Real Wood Floors Made From Plywood

Plywood sounds so . . . cheap.  But look how our plywood floors turned out!

I’m loving it.

The reason we chose to go with plywood floors instead of pre-engineered floors are:

  1. Cost.  This method was MUCH less expensive and we have a whole house to re-do.
  2. We like a more rustic country kind of feel, wide planks, real wood with real grain, not a picture of wood . . . we wanted the real thing, baby.
  3. It may take us awhile to install all our floors.  Like I said, we’re re-doing the whole house, one room at a time.  So we could have bought all of the floors for the whole house, except where to store all of that?  And spacing out the purchasing is easier on our wallet, but there is never any guarantee that the product we bought six months ago or a year ago will be there today to finish the project.  I have no desire to spend all the money and time on new floors so they can almost match.  Since we’re staining and finishing these ourselves we can be sure of a perfect match.
  4. If part of the floor gets ruined in the future we can rip up just those boards and replace them with an exact match (see #3).

So here’s how we did it:

  1. Measure your room and buy enough plywood to cover the floor.  There are different grades of plywood.  “A” grade is the nicest, it comes with one very clean and sanded side.  This is not what we went with because, as the guy at Lowe’s said, we can sand it ourselves and save big $$$.  A sheet of “A” grade plywood costs about $28 in our market, but a sheet of “C” grade plywood is only about $14.
  2. Cut the plywood into long strips.  We wanted pretty wide boards so we went with 6″ strips.  We have a table saw that we used for this job.  If you don’t have one, borrow one or buy one.  The 6″ width did mean we had some waste as the last row of the wood is less than 6″, but we used this extra on the edge by the wall where we needed some narrower pieces.  After the plywood is cut, stack it in the room where you’ll be laying it for a couple of days.

  3. Spread “liquid nails”, a construction adhesive, on the back of each board.  Then nail the boards down.  We put two nails in each end and three more pairs of nails up the length of the board.  In between boards you need a little space and it’s nice if it’s uniform so don’t just eyeball it.  We used pennies for spacers.  It took two days to lay the boards for our 20×13′ room.

  4. Once all the boards were laid and nailed we set the nails in so they would be below the surface of the wood.  Then we sanded the whole floor with a belt sander, sanding in the direction of the grain.  I’m still sore from that particular step.  It’s spankin’ hard work.
  5. Then we cleaned up and vacuumed the saw dust up.  Once the floor was clean I spent two hours sliding around on my backside on the floor and staining it.  We went with a medium brown “Early American” from Minwax.  I just used a rag, dipped in the stain, and wiped it on the floor.  Gloves and ventilation are a must.
  6. The next day I started spreading the finish coats.  We decided to use Varathane Polyurethane floor finish.  It’s water based, high traffic, no odor (really, no odor) and drys in just two hours.  The directions say to put on at least four coats.  We did six coats . . . boys, you know.  After the final coat you wait three days before you go move the furniture in and start using the room normally so that the finish coat can cure.  This type of floor would look awesome painted as well.

Our living room is 20′x13′ which equals 260 square feet.

We spent $13.97 each on 9 sheets of 11/32″  “CD” grade plywood = $125.73
The Varathane polyurethane floor finish was $49.98 per gallon and we used 2 gallons to do six coats = $99.96 (If you did only four coats you could get away with just one gallon)
Minwax stain was $20 for a gallon
We also bought an applicator pad for the polyurethane for $10 (you need the applicator, which you attach to any broom handle)
Then the nails were about $20 for 1 1/2″ finishing nails.
The liquid nails were $53.28 for a contractor pack of 24.  We used about half of them, but since we plan to do more floor we just bought the big pack.

Total cost for the living room was $328.97 which works out to $1.27 a square foot for real wood floors. Not bad.

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65 Responses to Real Wood Floors Made From Plywood

  1. Karen says:

    They look fantastic!!!

  2. Rhonda says:

    All the work was worth it. They look amazing! Good luck with the rest of the house.

  3. Tash says:

    All I can say is, WOW. I want these floors!

