This project was truest sense of DIY. All the way from cutting plywood into wide plank boards, to sanding, staining, finishing and installing the plywood planks down… all of it DIY.
All things considered, the entire project, from start to finish didn’t take that long.
From cutting the planks out of plywood, to finally installing the floors in both the dining room and kitchen – took about a week.
If you’re willing to put in the time and sweat, it is absolutely worth it!
The floors look gorgeous (the pictures don’t do it justice) and you really would not know that they are a stained plywood floor.
Read on to see what it took to make and install our rustic wide plank plywood floors and how you can install your own unique plywood flooring.
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Why We Chose Wide Plank Plywood Flooring
Some of the flooring in our Poconos vacation rental needed replacing. Namely, the floating hardwood floor in the dining room and kitchen and the carpet in the living room.
Our goal was to have new floors that look old, warm and worn – like they had always been there. Basically, the more it looked like farmhouse flooring or barn wood the better it was for us.
We looked into tile, stone and hardwood floors. The problem with all 3 of those flooring solutions was the requirement to have a level sub-floor, ours was uneven… like really uneven.
Since the entire house is made of rough-cut oak, the flooring is not even close to being level.
That makes tile, stone and even hardwood flooring very difficult to install. The extra difficulty also translates to very expensive installation costs.
It was time to get creative, DIY floors were in our future. To get more flooring ideas we turned to Pinterest. After a lot of scrolling, we came across rustic farmhouse wide plank plywood flooring!
On Pinterest there were a gazillion (well maybe not quite that many) plywood flooring ideas, but the one that was the best fit for us was the wide plank flooring.
The pictures of the wide plank plywood flooring projects others had posted were incredible – this was it! This was the perfect flooring for uneven floors.
We were sold on the idea.
If you are looking for a great house to rent in the Poconos, Feels Like Heaven may be the perfect fit for you!
When In Doubt – Wabi-Sabi
There’s a concept I came across on Pinterest which was instrumental in my choice of plywood over other flooring types.
It’s called wabi-sabi.
It’s a Japanese tradition that is the art of making broken things better than brand new.
The idea is to hi-light the imperfections – make them perfectly imperfect.
With this new perspective, I was looking for imperfections to show off – instead of avoiding them.
If (or when) the floors get a new scuff mark or scratch, it will add to the floor’s character. It’s a very freeing concept that I am really glad I came across.
Click on the picture to see the Pinterest pin that inspired me, I hope it does the same for you.
Why Use Plywood Flooring
Most people decide to install plywood plank flooring for the cost savings.
It’s much cheaper to install a plywood floor than traditional hardwood or even a laminate, heck it’s even cheaper than doing vinyl.
For our plywood farmhouse floors, the cost wasn’t much of a factor in our decision-making process.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s always nice to save some dough… it was just lower on our list.
Higher on our list was flooring that was sturdy, looked like it has always been there, fit with the style of the house and would be easy to install on an uneven floor.
Between the option of making wider planks and the spacing between each one – wide plank plywood flooring was a perfect fit for this house.
The spacing between each board makes it more forgiving in scenarios like ours where the floor isn’t level.
On top of that, the Japanese concept I came across helped me realize that any blemishes the floor will gain as it ages will only add to the floor’s beauty.
So it didn’t need to be as sturdy as hardwood, we’ll just embrace the imperfections that come along with it! 🙂
The Down-side to Plywood Flooring
The only negative I saw with plywood was the durability. It’s not a hardwood so it would scratch easier than an oak flooring would.
Now with my new wabi sabi perspective, I’m actually looking forward to the scratches and dents.
The blemishes will only add to the floor’s beauty. If there’s a scratch that is really ugly, I can add something creative to give it beauty.
The Shopping List
Here’s a list of the tools we used on this project.
Affiliate links below may be to similar items when exact items couldn’t be found online.
These are the supplies used on this project.
Affiliate links below may be to similar items when exact items couldn’t be found online.
Varathane Cherrywood Gel Stain – we used about 7 quarts
Water Based Oil-Modified Poluyrathane – we used 2 gallons
3″ Natural Bristle brush – 6 brushes to apply the stain
4″ Polyester Synthetic Brush – 4 brushes to apply the poly
Masking Paper – We used the masking paper to protect the deck when applying the stain and poly
What Plywood Dimensions We Chose
The plywood we used is 1/2″ thick, mostly because the thinner plywood is more flexible. The flexibility allows the planks to bend and conform to our uneven sub-floor’s contours.
We wanted the farmhouse or country kind of look, so a wide plank is what we went with.
