When we moved into our new house, I was most excited about the master bedroom. It. Is. HUGE. Huge to us, anyways. You have to understand that we were coming from a teensy, cramped little space that had half ceilings and was barely big enough to fit our bed. The closet was the size of a gym locker, and cramming in two adults plus three dogs was pushing it. I can make do in pretty much any living situation (EXCEPT CAMPING MY GOD WHY), but I am not going to pretend that this bedroom upgrade wasn’t the bomb diggity, because it totally was and I am smug AF about it.
There was only one thing that could bring me down from my high, and that was the fact that it was wall-to-wall carpeting in there.
Definitely not trying to hate on people who have carpet: it is quite nice under the feet, it is sound blocking, and so on and so forth. But when you have three (heavily shedding) dogs, it gets gross really fast. I’m not saying my dogs are filthy monsters — but they are dogs (and also filthy monsters). That ‘doggy smell’ clings to the carpet like I cling to the TV remote. Plus, aesthetically, it’s not my fave.
Putting down laminate wasn’t really an option, mostly because the dogs hate it (they scramble around on it like little Bambis on ice) and partly because I too am not a huge fan. So what’s a girl to do? Hardwood? I toyed with the idea, and then realized it would cost upwards of $2,000 to do just the bedroom and laughed and laughed until I was sobbing on my (carpeted) floor.
After a ton of research online, I decided to try plywood plank flooring, which is an economical solution that looks pretty nice, too. I’ve seen it done a lot of different ways and in many different finishes, and figured it would be worth a shot. Coming in at under $1 per sq/ft, it was a crazy cheap solution that had the potential to look awesome.
One of the biggest draws for me was that these floors tend to look better the more they are lived in and ‘worn’, which is huge for us. When you’re not spending a ton of cheddah (yeah I said ‘cheddah’) on new flooring, you are obviously less likely to worry about them being ruined by doggy nails.
3/8″ plywood sheets: I got 10 sheets of the lowest quality grade (more on that later)
Brad nailer, 2 inch brad nails (a 2,000 pack was more than enough), and air compressor
Random orbit sander and 100-120 grit sanding pads
Compact circular saw (if you are ripping your own sheets of plywood)
Measuring tape, hammer, carpenter’s pencil
Stain (optional: I used 2.5 quarts of Minwax Pickled Oak)
Staining pad (I used the 7″ Shur-Line pad applicator for staining and applying the clear coat and it worked amazingly well!)
Floor finish (I used Minwax Ultimate Floor Finish)
Knee pads (optional but HIGHLY recommended)
A lot of the tutorials I read were from bloggers based in the states, who were able to have Home Depot/Lowes/etc rip their plywood into planks for them. I don’t think that is an option here in Canada; there is a sign next to the big saw at Home Depot that says quite clearly “No precision cuts!”, so I was scared to ask, but who knows? Maybe they would if they weren’t crazy busy. If you have the option, I would definitely have the boards cut for you, as it will result in straighter planks, and a lot less work. Since this wasn’t in the cards for me, I used my compact circular saw to rip each sheet into six 8″ planks. Once I had the first plank cut, I used the straight edge from that one as my guide (clamping it down on the board I was ripping) and it worked really well for the most part. It took me about 3.5 hours to do all 10 sheets of plywood, and though not perfect, the lines were pretty straight.
After the sheets were all ripped and stacked, it was time to begin the arduous task of sanding. I mentioned that I chose the lowest grade plywood I could, and this was strictly due to cost. When I do the smaller guest rooms and upstairs hallway, I might splurge on a higher grade plywood to eliminate some of the sanding, because it was a lot. It took me about 10-15 minutes per board to get them as smooth as I wanted. For me, the goal was to install plywood floors that look nothing like plywood floors. I don’t want people to say “Oh, you made that plywood look really nice.” I want them to say “Holy shit, that’s plywood?!” Plus, I don’t want any furry little feeties getting splinters, so they needed to be smooth as silk. (Ergo, all the sanding.) It really took all that nasty yellow, rough, plywood-y looking surface off the planks and transformed them into wide pine boards.