  4. Erin Cannon says:

    These look great! Wondering if you could skip the sanding since you are doing so many coats of poly… wouldn’t those make it smooth on their own?

    • Layers of Learning says:

      No, you really can’t skip sanding unless you buy A grade plywood, which is so expensive you might as well buy pre-finished hardwood floors. C or D grade plywood, which is what we used, is quite rough.

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  6. Mary says:

    What was your subfloor? Sheets of plywood? What all is underneath?
    They look GREAT!

    • Layers of Learning says:

      Underneath we have particle board sheets.

      • Chad says:

        Do you think this would work on top of concrete subfloors?

        • Layers of Learning says:

          Yes, but first I would seal the concrete with a moisture blocking paint. Then you would have to buy special nails for concrete applications.

        • Yanksta says:

          Unless the concrete floor had insulation put down before the concrete was poured, it has the potential to sweat – even if it is sealed. The temperature and humidity difference from one side to the other of an uninsulated slab cannot be avoided when the space above the slab is a finished, conditioned living space. That will not be good for the wood.

  7. Heidi says:

    I love this! It looks really great. A couple of quick questions: 1) why the space between boards (I like the idea of using pennies)? Wouldn’t the subfloor show in the space? Also, does a lot of dirt and dust collect there? 2) how did you stagger your boards and still use all the same length wood? I like the way it doesn’t look too uniform, but since I’m a newby, I was just wondering how you did it. Thanks!!

    • Layers of Learning says:

      Wood expands and contracts with seasonal changes in temperature and moisture so you need at least a little space, but the penny width is actually more than you strictly need. Yes, your sub-floor will show through in some of the gaps (the gaps are not totally uniform and some end up being larger than others, it’s the nature of the beast). Our floor was already painted a dark brown becasue we lived with sub floors for several months while deciding on our course of action floor-wise. I do recommend painting your sub-floor a dark color or if you plan on painting your wood floors, paint your sub-floor the same color as you intend. Otherwise you’ll be down on your hands and knees with a little paintbrush filling in spots.

      Some dust and dirt does collect in the cracks and every few weeks we just run a vacuum over the floor. The boards start out all the same length, but when you get to the other end of the room on your first row, you’ll find you have to trim. The trimmed piece becomes your next first piece. That’s how we did ours, so it ended up pretty random looking. I like that personally.

  8. Jackie Richardson Eoff says:

    As time goes on how do you maintain these floors? Do you mop as usual or do you wax? I love them!

    • Layers of Learning says:

      On a daily basis we just sweep or vacuum. When I need to do more of a cleaning, once every few weeks (footprints and other minor dirt doesn’t show at all) I clean with a damp rag on hands and knees. You could also use a lightly damp mop, not dripping wet, or a Swiffer style spray mop. I never use any chemicals or soap, though if you needed to, like someone threw up all over, you could. The thing is to make sure it doesn’t get soaking wet, like any wood, or remain wet because the wood will absorb the moisture and your floor will be warped. I have never waxed, when you use polyurethane you don’t need to. Honestly, these along with my dark colored tile in my kitchen, are the lowest maintenance floors I have ever had.

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  10. Dan Baker says:

    Why not just leave your expansion gap at the edges? They do it when installers install real hardwood floors. And plywood is suppose to be more stable then ordinary wood.

    • Layers of Learning says:

      Honestly, I think it would be fine to leave no gap. Except there will be a bit of a gap anyway. It’s not tongue in groove, you know? But also the plywood cuts, the planks are not as perfectly straight as a factory produced floor. Often we had to wrangle the boards into place and hold them tightly while we nailed them down. So you could snug them up against each other as closely as possible and be fine. You will have gaps here and there anyway though, it would not be a smooth tightly planked floor in any case.

  11. Hiser says:

    LOVE THESE FLOORS. How resilliant are they? Do they scratch easily or dent? Thanks for showing off your hard work.

    • Layers of Learning says:

      They aren’t as durable as a hardwood. They dent and scratch more easily. We put furniture protectors under the legs of our furniture, including our dining chairs which get daily use by boys and we don’t have any scratches around the table. Doing floors this way is a more rustic look though so the few dents and scratches we do have don’t bother me. After nearly a year, I’m still very happy with the way the floors look and feel.

