The Art of Leveling Floating Shelves

I’m not here to insult your intelligence, so please know that this has been written for people who do not know what a level even is. By the end of this article, you should be well versed in levels and be able to get the perfect pitch when leveling floating shelves.

Leveling is crucial for all construction projects. Our eyes are obsessed with symmetry and even a small displacement of any man-made plane will drive us crazy. Don’t believe me? Go twist every picture and painting in your home. See how long you can handle this.

Everything you see around you that has been constructed by human beings has been leveled in two dimensions. Failure to do so could be catastrophic to large-scale structures and detrimental on the small scale.

Text Box: The Leaning Tower of Pisa has self-corrected it’s angle in very small increments over the years.Your floating shelves will require the same two dimensions to be level with the Earth in order to do their job. This is your back-to-back and side-to-side, or X and Y for my fellow Blenders.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has self-corrected it’s angle in very small increments over the years.

What Is A Level?

Now, to answer the question that might be burning in your head right now.

A basic construction level (also called a spirit or bubble level) is shown in the picture to the right. The good news is, a level is a level as far as home construction goes. You do not need to get fancy with it and if hanging your floating shelves gives you the construction bug, a basic four foot level could get you through your shelf project and just about any other project you might endeavor on.


The basic principle of a level is that it will have multiple lines within a glass cylinder that contains fluid with an air bubble. Leveling is a mini game of getting said bubble in the center of those lines, as shown in the picture. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so easy.

Generally, you’ll have to do this while holding at least three things in two hands.  Spirit levels were originally designed for use in telescopes in the 17th Century.

Luckily, traditional levels have other options that cater to specific needs. This includes levels with grip tape and magnetic surfaces. You can even get levels with protractors built in to check the angle if you are plumbing. But, that’s a problem for another day. Today, we are focusing on leveling floating shelves.

For leveling floating shelves on braces, a level with a magnetic strip is favorable. This will allow you to stick the level to the brace and free up both hands to level and screw down the brace. On one hand, I would recommend a small level, but longer levels are useful for marking lines that can aid in the rest of the project.

There are plenty of options, and some may suit you better. When hanging floating shelves, another downside of traditional levels is they require you to mark points of interest, such as where screws and braces need to be. Not everybody is keen about drawing on their walls.

Traditional levels are also clunky and require you to hold up the level with whatever you are trying to level while balancing an alcoholic solution with gravity. As you may imagine, this can easily add unneeded time and frustration to your little construction project.

Enter laser levels. Laser levels attach directly to your wall via a suction cup and do not leave marks. They cast a line across your project area and allow you to use both hands for installing braces.  

The process of using laser levels still consists of balancing a bubble between two lines. The biggest downside of laser leveling is that you may need to reposition it several times and the same job can be done much quicker with a traditional level.

How To Level Your Floating Shelves

The trick to leveling floating shelves is to not level the shelves. Instead, you level the braces or whatever your shelves’ anchoring component is.

The first commercially available laser levels sold for the equivalent of $60,000.00 in modern U.S. Currency in 1968.

How to Use a Traditional Level to Hang Floating Shelves

**Note: Floating shelves are hung in numerous ways. This guide focuses on how to hang floating shelves held up by corner braces. This guide also focuses on leveling and skips many installation steps**

Step 2: Place the level against the wall with the broadside facing you so that you can see the air bubble. Make sure that the bottom edge of the level is where you want to screw down the bottom of the braces. Draw a line across the wall using the bottom of the level to guide your pencil. Try to make the line as light as possible.

  • Step 3: Start to screw in the bottom side of your braces, but leave enough space that you can still rotate them up without damaging your wall.
  • Step 4: Rotate one of the braces into its proper position and place the level on the top of the brace. Draw another line across the bottom of the level until it is over the other brace.
  • Step 5: Screw the top of both braces in. Finish screwing the bottom of the braces in.

How To Level Floating Shelves With a Laser Level

  • Step 1: Place the level on your wall to the side of where you want your floating shelf to be. Ensure the bubble in the center is level and turn on the laser.
  • Step 2: Screw the bottom of both braces partially in. Leave enough room that you can rotate them upward without damaging your wall.
  • Step 3: Rotate one of the braces into its proper place and move your laser up and level it across said brace. This may take several tweaks. You can always use a traditional level in conjunction with a laser level to speed this step up by using the laser to get the bottoms of the braces level and the traditional level to get the tops of the braces level. Screw-in the braces.

Do I Have To?

You may be tempted to skip leveling and simply eyeball your project. Who knows, you may even have some freaky, supernatural talent when it comes to construction. In general, however, this is a bit on the unadvised side of things.

When it comes to leveling shelving of any kind, an uneven plane can cost you money and be a safety hazard. Walls shake sometimes and if you have a candle on your shelf above your head, it just might slip and ruin your episode of The Witcher.

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