An Introduction to Shelving Materials

Shelves can be made from many different types of materials, although most often it is wood that is used for regular shelves and shelving units. The exact material depends on the thickness required and the weight to be placed on the shelf. So before considering which type of material to use, you need to think about the purpose of your shelves, the location, space required and distance between each shelf.

An Introduction to Shelving Materials

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Deciding on the Load Requirement

The first thing to consider is what you are going to put on the shelves. If you need a shelf for small pot plants, vases and jewellery items, then this is classed as a light load. Paperback books are classed as medium load items, while a shelf that is going to hold large hardback books, large plants, technology equipment and other items like this will be need to carry a heavy load. If you are in any doubt about the load, then assume you need the shelves to be stronger.

Solid Wood

Solid timber is always a top choice for shelves because it is strong and looks good. You can get various wood thicknesses to suit your needs. You can also finish timber with varnishes and paints, making it highly flexible. Consider the load and distance between supports in order to create a stable shelf. Wide shelves can also use multiple planks held together by planks beneath and fixed to the bracket.

For an area such as a garage, where strength is important in a shelf, solid timber is a good choice. Do not use something like chipboard – although it is cheap, it does not have the strength for a functional shelf for heavy-duty wear. Garage shelving will need to be strong, and thankfully there are many garage shelving solutions available.

An Introduction to Shelving Materials2

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Medium-density fibreboard is quite strong but the dust can be toxic, so take care when sawing it to length. MDF can be painted or varnished for a nice finish. For tips on how to put up your own shelves there are many guides online, such as this one by the Guardian:


Glass gives a very different appearance to wood and can look ultra-modern. You use special brackets for glass shelving which use clips and lips. This glass will be strengthened and cannot be altered. Do not use regular window glass.

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