  12. Rob says:

    Looks awesome! Great alternative to expensive hardwood floors, and of course…carpet! Just the idea I was looking for. Thanks for posting!

  13. Laura Murphy says:

    What a great job you did !
    The floor is georgeous. I really, really want to put this in my bath and my laundry. Bad idea due to moisture ? Thanks for your advice !

    • Layers of Learning says:

      Well, if you have kids that use the bathroom I wouldn’t recommend it. Laundry is probably okay if you have a top loading machine. Front loaders tend to leak much more.

  14. Niki says:

    When u nailed the wood down what did you use to put in the nail holes?

  15. Mary says:

    The floors look great. A couple of questions

    1. How does the grain look? Plywood typically has a distinctive plywood grain. Is it obvious that the floor is plywood

    2. I have a small dog. Once and a while he doesn’t make it outside! We usually can get it cleaned up pretty fast. What are your thoughts?

    3. I was wondering if something like a spar varnish would give a better seal. What do you think.

    4. As far as the craks go, I’ve seen that some people fill the cracks. I think there is a floor wood filler for this purpose would you recommend this?

    Thank a lot and great job!

    • Layers of Learning says:

      First of all, I’m not an expert, just a DYIer, so whatever I say, I may be wrong.

      I don’t think the grain looks like plywood. People think we’ve laid down planks of wood when they see it. Plywood is after all just wood, usually pine. So it looks like pine and it’s soft, not hard like oak. But because it’s plywood and not just a plank of pine it’s tough and durable. Still you’ll probably end up with a few dents and scratches. Personally I think that adds to and is part of the charm of having a wood floor.

      If messes are cleaned up quickly they won’t damage the floor. It’s moisture soaking into the wood and warping it that’s a problem, just like any wood floor. Plywood isn’t any more susceptible to damage than other sorts of wood.

      I have no idea whether spar varnish would be a better seal. The product we choose was made specifically for floors so that’s what we used.

      As for filling in the cracks I think that’s a purely ascetic choice. Dirt that falls in is easily vacuumed out. I wanted a rustic look and cracks between the planks does the job. If you want something more finished you should probably fill in the cracks. Sounds like a lot of work though.

      Good luck. I hope that helped.

  16. Jenni says:

    Hi! Looks amazing.

    I have one question, do you have any close up photos of your nails, or are they pretty blended in? Just curious how it looks around that area. I also have read about people using screws (counter sinking and filling), why did you choose nails?

    I love the way this looks! Did you have any trouble “joining” the rooms together? I am worried that I will do one room, and then go to do the next and I will have to trim all my boards because the walls weren’t exactly straight, or something along those lines.

    • Layers of Learning says:

      We used “Liquid Nails” which is really what is holding the floor together. The real nails are in large part just for the look and to set the floor in place while the glue dries. I think screws are unnecessary and way too much work.

      Here is a close-up of what the nails look like in our finished floor. They are countersunk so all you see are a couple of tiny holes. They are unnoticeable until you look closely.
      Nail holes in floor

      No we didn’t have any trouble joining our living room with the hall and then the dining room. When we finished the living room, we just kept going right into the hall, trimming along the walls as needed. It went together really smoothly and unless your walls are incredibly messed up and not-square the trim along the edges covers up any gaps that might occur.

      Here is a picture showing the floor where the living room meets the hallway. The board in the center required some trimming around the ends where the walls are. After that we based everything off that board, so there are narrower boards on each side in our hall, not just on one side as in the living room.
      hall meets living room floor

  17. Luis says:

    Just curious, A grade has both side sanded well. But now you are using it only one face visible. So can we use A/BB or A/CC for flooring?

    • Layers of Learning says:

      You can use whatever you want. But when you start using A grade the cost shoots up, double at least.

  18. josiahsnyder15@gmail.com says:

    This is a great idea! Way cheaper then most flooring choices. I’m seriously considering this for my bedroom remodel I will be starting soon, I had in mind a black and white color scheme for the room, so I was wondering if it would work to paint the plywood in place of stain? This really looks great! So glad I found it.

