DIY Plywood Plank Floors

February 27, 2014

One of the many things I love about blogging is connecting with people from all across the globe, and I really love hearing from those knee deep in their own renovations and reading about their innovative home improvement solutions. Last week, Courtney from New Zealand sent me pictures of her DIY plywood floors and I was so impressed with her resourceful approach I asked that she share the details of how she achieved this look on a budget so I could share it with you!

graywash plywood floors

 

First, here is a little background on the project from Courtney:

“I am a full-time mother of one (currently), wife, and homemaker.  My husband, son, and I live on a farmlet in the foothills of the Southern Alps near Christchurch in New Zealand, complete with animals and an ever-expanding potager garden.

In addition to living a semi-rural lifestyle, we are in the process of updating our home, a grand circa-1905 Edwardian villa. We’re no strangers to DIY; however, most of our projects here have been borne out of necessity because of the unique proportions (8-foot windows, arched windows, high ceilings, lack of closets, etc.) throughout. As we are starting family life and live in the country, an easy-living and "not-too-precious" attitude toward our furnishings sees me sewing curtains and blinds, painting secondhand furniture, and curating an eclectic collection of home goods compatible with dirt, little hands, and the occasional spill.

The "craft room" (as it’s known) inspiration came as a result of all of these things: we wanted a space for sewing, painting, and letting the littlies experiment without worry. I loved the driftwood look, and the vinyl equivalent in my area was around $140.00/square meter, or nearly $13 per square foot – definitely out of the budget. 

The beautiful plywood floors I saw on Pinterest and beyond convinced me this was the flooring solution for us, and after searching for a tutorial on how to DIY the driftwood look, I found none. So, I gave it a go with some paints I had on hand, and even surprised myself with how well it turned out!” 

gray painted plywood floors

 

Materials: C/D grade ½” pine plywood (we looked for sheets that had lots of knots, minor cracks and other “character” on the D side); 16-gauge 2” nails; 100-grit sandpaper and cork sanding block; 2:2:1 wash with white or off-white chalk paint, water, and light grey paint (optional); large paint brush; black oil-based enamel paint; turpentine; foam brush; flooring top coat (wax, polyurethane, etc.); face mask for dust and fumes; knee pads. 

Tools: 16-gauge finish nailer; table saw; circular saw; random orbital sander (with 240-grit pads); mitre saw for cutting planks to length/angle cuts (optional).

plywood plank flooring

 

Note: There are many tutorials about how to install a plywood plank floor; however, I
thought I’d include how we did it since it’s different than many I looked at online.

1. Make the planks: Start off by cutting a sheet of plywood in half width-wise. To do this, either set the sheet down on top of some 2×4’s or on saw horses. Measure a line down the middle of the sheet. Then, with a circular saw, cut the sheet in half. You now have two 4×4 foot squares. To cut your planks, set the blade height on the table saw to just above ½” and set the fence to 6½” (or your chosen plank width. With the 6½” setting, you can get fourteen 4-foot long planks per sheet). Starting with the factory cut edge along the rip fence, carefully feed the half-sheet through. Continue feeding the remaining half-sheet through until you are left with a small waste strip (save this to stir paint!).

2. Installation: After all the planks are cut to width, inspect each one on both sides and select the side that has the most character. Mark the other side with a pencil to make installation easier later. It is important to distribute those planks with character across the floor to balance the clear planks. Keep “unusable” ones like those with stamps or other defects to use when you need to cut a short piece at the walls. Prior to nailing down the planks, to make the plywood look more like solid wood, you will need to bevel-sand the top edges of each plank. You want to put a small 45-degree chamfer on the top edge on all four sides. This sounds complicated and time-consuming, and though it does takes a little extra time (about 15 seconds per plank), it makes a huge difference in the look and feel of the floor. To do it, use a cork sanding block and 100-grit sandpaper to swipe each edge a few times. Your planks are ready!

3. Prepare the subfloor: We installed this over a subfloor consisting of particle board over 1” tongue and groove. Since the planks are only ½” thick, they need to be nailed to, at minimum, a 3/4” plywood/strand board subfloor. If your subfloor is concrete, you can use a suitable adhesive compound. (Many tutorials recommend using an adhesive in addition to nails; we have not found this to be necessary).

To start, we stapled bitumen building paper (tar paper) over the entire subfloor. Once
the bitumen paper is down, measure up a reference line somewhere in the middle of
the room; it should be parallel to both opposing walls. Load your 16-gauge nail gun
with 2” nails. Take a plank and align it somewhere along the reference line. Now,
face-nail the plank to the subfloor. We put a nail in each corner plus five nails down
each long side (fourteen nails per plank) equidistant from each other.

You may need a few extra nails to hold down a stubborn plank. In terms of spacing, you can choose to install the planks tightly butted against each other (which is what we did) or insert a small spacer, such as a brad nail, metal shim, or even pennies, between the planks. Continue nailing planks along the long edges until you reach the end of the row.

