Plywood to Plank Flooring Tutorial

When we first purchased this home, we realized it needed a LOT of work.

Still the size, the price, and the location were all perfect. We knew this was the Lord at work, and we jumped in!

As the last couple of years have passed, we’ve slowly been working one project after another.

The floors, in particular, have been one of our favorite projects.

Aside from being quite affordable, our plywood to plank flooring results speak for themselves!

So, now that we’ve completed our third floor, we decided it was time to share our experience and our results with those of you who might want to try this project for yourselves!

I know this might look intimidating, but if you take one step at a time, it’s really very easy and the next floor you complete will be a breeze!

These are the materials you will need:

  • 1/2″ plywood
  • table saw
  • nails
  • liquid nails (buy the “caulk” tubes and use a caulk gun!)
  • belt sander (believe it or not, we did this with a Black & Decker Dragster
    – that thing is a power horse!– with coarse sanding belts- we used about 5 for this bedroom)
  • stain (we always use Minwax…and no, I’m not getting paid to mention brands. We have just found these products are our favorite and provide the most consistent results. Our color is Provincial.
  • brush (we used a wide, standard paint brush for staining)
  • shop rags…or old washcloths, or old baby diapers, or whatever you have to wipe excess stain from the floor
  • a fan (helpful, but not absolutely necessary)
  • palm sander (with lots of fine-grit sand paper)
  • polyurethane (we use the gloss, silver can, Minwax— I was surprised to see this product is almost $10/gallon cheaper at Walmart than our local hardware store!)
  • sponge brushes (save yourself some money by spending a little more in the beginning to buy the sponge brushes with plastic handles)
  • quart-size ziplocks
  • dust mask
  • rubber gloves
  • putty knife
  • STAINABLE wood putty
  • nail sets
  • mop

The Process:

Start by cutting all your plywood into planks. (Well, start with removing all the carpet!)

This took my husband and 16 year old son a couple of hours. We had the littles taking planks inside to the living room. It’s best to let the planks “rest” in the house to acclimate to the temperatures/humidity level for a couple of days before you begin to install them.

We would normally begin a room in the middle, but we wanted a “seamless” entry to this bedroom from the hall we installed over the summer.

Jacob, measured each board and cut them to length. (It’s important to vary where they begin and end so you don’t end up with an obvious pattern on the floor.)

Run a bead of liquid nails down the back of each board and then nail in place. We found we needed nails on each side beginning about an inch from the end and about 10″ apart. If you see you have creaking in the floor, you can always come back and add more nails.

(We are finding that we have barely any creaking or shifting of our floor…even after months, especially compared to the two rooms of old tongue-and-groove flooring we have in two of our rooms.)

We tried to make the nails as uniformly placed, as possible. You may not care… honestly, because we chose dark stain, you would have to be on your hands and knees, looking, to find a nail. It’s one of those things that if we had not taken the time to do, would have driven me crazy in the coming years. OCD? Quite possibly.

Lay the boards, as you go across the floor, in complete rows. (One of our earlier lessons was jumping around the room thinking we could come back and fit boards into the gaps…that DID NOT work. It’s best (and a lot less work!), to lay the boards as you go across in complete rows.

Jacob worked the first day on completing the closets and then came back to start the main room. This seemed to work great. Obviously, as you reach the edges, each board will need to be measured and cut to the necessary length. The middle of the room actually progresses really quickly. I think it took them a couple of days (a few hours each day…one with just Jacob, and one with Jacob and Joshua working), to install the entire floor.

Once the floor is completely down, you will want to walk it and make sure it is secure, with no loose boards.

Go back over each board and set the nails just below the surface of the wood. (If you skip this step, you may risk catching sandpaper on nails or, chances are, over time the nails will work their way above the surface of the floor which will NOT feel very good on a bare foot!)

This doesn’t take very long, and is really worth it, in the end.

Now look at the floor for any unusually large gaps between boards. Fill these holes with putty and smooth off the surface, as much as possible.

*Do be sure to buy STAINABLE putty. We did not on one of our first floors…that made for a really exhausting morning (thank you, Courtney, for removing all of this for me!), as all of that putty had to be replaced with stainable putty so it wouldn’t show though the stain. 🙁 Also, the cheaper, Elmer’s putty works just fine…you don’t need anything fancy and the fumes from some of the other products are not pleasant. Stick with Elmer’s!

If you are happy with the floor installation, you can begin sanding. To me, this is the messiest part of the job.

With your coarse belt on the sander, the entire floor must be sanded, all in one direction, until it is smooth and soft.

There will be a LOT of sawdust. We swept most of it up and added it to the garden compost. It did make a mess, but it’s really important for a good, final result.

