How To Build A Recessed Shelf In Existing Drywall

Whether you’re looking for a place to display your favorite antiques or attempting to make your living room feel bigger, a recessed shelf is the ideal way to do it. Unlike open shelves, which take up more floor space and don’t provide a way to hide items in them, recessed shelves are built into the wall itself and make it possible to fit small but precious objects underneath. I’ll show you how I built one in my apartment with some standard drywall tools and materials, plus a few specialty pieces like drywall anchors.

Step 1: Find a Stud

Step 1: Find a Stud

To begin, you need to find the studs in your wall. You can do this with a simple stud finder (available at any hardware store). Hold it up against your wall and hit any button on the device; if there’s a stud behind that area of drywall, it will beep. If there isn’t one, keep hammering until you find one!

If you don’t have access to a stud finder, you can also use an old-fashioned method for finding them: tap along the surface of your wall with the butt end of a hammer until you hear something solid hit something else solid—that’s hopefully a wooden stud! Once you’ve found out where all of your wood is located in relation to each other, mark their locations with masking tape so that they line up exactly where they’ll be when we’re done building this thing.

Step 2: Measuring Two Sides of Opening

Next, you will need to measure the width and height of the opening. Then, measure the thickness of the wall. Finally, measure between studs by using a stud finder to locate them.

Studs are typically spaced 16″ apart along walls (depending on construction). You need at least 3 studs on each side of your opening for proper support. Make sure there is enough clearance for your shelf so that it doesn’t hit any framing elements while being installed — usually 1/2″ or 5/8″ is sufficient on each side is fine but this can vary based on how wide your boards are and what kind of material they’re made out of (thicker materials will require greater clearance). If you’re unsure how much space you have available, take some scrap lumber like 2×4’s or 2×6’s and place them into position with spacers until they feel like they’re in an ideal spot.

Step 3: Leveling Marks

  • Draw a rectangle on the wall where you want to put your shelf, using a level as a guide (the level should be placed inside the rectangle).
  • Use pencil marks to mark off six inches on either side of your rectangle’s corners, then measure the inside of this box with a tape measure. You should have 1-1/2″ in between each line and corner, so make sure that all four sides are marked properly before proceeding with step 4

Step 4: Draw Rectangle Into Wall

At this point, you should have a piece of drywall with a rectangle drawn in it. The next step is to cut this rectangle into the wall. You can use any kind of saw to do this (a jigsaw, reciprocating saw, or circular saw), but for our example we’ll use a jigsaw because it’s easier to maneuver and less likely to chip out pieces of drywall as you cut along the edge. Make sure you have plenty of dust control equipment on hand and wear safety glasses when cutting into your walls

Step 5: Cut Out Dry Wall

  • Using a drywall saw, begin cutting out the rectangle.
  • Use a level to ensure that the cut is straight.
  • Cut out two rectangles that are the same size on both sides of the wall. This will ensure that both sides of your shelf will fit properly into the space in between your studs and drywall.
  • You may decide you want to use a jigsaw instead of a drywall saw, or vice versa, depending on your preference and experience with these tools (or their availability). Either way, make sure your cuts are straight and even before continuing!

Step 6: Cut Double Board Pieces to Size

The next step is to cut the boards to fit inside the opening, using a miter saw. A straight edge is helpful for ensuring that each board is cut at a perfect 90° angle. Drill holes in all four sides of each board and hammer them into place with a rubber mallet or hammer, depending on your preference.

Step 7: Leveling and Securing the Sides

Now that the shelf is attached, it’s time to level and secure it.

  • Use a level to make sure the sides are level.
  • Use a pencil to mark where you want your screws or nails to go on each side of the shelf. The center of each board should be 1/4 inch up from where you marked on each side of your studs (see image below). This will help ensure that all four boards are even with one another (and prevent any possible bowing).
  • Attach those sides using a hammer and nails or screws, depending on what kind of wood you used for your sides and back panel. If using 1x4s for this project (which most people do), we recommend using 2-inch wood screws every 6 inches along both sides and back panel as well as at all corners; if making a larger or smaller version then adjust accordingly! You can also use glue if desired but honestly there’s no need since these boards won’t be subjected any undue stress once they’re glued down in place – just make sure they’re firmly held together while being installed into place before moving on!

Step 8: Fixing the Back Panel Into Place

  • Use a drill to attach the back panel to the wall.
  • Use two screws to hold the back panel in place, and make sure you use wood glue as well. This will prevent any movement as you add your shelf later on.
  • Make sure that the screws are long enough to go through your bracket, into the studs in your wall, and then into the shelf itself. You may need shorter or longer screws depending on how thick your board is and how deep it goes into your wall.
  • Measure carefully so that everything lines up correctly before securing one side with a screw at each corner.

Step 9: Sanding the Edges of Corner Holds

The next step is to sand the edges of the corner holds. Use a fine sandpaper and sand with a sanding block, making sure to get all of the edges smooth.

Step 10: Attach Shelf to Brackets on Wall

With the shelf mounted, you’re ready to finish the project by sanding down the edges of your brackets. Use a sanding block to remove all of the rough spots. This will make for a cleaner look when you hang your items on this new shelf


Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on your next project:

  • Make sure the wire is rated for the amount of weight it will be supporting.
  • If you can, use an electrician’s fish tape to pull the wires through holes in the drywall.
  • Wear safety goggles when cutting sheetrock with a circular saw; they’ll protect your eyes from flying debris, which could cause serious eye damage if not immediately treated by a physician or ophthalmologist.
  • Make sure there’s enough clearance between studs so that you can easily reach them once everything else is installed and finished


In this article, we’ve covered how to cut drywall and create a recess for your shelf. It all starts with finding the studs in the wall and marking out your opening. Then you’ll want to measure, draw a rectangle into the wall and then cut out drywall pieces on either side of that opening. Next up is cutting double boards to size (two pieces of drywall stacked on top of each other) before leveling both sides against each other using brackets attached to the studs underneath them. After they are level, you can attach the back panel once it has been leveled as well–this will provide support for when you screw in your brackets onto its corners. Last but not least, finish off by sanding down any rough edges left over from cutting into your drywall with a hand sander or sandpaper block so that when it comes time to paint everything looks seamless with no visible seams between boards or panels.

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