  19. Mike says:

    Looks fantastic!!! Just wondering what made you go with 11/32″? Would the floor be less likely to warp if it was thicker like 3/4″? Also you mentioned that you had a tile floor. How was it transitioning to the tile floor?

    • Layers of Learning says:

      The thinner wood is quite a bit cheaper. It didn’t warp at all and we’ve had the floors down for more than a year. The liquid nails really very firmly keeps the floor in place. I felt like the thinner plywood was very substantial. It’s as thick as engineered wood floors and every bit as durable.

      As for the transition between the wood and tile, along the edge of the tile, we cut a little bevel so it slopes down to the level of the wood, it’s only about 1/8″ below the level of the tile. It’s very smooth, looks good and no one has ever stubbed their toe or tripped.

  20. Mike says:

    What kind of plywood did you use? A softwood or hardwood? Most plywood sold at lowes or Home Depot would be pine. I just worry about the durability with a softwood.

    • Layers of Learning says:

      It’s pine, a softwood. It does get dinged up fairly easy. If you’re going for rustic, like we are, that’s fine. If you want something very sleek and refined this is not a good option.

  21. Megan says:

    Hi! I love your floors :) I wanted to ask you if you could provide more details on how to counter sink the nails? I know with srews its as simple as screwing them in further, but I have no clue how to do the same with nails. Thanks!

    • Layers of Learning says:

      You pound them normally with a hammer, or if you are blessed, a nail gun. Then you use a little pointy tool, called a nail set, made just for the job, place it on the head of your nail and hammer on the back side of your tool to put the nail in a bit deeper. You just want to tap it in or give it one hit, you don’t want to accidentally push you nail clear through the board. Ask at your hardware tore for a nail set to counter sink nails, they’ll know what you’re talking about.

  22. Jay says:

    Any opinion on staining the planks prior to laying them down? Thought it could be easier to stain them while sitting/standing at the table in my garage instead of sitting on my butt trying to do it…

    • Layers of Learning says:

      You could do that. You would still need to sand them before staining them. You may also need to do a final touch up coat once it’s laid.

  23. Austin says:

    Love it! My wife and I are considering this. Right now, our kitchen/dining room are like square vinyl tile. I’m assuming we could just pull those up and go straight into the subfloor?

  24. Jennifer says:

    There was no underlayment? Was your subfloor concrete?

  25. Calyn says:

    What a great idea! We just moved to a house with a partially finished walk out basement, however the main unfinished part is the floors are still concrete. We just put a giant area rug in the family room but I really hate carpet. One of the great things of this house is it has original hardwood still on the main floor in the hallway and bedrooms and tile in the kitchen and bathrooms. The only carpet in the whole house is the front room. We may just have to try doing something like this in the downstairs.

  26. Ashley says:

    I was just wondering what the name of the shade of minwax stain you used? We are doing our floors this way this weekend and I love the colour of your! Thanks!

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  28. doug says:

    The exspansion and contraction of plywood is so slight that when used for roofing it only requires a spacing of 1/8″ between sheets. The moisture and tempature fluctuations are far greater on the roof than inside. I would think you could do the same as for manufactured flooring and only leave gaps at the walls. Wood exspands fairly equally in in all directions. So it will expand more in length than width, providing the length is larger than the width. Therefor eliminating the gaps and keep it looking cleaner. Most table saws rip fences are less than 2′ long, by adding a longer board to the rip fence will help making straighter cuts. Also by putting a slight bevel to the top edge of each board if you have small gaps you will hardly notice the while standing, now if after a few beers you are crawling on the floor they would be more noticeable. I make most of my own furniture, cabinets and do construction, so i have had a few years doing this type of stuff. Your floors do look great, nice job.

  29. Renee says:

    Quick question! My husband and I are planning on doing this to our floors and we wetr talking to a friend about it and he said we would need to put padding down or the floors will eventually start squeaking really bad and the nails will start coming out. Have either or those things happened with your floors? And you have had them down for a while right?

    • Our floors have been down for about two years now and no squeaking or nails pulling loose. I think that might happen except that when you lay the boards you put down construction adhesive and it is the glue that really holds your wood in place. It’s very solid.