(I was ready for a shower after I finished this job on the first floor!)

Look at your floor….some of the tutorials we read told us to set dimes between the boards so they would look more like hardwood boards– we found this left a gap that was far too wide. In fact, we decided to putty between some of our boards to eliminate the problem of dirt and debris falling between the cracks.

Trust me, there is still plenty of gap for the floor to still look just like a hardwood floor.

(This is a pic of the floor after the stain has been applied….notice the spacing between boards.)

Take your time, run your hands and feet over the floor when you think you are done to make sure there is nothing that will splinter or feel uneven under your feet.

Also pay attention to markings on the plywood…these will need to be sanded off completely.

The putty will take 24 hours to dry for staining.

Once finished sanding, sweep your floor, VERY WELL. Then, vacuum your floor, VERY WELL. Then, mop the floor with a slightly damp mop to clean up any remaining dust.

When you are sure your floor is completely dry, you can begin to apply color.

We only applied one coat of stain, but if you wanted a darker, deeper shade, you could return and apply a second coat. Just be sure to wipe the floor down really well and allow the stain to dry completely before you begin the poly process.

The stain should be started in one corner with a regular bristled paint brush. We used a rather large brush just to make the process faster. We painted on the stain one reachable section at a time (reachable meaning the area you can reach comfortably while you are on your hands and knees). After you have painted that section, wipe back over it with a dry shop cloth to remove excess stain. Continue to the next area.

You want to finish the stain from start to finish while the stain is wet…keeping a “wet edge” as you work.

This particular part of the job took me about half an hour.

It was exciting to see the color on the floor! This is the part where I always begin feeling positive about the progress we’re making!

Eight hours after the stain is down, you can start the polyurethane.

Our bedroom floor took three gallon cans to complete. Apply in fairly thin coats, again beginning in one corner and working your way across the floor.

Between each coat, you need to lightly sand with fine grit sand paper (with the grain of the wood), sweep, and damp mop.

(This is the floor after just a few coats of poly. At this stage, you can really see the shine beginning to build!)

(This is the floor after a few more coats of poly.)

A quick note, just to save a little more money, we re-used our sponge brushes by sealing them in a ziplock bag between coats. We found during the first flooring project when we used the wooden- handled (cheapest) brushes the sponge end fell off of the handle within a few coats. Using the plastic handled brushes meant we didn’t have to keep replacing our brushes!

Once dry, you can apply another coat of poly. The dry time was usually right around 4 hours (again depending on the humidity!), between coats.

In all, we applied 1 coat of stain and 9 coats of polyurethane. I know this sounds like a lot, but in the end, it produces a floor that will be durable and last for years.

You can see your reflection in our floor (it is in terrible need of a mop!) 🙂

Polyurethane takes 7 days to cure. Though the floor will be able to be walked on between coats, it’s best not to replace furniture for several days.

This whole project took a week and a half.

We did stain and poly the existing wood flooring in our living room to match:

Now to finish the paint and trim!

Because we obviously need the space, during these projects, I’ve been known to set the timer so that we’re coating the floor at 6, 10, 2, 6, and 10– obviously, this shortens the project time, but life does take over and we missed a few of these times which stretched our work time.

Also, the weather greatly changes dry times for poly. Having a fan blowing on the floor helps, but on one particular day, the humidity was 62% and it took a few additional hours for the floor to be completely dry and not “tacky” when touched.

My family is always excited to try something new, but we are in no way “home experts”….just folks learning, as we go along. This is however, one project, that we’re completely thrilled over! It has turned out perfectly and worn with no issues at all!

(*I probably do enjoy the floor a little too much! As much as I enjoy watching the children “skating” (sliding), down the hall in their socks, it is almost too much to watch the cats chasing something and try to stop at the end of the hall. It took them more than a couple of days to realize that they would have to be a little more careful when they are running across these floors!*)

We’re planning on tackling the library next. Until then, learning to drywall the pantry ceiling (in my opinion, much less fun than flooring!), is taking our time.

We may need prayer for this project. I think we’re all ready for it to be done, but it is looking like it might just work. We’ll have to see!

If you decided to try this project, I would LOVE to see your results. Send me your pictures!

With love,

Tracy

FLOORING UPDATE:

Probably one of the most frequent emails I receive is in regards to our flooring.

Folks want to know if we still like them and if we would do anything differently.

Of all the projects we’ve done to this house, it’s still one of my favorites!  In fact, when we re-work our family room, we’re going to plank it and Paul’s office. I also have plans for my own bedroom (but that one will be many years down the road!).

Yes! We still love our wood floors. The only problem I’ve seen is we had water pool in one area (thank you, Lambert toddlers!) on one of the floors.  The floor did bubble.  We allowed it to dry and nailed it back in place. That was all it took to repair.

