Birds Mouth Shelf Supports


Most bookcases and cabinets are more useful with adjustable shelves. Modern support options include drilled holes and metal track. These are very functional but lack eye appeal. Consider instead the shelf support system in the following photograph.

Traditional Shelf Supports

The traditional adjustable shelf support was a set of notched vertical standards with corresponding horizontal cleats. This system cannot offer the same degree of adjustability as drilled holes or metal track, but adds quite a bit of visual interest and character to the piece of furniture. The approximate dimensions of this mahogany cabinet are 27" by 20" by 31" high.

The following picture shows another use of birds mouth shelf supports, in an otherwise straightforward knotty pine bookcase. They add striking detail that makes an otherwise functional bookcase a decorating focal point for the room.

Bookcase Birds Mouth Supports

Birds mouth shelf supports, drawer slips, scratch beads - these are all examples of character-rich details lacking in modern mass-produced furniture.


First Step

The process starts with selection of straight-grained boards free of knots and other defects. (The vertical standards are narrow, and require saw cuts and careful paring to complete. Safety and convenience are increased using boards wide enough for two standards. The final step will be to saw the board lengthwise to make the two standards.)

After planing the boards to the desired width and cutting them to length, a template is used to mark out the notches. The size and spacing of the notches is scaled to the overall size of the cabinet or bookshelf.

Perpendicular Cut

The table saw is used to make the perpendicular cuts for the bottom of the notches.

Finishing the Notch

Next, the band saw is used to complete the rough notch.


Taking very fine shavings, a sharp chisel then is used to remove the saw marks and expand the notch to the pencil lines. These pared surfaces will require only a very light hand sanding prior to staining and finishing.

The horizontal cleats are fashioned from similarly straight and defect free pieces.

Finished Components

In a small cabinet, only one shelf may be needed. The vertical standards have been drilled and countersunk for brass screws. All of the pieces have been stained and finished, and they are ready for final installation.

Larger Scale Supports

A set of pine bookcases called for a larger birdsmouth pattern.

Dadoed Shelf Support

A modern substitute for the birds mouth shelf support that can be mass produced is a series of rectangular notches. A sample is shown with a couple true birds mouth pattern templates.