A comment over at Lifehacker got me thinking about plywood as flooring, which led me to a blog post at Quarry Orchard. The author is one of many people who have had success making floors out of strips cut from ordinary 4×8 sheets of plywood, the variety that sell for around $14 at home improvement stores.
I’d be a bit concerned about durability but there’s a lot to like about the idea as well.
The first thing is cost, of course. Even after buying stain and polyurethane, you’ll have less than a dollar per square foot in the floor. You can get cheaper laminate than that, but I don’t think you’ll want it.
Durability is a concern, but you can tear up solid oak hardwood floors too. I’ve seen people do it. The thing is, floor damage is usually limited to a few sections. So if any sections get damaged beyond repair, cut into the damaged section, pry it up, then cut a replacement piece from a new piece of plywood, stain and polyurethane it to match, and glue/nail the replacement section into place. It will be a cheap repair and probably easier than repairing commercial hardwood since you won’t have to deal with the tongue and groove at all.
In most of these projects, they lay the floor down, then stain and polyurethane it. I would apply stain and polyurethane outside, in small batches, and let them dry before laying the floor down. Then you don’t have to deal with the fumes.
The other thing I would do differently from Quarry Orchard would be to randomize the pieces more. From the pictures, it looks like every other course is identical in length and typically wood floors are more random than that. I would cut some of the eight-foot lengths to random lengths and mix them in so the joints are staggered. Since we are talking about plywood, it will have occasional knots and other imperfections in it; cut around those and you’ll deal with that problem and get random lengths.
The other drawback is that while you can stain pine with a maple or oak stain, a good woodworker will recognize the wood grain and not be fooled–or impressed. But if you’re concerned about that, you can buy furniture-grade plywood to use.