Basic shelves are easy and inexpensive to construct using wood, plywood, or fiberboard cut to specific lengths and widths and hanging them from metal shelving standards (long metal strips that hold brackets) and arm brackets. For a less utilitarian took, you can attach shelves to decorative brackets.
Consider saving time and skipping the cutting and sanding steps by taking your measurements to the lumberyard or home improvement store and having them cut the wood to your specifications. It costs a little extra for the cuts, but it may be worth it if you are short on time and tools.
Basic shelves can be made from a variety of materials. If the shelves are going in a closet or utility area, such as a laundry or mudroom, 3/4-inch plywood or pine shelves can be sanded smooth and then left as is. (Plywood sheets are less costly than solid wood boards.)
Keep in mind that plywood does not normally come in shelf-width planks, but in 4- by 8-foot sheets, which need to be cut or "ripped" into shelf width. Unless you have a circular saw and know how to use it, you will have to have plywood sheets cut into shelves at the home center or lumberyard when you purchase the sheets.
For a finished look, you can add veneer tape to the front and sides of plywood shelves (also known as edge banding). It's easy to apply with an iron, because it is coated with a heat-activated adhesive.
If you are planning on making the shelves a prominent feature of a room, you can paint or stain them to match your color and design scheme. For a high-end look, plywood veneer (plywood covered with birch, mahogany, cherry, or even oak sheathing) or sheets of wood veneer -- see some examples above -- can be cut to size and coated with polyurethane for a natural finished look, stained, or even painted.
Of course, you can buy hardwood boards, such oak, or cherry, but these woods are expensive. Plywood veneer gives you the same look for a lot less. You can also buy melamine-coated particleboard (usually available already cut in a variety of standard widths and lengths) if you want an easy-to-clean surface.
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