Best Wood Material for Shelves

September 18, 2022

Different types of wooden shelves.

One of the most important aspects of any home is the shelves and cabinets. These are the foundations from which everything else hangs, and they need to be sturdy. 

A shelving system is a great way to smarten up a room without spending a fortune, and many different materials can be used for shelves. The best material for a shelf depends on the purpose for which it will be used. For example, if the shelf is for holding books or display pieces, then a wooden board would be the best option. 

Shelves made from flimsy materials can become unappealing once they sag and collapse under their weight, especially in worse cases. The smart choice is to purchase strong and enduring shelving material that can hold the weight no matter how heavy the load. 

Just along the sidewalls of a wooden shelf, having an overhang that extends beyond the support beams and is kept to a bare minimum is ideal. The “rule of thumb” in these cases is a clearance of no more than 20 inches between the beam supports.

The quality and quantity of materials on the shelf and others are dependent on the weight being supported by the shelf. It is best to follow the guidelines included in the package or anything specified by the supplier or manufacturer of the shelf material. 

Shelves can support different types of loads, ranging from light to heavy loads. It is important to take note of what these shelves can only carry, especially if you are planning to put valuable or expensive pieces on display.

  • Light load – Examples are: trinkets, vases, small pots or plants, etc.
  • Medium load – An example would a collection of paperback books, etc.
  • Heavy load – Examples are: hardcover books, large plants, large sound systems, etc.

Depending on the material, and oftentimes the instructions in the packaging, you can already determine how much weight your shelf can hold. If in doubt, you can also check with the store where you purchased them. 

Types of Wood Materials That Most Suitable for Making Shelves

In essence, every wood shelving project deserves specific qualities. Here are some to take note of:

  • Go for a high grade and stick with No. 1.
  • Don’t just settle for its current purpose and consider solid wood, hardwood, or a high-quality softwood that can bear heavier weight. 
  • Check out defect-free wood and avoid wood with deep knots. 

1) Solid Wood

One of the least expensive trees available, spruce wood may be used for various purposes, although it isn’t as strong as some hardwoods. You can either buy spruce boards and produce shelves from them or use two inches of solid wood to construct an accent wall. The more pressure you place on this wood, the more weight it’s going to hold.

Timber can be modified in many different ways, including painting, varnishing, and polishing. The thickness of the board required to hold sagging between shelves depends on the distance from the supports to the shelf and the burden being placed on the shelf. 18-millimeter-thick timber is recommended; supports should not be spaced more than 700mm apart.

2) Edge Laminated Softwood Bar

Edge laminated softwood panels (such as pine panels, etc.) are made up of strips or layers of softwood glued edge to edge to reach finished panel widths of up to 600 mm. The finished panel can be as strong as joinery softwoods and looks as good except when viewed up close.

It can be finished in a number of ways, e.g., painting, varnishing, recoating, etc. Many cheaper boards have fillers added to the surface to make it thicker. This filler can be harmful to woodwork where a transparent finish is necessary. 

Laminated boards also have different thicknesses, and you may use the same support spacings for solid timber.

3) Plywood

Plywood is a robust material known for its resistants to sagging or warping. This is because of its multilayered make-up that can be built to a T pattern, rendering it a more robust wood texture.

Plywood shelves can be reinforced by double-layering plywood surfaces or cutting 2-by-2-inch strips and gluing and nailing them to the bottom of the shelves. By putting these strips on the top and bottom of the plywood, it becomes more resistant to slumping underneath the weight.

4) MDF

MDF or medium-density fiberboard is a sheet of board material that is typically sold in various sizes up to four by eight feet. It is manufactured using reclaimed paper with adhesives. MDF may not be stronger than plywood or solid wood, but it provides adequate support for closet shelves.

One way to prevent sagging in MDF is to use it for just around 3 feet. If it is being placed in a closet of 2 feet, you’re not likely to run into any problems. 

You can use a section of a large closet with folding doors to construct a wall or other separator in the middle of the closet. The MDF shelf can be put on either end of it, and you can add strengthening strips to the bottom of the shelf to work the way plywood shelves do.

5) Chipboard

Chipboard consists of bonded wood particles that are heated and then pressed together. This type of board is recognized based on its density, which can be normal, medium, or high-density.

  • Average Density Chipboard– This type is not really ideal for shelving because it is fairly soft and can be “flaky”.
  • Medium Density Chipboard – This type is between normal and high characteristics and is just suitable for making shelves.
  • High Density Chipboard – This type is the most favored for worktops and fiber doors but can be too much if used for shelving.
  • Others – There’s also plain chipboard and laminated chipboard. Compared to other types, plain chipboard, which is generally unlaminated, is considered the weakest and the most unsuitable for making shelves despite its really low price. 

