Floating Shelf with Hidden Compartment

Lucas Peters, posted on Aug 30, 2018

Completed Floating Shelf with Hidden Compartment

Some things belong on display, some things don't. This floating shelf distracts viewers with its elegance and wares while concealing your valuables inside. As long as you can keep a secret, it can.

Materials or Supplies

Materials or Supplies

About 2 board feet of Poplar
About 2 board feet of Maple
1/4" Maple Plywood

Cut the Support Frame Parts

Cutting the frame sides and center

For the frame, use 3/4" Poplar cut to these dimensions:

  • 2 Frame front/back pieces: 2-1/8 x 23-1/4"
  • 3 Frame support pieces: 2-1/8 x 7"

To make sure the pieces were equal in length, I cut them on the tablesaw using a stopblock clamped to my miter gauge.

Pre-drill the Support Frame

Drilling and countersinking the frame parts

Before gluing and screwing the support frame together, I used a countersinking drill bit—sized for a #8 screw—with a depth stop to create pilot holes for the screws. A few things to remember:

  • Locate the holes at least 3/8" from the bottom of the frame parts. You'll be using the frame to flush-trim the bottom later, and you don't want the bearing-guided bit to dip into the screw holes.
  • One frame support should be centered in the frame.
  • At this time, drill mounting holes through the frame back. These should be spaced about 16" apart in order to mount the frame to studs.

Assemble the Support Frame

Assemble the Support Frame

 Glue and screw the support frame together with #8 x 2-1/2" screws. Attach the outside supports first before centering the final support and screwing it in place. If your screws don't have a self-drilling tip, as you assemble consider running a drill bit through the pilot holes into the frame supports where they join to prevent the supports from splitting when you drive the screws.​​

Add the Frame Bottom

Flush-trimming the frame bottom

From 1/4" maple plywood, cut an oversize frame bottom—about 8-3/4 x 23-1/2". Glue and clamp the frame bottom to the frame support leaving an overhang on all sides. When the glue dries, use a flush-trim bit in your router to remove the excess for a perfect fit.

To complete the support frame, from 3/4" poplar, cut two blocks 2-3/8 x 2-3/8". Glue and clamp them to the front corners of the support frame, flush with the sides. This will create an air gap to prevent the shelf from sticking.

Start the Shelf with a Long Blank

Routing a rabbet on the shelf blank

From 3/4" maple, cut a 3 x 48" blank for the shelf front and sides.

Securely clamp the blank to your bench, overhanging the edge. Use a rabbeting bit rout a rabbet on each long edge. The rabbet should be 1/2" deep and 1/4" wide as routed. (In other words, when turned on edge, the rabbet accommodates a 1/4" thick piece of plywood.)

Miter the Shelf Blank

Mitering the shelf blank

Tilt your tablesaw blade to 45°. Mitercut the shelf front from the center of the blank using a sacrificial backer on your miter gauge. The shelf front should measure 25" point-to-point, and you'll want to make sure you're leaving enough material on each end to yield 10-1/8"-long shelf sides.

Flip the shelf side pieces to cut the matching miter. The less material you can remove from the point, the better the grain will match up as it wraps around.

Cut the Shelf Sides to Final Length

Cutting the shelf sides to final length

Return the tablesaw blade to 90°, add a stopblock to your miter gauge to cut the two shelf sides to 10-1/8" long.

Glue Up the Shelf Sides

Taping the shelf side miters together

Cover your worksurface with Kraft paper to prevent the assembly from sticking to it.

Butt the mitered edges of the shelf front and sides together. Then, tape across the joints with masking tape. The masking tape will act as a hinge and keep the joints aligned.

Flip the taped assembly over and apply glue to the joints.

Clamp the Shelf Sides

Clamping the Shelf Sides

Fold the joints and stand the assembly on edge. Square it up and clamp it to your worksurface to dry.

Shelf Top and Bottom

Adding slick tape to the shelf

Measure the shelf's rabbets and cut a top and bottom to fit from 1/4" maple plywood. It should be around 9-7/8 x 24-1/2".

With the bottom held in place with tape, add 3/4" UHMW tape where the support frame would contact the shelf to reduce friction. Remove the bottom and repeat with the top.

Then, glue and clamp the top and bottom in place and allow to dry.

Finish and Mount

Mounted support frame

Stain the support frame a contrasting color so that it blends in to any shadowlines. Then, finish everything with a clear-coat. I used 3 coats of blonde shellac, sanding between coats.

Mount the support frame with #8x3" screws through the pre-drilled holes, screwing into wall studs, then slide the shelf over it.

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