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Build a shelving unit with compartments

  • 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

This practical and decorative niche provides storage without taking up space, facilitating an open-design and clutter-free bathroom. This recessed shelving unit with compartments is a weekend project for most intermediate do-it-yourselfers.

Made of MDF, the unit measures 26 ½" W x42" H (30 ½" x 46", frame included). It is assembled in part using wood biscuits. This project proposes shelves 4" deep, which can thus be fitted into a regular interior wall. The back of the shelf unit is closed off with a sheet of fibreboard.


Tools and materials required


  • Table saw
  • Sliding mitre saw
  • Drywall saw
  • Finishing (straight) saw
  • Biscuit joiner
  • Pneumatic nailer
  • Screwdriver drill
  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure


  • 2 MDF panels, ½" x 48" x
  • 1 sheet fibreboard, 1/8" x 48" x 48"
  • 1-2 pieces, 2" x 4" x 96"
  • 10 wood biscuits, #00
  • 18-gauge 1 ¼" finishing nails for pneumatic nailer
  • 1 ½" No. 8 screws
  • Carpenter’s glue
  • Wood filler
  • Primer
  • Paint 

Before Assembly


Elevation of a recessed shelving unit with compartments


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 finished cutting.


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.


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Recessed shelving unit with compartments
Build a shelving unit with compartments