How to Make Rope Shelving

Love the look of hanging wall shelves? See how easy they are to make using wood flooring, sisal and a metal handrail.

Skill Level
Estimated Cost $250
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Photo by: MaryAnnCarter


Tools and Materials

  • drill
  • 1/2" Forstner bit
  • 1/2" sisal rope
  • painter's tape
  • 6' handrail
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • stain
  • rags
  • construction adhesive
  • caulk gun
  • measuring tape
  • miter saw
  • (optional) drywall anchors
  • 1/2" dowel
  • 1 box 3.25" hardwood flooring
  • orbital sander
  • 40-grit sanding pads
  • polyurethane
  • stud finder
  • level
  • table saw
  • ratchet set
  • gloves
  • safety glasses

Step 1: Remove Tongues

Find various flooring boards that are roughly the same size. We used two boards per shelf. Use a table saw to rip the tongue off one of the boards. This board will be at the front of the shelf. Rip off the groove from the second board. This will be the back of the shelf that goes up against the wall. The remaining tongue on the back board will lock into the groove of the front board.

Step 2: Cut Boards to Shelf Lengths

Cut the boards to the length that you want your shelves to be. They can be any size to fit your space. Our three shelves are 5’, 4’ and 3’. (Again, each shelf is the width of two floorboards.)

Step 3: Prep for Finish

If you are using prefinished floorboards, you can leave them as-is or refinish them with paint or stain. (We chose to re-stain.) If you are keeping the existing finish, skip to the next step. If you’d like a custom look, use an orbital sander to remove the finish of all the boards. Do this before the boards are glued together as this way you can access the sides and the groove.

Step 4: Glue Boards

Glue the boards together that are the same length to make each shelf. Use a heavy-duty construction adhesive in the groove to lock the boards together with the tongue and groove. Clamp the boards together as they dry if needed.

Step 5: Drill Holes

After the boards have adhered together, use a drill with a 1/2” Forstner bit to drill holes for the ropes. The drill bit used should be roughly the same size as the rope used to hang the shelves. Drill two holes on each end of the shelves so that they will hang level. Start with the 3’ shelf and move on to drill the 4’ and 5’ shelves, orienting them so they line up to hang from the same ropes. Drill the holes roughly 2” in from the end of the board and centered from the front and back.

Step 6: Stain or Paint Holes

If you are using the existing finish, skip to the next step. After the holes have been drilled, stain the boards if needed. While staining, remember to stain the front/back of the shelves where the boards have been ripped as well as the cut edges and holes drilled. Add polyurethane for a seal and sheen.

Step 7: Cut and Stain Dowels

Dowels will be inserted into the ropes to hold the shelves in place. Cut a dowel into 3” pieces; pending the shelf orientation 8-14 will be needed. Stain the dowel pieces the same color as the shelves.

Step 8: Hang Railing

Use a stud finder to mark the studs on the wall where the shelves will hang. Near the top of the wall, roughly 8” to 12” from the ceiling, hang the handrail in the studs. If the studs do not line up with the handrail be sure to use drywall anchors to support the weight of the handrail and shelves with items.

Step 9: Prep Rope

Photo by: MaryAnnCarter


Cut three lengths of rope to roughly 10’. This could be more than needed for the shelves, but starting with excess will allow for more distance between the shelves and will be easier to tie a knot at the bottom of the lowest shelf. To keep the rope from fraying, wrap painter’s tape around the ends of the rope until the final knot has been tied.

Step 10: Wrap Rope on Handrail

Run the rope up and over the handrail, looping once around the handrail for more stability. The ropes should hang to even lengths.

Step 11: Thread Rope Through Shelves

Run the rope ends through the holes in the shelves in the desired order from top to bottom. Tie a knot in the rope below the bottom shelf at each place the rope comes through the holes.

Step 12: Adjust Shelf Height

Before you place the upper shelves, use the level to ensure the shelves are straight. When the remaining shelves have been spaced to the desired heights, split the braid of the rope and insert a dowel through the rope for the shelf to sit upon. Use a level to ensure the shelves are straight. Repeat for all shelves and move the knot below the bottom to adjust the height of the bottom shelf. Once the bottom shelf is at the desired height cut off any excess rope and style your shelves.

Photo by: MaryAnnCarter


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