We also wanted to reduce the amount of wasted plywood, so the width we came up with was 5 7/8″ for each board. That gives us 8 planks per sheet and a tiny strip leftover at the end.
We’ve seen other plywood floors where they went for closer to 8 inch or even 12 inch boards. We didn’t want to make them that wide because we didn’t want it to be obvious that it was a plywood floor, and a wide board would have shown the dreaded plywood zebra pattern that I don’t care for (more on the plywood zebra pattern later).
Some Before Pics
Here are some before pics of the space with the original floor.
We loved the color of the original floors, but the flooring never really went with the style of the house. It was a 3/8″ floating floor and the wood strips were fairly thin. Because it was floating and a pretty thin floor, it always sounded a bit hollow when you walked on it.
A bigger problem was that the floor was buckling in some spots, probably because of the way it was installed.
That buckling was one of the reasons we felt the wide plank flooring made of plywood would be perfect for this space.
The wide plank flooring has spacing around each board, removing the possibility of the new floor buckling.
How Much Plywood Do You Need
For our space, I treated it like a big rectangle. The length was 287″ (rounded up to 24′) and the width was 140″ (rounded up to 12′).
24 x 12 is 288 sq feet.
Each sheet of plywood is 4′ x 8′ so that gives you 32 square feet per sheet.
When I divided the total sq feet (288) by the sq feet per sheet (32) it told me I needed 9 sheets of plywood.
Then I added an extra sheet as a buffer.
The Final Numbers
We bought 10 sheets of 1/2″ plywood for our project and once completed, we had about 1 sheet left over.
Prepping the Subfloor
Total Time: 2 people about 2 hours
The original floor was a 3/8″ hardwood floor that was installed with a lot of staples…. like a lot of staples.
At first, it felt like the staple removal was taking forever.
Once we got into a rhythm though it really only took a couple of hours for us to get just about all of them out.
Total Time: 1 person about an hour
The subfloor we had was unpainted plywood.
If we installed the wide plank plywood flooring without first painting the lighter colored subfloor, it would have shown through the spaces in between the planks.
To prevent that, we painted the subfloor a very dark brown color, using paint that we already had.
Any dark paint color would do the job – just stick to a paint that is an eggshell or satin.
You don’t want a shiny subfloor showing through the spaces between the boards.
Cutting The Plywood Into Planks
Total Time: With the right blade this would take less than 2 hours for 10 sheets
A lot of the Pinterest posts I came across said they had a person from Lowes or Home Depot cut the sheets for them.
It’s definitely an option. I’ve used their cutting services in the past when the cuts didn’t need to be very precise.
In this case, I wanted more precise cuts, so I opted to do it myself.
It takes A LOT longer but I thought having the consistently sized planks was worth the extra time.
That way, I was sure each piece was going to be about the same width.
To make cutting the pieces MUCH easier and to keep them the same width I made a jig.
A jig is fancy talk for a template. It really made a tedious and time-consuming task super easy.
It was basically a 1/2″ piece of scrap plywood I had with a scrap piece of 1 x 4 screwed to it.
The space between the saw blade and the piece of 1 x 4 was 5 7/8″, the thickness we wanted our plywood flooring planks to be.
To make the jig I put the blade of the saw all the way up, secured the saw to the plywood with screws all around the saw, wedging it in place.
Then I slowly lowered the saw into the plywood and measured 5 7/8″ from the inside of the plunge cut and that’s where I screwed in the 1 x 4.
Tip: If you’re cutting your own boards you need to make a jig. When making your jig, extend the 1 x 4 way in front and way behind the saw, like it is in the pictures.
That lets you line up the saw way before the blade comes in contact with the plywood. It also gives more stability, ending up with a straighter cut.
The Best Saw Blade To Use
We had 10 sheets of plywood to cut into planks. I figured that a plywood blade would be the best. I thought anything else would leave a really rough edge on the wood.
Well, I was very wrong.
Do Not Use A Plywood Blade – Use a Cross Cut Blade instead
The plywood blade didn’t last very long and took a lot of effort to go through the plywood. It started smoking and having a lot more difficulty cutting barely halfway into the second sheet of plywood.
I ended up having to go out and buy another blade. This time I tried a cross cut blade, OMG what a difference.
The cross cut blade went through the plywood like butter and left an even better cut than the plywood blade did. I was able to do the rest of the plywood using just that one cross cut blade.
Sanding Each Plank
Total Time: 2 people about a day and a half
This part took a while, but it’s important to put the time into it.
We sanded the face of the plywood to remove any splinters and the text that’s sometimes stamped on the plywood.
We also used the sander to round the edges all around the face of each plank.