For subsequent rows, stagger the planks by one-third the length (16 inches). It’s
best to not have more than two unfinished rows going at a time. Remember to save
all the offcuts, because they will likely be used to start or finish the upcoming rows.
When you install the last rows, you may have to measure and cut-to-fit each plank.
Use a table saw to rip planks down to width, and a hand or miter saw to cut planks to
length; bevel-sand newly-cut edges. Once the floor is completely nailed down, you can finish the edges with quarter-round trim or decorative floor skirting.

IMG_8468

4. Painting Preparation: Finish-sand the floor with a random orbital sander using 240-grit paper. Ensure the planks are as smooth as possible, especially where they meet up with each other.

plywood plank floor

5. Painting, Part One: Mix floor paint using two parts white or off-white chalk paint, two parts water, and one part light grey paint (optional) and paint it on the floor with a brush, stirring frequently.

Let it dry completely (usually an hour or two). The grain of the plywood will likely rise a bit and the floor may become rough again. Go over the floor with a cork sanding block and 100-grit sandpaper. This will smooth out the raised parts and simulate the grain of hardwood. If it distresses or wood shows through, that’s okay! The idea is to create some grooves for the black stain to settle into. (After doing this, I recommend going in the direction of the grain. I did not because I thought it might create some “wear” on the new planks. Though my husband thought parts looked like rough-sawn boards, I did not prefer the effect it created in most spots.) Experiment with using different amounts of pressure and don’t be surprised if this step goes quickly (it only took me 20 minutes). Thoroughly vacuum up any dust.

Painting Part Two:  Mix 1-2 teaspoons of black oil-based paint per cup of turpentine. It will be very watery. Use a foam brush to apply this in the direction of the grain, taking special care to apply in the knots/splits, nail holes, and in between the planks. Let this dry overnight.

applying the stain

Use sanding block and 100-grit sandpaper (with the grain) to lightly sand through the black wash until the desired colour is achieved. If desired, finish sand with a sanding block and 240-grit sandpaper with the grain; however, I preferred the slight wood grain effect I had by leaving it at 100-grit smoothness. Thoroughly vacuum up any dust. Apply three coats of your choice of top coat (polyurethane, floor wax, etc.) as
directed, and you’re done!

gray painted plywood plank floors

 

gray plywood floor

 

plywood plank close up

 graywash plank floor

 

Amazing job Courtney! It’s a lot of work but they saved so much and created their own beautiful flooring with an innovative approach and a driftwood graywash finish, bravo!

If you have any questions for Courtney, be sure to leave them in the comments and she can respond with more detail. Who’s tempted to try this clever approach to affordable plank flooring in your home?

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38 Responses to “DIY Plywood Plank Floors”

  1. They look amazing! What a huge project to take on but totally worth it!

  2. Heidi says:

    Absolutely gorgeous! My only concern is the softness of the pine. I don’t know how hard/soft pine plywood is, but regular old pine is pretty soft. Is that an area of concern that over time the floors will show wear and tear because of the softness of the material?

  3. Carole H says:

    I absolutely love the floor…We have been thinking about doing our living/rec room areas with the plywood flooring and probably going with a darker stain. Yours is gorgeous!

  4. Well, I’m never doing that, because I’m I’m too lazy. But, geez, it looks great. I wish I could convince someone to a) buy me house and b) fix everything up for the price of pizza.

  5. Jace says:

    Gorgeous!! Id love to know how much this floor ended up being per sqft!

  6. These are lovely! Thank you so much for sharing such a detailed guide on how to achieve the same look. I’ve got some ideas now :)

    What was your cost per square foot by going this route?

  7. This is amazing! Makes me wanna rip up some carpet and do it right now :)

  8. Kim says:

    This looks amazing! Great work!

  9. Beautiful! Courtney and hubby has to be extremely proud of themselves. A professional couldn’t have done a better job! I love it! And the color! Perfection.

    JaG

  10. Awesome. We’re looking to tear up laminate flooring and carpet to replace with better quality laminate. But, I think this may be something to consider. Thanks for the tutorial.

  11. Cindy says:

    Beautifully done! I love the look of graywash but prefer an alternative to graywash stain (which feels like cheating somehow). Watery oil-based black paint: genius. Totally borrowing this idea. Thanks!

  12. paula says:

    I’ve seen plywood floors on DIY websites before and they’re quite intriguing and pretty cost conscious from what I gather. My big worry would be dirt and debris falling into the larger and more irregular cracks unlike those of regular flooring. I pulled carpet out of my master when I bought the house and, even though it was clear the previous owner was tidy and clean, there was literally a pile of dirt on the subfloor beneath the carpet. Ick!

    Regardless, Miss Courtney did a wonderful job and her faux driftwood look turned out really well.

  13. These are fantastic. We’ve been looking for a way to upgrade our concrete floors and this may just do it. So glad you posted this. Thanks Ladies.

