Introduction: DIY PLYWOOD FLOORS

Picture of DIY PLYWOOD FLOORS

I love my house. It's a classic New Orleans shotgun. Over 100 years old, it was made by craftsmen who really knew how to build things to last. There was an addition (back bedroom and bathroom) put on when the house was refurbished shortly before Hurricane Katrina. The addition was built competently, but they used pretty cheap materials on things like the doors, trim, bathroom fixtures, etc. In most of the house we have nice, solid hardwood floors. In the back bedroom - carpet. Ugly, dirty, Berber carpet. We hated it.

In a fit of annoyance we decided to ditch it. The problem was we needed to do it on the cheap.

My first thought was to rip out the carpet and sand, then paint the subfloor and leave it like that until we had enough to put in hardwood floors that matched the rest of the house. The downside to this is that there is nothing between you and the ground and without any protection other than the paint you might damage the subfloor and need to replace it (not something I wanted to do).

The other idea I had was to lay down plywood over the subfloor and paint/finish the plywood. I'd seen this in some lofts and thought it looked pretty good. This is what we decided to do.

We had two simple goals - put something in that looked better than the ugly carpet and for as little as possible. I think we definitely achieved this and the total cost around $400.00.

The best thing a about doing your floors like this is that down the road if you want to upgrade and install hardwood floors you don't need to pull up anything - you can install them right on top.


Step 1: Tools & Materials

Picture of Tools & Materials

Tools you will need:

• Pry-bar.
• Shop Knife
• Measuring tools -Tape Measure, Steel Square, etc.
• Circular Saw with blade for cutting plywood.
• Hammer.
• Caulk Gun.
• Paint brushes or paint roller.
• Polyurethane applicator.

Materials
• Kilz Primer
• Painters tape
• Cabinet Grade Plywood Sheets (we used 4'x8' 5MM hardwood at around $11.00/sheet).
• Oil Based Polyurethane (we used Varathane Clear Oil based Polyurethane).
• Construction adhesive (we used OSI brand that was specifically for subfloors).
• Finishing Nails (long enough to go through the plywood and into the subfloor).

You might also need:
Additional floor molding. When you take up the carpet there might be a space between the floor and the molding. We used quarter round shoe molding which matched the rest of our house.

NOTES:

You don't need a big caulk gun - just use the regular kind or you will wear out your hands.

Make sure you use an oil based polyurethene made specifically for flooring. The oil based poly brings out the color of the wood and the grain and makes the plywood look "warmer". It's almost like putting on a mild stain. 

There are lots of other choices you could make on the plywood. The thing you want to do is make sure it is hardwood and "cabinet grade". We chose the cheapest that fit the criteria but you could spend a bit more and get oak, birch, etc.) It does not need to be thick (we used 5MM). I will say the plywood we got (http://tinyurl.com/77r6rzs) looked as good as the birch and was much cheaper. 

Step 2: Rip Out the Old Carpet

Picture of Rip Out the Old Carpet

First thing you will need to do is move everything out of the room. This project takes some time, you can't do it in a day. You need to allow for drying time in your planning. We were out of this room for around 3 weeks.

To rip up the carpet just cut into it with a shop knife and start pulling. The carpet will come up and underneath will be a carpet pad which is glued on and also must be ripped out. 

Once the carpet and the carpet pad are up you will be left the wood and nails that the carpet was attached to. This will be ringed around the entire room. It's a pain to pull up. You will need to use the pry-bar and be careful not to damage the molding. 

Step 3: Clean the Subfloor

Picture of Clean the Subfloor

There will be lot's of dust and debis left over from tearing up the carpet. You will need to sweep and vacuum it up. The carpet pad that was glued on might have left some patches on the floor which you will need to scape off. 

Once it's all swept up and vacuumed, mop the subfloor to clean it and let it dry.

Step 4: Apply Kilz to Seal and Protect the Sub-Floor

Picture of Apply Kilz to Seal and Protect the Sub-Floor

Apply the Kilz sealant to the subfloor. The Kilz will help protect the subfloor and help seal in any odors that have made it on to the subfloor. 

Step 5: Install the Plywood Floor

Picture of Install the Plywood Floor

We started in the closet s a test. If you need to cut the plywood to fit the space, place the edges you cut towards the edge of the wall as the cuts you make will not be as straight and clean as the factory edges. 

Once you have made your cuts lay down the plywood sheets the way you want them as a test. If everything looks right you are ready to attach the plywood to the subfloor.

Use the construction adhesive on the liberally on the "bad" side of the plywood (the side without the nice woodgrain). Once glued set the plywood on the subfloor and nail it down. I used a lot of nails as I wanted it to be solidly affixed and I did not want to have to wait for the glue to dry to lay down more sheets.