The rounded edge gives it a really nice finished look and helps in cases like ours, where the floors aren’t very level.
Rounded edges give a soft transition between two planks when they don’t quite line up.
This is also where you choose which side of the plywood will be the face, the pretty side or the ugly side.
When we were choosing sides, I’d say we chose the ugly side 80% of the time.
It went against what I would normally do, but now I kinda wish I went with the ugly side more.
We used a belt sander to do most of the sanding. You could use a palm sander if you’re not doing too much flooring but in our case, the belt sander was much faster.
The sandpaper we used was 120 grit, it was perfect for the belt sander.
During this part of the project, you’ll have your doubts about using the gnarly part of the plywood.
BUT TRUST ME – once you put the stain on the wood you will be blown away at how good it looks.
In the end, the most beautiful planks were the ones with imperfections.
If a plank has a knot or crack in it, don’t put it to the side or use it in an area you can’t see.
Instead, make it more noticeable. Dig into the knot or crack with the sander to emphasis the crack or knot more. It’ll help remove splinters that are around the knot or crack and also add character.
Giving The Plywood Some “Character”
Total Time: We did this at the same time as sanding so it’s included in the day and a half spent sanding
There were three weapons of choice for applying the plywood’s character (a.k.a. distressing), a hammer, a big pair of pliers and a propane torch. Out of the three I used the pliers the most and the hammer the least.
Using pliers, I’d repeatedly hit the face of the plywood with the back corner of the pliers.
With the hammer, I used the side of the hammer, and the claw to make indentations in the plywood.
If you look at the floor right above the hammer in the picture you’ll see the indentations the back of the pliers left.
I also used a utility knife to open up any cracks in the wood, to make them more pronounced.
Put the knife at an angle and cut along the crack to widen the crack, similar to what is done to cracks in concrete when you want to fill a crack.
All the character building is important for your rustic plywood floors.
The where and tear you are creating makes it look authentic, the more the character the better.
Adding Even More Character – Burning The Plywood Boards
The propane torch was by far my favorite character builder – and it wasn’t because it spoke to my inner pyro…. well maybe a little because of my inner pyro lol.
Burning the plywood gives an instant amazing aged look.
This is another part of the process where I hesitated a lot.
But once you apply the stain the planks instantly transform into a beautifully aged floorboard!
Take a look at the before and after picture of the burned plywood plank.
When burning the wood it feels a little much, then you add the stain and it kind of blends the colors beautifully.
I would burn the plywood whenever the board looked a little boring.
Take a look at the arrows in the picture, each one of those dark marks is the work of the propane torch.
Tip: When burning the plywood, the lighter parts of the wood burn much easier than the darker parts.
Since I was avoiding that plywood zebra pattern, I didn’t burn the wood where there was a heavy pattern.
Burning that area would only emphasize the pattern – and I didn’t want that.
If the part of the wood was either only dark or only light then it was eligible for burning.
Here’s a video of how we burned the rustic wide plank plywood flooring.
The Stain We Chose
We tried a bunch of different stains on scrap pieces of plywood first, and this was by far our favorite!
We went with a gel stain instead of a regular stain because it does a really good job of covering up that plywood zebra pattern that we didn’t want.
It’s totally a personal preference, but I don’t like the pattern you get from regular stain on plywood floors.
Take a look at this picture I copied from Pinterest, for an example of what I’m talking about.
Regular stain is more liquid and gets absorbed by the plywood at different rates. Softer parts of the wood absorb the stain faster than the denser parts of the wood.
A workaround would also be to use a wood conditioner before applying regular stain.
Instead, we used the gel stain.
With the gel you can skip the wood conditioner. Plus, the gel stain added a nice wood grain pattern on the surface of the board, making it look less like plywood….BONUS!
The Gel Stain We Chose
The gel stain we used had a dark color and created a lighter stain on the wood. The result was a cherry colored wood with a dark grain pattern on top, exactly what we were looking for.
The thicker you applied the stain the darker the board would be.
Also, the longer you waited before brushing the excess stain off the darker the plank will be.
If a plank had a heavy zebra pattern on it, we put the stain on thick and waited a bit more before dry brushing it.
That did a pretty good job of minimizing the zebra pattern.
The brush we used for the stain was a cheap wide (about 4″) real bristle brush.
The stain has a strong polyurethane smell to it, so we did the staining out on the deck and also let the boards dry out there.
If you’re going to do the same, make sure to first check the weather forecast!
We used about 7 quarts of stain to do our project.
