All about shelving

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Adjustable shelving made from Dexion steel slotted angle.

A shelf (pl. shelves) is a flat horizontal plane which is used in a home, business, store, or elsewhere to hold items of value that are being displayed, stored, or offered for sale. It is raised off the ground and usually anchored/supported on its shorter length sides by brackets. It can also be held up by columns or pillars.

A shelf is also known as a counter, ledge, mantel, or rack. Tables designed to be placed against a wall, possibly mounted, are known as console tables, and are similar to individual shelves.

A shelf can be attached to a wall or other vertical surface, be suspended from a ceiling, be a part of a free-standing frame unit, or it can be part of a piece of furniture such as a cabinet, bookcase, entertainment centre, some headboards, and so on. Usually two to six shelves make up a unit, each shelf being attached perpendicularly to the vertical or diagonal supports and positioned parallel one above the other. Free-standing shelves can be accessible from either one or both longer length sides. A shelf with a hidden internal bracket is termed a floating shelf.

The length of the shelf is based upon the space limitations of its siting and the amount of weight which it will be expected to hold. The vertical distance between the shelves is based upon the space limitations of the unit's siting and the height of the objects; adjustable shelving systems allow the vertical distance to be altered. The unit can be fixed or be some form of mobile shelving. The most heavy duty shelving is pallet racking.

In a store, the front edge of the shelf under the object(s) held might be used to display the name, product number, pricing, and other information about the object(s).


Shelves are normally made of strong materials such as wood, bamboo or steel, though shelves to hold lighter-weight objects can be made of glass or plastic. Shelves can even be made from an old door, blue-tack, coloured pencils or books.


A good rule to follow when hanging shelves on a wall are that the shelf should be no wider than 1.3 x bracket's width and no wider than 1.2 x bracket's height.

Spacing brackets for a long shelf should be no more than 4 x shelf-breadth between each bracket - this holds true for normal materials used at home.

Length and size of screws holding the shelf to the wall differ depending on the material of the wall. A good rule of thumb for concrete walls is that the screw should go into the wall at least at least as far as 1/10th the width of the shelf. But there are shelf systems where a brace is hung on the wall onto which brackets are attached without screws, so ask your supplier to give you advice if you're unsure.


The word shelf is from the Old English scylfe; akin to Low German schelf shelf and Old Norse -skjalf bench.

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