All About Shelf Supports

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This article is from Issue 87 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Choose from a wide variety of pins and brackets to finish off your next casework project.

By Tim Snyder

Despite their small size, shelf support pins have a big role in many casework projects. Visible in the finished sides of a case, parallel columns of evenly spaced holes convey precision, craftsmanship, and scale. And these minor parts can (and often do) support major loads.

Consider 4 factors when selecting shelf pins

Size: Regardless of their style, pin-type shelf supports are made to fit in either a 5mm-dia. hole or a 1/4"-dia. hole. European-style frameless cabinets have 5mm-dia. holes, spaced 32mm apart. Holes for 1/4"-dia. pins are typically spaced 1" apart. Most shelf pin jigs accept spring-actuated drill bits for both hole diameters, so hole spacing will depend on the jig you use (see sidebar on facing page).

Style: Basic, paddle-type shelf supports are the most commonly used style. Round support pins also fall into this basic category, but I don’t like their tendency to create small recesses in wood shelves over time. They’re more suitable for smaller casework projects like curio cabinets. L-shaped brackets with pins are a good choice for shelves that need to support a lot of weight. If you’re planning to install glass shelves, look for plastic-coated shelf supports that provide essential cushioning and holding power.

Finish: Shelf supports come in the same variety of metal finishes typically used for hinges, pulls, and other cabinet hardware. If you’re willing to search among several different suppliers, you can find common metal finishes like nickel, chrome, brass, antique brass, bronze (similar to antique brass), black, and stainless steel. 

Sleeves: Some shelf supports include sleeves that are inserted into holes to hold support pins. Available in the same finish varieties as pins, sleeves give casework a more formal, finished appearance. As you might expect, they add to the cost and installation time of your project. 

Easy and Accurate Shelf Pin Holes

Some woodworkers rely on a shop-made jig to drill evenly spaced holes for shelf supports. Not me. I really like the speed and precision you get using a shelf pin jig and matching bit (see Buyer’s Guide, p. 70). The steel collar on the spring-actuated bit nests in the jig’s 3⁄8"-dia. holes, keeping the bit perfectly aligned. The bit automatically stops at 1⁄2" depth, and its brad-point, spurred tip is designed for making clean holes.

For best results, plan to drill your holes before assembling case sides. Once your case is assembled, drilling the sides is more difficult and more time consuming. To eliminate the hassle of removing paint or other finish from shelf support holes, you can prefinish case sides before you drill.

The jig’s plastic surface is slippery, so make sure to clamp it securely. You’ll notice that sawdust can accumulate between the drill bit and its outer housing, jamming the spring action. After drilling several holes, it’s smart to clear this debris by sliding the housing back and forth a few times.

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