First I nailed down the corners and placed a nail in the middle.Then I placed the nails in columns that ran down the lenght of the sheet, each collumn of nails abound 4-6 in from the next. I did not measure, I just eyeballed it.

I put down the plywood in sheets running longwise next to each other. There was a small strip on one side of one wall that required me to cut lengths of plywood (about 4 in" wide stops of 8').

At the end of the room I had to cut the plywood to fit.  The pictures show all of this.

Step 6: Doorways

Picture of Doorways

The gap where the doorway is between the rooms is tricky. The floors between the rooms may not be level or made out of the same material and the gap will probably not be square.

Lay down strips of plywood to build up the gap in the doorway. Once it is relatively level you can put a "cap" strip that bridges the two floors.

The most important thing I can say here is that you will need to improvise. It took me a while to get these to my liking and I ripped up my work and started from scratch on one of them. 



Step 7: Apply Polyurethane

Picture of Apply Polyurethane

To seal the floors follow the directions on the polyurethane. I purchased an applicator so I could do it faster - definitely recommended.

We used four coats and it took a day between each coat.

Step 8: Add Molding (If Needed)

Picture of Add Molding (If Needed)

Now that the floor is down, you can add any trim molding that is needed. I used 1/4 round shoe molding.

This filled the gap between the rest of the molding and the wall. I used the same finishing nails I used on the floor. Then I taped up the floor and painted the molding.

Step 9: Finished Product

Picture of Finished Product

After the floors dry and the molding put on and painted (if needed) you can bring your stuff back in and your done.

Comments

MichelleD198 (author)2017-03-07

I have seen also where someone used a torch i believe and burnt plywood where it was a darker color

MarleneC17 (author)2017-02-02

do the finishing nails show or did you use something to cover them? Also how far apart did you nail? Worried the floor will buckle. Thanks

jdfnola (author)MarleneC172017-02-15

Nailed the finishing nails in a pattern to mimic the "real hardwood" floors in the rest of the house. Used a nail punch to drive the nails below the floor level and then the ploy covered them so it was all level.

AnnieC54 (author)2017-01-28

Hi there. The finish on your floors looks really nice and smooth, with a bit of a shine. Is that right? I'm doing the same kind of flooring in a dance studio at the moment, and after a couple of coats of polyurethane so far, it's still looking / feeling really grainy. I'm hoping to get it smooth enough for people to spin around on bare feet without too much friction. Do you think I'm on the right track?? I'd appreciate any suggestions you might have. Cheers.

jdfnola (author)AnnieC542017-02-15

Hmm, don't know why it's looking grainy. Did you use the same poly I did?

As far as smoothness my floor is almost too smooth. In socks I can slide on it as if i'm on skates. My dogs can't get any purchase on it and just spin their legs like they are in a cartoon. When I mop it to clean it it's actually dangerously slippery :-)

S5354 (author)2016-12-13

Thank you for the post.
I have been told that plywood is not recommended because the veneer on the side of the plywood is too thin to sand/surface. Also, it's not repairable once it has a dent by hard objects. Do you have any problem like that?

jdfnola (author)S53542017-02-15

It's been over 5 years and for the most part the floors are in good shape. There is an area under the desk where the hardwood chair has rubbed in a groove in the wood. You probably can't repair the groove but you could replace the plywood sheet.

jdfnola (author)S53542016-12-13

I could see that as a recommendation. But this floor was intended to be a interim fix until we could lay down real old school "proper" hardwood floors like the rest of the house has.

It was designed to be the very near the cheapest solution. That being said we only have one area of the floor that has been been scuffed up (the sliding back and forth from the desk chair). It does not really look that bad and if I had been smart it could have been prevented).

Otherwise I've dropped hammers, and other heavy hard things and floor has taken it without being damaged. It's not frajile. The poly you put on it is very protective.

That's not to say that your recommendation is "wrong" - it just was not a concern of mine for this project.

If I wanted floors to last 100 years I would not do it this way. But this is WAY better than the carpet that was there and even though we will eventually put down regular hardwood floors we are in no rush. The nice thing with this is that when we do we can lay them right over this floor.

Hope this answers your question :-)

ParketK (author)2016-12-06

writing articles very useful and helpful, thank you for sharing

MistyVista (author)2016-11-27

Great post. We did plywood in our 70 year old house and 4 years later I still love it. We did it a little different in that we cut the plywood into12 inch planks and then stained it a pretty pecan. The polyurethane then brought out the gorgeous grain.

jdfnola (author)MistyVista2016-11-28

Cool! I bet that stain looks great. Post some pictures!