  30. Dave B says:

    Nice Job!
    I installed solid hardwood floors for three years as a profession and although I think a solid hardwood floor would last longer, can be sanded and is more durable, I think you have done an excellent job!
    If I were to do this (and I’m actually considering it for my walk-in closet floor and my mud-room entry area) I would leave the gaps (min. 1/2″ each wall) around the perimeter instead of leaving gaps between each board.
    If you have a planer or a router table you can make the widths more uniform and (as previously noted) slightly bevel (undercut) each piece to obtain a tight, uniform fit.
    If you have a wood subfloor, just topnail in uniform rows.
    A nail gun (perhaps rented) would make this a breeze.
    I don’t think I would use liquid nails although you have clearly shown that it will work. I’d lay 30# felt roofing paper under to act as an underlayment for moisture resistance and allow for some movement.
    Since you won’t be able to re-sand, just be sure to rent a buffer with pad and 120 grit sanding mesh before your current finish wears through. By doing this you can then lay another coat or two of finish that should last another 5-7 years.

    All in all, an excellent idea, I like it!
    Thanks for sharing your idea and techniques!
    I’m all for finding ways to save $ while still creating a beautiful floor … you’ve shown us how … thanks.

  31. Dave B says:

    Oh, I meant to say that your floors look wonderful!
    If others do decide to fill gaps, holes … I use a water based filler called “dura seal Trowelable Wood Filler” and I believe it’s around $28 gal. Not too bad to trowel on using a 10″ steel flat trowel, look on YouTube to see demo of filling a wood floor for an example of how to do it.
    Best oil based polyurethane around (I think all old timer floor sanders would agree) is Fabulon, I prefer Satin finish, It’s slightly more expensive than Varathane but is the best you can get in terms of durability/ toughness.

    Thanks,
    Dave B

    • Layers of Learning… These floors look great! My next adventure is to convince the husband that it’s doable… he’s a skeptic about everything that is out of the norm, especially if it is DIY. ;)

      My question is for Dave B: You suggested oil base polyurethane (which I would use too because of how durable and smooth the finish ends up being), which kind would you suggest that wouldn’t yellow over time?

  32. Dave B says:

    Hello Susan,

    I believe any oil based polyurethane will appear somewhat amber initially as well as over time but I don’t see this as a down side at all. In fact, I think it’s a more natural look than something perfectly clear or foggy whitish haze, such as a Swedish finish or some of the water based finishes. The way I see it is that the oil base works well to bring out the natural beauty of wood as well as provide a very resilient and durable surface.

    As far as brands go, all polyurethane finishes are not equal. I prefer satin, Fabulon Heavy Duty Wood Floor Finish. It’s slightly more expensive but extremely durable and has an exceptionally high polyurethane resin content.
    DuraSeal is pretty good but not as good and I’d steer way clear of Minwax brand. Some states have restrictions on VOCs (volitile organic compounds) so if you live in Calf. for example, you may not be able to get some of these shipped to you.
    The only downside I can see in using an oil based, heavy duty Poly is that you do need to give them time to dry between coats. I would go with 3-4 coats and sand very lightly (120-150 grit mesh screen), vacuum and tack between each coat.

  33. Dave B says:

    Just to be clear, I have no problem with Minwax stains, just would not recommend their polyurethane(s). If you do stain, it’s best to use an oil based stain if using an oil based polyurethane.
    The following website has lots of good info. that you may find helpful.
    http://www.woodfloordoctor.com/_ask_the_expert/comp/fabulon_and_water_based_wood_floor_finishes.shtml

    • Thank you for all the process and product insight Dave! I only use Minwax on my furniture and usually only water based poly, which I have a hate/love for…. quick drying, but can totally pull the finish if it dries too quickly.

  34. jo says:

    love it soooo much!–one question tho–what if you have to pull it up? Can you?
    Thanks!!!!

  35. Cat says:

    I just wanted to say that this is a wonderful step-by-step and you’ve made me want to do this to my carpeted rooms. Thank you very much for taking the time to show us how you did it!

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