This step takes time and is a lot of work, but trust me it is so worth it to put in the extra effort here. Make sure you also bevel the edges of your planks with the sander to take down the harsh/splintery cut edges.
After about a month of sanding boards whenever I had some free time, the day arrived for the carpet to finally come out. I removed all the baseboard trim and took the bedroom and closet doors off to make installation easier.
I pulled up the carpet with some pliers starting in a corner and just kind of went from there, rolling it all into a pile in the middle of the room. It came up a lot easier than I had anticipated, but to get it out of there I had to cut it into three smaller strips with my utility knife and roll it up that way. Shit’s heavy. These two really didn’t want to let go of their beloved carpet. Every time I turned around they were back in there, giving me serious side eye.
Next the nasty foam underlay came out, and I also had to pry up all of the spiky-boards (official term) the carpet had been attached to around the perimeter of the room.
The final step in this process was to remove all of the staples from the floor. I used pliers, and also my screwdriver when needed.
If you want to paint the subfloor prior to installation, that is your call. I did not.
1. Because I was using a light stain, and
2. Because I am lazy
One advantage to painting the subfloor (or so I’ve read) is that it adds some protection against any potential moisture from spills, etc. Also, if you’re staining the floors a darker color, you might want to give the subfloor a coat of darker paint so it doesn’t show through any gaps after you install the planks. Since I knew I was staining the floor a very light color, this wasn’t an issue for me. Remember, I am not a flooring professional/expert! I am just some asshole on the internet pretending to know what she’s doing, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.
I started the first line of boards close to the bedroom door, because I eventually want to extend it into the hallway and other bedrooms. I read differing opinions on where to start your first row: some people say to start flush against one wall and some say to start in the middle. Because of where I started, the rows finish with half a board, and the planks overall look centered. Here is what I mean:
Each wall now ends with a thinner plank. If it would drive you crazy (like me) to have mismatched ending planks and you want the boards to look centered, you might want to do some quick measuring and see how the last boards you lay on each parallel wall will match up depending where you lay the first row. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, start on one side of the room and work your way across. (Make sure you start on a wall that is as square as humanly possible; otherwise your boards will become janky and crooked.)
After laying the first row, you just kind of go from there, laying another row then another then another. I did not use liquid nails or any type of adhesive in case we ever want to replace these floors. Nailing every 8 inches or so (lining up the nails on each side) and three in the ends of each plank was sufficient. If I had a stubborn plank that was bowed or did not want to lay flat, I would add a few more.
I did not butt the planks up flush with one another because I was worried about the floor buckling if the wood expanded with the seasons. In some spots I used a quarter to make sure there was a gap, in others I just eyeballed it. Because my cuts were not 100% precise, there is definitely a variation in the gaps between the boards, which is okay. Some are a little wide for my liking, but that really can’t be helped and I guess it adds to the character of the floor.
I staggered the boards as I was laying them, but didn’t adhere to any strict pattern. These floors are supposed to look imperfect, which is why this project was so appealing to me! When I needed a shorter board, I cut it to size with my miter saw. (Make sure when you’re using a board with a fresh cut edge, you re-sand/bevel it before nailing it down, unless the cut edge is going up against a wall.)
So that’s it! Take your time and have fun with it. It took me about 8 hours or so to lay all the planks, but would be faster if you had two people working at it the entire time. #passiveaggressivewife
The floor was looking pretty great at this point. There is one spot where the seams line up almost perfectly, and it really bothers me, but I’m trying to let it go because it’s too late now!
Matt helped me finish off the final pieces in the eleventh hour so I could start staining ASAP! I didn’t want the nicely sanded floors to sit unprotected for too long, all vulnerable and weak.
On to staining and finishing! Click here for part 2 of this tutorial, or skip to the good stuff and see the complete bedroom transformation here. If you’re curious about how these floors are holding up a year later: check out my update here.