How to Build Your Own Hardwood Floors Using Plywood

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There are lots of blogs out there debating the pros and cons of laminate and vinyl floors. We ourselves debated each for a length of time to determine which would work best covering our 1/2″ plywood sub-floor. 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 our ply. We decided to dress our 1/2 inch plywood up to look like hardwood floor boards. So, here is how to build hardwood floors using plywood which will save you time and money!

What you’ll need:

You cannot start building without the right tools and materials, so here is a list of the things we used for building hardwood floors from plywood.

Tools:

Materials:

  • 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

With all the tools and materials, you are ready to go!

Step 1: Fitting the Floor

One piece of plywood will not be large enough to cover your entire van floor. We pieced together our floor with only 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 as it would be covered by the cabinets and the bed.

We used cardboard salvaged from recent Amazon and Home Depot shipments to cut out a mold before cutting the plywood to be sure that we got it right the first time. We used the circular saw to cut the straight lines and a jigsaw for those pesky curves and odd shapes.

Step 2: Dressing the Floor

Before dressing the floors, we needed to get them ready. Think of it like putting on moisturizer before you make up. We needed to sand the plywood especially since the plywood would ultimately be our flooring.

Next, to achieve the effect of floor boards, we used a circular saw to make small indentions spaced four inches apart running the length of the plywood. These small cuts should be less than 1/8th an inch deep as you only want to simulate floor boards. The more shallow they are while still providing the effect the better as it is less likely to catch dust, sand and other debris. Also, we only “dressed up” the visible portion of the ply as the portion under the bed and cabinet wouldn’t be seen and saves time and effort.

Then, with a sharp stanley knife, we made horizontal markings between the length ways markings at random internvals further simulating hardwood floorboards arranged from various lengths.

Step 3: Painting the Floor

How to build hardwood floors using plywood

Next, it is on to staining. Pick your choice of wood stain whether it be traditional cherry, natural oak or carbon grey like us and grab a bottole of polyurethane to protect the paint job. If you are a newbie to staining like us, we recommend a test run on a spare piece of ply. We went a little heavy in the beginning resulting in a section of the plywood that is significantly darker than the rest. Wipe the stain on lightly and slowly build up to the color you want. Make sure you have a clean dry rag with you as you go to wipe off excess stain to achieve the desired stain level.

After the stain has dried for 24 hours coat the stain with polyurethane. Apply three coats, four hours apart (if the polyurethane dries longer than this you may need to sand the surface a little applying the next coat). Let the polyurethane dry for 24 hours after the final coat. Now, your floor is ready to be installed.

Step 4: Installing the Floor

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

The final step in how to build hardwood floors with plywood. 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.

Lots of van builds we read suggest leaving the floor to ‘float’ ie. not affixing to the floor. We opted to screw it down using a few 2 1/2″ self-tapping metal screws to secure to the metal van flooring.

That’s it. Now you know how to build hardwood floors using plywood.

For more tips on van building check out our other articles!

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