Applying The Stain
Total Time: 2 people about a day
We did one coat of stain using the dry brush technique. Applying the stain with the wet brush and using a dry brush to brush off the excess stain.
With every pass of the dry brush, we would wipe off the dry brush on a paper towel to remove the majority of the stain from it.
We chose the dry brush method because it leaves a nice dark wood pattern.
When applying the stain and dry brushing, you’ll be able to play with the texture it leaves. Put some wavy grain in there or brush around a knot in the wood to add uniqueness to each board.
Remember, the longer you leave the stain on and the longer you waited before using the dry brush, the darker the board will be.
We typically applied the stain and waited a couple of minutes before using the dry brush.
If the board had a lot of pattern on it then we applied a thicker coat and let it sit a little longer. The thicker coat and longer wait time did a better job of masking the zebra pattern.
Once the stain was applied we waited 24 hours before applying the polyurathane.
Applying The Finish
Total Time: 2 people about a day and a half
For the finish we used a clear satin, water based, oil-modified polyurethane.
This product is great because it doesn’t change the color of the stain, dries quickly and best of all – it’s oderless.
We went with a satin finish because we wanted an aged look and a glossy floor would be the opposite of that.
Three thin coats of poly were applied on all the boards, including the sides of the boards. Between each coat, we waited about 2 hours before applying then next coat and 24 hours after the last coat before installing them.
We didn’t sand between the first and second coats but did do a light hand sanding with 120 grit sandpaper before applying the final coat.
The brush we used for the poly was a cheap wide (about 6″) synthetic brush.
We used 2 gallons of polyurethane for our project.
Tip: With applying any polyurethane, bubbles are something you want to avoid.
That’s because the bubbles don’t pop and dry into poly… and that’s not a good look. lol
To prevent bubbles, mix the poly using a mixing stick and smooth circular motions.
No shaking the can here!
Update: When we originally did the dining room floor we did a light sanding before the final coat of poly.
Recently we did the living room floor and for that flooring, we skipped the sanding before the poly.
We figured not sanding would give the planks a bit more texture and save us a boatload of time.
It worked out really well! From now on, we won’t be sanding before the final poly coat.
It’s All About That Space
The spaces between each plank were perfect for the style we were looking for.
The spacing would give it more of that farmhouse feel and prevent the buckling that the previous floor suffered from.
A few of the posts on Pinterest mentioned using quarters as spacers, so that’s what we used.
Our wide plank plywood flooring has small variations in the spacing, mostly because of the uneven floors – but that’s ok – wabi sabi. 😉
Where To Start Laying The Planks
I used a tip I came across on one of the Pinterest posts, starting on the side of the room where the floor is the most visible.
For our space the most visible part of the floor was by the front door so that’s where we started.
When we reached the opposite end of the space we ended up with the last row of planks needing to be ripped in half.
Make Sure To Space Out The Seams
Each plank was 8 feet long and the room was a little over 12 feet wide, so there weren’t too many seams to work with.
The rule of thumb is to not have two consecutive rows with seems less than a foot apart from each other.
Cutting The Boards To Length
I used a miter saw to cut the boards to length. Pretty straight forward. One tip is to make sure the blade reaches full speed before you start cutting into the plywood. That’ll give you a clean, smooth cut.
Securing The Rustic Wide Plank Plywood Flooring In Place
Tip: If you end up buying the same nail gun I’d recommend also buying an extra battery. It already comes with one battery, buying the extra battery will help keep your project moving along.
One More Note
The plywood flooring we installed is 1/2″ thick and the previous flooring was 3/8″ thick.
The 1/8″ difference meant any spaces where the previous flooring used to fit – the new flooring no longer did.
That difference meant a lot of undercutting. Not only the door moldings but all the furring strips that cover the seams of the oak boards on the walls.
I could have done it with a dovetail saw, but since I had quite a few cuts to do, I bought an oscillating tool. It worked perfectly!
The tool comes with a bunch of different attachments. I haven’t used it for anything else yet but I can think of a few different uses for it in the future.
All Done – That’s It!
So, all told, it took roughly a week from complete start to complete finish. Including the old floor removal, subfloor painted, 10 sheets of plywood cut into strips, sanded, distressed, stained, polyied and installed.
This was a good sized project with a lot of effort put into it, but it was well worth it. We now have a completely unique floor that fits perfectly with the house, and looks fantastic!!
In the fall, we’re going to install the same rustic wide plank plywood flooring in the living room, and I’m really looking forward to it.
We’re also going to do a unique transition between the living room and dining room floors… can’t wait.
Here’s some more pics of the work in progress and the finished product.
Let me know what you think, is there something you would have done different?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!