood grain are remarkable, making it unnecessary to add a stain that would obscure its unique appeal.

Its exceptional strength and relatively low weight make this wood ideal for shelving. Moreover, Koa’s moisture and weather-resistant properties add to its overall durability, making it one of the best wood for floating shelves. 



#8: Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir wood

Douglas fir is a widely used softwood with a hardness rating of 660 lbf on the Janka scale. It is sufficiently strong and a durable and versatile material for creating floating shelves that can perform exceptionally in any room.

While staining can be challenging due to its uneven texture and porous structure, Douglas fir takes stains well. Thanks to its high strength rating among softwoods, Douglas fir is a popular choice for exterior and interior floating shelves among DIY enthusiasts and woodworkers.



#9: Cherry

milled Cherry wood

Cherry is one of those wood types that embody with beauty and strength. This hardwood is available in various colors, including reddish-brown hues, yellow, white, and dark brown. 

Cherry wood is highly malleable and can be easily carved, making it a preferred choice of material for skilled carpenters who wish to create exquisite and durable cabinets and floating shelves. Moreover, staining cherry wood is easy.



#10: Pine

Pine lumber

Pine wood is a type of softwood with a 870 lbf rating on the Janka hardness scale. It has uneven grains, and its color is generally light with yellow and brown undertones. 

Due to its moderate strength and lightweight nature, pine is easy to carve. It is commonly used by woodworkers for creating furniture and is particularly suitable for floating shelves for home decor.

When properly finished, pine can be protected and preserved for an extended period of time. Pine wood floating shelves are capable of supporting up to 50 lbs weight capacity for each bracket that is attached to a stud and may require iron reinforcement for added support.



#11: Plywood

cabinet grade Plywood

Plywood is a cost-effective alternative to solid wood shelves, as it is an engineered wood composed of thin layers of various wood species held together.

This lightweight material is versatile and straightforward to work with, making it an ideal wood for a wide range of applications, such as furniture and floating shelves. After completing your project, you can add a waterproof coating or stain to enhance its appearance.

Among the different types of plywood, cabinet-grade plywood is commonly used by professional carpenters for making wood shelves and cabinets. It is known for its durability and strength, and its ability to hold objects weighing capable up to 50 lbs of weight.



Buying Considerations to Know

Color and Appearance

When selecting wood for floating shelves, color is a paramount factor you should take into consideration. Make sure that the shelf’s color harmonizes seamlessly with the home’s overall color scheme.


Determining the appropriate length of floating shelves will depend on their intended placement and use, such as holding books, musical instruments, or plants.  Also, to ensure accuracy, it is vital to measure the wall space where the floating shelves will be installed.


The thickness of the wood for the floating wood shelves is important to ensure its stability when supporting heavy items. Ideally, a thickness of two inches would be appropriate to prevent the shelf from tipping over or breaking under load. 

floating shelves wood thickness

Weight Capacity

When constructing floating shelves, the total weight they can support is primarily determined by the load-bearing capacity of the chosen wood. It is, therefore, essential to carefully select the best wood for floating shelves based on the items you’ll stack on the surface.


I suggest opting for wood types that can release and absorb water. Choosing warp-resistant hardwoods that can endure various chemicals and conditions will guarantee your floating shelves’ longevity.

Bracket Selection

I recommend selecting brackets four inches smaller than the length of the shelf and half an inch thinner than the thickness of the shelf. This will help to ensure that the brackets remain hidden and don’t detract from the floating effect of the shelf.

To create the illusion of a floating shelf, the brackets supporting the shelf must be hidden from view. Once you have determined the dimensions of your shelf, the next step is to choose the appropriate brackets.

Solid vs. Engineered Wood

Solid wood refers to a piece of wood that is made entirely out of a single piece of natural or real wood, whereas engineered wood is made by combining layers of wood shavings or wood fibers with adhesives.

floating shelves

Solid wood for floating shelves can offer a traditional, authentic look and is known for its durability and strength. However, it can also be more expensive and prone to warping or cracking due to changes in temperature and humidity.

On the other hand, engineered wood for floating shelves can be a more cost-effective option that offers greater stability and resistance to warping or cracking. It is also available in a wider range of finishes and can be made to look like various wood types.


How do you install a floating shelf?

Begin by locating the wall studs and selecting an appropriate wall space. If the shelf is intended to hold weighty items, I recommend you install it directly into the stud. 

Afterward, drill the bracket holes, level them, and secure the iron brackets with screws. Finally, place the shelf on the brackets and securely screw it underneath.

What should I display on my wooden shelves?

You can showcase a variety of decorative items, such as vases, books, or plants [1]. This way, you enhance the aesthetic appeal of a floating shelf while elevating the overall existing decor of your home. For modern, classic, or contemporary design, look for wood with straight edges. 

How high should I install my shelf?

The height at which you should install your shelf depends on several factors, such as the purpose of the shelf and the items you plan to place on it. However, as a general guideline, I recommend installing floating shelves at the height of around 60-65 inches from the floor. 

Is whitewood also a recommended wood for floating shelves?

These woods are relatively soft and not as strong wood for shelves as some hardwoods. As a result, they may not be the best choice for most floating shelves that need to support a lot of weight.

However, if you want to use this wood for building shelves, you can only put lightweight objects. 


Ultimately, the best wood for floating shelves depends on your individual preferences, budget, and the specific requirements of your project. 

However, by considering the pros and cons of different wood types and following best practices for shelf installation, you can create beautiful and functional floating shelves that enhance the look and feel of your space.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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