Now, three years have passed since we installed our newest floor.  It still looks great.

The one thing I would change is I would certainly go back to the MinWax Poly.  I am apparently a MinWax girl. We tried a “contractor” something or another on our floor to finish them last time and it has not stayed shiny like the other floors.

Another little tip..make sure you cut the wood with the grain, instead of against (unless you purposely want the floor to look striped).

I thought I might be able to live with this pattern when we first realized what we had done. I know now it is going to drive me crazy so we have plans to change it when this room gets dry wall.

I hope this tutorial is helpful! It has turned out to be wildly popular on Pinterest (howdy to you folks!!). I have a constant stream of visitors from that link and have been asked about it again and again.

If you have questions, please do feel free to ask. I try and answer quickly knowing at least some of you are probably in the middle of your project.

I would also love to see your pics! This was a fun project for me. I would love to see how your rooms turn out.


33 thoughts on “Plywood to Plank Flooring Tutorial

  1. I have been wanting to redo all the floors in our house for a few years now, but money is always an issue. I’m very handy, but just supplies would run us around 8k due to the fact that it’s an open concept and all the floors connect. I will definitely be checking into what this would cost! Please let me know how it continues to wear with all those people/children and pets! God bless u all!

    1. So far, so good! We love our floors.

      I have a ton of projects lined up at the moment, but I keep keep thinking it would be so nice to rid our home of the last remaining carpet (my bedroom). It’s a weird pink color. It probably looked great in 1984. Not so much now. 🙂

  2. How many tubes of liquid nails did it take for you to complete your floor and how big is that room? We are getting ready to replace our floor in the dining room and living room. I am trying to get the total cost for our project. Everything except for the glue is easy to figure. I understand that it will depend on how much we put on each board. I just want a starting number. Thank you.

    1. I really don’t know. We bought a contractor box of liquid nails. I will try and count next time we work on a room.

  3. I was wondering how you nailed the floor downWe have cement floors. was there a subfloor? can you do this project on a cement floor? thanks

    1. We used a nail gun for one floor and just plain nails and hammer for another. I had thought about installing this flooring downstairs where we have cement, but after reading about moisture issues, I decided it would be best to not. If you try it, I would love to hear how it works for you!

  4. I have a few areas that the 2ndvc I at of stain is sticky to my touch. . Any ideas of how to fix the problem. . Your floors look great and thanks for sharing. ..

    1. If I understand your question, you are saying parts of your floor are sticky? I do remember our stain not feeling completely dry in some places. I don’t remember it being terribly sticky? Were you careful to wipe away any excess stain as you were applying it to the floor?? If you applied too much, stain can pool and become sticky. You
      would need to sand it away. Some of my stain just never felt dry. We actually left it a few days and it still never dried. I ended up lightly sanding it and applying my poly. It all dried. The poly hardened and had no issues!

      Thank you for your kind words! This remains one of my favorite projects in our home!

  5. We have just pulled up carpet and want to stain our plywood subfloor. We need it to be water proof. Stain then poly? Or stain and seal plus (oil or water based) poly? Thank you for any advice!

  6. Hi Tracy. Thank you for posting all your details. I’m getting my plywood floors started in a few days. For my 12×20 family room, I bought 3/4 inch maple plywood (9 sheets) with the cutting fee at Home Depot, cost me $400. Plus the guys at Home Depot had very strong misgivings about my project. I did show them several pictures of plywood floors from Pinterest. They were intrigued but still not convinced. They had never heard of such a thing. 🙂
    Here’s my question…how long has it been now since you finished your project and how is it holding up?

    1. You know, I think I did my first floor about 4 years ago. It is still PERFECT. In fact, so much so that I am really wishing I had planked my big dining room instead of using tile. We LOVE our floors. I only have one floor in my home left (until we finish out our attic). I don’t blame you for being apprehensive. Any type of flooring is expensive and not something you can change out easily. Let me know how your project turns out! I’m excited for you! We get compliments EVERY time someone new visits our home. They can’t believe our floors are made from plywood.

  7. Hi! Loved your story. The floors look fabulous. I have a question — my husband and I just bought a house to flip. He is a contractor and we are doing almost all the work ourselves. We have a hallway that divides the three bedrooms from the living room and dining room. There is construction that we will be doing in dining / living but it won’t be for 8 months or so– we will be replacing wood in the floor where we rip out the wall. SO my question is, do you think it would be okay to sand and stain the three bedrooms and the hallway and then try to stop the stain under the door in the hallway since we can’t redo the rest of the house for so long?
    Thanks so much!!

