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Van Plywood Floor: How to Make Your Own Hardwood Flooring in 9 Steps

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Van builds are hard. If you don’t have an endless amount of cash piled away to outfit your van with all of the latest and greatest, you might feel overwhelmed when looking at all of the things that you need for your DIY van conversion. Deciding on a van floor is only one of the many decisions that you will need to make as you fit out your dream tiny home on wheels.

You have probably read blog after blog debating the pros and cons of laminate and vinyl floors for your van. We ourselves debated each for a length of time. In the end, we realized we could probably do away with the expense, weight, and hassle of either if we got a bit creative.

With a van plywood floor, you can cut down on costs, weight, and, most importantly, space. Even just a small half-inch in some vans can mean the difference in standing up inside the van and being hunched over.

Here is our detailed guide on how to make your own hardwood flooring using only plywood for your DIY van conversion.

Required TOOLS To Make Your Own Van Plywood Flooring

You cannot start building without the right tools, so here is a list of the things you will need to make your own hardwood flooring from plywood.

Circular Saw

A circular saw will make cutting the van plywood floor to fit the dimensions of your van.

Jigsaw

There are bound to be some wonky angles in your van, a jigsaw will help you cut out these bits and pieces for the perfect fit!

Electric Drill

An electric drill is helpful to fasten the van plywood floor to the metal of the van.

Phillips Head Drill Bits

An electric drill would be a bit hopeless without the bits.

Utility Knife

A utility knife always comes in handy for something.

Clean Rags

Clean rags will be needed during the painting session of your van plywood floor

Paintbrush

You can’t stain and paint your van plywood floors without a paintbrush!

Measuring Tape

IF you want your van floor to fit right, then a measuring tape is in order.

Pencil

It goes without saying a pencil (or something else to mark with) is required.

Required Materials to Make YOur Own HArdwood Flooring

Making a van plywood floor is not easy without the necessary materials. The dimensions of the material will vary depending on the size of your van as well as the color of the wood stain but here is a basic idea of the materials required to make your own hardwood floors with only plywood.

  • 2 x – 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ (14mm x 1200mm x 2400mm) sheet of ply (depending on the size of your van)
  • Wood stain
  • Polyurethane
  • 10 x – 2 3/4” (70mm) flat head self tapping metal screws

What Kind of Plywood Is Needed for a Van Floor

Who knew plywood could come in so many varieties? Choosing the right kind of plywood for a van floor is important, especially if you are using this plywood as your sole van flooring without a sub-floor.

Ply can be hard or soft, with three layers or seven, or marine-grade and exterior. The range of plywoods available on the market today is endless. The type of plywood that is best suited to make your own hardwood floors is a hardwood ply made of either birch, oak, maple, poplar, or walnut. This type of plywood typically has between three and seven layers and will be strong enough to handle life on the road.

If you are using plywood only as your van floor and not as your van subfloor, you will want to make sure you choose a piece of plywood that is durable and won’t warp in the heat. We opted for a 14mm thickness which we found sufficient to meet our needs in the van.

How To Make Plywood Look Like Hardwood: A Step-by-step Guide

How to make your own hardwood flooring for a van plywood floor

Making plywood look like hardwood is simple with our nine-step DIY guide.

Step 1: Measure the Van Floor

A simple step to do but one that is easily messed up is determining the exact measurements of your van floor. The measurements of your van floor will be needed to help you determine exactly how much plywood is needed for you to make your own hardwood flooring. It is likely that more than one piece of plywood will be needed to cover the entire surface area.

The old saying “measure twice and cut once” is never more true with van builds, especially if you are novice builders like ourselves. We typically live by the moto “measure thrice and cut once” just to be on the safe side.

Step 2: Create a Mock Van Floor Using Cardboard

The best way to ensure your van plywood floor will actually fit is to give it a trial run. Using the cardboard boxes that I am sure you have piling up from all of your van build purchases, cut the cardboard to fit the dimensions you just measured.

Place the cardboard inside the van to ensure the cardboard is nice and snug and fits all the random curves of the van. This step may take a couple of times to ensure you have the perfect fit.

