All you need to know on how to install a plywood floor – the perfect solution if you’re looking for an inexpensive wood plank floor option that can be DIY’d in a weekend.
Originally posted October 2017 • Updated June 2023
We are so excited to share with you today all the fun details of how to install plywood flooring.
I know, I know. PLYWOOD? On Floors?
I was unsure too. But then I ran across this post on plywood flooring and I immediately was hooked.
Also, I wish I had a video of Brett’s face after I told him I wanted to lay down plywood for floors – he was not impressed and pretty skeptical. I showed him a few pictures of what it could look like and finally won him over – we were ready to dive in!
Plywood plank floor supplies
[affiliate links used for your convenience.]
- 3/4″ Plywood cut into 8″ strips
- Finish nailer
- Stain (we used special walnut and driftwood)
- Floor varnish
- Paint tray
- Wood putty (stainable!)
- Putty knife
- Orbital sander
- 80 grit sand paper
- 120 grit sand paper
- Cotton cloth
First, story time
In all the tutorials that I read, people mentioned going to Home Depot or Lowe’s and having the nice workers cut the plywood for you right then and there. The weekend before Brett left for Wyoming, he agreed to make the trip with me and help pick out the right wood.
On a Saturday morning, we headed to Home Depot and wandered up and down the aisles until we found what we wanted. After loading six pieces onto the cart and slowly maneuvering it around the aisles, we finally made it over to the cutting machine and asked the worker (Worker One) if he could cut it into eight-inch pieces for us.
He seemed a little frazzled which should have been our first clue that this may not go as well as planned. Then he started talking about how all these other people were coming in to do the same thing and he was told to not make these kinds of cuts anymore, but he’d do it for us today if we really needed it.
Prior to stopping at Home Depot, we picked up a four-wheeler from Brett’s friend for his trip to Wyoming and that was currently taking up a majority of space in the tailgate…Needless to say we needed the plywood cut in order to fit it all in the truck.
So Worker One starts up the machine and he slides the first piece in. It comes out okay and he proceeds to cut the rest of the strips. Except on the last one, the top of the piece is about four inches wider than the bottom. We measure the other pieces and sure enough, they’re not straight.
Oh, boy. This is going to be fun.
Worker One, clearly distraught and confused as to why this happened, calls over someone else (Worker Two) and they try the next sheet of plywood. Everything seems to be working okay and the pieces are even enough.
Worker One says he can handle the rest by himself and tells Worker Two to leave. He then grabs the third sheet of plywood and slides it through. It looks even, but we don’t measure it. He finishes up the sheet and what do you know? The top of the piece is about five inches wider than the bottom of the piece.
He looks at us with sorry eyes and says something along the lines of, “You’re on your own. I’m sorry, I can’t figure this out.”
Slightly frustrated and not sure how we were going to fit everything in the tailgate, we quickly grab the rest of our supplies and head out the door.
Fortunately, we were able to slide three pieces on either side of the four-wheeler and had a few extra straps to hold them in securely.
We ended up cutting the strips at home but (unfortunately) figured out during the installation that we didn’t have the lines perfectly straight. If you’re stuck in the same boat, we learned it’s best to sort the pieces out by size and the ones that are a similar width should be installed in the same row.
Tutorial – How to install plywood floor
Now for the actual tutorial on how to install plywood flooring…
Once that entire debacle was done and we had eight-inch strips of plywood, it was time to install.
Mark the studs + nail down the plywood pieces
Similar to what we did when we installed the barn wood wall in the entryway, we marked out the studs with a pencil and used that as a guide for where to nail.
Starting from one side, we laid out the plywood in random sizes, making sure the vertical lines didn’t match up in each row.
Because the plywood pieces weren’t exactly straight, there were some areas that had gaps between the rows.
Fill in the gaps with wood putty
After all the wood was down, I went back and filled in the bigger gaps with wood putty. I think this might be a personal preference but I left some smaller gaps alone because I liked the imperfect look 🙂
Sand the plywood floors
Once the putty was dry, it was time to get messy. I closed off the room with some plastic and went to town with the orbital sander.
The first pass through was with the 80 grit and the second time around I used the 120 grit paper. Depending on the level of smoothness you’re going for, you could probably do a third round with 220 but I opted for a more rough surface.