SandriaW (author)2016-10-24

Such an informative post conveying the steps,
tools and materials for getting the flooring job done. Really very
helpful and as a matter of fact we are getting the hardwood flooring
done soon and this is the people we are getting it done with
http://denverdustless.com/ .
Thank you again for sharing the whole process with us.

mkeith54 (author)2012-01-06

Great looking job. We're doing our bedroom now, only difference is we're going with Bamboo Hardwood. Not knowing the cost of your plywood, our hardwood for a 12X14 room came to $723. with enough left over to do the bathroom if I don't screw up to many pieces.I really like to look of the plywood and may try to convince the wife to go that way in the kitchen, though she has her heart set on cork. Once again I think your job came out looking fantastic.

jdfnola (author)mkeith542012-01-06

Thanks!

The plywood was around just under $11.00/sheet. The total cost of everything was around $400 (and I mean everything). I really liked the bamboo flooring I saw when I was doing research but in the end I went for the cheapest solution(or next to cheapest solution as the cheapest would have been simply sealing and painting the subfloor).

Good luck with the bamboo and post pictures when you are done as i'm really interested in how it works out.

SarahL110 (author)jdfnola2016-03-23

be glad you didn't try sealing and painting the subfloor... it does NOT work well if you have ANY kind of traffic. We did that when in a fit of allgery-exacerbated frustration I ripped all my carpeting out. (35 year old carpet that was in the house when we bought it... I swear no one living in farm counrty should have carpet lol) I used garage floor paint and sealed it (this was before having three dogs) it's worn horribly.

jdfnola (author)SarahL1102016-06-27

Good to know.

paula.carreon1 (author)jdfnola2014-10-06

I have bamboo and I hate it!!! It's pretty as long as you just look at it but don't walk on it! What you did with plywood I think is way better.

SusanA3 (author)mkeith542014-11-29

723.00 for a 12 x 14 room? YIKES! How is that "saving" anything? That's not a cheaper alternative.

MairseyDotes (author)2012-02-14

We've done this in our master bedroom, walk-through closet, and sewing room, and it looks great (although I've managed to ding it here and there). Our plan is to cover it with a more permanent flooring this year, but if we can't, it will still look good next year.

jdfnola (author)MairseyDotes2012-03-06

That's our plan too. You should put up some pictures!

Mimijen (author)jdfnola2015-06-22

Hi there. I LOVE RUSTIC..DISTRESSED STUFF this is great. Can I dobthis on my cincrete floor? Im assuming no nails..just glue? And I like dark. Thanks so much. I can show you a picture if my family room. Ive already pulled up carpet..pad..tackboard. I cannot afford much so looking for ways.

jdfnola (author)Mimijen2016-06-27

Don't know about concrete but I think you are right that if you found the right kind of glue it might work.

bigsluv (author)2015-08-29

thanks to your instructions I completed my own plywood floor this weekend!

longp2000 (author)bigsluv2015-10-22

Looks great man, what type and thickness of ply wood did you use?

jdfnola (author)longp20002016-06-27

5mm.

jdfnola (author)bigsluv2016-06-27

Looks awesome! Great job!

SarahL110 (author)2016-03-23

I'm about to do this to my entire house. Everything has been purchased and i'm ready to go...except... I have dogs. Three of them. My home is an open concept floorplan so most of the house is like one big floor... not condusive to keeping dogs from rooms for any real length of time. I plan to cut the sheets of plywood into slats (for a more "hardwood" look and stain before installing... can I do this with the polyurethane also?

jdfnola (author)SarahL1102016-06-27

Yeah, I don't think you would have any problems. Lot's of other commenters talked of cutting the plywood into strips so you are in good company. Put up some pics when you are done and good luck!

JoB47 (author)2016-04-23

It looks like your stained this plywood so what was the KILZ used for? Can this be paid over cement floor? How would it be secured?

jdfnola (author)JoB472016-06-27

The Kilz blocks stains and seals in any odors that might be on the wood.