  14. wow. That floor looks amazing

    Love
    Ewelina
    xxxxxxxx
    chiclifestyleofewelina.blogspot.com

  15. Amanda says:

    We have plywood plank flooring in our kitchen that I would guess was installed 40 or 50 years ago. It does show scratches/dents and has been restained at least once (and needs to be again). I love the look, but there are gaps between each board that are a total pain and will absolutely never be clean. Hopefully the way this was installed will decrease the size of the gaps and won’t be difficult in terms of expansion. For our rustic kitchen, it works and shows quite a bit of character.

  16. Kathy says:

    This floor is gorgeous, and just what I am looking for to replace my kitchen floor. The color is perfect. I’m thinking I might try using stain instead of paint, but I’ll certainly do a trial plank first Im thinking that it might last longer with the stain sinking into the wood, seeing it will be a high traffic area. Don’t know, will see. Thanks for the great tutorial.

  17. Kim says:

    Wow! That is gorgeous. I was so intrigued with this and immediately went to show my husband. We are looking for a cost effective solution to a guest cabin we are going to build on our vacation property in Maine. I never knew there was different grades of plywood or that it could be used for flooring.

  18. Susan says:

    Absolutely stunning! She totally rocked this project out and the tutorial was great. I’m pinning it for sure just in case I find the room for it, thanks for sharing!

  19. Rachael says:

    My husband and I are exactly in the middle of a DIY plywood hardwood flooring project and I and thrilled to see you feature another project like ours! Courtney did an amazing job and I hope ours look as good as her does!

  20. Courtney says:

    Thank you all for your questions and lovely comments!
    In response…
    @Heidi: The pine is soft and will ding and dent. We expect this and think it adds to the look! You could go for maple, birch, or oak plywood if doing this in a high-traffic area.

    @Jace @Caitlin: Our room was on the small size; four 4×8 sheets covered it. Since we had all other materials on hand, it only cost us about $1.00/square foot!

    @Paula: We did not use spacers as many tutorials recommend for this very reason. Instead, we added the bevel for the tongue-and-groove look and butted them up as tightly as we could. That said, there are still slim cracks between some boards. Polyurethane filled most of these and a broom or vacuum seems to take care of the rest (as well as the knots and nail holes).

  21. Courtney says:

    @Amanda: I hope our floors last 40-50 years – wow! In a kitchen, you might consider filling the cracks, or, even better, using a heavy-duty, solvent-based top coat like those used in bathrooms or on bar tops. It’s a smelly job but would fill in any small crevices while protecting from food and water.

    @Kathy: The oil-based paint + turpentine is sort of a “poor man’s stain”, which will sink into the wood if you use a chalk paint (latex isn’t as porous). For a high-traffic area, your choice of top coat will be key also!

  22. The floor looks totally amazing. Genius! I’m literally totally floored!

  23. I am amazed by how beautiful they are! This is a MUST DO project for our beach shack renovation!!! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Looks amazing! I don’t think this is a project that the average DIYer could tackle though..it’s a lot of hard work!!!

  25. Merri Jo says:

    That is one of the most amazing DIY projects (& results) that I have ever seen! I showed my husband, and even he was in awe! I love the driftwood coloring, and the natural wear of pine floors will just increase the fabulous patina over time.

  26. ellie says:

    I love out it turned out…looks great. I”m really impressed with this DIY project, good job.

  27. kristin says:

    Absolutely stunning Courtney! I would love to see your home and surrounding land–it sounds wonderful. The job seems painstakingly detailed but hats off for doing it! I think you may need to start a blog so we can follow the life on your land, home projects, etc. Congrats!

  28. Margaret R says:

    Can the planks be finished prior to installation?

  29. Wow! I am so impressed!

  30. P.S. And YES to the suggestion above that you should start a blog about your life there on the farm in New Zealand. It would be so much fun to see what projects you’re doing and what the farm and house look like.

  31. Brenda says:

    Great Job! I was looking for a way to get a weathered wood look to apply to boards that will encase a metal file cabinet. Looks like this technique will work and I won’t have to purchase more expensive wood for the job.

  32. Rucha says:

    SO beautiful! I love that you didn’t use spacers – so much more practical. Beveling the edges was an awesome alternative.

  33. Auntiepatch says:

    Amazing! Just amazing!

  34. Courtney says:

    @Margaret R: I would advise against pre-finishing before installation just to be sure all the planks are level and smooth. Applying the finish once it’s laid will also go a lot faster. If you’re doing a large area and would like to save time, renting a floor sander would be your best option as that is the most time-consuming part of this project.

  35. Marianne says:

    Is it 6 parts black and one part turpentine?

  36. Lindy says:

    I LOVE THIS!! My hubs and I are planning on doing a hardwood floor with plywood this spring and I really wanted the driftwood look. I am so excited to have a tutorial on this. Makes it so much easier. Thank you.

  37. Courtney says:

    @Marianne: Thank you for pointing out an error in the tutorial! After some experimenting, the ratio is more like 9 parts TURPENTINE to 1 part paint (not the other way around as originally stated). In other words, depending on how dark you want the floors, use 1-2 teaspoons of paint per one cup of turpentine. Sorry for any confusion!

  38. CentsationalGirl says:

    All fixed Courtney, I edited the text to reflect that correction, thank you!
    Kate

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