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Build a recessed shelving unit

  • Difficulty: hammer hammer
    Close Difficulty
    Beginner Do-It-Yourselfer - Easy
    Intermediate Do-It-Yourselfer - Moderate
    Experienced Do-It-Yourselfer - Difficult
    Professional - Expert
  • Completion Time : Week-End Project

These recessed shelves made from MDF are both attractive and practical. The decorative moulding framing the unit combines well with the style of the bathroom, and a harmonious décor is the result.

Sleek and well-proportioned, the interior dimensions of the nicheare 16 3/8" W x22 3/8" H x 4" D. Parts are assembled with finishing nails. This is a weekend project for most intermediate do-it-yourselfers.


Tools and materials required


  • Table saw
  • Mitre saw
  • Router with ¼" straight bit
  • Drywall saw
  • Finishing (straight) saw
  • Pneumatic nailer
  • Plastering trowel
  • Sandpaper
  • Cordless drill
  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure


  • 1 sheet MDF, 5/8" x 24" x 48"
  • 1 panel fibreboard, 1/4" x 24" x 48"
  • 1 length polyurethane moulding, 5/8" x 3 1/16" x 94 ½"
  • 1-2 pieces, 2" x 4" x 96"
  • 18-gauge 1 ½" finishing nails for pneumatic
  • 1 ½" No. 8 screws
  • ½" drywall screws
  • Drywall compound
  • Fibreglass tape
  • Carpenter’s glue
  • Contact adhesive
  • Wood filler
  • Primer
  • Paint

Before Assembly


Elevation of the recessed shelving unit with decorative moulding


MDF is a versatile material that makes it easy to build strong, sturdy and affordable furniture. It is advisable to always glue the parts together with wood glue before fastening them with nails or screws. If the nails or screws do not provide enough strength, use clamps to hold the assembly together while the glue dries.

Screw fastening:
Always drill pilot holes using a countersink bit, with the pieces in their final assembled position. This will prevent the MDF from buckling or splitting under the torque of the screws. In one motion, the countersink bit bores a hole for the body of the screw as well as a cavity to conceal the screw head. You can use a driver-drill to do this, but it is advisable to finish tightening the screws with a manual screwdriver to prevent the driver-drill’s speed and force from damaging the MDF and weakening the screw’s grip.

Nail fastening:
For some projects it is best to use finishing nails. In such cases, using a pneumatic nailer will get the job done more quickly and easily, and the nails will hardly show.

Important note:
Always wear a protective mask when cutting or sanding MDF as the dust can be irritating and is a potential health hazard. Work outside if you can; if this is not possible, close any air vents and doors leading to other rooms so as to prevent the dust from spreading. Open a window while you work and cover all items in the room with dust sheets. Vacuum once you have finishedcutting.


This sturdy method of assembly involves inserting thin slices of compressed wood (“biscuits”) into slots made with a plate (or biscuit) joiner. When the biscuits come into contact with glue applied in the slots, they swell and stay wedged in place, holding the construction together.
Once you have taken the time to learn how to use a biscuit joiner, the specialized tool required for this type of assembly, you will find it a quick and easy technique.


Contact adhesive must always be applied to both surfaces and each surface must then be left to dry for the manufacturer’s recommended time – usually about 10-15 minutes. You then press the two surfaces together, applying pressure from the centre outwards. They will adhere instantly and do not need to be clamped. Once they are stuck, you will no longer be able to move or adjust them. It is therefore important to handle the parts carefully and position them accurately. Do this work in a well-ventilated room, away from excessive heat or open flame.


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Recessed shelving unit with decorative moulding
Build a recessed shelving unit