I don't know how it wold work over a cement floor or how you would secure it.

thms_palmer (author)2015-05-24

How are the floors holding up after all this time?

karen.akers.583 (author)2015-03-06

Hi,

This looks great, I am thinking of doing this in an empty room I am planning on turning into a small den, but I think I will use a one step polyurethane sealant with stain to save time and money, or I may just go with a clear one. I found some wonderful colors at Home Depot. Did you use nails or screws to put this down with?

jdfnola (author)karen.akers.5832015-03-07

Nails, I think screws would have split up the plywood (it was really thin plywood) and they would have also taken forever.

warrior555 (author)2015-01-26

I use ring nails on plywood sub-floors, to ensure that they will stay down. I also stagger the joints longitudinally. These are for floors that are to be covered. I had never thought of staining and/or using a clear polyurethane as an exposed finish -- good idea!

barbara.miller.9461799 (author)2014-12-23

what color is the stain you used??

tinker234 (author)2012-03-11

i like this i wonder if i could use old pallets there a dime a dozen around where i live

jason.mcclure (author)tinker2342014-12-16

You should. And, it will be kinda of a cool look.

rbwilliams2 (author)2014-02-02

Is there a period of time that you would have to evacuate your home due to the odor and fumes from the polyurethane?

jdfnola (author)2013-08-19

Hey, sorry to be so long in getting back to you, I was buried with work.

Like you, I was really worried about the edges lining up as I had to make many cuts with the circular saw. I was careful and they lined up very well with no problem. You dont need to use any wood filler between the gaps because you will be then put down the polyurethane. The polyurethane gets into the cracks and, as its liquid, rises to its own level, fills in the gaps and coats the entire floor, sealing it and protecting it (hope that makes sense).

I used nails because the hardwood flooring in the rest of the house had nails and I used a nail pattern that was similar to the more traditional hardwood floors in the rest of the house. My thinking was that screws would be overkill, take longer, and might split up the plywood (its very thin plywood).

Hope this is helpful to you and feel free to ask me anything else, i'll try to be quicker in responding.

casadepatrick (author)2013-08-16

There were no issues with pieces lining up exactly so you don't stub your foot? No gaps in between pieces at all, or did you use a filler? Did you use nails, or screws? I thought screws were the way to go, or is that for decking??? (I'm full of questions). Thanks and I think it looks great.

joaniestoney (author)2013-05-15

I know I'm way late to this party, but I was wondering since you can cut them into strips making them look similar to the expensive hardwood flooring, could you even stain it? The darker hardwood is more expensive so I figured unless that would somehow conflict with the sealer?

jdfnola (author)joaniestoney2013-05-15

Absolutely you could do that - both the cutting them into strips and staining them.

Looking back I probably would have cut them into squares and alternate the grain but I was worried about the straightness of my saw cuts. I should not have worried as my cuts were pretty straight ;-)

Doing it as you suggest you would have to take care with your cuts but otherwise it would work fine and I think it would look very good.

The floor has worn very well and it was the cheapest floor we could do next to just painting the subfloor. The nice thing about the thin plywood thatmI used is that later on when I can afford nicer traditional hardwood floors I can put them right over top of these.

This project worked out great for us! if you decide to droit post here with pictures so I can see and good luck!

Atchljr (author)2012-03-06

I noticed that you said that you used finishing nails to secure the plywood sheets to the sub-floor. Did you use any particular pattern when securing the plywood to the sub-floor, and did you countersink and fill each nail head? If you did countersink and fill each nail head. What kind of filler material did you use, and did you use standard nails or a pnumatic nailer?

jdfnola (author)Atchljr2012-03-06

The nail pattern I used mimics the pattern that wold have been used if the floors were traditional strip flooring. The nails blend right in to the flooring and when you do see them it's not at all jarring to the eye.

I did not countersink or fill the nail-heads. I did use a nail set to punch the nails down just below the level of the floor. The floor sealant then covers over the nail (I used four coats).

To the nail in the nails I used a hammer.

tinker234 (author)2012-02-23

is there a way to get a darker richer color

jdfnola (author)tinker2342012-02-24

Yes, absolutely. You could stain the floor before putting on the sealant. If I was not on a tight budget and under tight time contraints I might have done just that.

State50 (author)2012-01-16

I don't have much experience with flooring. Were you able to 'get-away' with using 5- mm plywood instead of 1cm ( I defer to your metric dimensions), because you already had a stable subfloor over the flooring joists? ( I read the rest of the blog and I didn't see the issue brought up.)

jdfnola (author)State502012-01-23

The answer is yes. The thin plywood we got was only sold in the 5mm thickness (hence the metric measurement instead of something more standard).

I could have used something thicker but I wanted to be able to install more traditional wood flooring right overtop later on down the road. Plus the 5mm was cheap and looked good ;-)

jdege (author)2012-01-01

I always replace the molding after I've finished the floor. I find it a lot easier to touch up the paint on the molding, than to apply the floor finish right up to the edge, cleanly.

jdfnola (author)jdege2012-01-02

You know now that I think about it and look back at the pictures that is the way we did it as well (you can see the shine from the polyurethane in some of the pics. I'll edit the steps to reflect. Thanks for t the comment.

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