Staining the plywood floors
After wiping down all the surfaces in the room, including the walls, it was time to stain.
I had absolutely NO idea what color to use so I bought three – weathered oak, driftwood, and special walnut – and tested them out on scrap pieces.
The winner? Special Walnut and Driftwood (bottom right in the picture above).
To apply the stain, I used a roller to spread it out and a cotton cloth to wipe away the excess. The whole process took maybe 45 minutes? It was definitely the easiest part thus far.
Varnish the plywood floors
I waited overnight for the stain to dry and began the varnish marathon early the next morning. They recommend that you put on at least four coats, but you have to wait two hours in between each one. So it’s not that varnishing is hard to do, it’s just time-consuming.
I used a roller to apply the varnish and started in the corner farthest from the door so I wouldn’t box myself into the wrong spot.
I applied five coats and used up about 3/4 of the gallon. I probably could have done a few more because… Moxie and Gunner. We’ve had the floors finished for a week and there are already a few doggy nail marks on the floor. But don’t worry, they have successfully thwarted off two menacing squirrels and a shady looking bunny rabbit so all is well. 😉
And there you have it, plywood plank floors.
Let’s talk plywood floor FAQs
How much did the plywood floors cost?
I’ll start be sharing that we had all the power tools already on hand. So, I’m not going to include that in the overall cost.
Also worth noting, we originally did this project in 2017 and that’s what the cost reflects – it’s now 2023 and wood prices have dramatically changed.
For the wood, stain and polyurethane, the total cost was roughly $150 – $175. We purchased 8 sheets of 3/4″ plywood, 1 gallon of polyurethane and 2 quarts of stain (mixed two colors together).
How much time and effort did it take to install?
In terms of time, we spent 1/2 day laying the floor (it was a tag-team effort) and then I spent the remainder of the day covering the holes with putty, sanding, cleaning and staining.
The polyurethane took another full day but only because you have to wait a few hours between each coat.
Compared to other projects we’ve tackled, this one was a 4-5 on the complexity and labor/effort scale – it really wasn’t too labor intensive or challenging.
Why did we choose plywood flooring in the first place?
The decision to select plywood floors for the bedroom and office was 100% a financial decision. I wanted flooring down but didn’t want to spend a lot of money. We knew it was going to be a temporary solution until we were ready for flooring for everywhere (living room, hallways, bedrooms, office, etc.) And because patience is not my M.O., these seemed like a fun way to get the best of both worlds – wood floors without the expensive price tag.
What type of plywood did we use and how wide are the planks?
We went with a pine plywood. The decision on this, again, was due to cost. We wanted something a little cheaper. That being said, pine is a softer wood so if you’re going to go this route, make sure you seal them extra-well to help guard against scratches, gouges, etc.
We had them cut to 8-inch pieces but I’ve also seen folks do 6″ or even wider, 10″. I think it’s a personal preference 🙂
How well did they hold up and would we do it again?
Let’s first give some context – we installed the plywood flooring in the guest bedroom in October 2017 and in the office in June 2018. As I mentioned above, we knew it was a temporary fix – it lasted almost three years. We swapped over to carpet in the bedroom and ‘regular’ wood floors in March 2020.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with how well they held up. Especially with two rowdy black labs. I did have rugs down in both rooms, so there wasn’t as much direct contact as there could have been. But, there is a low window in the guest bedroom that the pups loved to sit in front of and watch for squirrels – so it saw plenty of doggy nail activity. Yes, there were gouges but it wasn’t anything that a little sanding and refinishing couldn’t fix.
I think it’s also worth noting that Brett wasn’t as big of a fan of them as I was. I’m not exactly sure why but I think it’s more to do with the fact that there was spacing between the wood and it did show scratches from the dog’s nails. I found it charming but he got irritated with it – so I guess it depends on your perspective 😛
All of that to say, yes, I would install them again. Especially if I need to put down some rustic and charming floor that’s temporary and/or doesn’t matter if it gets scratched/scuffed, I would definitely do plywood flooring again. Perhaps choosing a harder wood and/or doing a few more coats of polyurethane for protection.
So, there ya have it, friends. All the thoughts on plywood flooring. And of course, if you decide to go this route, let us know how it turns out!
All our best.