The cardboard will be used to help you cut the plywood ensuring you won’t need to run back to Home Depot for another piece of plywood.

Step 3: Arrange the Plywood to Fit the Van Floor

Now, it is time to arrange the plywood to fit the van floor. As we mentioned previously, one piece of plywood will not be large enough to cover your entire van floor. We pieced together our van floor using two pieces of plywood, but more could be required depending on your van size. Our goal was to have the floor which would be most exposed to be one solid piece and then piece together the rest of the floor that would be covered by the cabinets and bed.

Trace the cardboard to the plywood with a pencil which will be used as your marker for cutting the plywood.

Step 4: Cut the Plywood

The scariest of all the steps, cutting the plywood. Using the circular saw, cut the straight lines that are needed to fit the van plywood floor. Use the jigsaw to cut all of the pesky curves and odd shapes that are always prevalent in a van build.

Once you have cut the plywood into the desired shapes, lay the floor into the van to ensure the measurements are correct. Hopefully, with your preparation, everything fits just as it should! If not, don’t worry. Most people will never even see most of your floor so put the wonky bits where you can’t see them.

Step 5: Sand the Plywood

Before making the plywood look like hardwood, it is necessary to sand the boards. Think of it as putting on moisturizer before you put on makeup. This step is important to ensure your plywood floor looks like real wood.

Step 6: Make the Plywood Look Like Hardwood

Our goal here is to achieve the desired effect of floorboards with a single piece of hardwood. To make the van plywood floor look like floorboards placed together, use a circular saw to make slight indentions spaced approximately four inches apart (shorter/wider depending on your preference) running the length of the plywood.

The small indentions should be no more than 1/8th an inch deep as you only want to simulate the look of floorboards being placed together, not actually cut the plywood flooring in bits and pieces. The more shallow the indentions, the better. Shallow indentions achieve the same effect and are less likely to catch dust, sand, and other debris during use.

When making our hardwood floor, we only made the plywood that was visible look like floorboards to save on time and effort since it would not be visible under the bed or the cabinet.

Lastly, with a sharp utility knife, we made horizontal markings between the lengthways markings at random intervals further simulating hardwood floorboards arranged from various lengths.

Step 7: Stain Plywood to Look Like Hardwood

The next step in how to make plywood look like hardwood floors is to stain your plywood floor. We recommend practicing with the wood stain before applying the wood stain to your van plywood floors in order to ensure you achieve the desired stain. In our van build, we did not practice and went a bit heavy in the beginning leaving our stained plywood van floor darker than originally intended.

After wiping off all of the sand dust from cutting and dressing your plywood, use the wood stain of your desired color to stain the plywood. Using the paintbrush gently brush the stain onto the plywood slowly building up to the color you wish to achieve. Using a clean dry rag, wipe off any excess stain as needed.

Step 8: Wait and Stain with Polyurethane

Let the wood stain dry for 24 hours. After 24 hours, using a paintbrush, brush a line layer of polyurethane over the stain. We recommend applying three coats of polyurethane roughly four hours apart for the best protection. If you apply the polyurethane and wait longer than four hours to apply the next coat, you may need to sand the surface a little before applying the next coat.

Let the final coat of polyurethane dry for 24 hours before installing your newly stained van plywood floor.

Step 9: Install the Van Plywood Floor

The finished product from how to build hardwood floors from plywood.

Yay! You have made it to the final step in this step-by-step guide on how to make plywood look like hardwood. Installing your van life floor is the easiest part and also the most rewarding.

Put the flooring into the van based on your original measurements and ensure everything fits nice and snug. Use wood filler to fill in gaps and cracks as needed and coat with stain/polyurethane. Use self-tapping metal screws to screw your van plywood floor to the van.

If you do not want to screw your van to the floor, many van build articles suggest leaving the floor to “float”. How you install the van is up to you, just make sure there is no risk of the floor sliding around if you choose not to secure the van plywood floor securely to the metal with screws.

That’s it. Now you know how to make your own plywood hardwood flooring for van life.

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