    1. Hi Ellen! Thank you for the sweet comment! They were worth the work and we STILL love our floors. I do think it would be fine to go ahead and finish your floors but I do think you might need to apply a coat or two of poly over the existing floors when you are finished with the new ones. Over time, the poly does dull some. If you don’t re-apply, your floor sheen won’t match. Does that make sense? Of course, if you aren’t living in the house, it may just be that you could tarp the finished floors and then they wouldn’t have that additional wear. Does that answer your question?

  8. Yes that helps! but I was also wondering if there would be a line where we stopped and started stain. My husband wanted to get them professionally done and we actually sanded and stained the three bedrooms and hallway already, but we used three sanders and they got messed up–the edges are more sanded than the remainder of the floor and so the stain is a lot darker and messy around edges. We made a quick choice one weekend and it ended up costing us! We basically did everything by the book except we did not get the heavy-duty sander. We really wish we would have. I am all about DIY and I’m trying to convince my husband that we can try try again:) he thinks we should stop and wait 8 months to do all of them together. (And at that time, do them professionally)

    So–to clarify, I am wondering if it would be OK to stop the stain at the doorway. I did not know if there would be a dark line when we continued to stain months down the road. Thank you so much for your awesome timely reply

    1. LOL. I am TOTALLY a DIY girl. Will you be laying new boards where the stain stops? I actually have rooms that butt up to each other. You can’t tell that they were done at different times BUT I was VERY careful to keep a very neat, even edge. The edge of the stain just looks like the groove between the boards. I actually did stop the stain on the edge of one board, never in the middle of a board.

  9. We won’t be layering new boards where the stain stops (that’s further down in the room). How did you make sure the stain didn’t run past your line? A flooring guy told my husband that there would be an extremely obvious dark line so now he is convinced that will be the case ! Just trying to avoid this!

    1. I was very conservative with my stain and what did run, ran straight down into the groove. —I realize this isn’t the way it is supposed to be done and it may not work for you. I break all the rules as a general rule :D..I’m the girl who turned plywood into the hardwood floors I wanted but couldn’t afford. I can’t tell you how long it took me to convince my husband it would work and the guys at the hardware store thought I had lost my mind. 🙂 I’m going to try to add updated photos to this post in the next couple of days.

    1. Ok. Brace yourself. We actually started with a little palm sander. We ended up with a Black and Decker Lil’ Dragster. I’m a girl on a budget so I was using what I had. 🙂 I started with coarse grit sandpaper and then just worked my way to fine grit. That floor was as smooth as butter! I keep thinking I’m going to invest in a bigger sander or maybe rent one but honestly, this works. It does take longer, but it works and allows me to be close enough to the floor to ensure I’m sanding it properly.

  10. What type of poly do u suggest? We are just starting to get the product’s for our flooring, and I thought maybe minwax polyurethane for floors is what I would go with. But wasn’t sure if that would be my best bet. And how many coats do you need to put on?

    1. Victoria,
      Yes! I ONLY use Minwax Poly for our floors now. We’ve tried another floor with a different product that said “made for contractors”. Within a year our floors were flaking. I’ve learned my lesson. I ended up doing nine coats with a light sanding between each coat.
      Thank you for writing to ask. Would you mind leaving me a comment to let me know you saw the response? I get questions all the time and I try to answer each one (we are excited- even after many years, with our floor and I’m happy to share what we’ve learned), but I never get a response so I always wonder if the person saw the response. Thank you and I hope your floors turn out beautifully!!

  11. Just found your blog post via Pinterest!
    My husband and I just purchased a huge home that hasn’t been renovated since the early 70’s (hello wallpaper and shag carpet!). We’re looking to renovate on a budget and this post was an enormous help, I’ll be saving it for sure!

    1. Awww, Whitney! Congratulations on your new home. I hope your renovations go well. Please stop by and leave me a photo- I would love to see how your home improvements come along.

    2. Please visit again and let me know your renovations come out! I love to follow house updates. It’s amazing what folks can do when they roll up their sleeves and get to work.

  12. What type o f plywood a d what thickness I’d you use? Approximately what was th e cost per sheet?
    Thanks!

    1. I have only done this on one concrete floor in my home and it was a very small area. We did glue and then used a .22 hammer shot to set the boards. (We did have to use wood putty to fill those holes.) I was warned by a brick mason that it might cause issues with mold and such (we’ve not seen that since we put the floor down a few years back). There are underlayment options for laying board on concrete, if you want to look into those. I would definitely check on construction adhesive to glue them.

      That is all at your own risk, lol. I look at my house as a big learning project. I make lots of mistakes. I learn what to do and what NOT to do sometimes. 🙂 I re-do a whole lot around here!!

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