all. My question is at the bottom in bold if you want to get right to it but thought I'd provide photos and details to give perspective on what I'm dealing with.

I had someone on Etsy make me this shelf as per design specifications. It's a plant shelf which will have LED lights hidden along the underside of each shelf. By the way, he lives over 100 miles away and we had this item delivered for a fee so it's not feasible to have him make adjustments. There is supposed to be a gap under each shelf so that I can hide my LED light strip. However, the very top shelf he used two wood boards which resulted in taking up too much space along the underside so that I can hide my light. Here is what the shelf looks like. enter image description here

Right now it's just sitting on the floor but it's going to be attached to the wall. The highest shelf will be as high as the top of an 86" door opening.

Here is what the rest of the undersides look like which are perfect: enter image description here

Here is the underside of the top canopy which has the issue: enter image description here

In this photo I'm holding the light strip in place and you can clearly see how it's not deep enough to hide it: enter image description here

So, my question is:

Can I buy or rent a tool to create a 3/4" deep slot along the underside of my shelf and not cause any damage? And if so can someone tell me specifically what I'd need? I don't need to go completely from side to side. There are nearly two inches left on either side when the light strip is centered along the underside. I know how to drill a small hole to run my wires in the back. I just need assistance on how to make a 3/4" deep slot without damaging my any part of my furniture.

  • I was just looking at routers online. They look pretty bulky. I just measured the distance from top to bottom within the shelves and only have 9.5" of height to work with. I am concerned most tools might be too big to fit into the space to create a slot. Just thought I'd toss this extra info out there since it's important.
    – Adrien
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 22:17
  • 1
    Can you mount the light on it's side and hide it that way?
    – gnicko
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 23:56
  • 1
    I didn't realize your vertical distance was so limited, nor that the shelves were not removable. Anyway, just one more thought for your problem: How thick is the top shelf? would it be possible to come at it from above and cut a groove all the way thru? Then screw a board on top, over the groove to attach the lamp to. Yeah, it's getting to be a hack job, but I can't think of anything else. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 6:58
  • @ George Anderson - I did think of coming through the top with maybe using a jigsaw (after drilling a couple pilot holes to get me started) to cut my slot out. As is, each board appears to be 3/4" thick. To keep the profile looking the same I thought about applying a walnut veneer on top to hide the "hack job" since adding more thickness with wood would require a lot more work to camouflage from all sides and the front. Thanks for your input.
    – Adrien
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 8:50

2 Answers 2


I would suggest the smallest trim router you could find with a 1/2" straight cutting bit. You'd clamp a board with the offset desired for the grove to the underside of the shelf to use as a guide. Because trim routers don't have a lot of power, it will take several passes to get down to 3/4". You didn't say how wide the grove needed to be but I assume it's more than 1/2", so you'd move the guide board for the next pass, resetting the depth of cut to take light cuts as before, lowering the bit for each pass. Lather, rinse repeat until you get the results you want. If the base of the router is small enough, you should be able to get close enough to the sides to make the groove long enough. If not, it might require some chisel work or a Dremmel to finish it up.

OK, that said, here is an alternative to getting into all that. Have you considered LED strip tape lights instead? They are extremely low profile and you just peel and stick. I looks like you already have the lamps, but perhaps they could be exchanged for LED strip tape lights. Just a thought.

  • Thanks for your input. I've already had these lights too long and are well past their return period. The width of my slot would need to be 7/8th. Your instructions were great. Thank you. I'm sure if I get a trim router that I could use it for other projects I have lined up in my home.
    – Adrien
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 22:48
  • I'd agree that this is probably the best option, however, I'm not sure that even a trim router will have a small enough base to get within 2" of the sides to provide full clearance for the ends of the lamp. To do that, you may need to add a 1/2" Forstner bit to the arsenal - drill two, overlapping, holes, carefully lining up the outside of the bit to the outside of the dado. Forstner bits drill a nice flat-bottom hole and have a spur so the overlap won't cause the bit to wander off center. Then, you'd need to use a chisel to square off the round ends left by the bit.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 13:29
  • Also, do NOT attempt to cut a 7/8" dado in a single pass with a 1/4" trim router! That's well beyond the capabilities of the tool, even if you can find a 1/4" shank bit that'll do the cut. Your best bet is to get a 1/4" cutter on a 1/4" shank and make several passes getting deeper each time. You may be able to put 2 boards under the shelf - 1 as a stop on each side, then route out the 7/8" between them, getting deeper by about 1/8" at a time. It'll take multiple passes, but you'll save the tool and your fingers!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 13:35
  • @FreeMan Regarding the bit size and number of passes needed, I think I said that: "because trim routers don't have a lot of power, it will take several passes to get down to 3/4" ...also I said take light cuts. Also I have to disagree with the use of a Forstner bit, I doubt the OP will have room between the top and 2nd shelf for a drill and those bits aren't easy to use. I only use mine in a drill press. If doing a thru cut from the top, it might work, but again, they are hard to use in a hand held drill. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 16:44

Maybe a manual plow plane could do this. These are pricy specialized tools (somebody might make a cheap one). I think a router will struggle between the vertical clearance and the space to the back of the piece. You would also need to add wood strips to give you something as a base and figure out how to fence it.

Let's try a different approach - how about a LED light strip? These are only like an eighth to maybe a quarter of an inch deep.

  • I would consider the LED strip lights but already purchased lights that are recommended to grow plants. The LED strip lights meant for growing plants are quite a bit more expensive. Had I not already purchased my lights I would definitely consider your suggestion. Thank you.
    – Adrien
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 22:46

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