What Is The Best Thickness For Glass Shelves?


dubbed or nubbed glass corners

Glass is available in thicknesses ranging from 1/16″ to 1″ but the most popular thicknesses for glass shelves are 3/16″ for small cabinet glass shelves,  1/4″ for most medium-sized shelves and 3/8″ or 1/2″  thick for large, heavy shelves. Read this post for all you need to know about glass shelf thicknesses.

thicknesses of US float glass

Clear Glass Thicknesses Available in USA

 Note that clear glass was formerly called “Plate” but is now more correctly referred to as “Float” glass.

Some thicknesses, especially 5/16″ and 5/8″, are not available at all glass retailers.

What are the 3 most important factors in choosing glass thickness for shelves?

The most important factors to consider when ordering glass shelves are safety, cost, and appearance.

SAFETY

COST

APPEARANCE

Of these, by far the most important is SAFETY.  Broken glass can be very dangerous and it is essential to protect your family against injury, and also to safeguard your precious collectibles against damage caused by shelf failure.

1) Safety - Always Err on the Safe Side

Glass strength increases with thickness so, when in doubt choose thick glass rather than thin.  However, several other factors influence glass strength including edgework (seamed or polished), tempering (heat-tempered or annealed) and composition (monolithic or laminated).  Use the search function or follow these links to find out more about polished edges, tempered and laminated glass.

Insider safety tip

Artistry-in-glass.com cannot be responsible for the consequences of decisions made on the basis of information on this website. Glass can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening when broken into jagged shards. Always seek the advice of qualified glass professionals and use common sense when designing glass shelving, shelf brackets, and shelf supports.

2) Cost - the Price of Glass Increases with Thickness

You can economize with affordable 3/16″ and 1/4″ thick glass or impress the neighbors and relatives with expensive 1/2″ or 3/4″ glass.  Approximate retail prices are shown below:

Annealed v Tempered Glass

Regular float glass is called annealed – and, when broken forms sharp and very dangerous shards.

Tempered or heat-strengthened glass is 5 times more impact resistant and also much safer than annealed glass because when broken it shatters into numerous harmless “popcorn” fragment. 

This safety property is the reason that tempered glass is mandated by code for glass in shower doors, sliding doors and other areas where pedestrians might be injured by deadly shards 0f glass.

Tempered glass is not mandated for shelving but there are important pros and cons which are explored more fully in this post.

  

Note that retail prices vary widely across the USA, being most expensive in urban areas like New York City and Los Angeles and in geographically isolated locations like Alaska and Hawaii.   Also note that the final price of a shelf depends on the “edgework” (polished, beveled or seamed) in addition the area in sq ft.

Insider money-saving tip

Float (formerly called plate) glass is exactly the same product at all glass retailers in the USA. So if you are interested in saving money – call several glass companies for quotes.  Prices will vary widely depending on a number of factors including the efficiency of the retailer, whether they have sourced the best wholesaler, whether they are greedy or whether they are just plain busy.

Take a look at their Google testimonials and ask them for an approximate production date. To be sure you are comparing apples with apples learn glass lingo (“Glass-speak”) by following this link.

3) Appearance - for Treasured Collectibles - Thicker Shelves Look Better

If you have a really spectacular collection of Chinese Ming vases, Sevres Porcelain or Kosta Boda Crystal – indulge yourself with impressive 1/2″ or even 3/4″  thick glass shelves.  Economical 1/4″ glass may be strong enough for load-bearing but the extra thickness of 1/2″ glass adds an architectural quality and gravitas to your important family heirlooms and collectibles.

Best Glass Thicknesses for Different Shelf Types

Different shelf types require different glass thicknesses for optimum safety.  Next, we provide our expert thickness recommendations for the following shelf categories:-

 

0-Wall Shelves – Floor to Ceiling Shelves

1-Wall Shelves – Basic Wall Shelves 

2-Wall Shelves – Corner Shelves

3-Wall Shelves – Niche or Alcove Shelves

3-Wall Shelves – China, Curio or Kitchen Cabinet Shelves

0-Wall Shelves - Floor to Ceiling Shelves

cable shelves

The ultimate in elegance – floor to ceiling, or space shelves are supported by steel cables and require 3/8″ thick tempered glass for maximum safety.  For extra impressiveness and luxury, 1/2″ thick glass is occasionally used. 

Cable shelf systems like these are perfect for high-end retailers and for the display of awards in corporate or college lobbies.

What glass thickness is best for basic wall shelves?

The most common glass thicknesses for single wall shelves  1/4″ and 3/8″  although glass thickness is not the most important factor figuring out the load.  The major issue with wall shelves is the cantilever effect which makes the shelf bracket or shelf clip the crucial installation issue. 

