DIY Plywood Floors: Part 3 – Installation

DIY Plywood floor installation

So your planks are cut and sanded and you’re ready for installation. This is the part of the project where things really start to take shape.The first thing you need to do is figure out which direction to lay your planks. Most people suggest laying the planks perpendicular to your floor joists for added support. Luckily, my basement isn’t finished (yet) so I already knew which way my joists run. If you don’t have access to the floor from underneath, you can look at the subfloor and see where the nails are to get an idea which way the joists run.

Next, you need to draw a perpendicular line down the center of your floor. I used the 3-4-5 rule to do this. Starting in the middle of a wall, I marked a point and measured 3 feet. From the other end of the point I marked, I measured out 4 feet and marked another point. Measure between the two points, with the goal of making the line between them 5 feet. You’ll probably need to move the four-foot mark a few times to get it right. Once you’ve got it, use a laser level or chalkline to mark a line across your floor between the two points that make the 90-degree angle. This will serve as the guide for the first row of planks.

I used the glue and nail installation method. The main reason I choose to glue the planks was that they weren’t exactly flat. Most of the planks had some bow to them and I figured the glue would help keep them secured. I bought this Porter Cable 18-gauge brad nailer and two boxes of nails. For the glue, I used a whole bunch of these Liquid Nails Subfloor glue tubes.

The installation process was pretty simple. For my first row, I laid out full-width boards across the room until I had to cut one at the end. I left a quarter-inch gap between the planks and the wall. When I was ready to secure them to the floor, I  applied a bead of glue to the underside in a zigzag pattern with an extra line at each end. Then I flipped the board over, lined it up to my chalkline and drove three or four nails at the ends and two our three nails in the middle. After each plank was secured, I walked on it to make sure it was secure. Occasionally, the board would pop up and when I stepped on it, it would click into place. If I found any spots that felt squishy, I’d drive a another nail or two there.

For the next row, I cut about a foot off a plank and started the row with that plank using the same process. For the third row, I cut a plank about a foot shorter than the second row and continued that way so I wouldn’t have seams lined up. I also found it helpful to line up a plank next to the one you’re working on to make sure it has a good fit. It’s also helpful to sweep or vacuum along the length of the row before you place the planks down. Things like carpet pad stables or other debris can cause a plank to sit higher than those next to it and mess up your installation.

Luckily, my neighbor let me borrow his Dewalt 12-inch Double Bevel Compound Miter Saw, which made cutting the planks a breeze. You could easily get away with a Single Bevel Miter saw. Also, if your planks are 8 inches wide and you have to cut any angles, you’ll need a 12-inch saw. If your installation doesn’t require any angles a 10-inch miter saw, or even a Circular Saw with a guide would work great.

There is some debate about leaving a space between the planks. I chose not to leave any space, but in some cases, my cuts weren’t straight and a space was inevitable. When I saw a wide gap, I saw a neat trick online somewhere to fix it. You basically create a wedge, by screwing a piece of wood at an angle next to your plank and then hammering another piece of wood between it and the plank. When your gap is gone, hit the plank with a few nails (There’s a photo of this above). In my case, some gaps eluded me. I’ll show you how I dealt with those in another post. I think if you choose to use a spacer, like a quarter, you’d have less of a problem with gaps.

When I cut my plywood sheets into 8-inch planks, I had one from each sheet that was closer to 7.5-inches wide. I used these to cut the planks that ran against the walls, but I had a bunch left over, so I actually laid them into the floor just like the 8-inch planks. You can’t tell that not all the planks are the same width. When you get to the last plank of the row, make sure that you either finish the entire row, or stagger the end pieces so you don’t have to squeeze a plank between two other planks.

In addition to cutting out the floor register holes, I had to deal with a bay window and cutting around a newel post. These detail parts took the longest.

Once the installation is done, walk around it and look for areas that could use another nail and also look for knot holes and any large cracks that you might want to fill with putty. I used this DAP Plastic Wood to fill any knot holes. You don’t need to do this, but I thought it looks much better having the holes filled. Although, I did miss a couple. I used a small putty knife to wedge the putty into the hole. Then let it dry and come back with your sander and sand it smooth.

The last thing to do before you start to stain is to sweep up all the dust. I found a brush shop vac attachment very helpful for this.

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