I am building a set of built in bookshelves with floating shelves set on pins. The bookshelves will be painted, so I'm assuming 1 coat of primer and 2 coats of finish.

Should I drill the holes for the floating shelves before assembly or after painting?

I figure that if I drill before paint, the paint will change the dimensions of the holes. I'd like to paint after assembly and before installing the cases to the wall, so if I drill after paint, access to the holes will be limited.

This particular problem is about the order of operations:

  1. Glue Up
  2. Paint
  3. Drill


  1. Glue Up
  2. Drill
  3. Paint
  • You can do this either way and I think it mostly comes down to individual mlieage which to prefer. Related info in this previous Q&A, Painting a built in bookcase?
    – Graphus
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 18:22
  • @Graphus Your linked question seems to contain an answer to the question, not just related info. VTC as duplicate
    – mmathis
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 21:49
  • The answer to the old question covers this question, but this it the first time that this question has been asked. Previous question was about which paint to use; this one asks how to do it. Therefore, not a duplicate.
    – Ast Pace
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 23:15
  • Before paint. Any chips or unexpected tearout can be bondoed easily before paint. After paint, repairs are a bit more of a pain. If you are spraying, you won't have any problems with the holes. If you are brushing, youll get bulges on the bottom of the hole on the down stroke, and a bulge which will want to run at the top of the hole on an upstroke. Watch those things and you'll be fine.
    – Benchwerks
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 2:11

1 Answer 1


Put simply, it depends. 3 coats of paint can be quite a bit, depending on how you apply it. How tight are the tolerances for the holes? Are you brushing it or spraying it? If you're spraying it, you shouldn't have much problem. it would also depend on the kind of paint you're using. Latex may be a problem but acrylic might not and alcohol/shellac shouldn't have any problem. Here's what I would do:

  • Get 2 pieces of scrap
  • Drill one and paint it (vertically) and paint the other and drill it.
  • See which one works out better.

That said, if you decide to drill post-paint, I would put painters tape down before you drill to mitigate some of the tear out. If you're using a template that lays completely on the wood (not the commercial plastic one) and clamp it in place, you shouldn't have much problem. If you're using a plastic template or a piece of peg board, you might.

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