What Is Plywood Flooring?

Paul Scott

Plywood flooring is a relatively inexpensive yet effective alternative to traditional hardwood materials. Plywood is produced by gluing together several thin layers of wood which produces a strong, fairly light and very durable laminated timber sheet. Plywood flooring may be laid on joists using full sheets or smaller plywood “tiles.” The finished floor may be covered with carpet, vinyl, or ceramic tiles. Plywood flooring, particularly grades incorporating hardwood face veneers, may also be left exposed and treated with decorative finishes which make for very attractive and hard wearing natural wood floors.

Stacks of plywood sheets.
Stacks of plywood sheets.

In general, plywood is often associated with packing crates and hidden structural paneling but may be used to create highly attractive and functional flooring if correctly chosen and installed. Plywood is basically a sandwich of thin layers, or veneers, of timber glued together to form a laminate. The veneers are laid in odd numbers with their grain running at right angles to one another, thereby producing a surprisingly strong end product that is cheap, light, and flexible and resists warping, cracking, and shrinkage. Plywood sheets are made with a range of timber types and in a variety of sheet sizes and thicknesses. The plywood sheets used in flooring are most often of a tongue and groove design which prevent the joints from lifting.

In addition to flooring, plywood is also used in the construction of houses.
In addition to flooring, plywood is also used in the construction of houses.

There are two ways of applying plywood flooring, either as a sub-floor for other finishes and as a visible, working surface. Sub-floors are typically applied in full sheet form on joists secured with screws or nails. The sheets are then clad with carpeting, cork, vinyl, or ceramic tile. In wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens, an additional moisture seal is typically included under the cladding. Plywood flooring used in this way is not only cost effective from a material outlay perspective but also cuts down on construction times because it allows large areas to be covered quickly.

The second plywood flooring method utilizes plywood sheets as the visible floor surface. Although many balk at the idea of plywood as a visible floor finish, very durable and attractive results are possible using both full sheets and smaller “tiles.” Plywood tiles are typically 4 or 5 foot (1.2-1.5 meters) square and, when laid with the grain running in opposing directions, form an attractive checkerboard pattern. The tiles can also be painted in contrasting flat colors or finished in faux marble or timber paint. When tile or full sheet exposed, plywood flooring is finished with urethane or gloss floor treatments; the end result can be a truly spectacular natural wood floor which surrenders little in durability or aesthetics to traditional hardwood floors.

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