Failure of the bracket and wall-anchor attachment system is normally a more serious issue than the strength of the glass shelf.  See other posts on this website for shelf bracket recommendations.

typical glass shelf 20 * 8

Typical glass display shelves like the 18″ * 8 ” example above, look best with 3/8″ thick glass (with polished edges). 1/4″ thick glass can be used for smaller shelves.

What is the best glass thickness for corner shelves?

For small corner shelves 1/4″ thick glass is recommended.  Larger shelves require 3/8″ glass and four shelf brackets at a minimum with the option of 1/2″ thick glass for extra elegance. 

Small Corner Shelf in Bathroom

For small corner shelves (up to 8″ diameter)  like this one in a shower or bathroom, 1/4″ glass is adequate but use 3/8″ for a more impressive appearance.

Large corner shelf

Large Corner Shelf with Heavy Vase

For large corner shelves (12 -24″ diameter)  with heavy and/or valuable loads (like this Ming vase) 3/8″ is necessary for strength with 1/2″ as an upgrade option,

Niche or Alcove shelves are ideal for displaying sculptures, glass or porcelain vases and large works of art.  In a niche, the glass can be supported on two or even three walls and so the cantilever problem associated with wall shelves is avoided.  1/4″ glass is good for small (< 12″ wide niches) and 3/8″ or 1/2″ thick glass is recommended for wider niches.

Permissible loads, shown below, depend on the glass thickness and the span, but many sophisticated customers will choose thicker shelves for the architectural appearance.  It is also possible to make a design statement by using different tints of glass from crystal clear (low-iron) to bronze or gray.

 

12 inch deep glass shelf

Permissible Loads for a 12" Deep Shelf.

Glass Span in Feet 1 2 3 4 5
Glass Thickness in Inches Permissible Loads in lbs. for a 12″ deep shelf.
1/4 74 32 16 6 1
5/16 135 61 34 18 9
3/8 197 91 53 31 16
1/2 345 163 98 62 38
5/8 581 278 172 115 77
3/4 817 394 246 168 117
Deep niche shelves

Permissible Loads for a 24" Deep Shelf.

Glass Span in Feet 1 2 3 4 5
Glass Thickness in Inches Permissible Loads in lbs. for a 24″ deep shelf.
1/4 147 64 32 12 2
5/16 270 123 68 37 17
3/8 393 182 105 62 32
1/2 691 326 196 123 75
5/8 1163 557 344 229 154
3/4 1635 788 493 335 233

3-Wall Shelves - China, Curio or Kitchen Cabinet Shelves

China and curio cabinets are essential for the safe display of valuable and delicate family treasures, crystal, china, porcelain, and collectibles.  The closed environment protects heirlooms against dust and, more important against breakage.  It is a sad fact that a priceless treasure can survive for thousands of years when buried and untouched in a Mummy’s tomb but will break into a hundred pieces when carelessly handled by a curious grandchild or careless cleaner.

 

What thickness is best for cabinet glass?

Since china cabinet and kitchen cabinet shelves are supported at numerous points and normally carry light objects, 3/16″ or 1/4″ glass is recommended.  The  diagrams  below  show that a 1/4″ thick shelf, 12″ deep and with a span of 24″ can safely support a weight of 30 lbs.  A similar sized shelf in thinner, 3/16″, glass can support 25 lbs. These loads are less than those normally found in china cabinets – but might be exceeded if you are displaying a collection of heavy mineral specimens.

Traditional china cabinet
Permissible loads for glass shelves

Important Safety Note

Always be sure to use metal clips (far right) to support glass shelves in curio cabinets. – plastic supports (near right) are much weaker than metal and, furthermore they can degrade with age and fail with disastrous results for your china and crystal.

Just imagine the catastrophic consequences of a top shelf loaded with exquisite Waterford crystal stemware (purchased on a memorable visit to the factory in Ireland), collapsing onto a middle shelf adorned by Bacarrat and Stueben figurines and cascading downwards onto a priceless collection of Tiffany Favrile vases.

Insider safety tip
Metal glass supports are safer than plastic

Summary and Conclusions

Remember: always put the safety of your family first and consult a glass professional if you have any doubts about the best glass and support system for your shelves.

In general, thicker glass is stronger, safer and more impressive but there are other issues which are dealt with in this website.  So consult other posts to learn about:

Tempered or annealed glass for shelves – which is better?

Polished or beveled edges for shelves – which are better?

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Tucson customers - use this link to find approximate pricing for your shelving
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