For its counterpart, laminated chipboard consists of different veneers bonded together that only cover the faces and not the ends. While it is good for shelves that support very light loads, it has the tendency to sag over time, not like solid timber.

Laminated chipboard of 12mm minimum thickness can be used as support for even very heavy loads, and it must be spaced no more than 300mm away from any of the other supports. The minimum length and interval spacing of chipboard supports can be 700mm when using an 18mm chipboard.

6) Blockboard

Blockboard is made up of boards made from sheets of softwood placed edge to edge and sandwiched between veneered hardwood strips. Unlike chipboard, blockboard has a tendency to sag and does not break easily.

Blockboard is an excellent material – you’ll certainly require trims to cover the ends of the different blocks. It can be finished with a varnish or paint. Cut 18mm blockboard to the minimum and make sure the supports are kept no farther away from each other than 700 millimeters.

Additional Tips on Treating Wood Shelve Material

Timber Edging

Timber edging is usually favourably done after cutting chipboard, plywood, or blockboard to cover exposed edges. This helps add to the aesthetic appeal of the shelf.

Shaping soft hardwood (or hardwood) molding to an exact length and width to match the shelf thickness can be done using corner miters. After which can be attached and pinned to the back of the shelf to hide the cut edges.

Shelf Stiffener

Any panel consisting of a tree-based substrate like timber, when stiffened, can stop sagging tendencies between supports. To improve the load it can carry, just screw and glue a piece of wooden batten lengthwise across the shelf halfway across its width. Keep In mind that the length of the batten should be such that it just fits between the supports.

You may use the batten fastened to the wall in the back of the shelf either independently or in conjunction with a batten fixed to the wall under the base of the shelf. In this case, the batten under the shelf must be moved towards the front edge.

What is the Best Shelf Material?

There are many things to consider when choosing the right shelf material for your home. First, think about what you will use the shelf for. If it’s going to be used mostly for books, then a wood or metal shelf may be a better choice. You’ll want something that is durable, attractive, and affordable.

Popular choices include:

  • Plywood (¾-inch) – While this type is inexpensive and known to be durable, it is not that appealing. What you can do when using cabinet-grade is to use veneer to finish primed plywood, then poplar trim before topcoat finish.
  • Solid Wood – This type is still the preferred choice, especially Maple. Because it is easy to stain and can complement any design. Other popular solid wood types are Cherry and Birch. Among the two, Cherry is the easiest to handle since it is very light and easy to cut. Birch, on the other hand, can have a different finished look because it can be easily painted. 

Less popular choices which can be too soft, difficult to install, and prone to sagging or warping are:

  • Soft Wood
  • MDF
  • Particleboard
  • Wood board with knots 

Aside from wood, other shelf materials are prefabricated glass and stone like marble, which may look elegant, classy, and long-lasting, but can break easily or can be very heavy, respectively. Be careful when choosing this type because, if not installed properly, it can cause a lot of damage to your home and valuables. 

Which Wood is the Strongest for a Bookshelf?

A wooden bookcase is an attractive addition to any room in your home, but which wood is the strongest? 

There are many different types of wood, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The most popular wood for bookcases is oak, but other strong woods include Maple, birch, and mahogany. Before you buy a bookcase, make sure to consult with a qualified woodworker to see which type of wood is the best for your specific needs.

Mahogany, African pine, and koa are regarded as the most beautiful and most durable materials for bookshelves since they have a durable nature, fortitude, and long life. High-end specialty woods like these are typically spent between $6 and $28 per board foot. 

Koa, which sells for $15, can cost around $140 per board foot. Rare woods like this are typically pricey, and high-end specialty woods are generally available at lumber or millwork outlets that specialize in woodworking. 

What Type Of Wood And Materials To Avoid?

Don’t let your next shelf project turn into a disaster by choosing the wrong type of wood. While it’s still good to consider what the shelf is intended for, if you plan to use it as a bookshelf, you need to go for wood that can handle the weight and can last a long time.

 Certain types of wood can sag and dent when the load gets too heavy. They also scratch easily and may need extra support to last several years. Other types can also be difficult to paint and finish.

Here’s a list for you:

  • Particleboards
  • MDF
  • Softwoods
  • Wood boards with knots and poorly graded sides


Wood shelving is a versatile and affordable way to organize your home. It is important to choose the right type of wood and hardware for your project, but with a little planning and preparation, you can create beautiful and functional wood shelving that will last for years. So get out your tools and get started on your next wood shelving project!

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