How to: install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like a million dollars

(How to: install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like a million dollars – Previously published on August 26, 2015)

UPDATED September 7, 2016: Hey guys! So many of you commented and pinned this post about inexpensive wood floors of mine so I wanted to do a revisit to answer some of your questions at the bottom of the post!

In a past life I had thought of the idea of buying solid oak plywood, cutting it into strips and using it as inexpensive solid oak flooring and I was told that I was an idiot and carpet was chosen instead (a far more expensive option when we had already exhausted our budget). As it turns out I was very right and cutting plywood into strips for a wood floor has been done and it can be gorgeous. And (just for the record) you can put whatever you want under foot, if its wood, then you have a wood floor! It does not need to come out of a box that says “flooring” on it, nope, what makes a floor a floor is the fact that you walk on it. The only reason we did not opt for the plywood-cut-into-strips-option was because we do not own a table saw to cut it ourselves and it still would have been about twice the cost of what we ended up paying. This inexpensive wood floor cost us less then $300.

DIY cheap make your own solid wood floors for a fraction of the cost @GrandmasHousDIY
The idea to just use basic pine 1x4s for the floors in our Dining Room/Entry and Dakota’s Room came about when I found out I could buy what they call “furring strips” from a local lumber yard for less then $1 a board. Note: Furring strips are generally made of very rough material, its not pretty wood, it is the roughest pine that you can buy and its usually only used on something where it will be covered up. However, I have a very old farm house and only about 500 square feet to cover and an extraordinarily limited budget. During the renovation, when we finally got to putting in our new wood floor my local lumber yard was completely out of the furring strips I wanted to buy so, after many calls, we ended up buying 1x4s (of the cheapest pine available) somewhere else for $1.80 a board. Not as cheap as I had thought we would get however, it is much higher quality then it would have been had we went with the furring strips. So this floor cost us less then $300 for 500 square feet and that makes me very happy.

DIY cheap make your own solid wood floors for a fraction of the cost @GrandmasHousDIY

You don’t need much for this installation but there are some things you can do that we did not do. Squeaks fit right in around here and we wanted no gaps between the boards because the original floor boards had no space between them. To eliminate squeaks and groans you can put down a pad/underlayment between the sub floor and your new wood floor, you can also glue the floor down as well and you can also use some kind of spacer between your boards. These are all things that we chose to skip and all things that would eliminate the squeaking, groaning and shifting. For us having the floors look like they’ve been here for 100 years was more important to us then living with squeaks.

How to install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like an expensive hardwood floor for cheap, pine, do it yourself, wood working, diy, tutorial, tips

Question I will undoubtedly be asked: Aren’t you supposed to run your new floor the opposite direction the sub floor is run? Yes, that is how you are supposed to do it and no that is not how we did it. In only about 1/4 of the flooring the old sub floor for the screened in porch remained, the rest was plywood so we just went ahead and did wrong. We regret nothing.

How to install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like an expensive hardwood floor for cheap, pine, do it yourself, wood working, diy, tutorial, tips

We used a brad nailer and two inch long brad nails for this job. Joe nailed the boards down while I cut them with the miter saw outside. He did two brads every few feet in a line down every board so it looks very consistent but you have to look close to see them as brads are very tiny. We bought 12 foot long 1x4s so they spanned the distance of the entire room – 8 foot long 1x4s would have been cheaper and would have made little to no waste but would have created lots of seams and our original wood floor have no seams. This is one of those jobs that one person can do but is so much quicker and easier with two people that you really should have two people. With me cutting the boards and Joe nailing them down we laid all of the floor in under 3 hours. Other tools we used were a jigsaw and a skill saw for the tedious cuts. We started in the center of the room and worked our way out so either tool was an absolute must because in three instances we had to rip the 1×4 down lengthwise something that we could not have done that long of a distance with our miter saw and we still do not own a table saw.

How to install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like an expensive hardwood floor for cheap, pine, do it yourself, wood working, diy, tutorial, tips

We used a pine 1×8 to cover the uneven threshold between our dining room and our kitchen, I did not want the two floors butting up to each other to be compared as they are very different types of wood as well as slightly different in size. The threshold creates the stopping point that makes the two different woods/floors make a lot more sense to the eye. We sanded the floors together, using a far rougher grit sandpaper (35) on the original wood floor then we used out here (60). From there I applied one coat of stain to all of it by hand with a paint brush, laid it on there thick, let the floor soak up as much as it wanted and then, after about twenty minutes, wiped up the excess with old t shirts. From there we did two coats of a poly acrylic floor finish with no sanding between coats, letting it be as rough as we could so they would look like they’ve been here forever. We love them!

How to install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like an expensive hardwood floor for cheap, pine, do it yourself, wood working, diy, tutorial, tips

All in this project of 500 square foot of wood flooring cost us less then $300.

How to install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like an expensive hardwood floor for cheap, pine, do it yourself, wood working, diy, tutorial, tips

UPDATED September 7, 2016: So far the floors are holding up incredible! Like any wood floor you’re going to find yourself dealing with the dreaded scratches and just like any dark wood floor I find myself still at a loss on how to keep them clean! I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve (all of which I, of course, learned from other amazing bloggers!) The trick is to just bite the bullet and sweep at least once a week and to put a good rug outside to make sure you get the sand off your feet before you come in! This is the rug I love and this is the broom/sweeper I use on a daily basis: A regular broom is just all kinds of inadequate when it comes to a wood floors. Initially we had some squeaks because we chose to put the planks tightly together, a year later there are NO squeaks however now there is a tiny gap between each of the plans which is what we expected. With the changing in seasons (and we’ve got major changes because we live in northern Minnesota) and the humidity wood is going to change and its going to move. Because of the tiny gaps now in a couple of places you can see between the planks and I’ve gone back and added a little stain in those areas… though when I told my husband about it he had no idea what I was doing because he never noticed. Of course I did and it bothered me. If there ever comes a time that one plank gets irreparably damaged we could always just replace it but, so far, we’ve had no major accidents (knock on wood) and all of the scratches we’ve created have disappeared after being walked on after a few days meaning: they were only superficial and our sealant is doing its job!

After a year I would still recommend this floor to anyone!

How to install an inexpensive wood floor that looks like an expensive hardwood floor for cheap, pine, do it yourself, wood working, diy, tutorial, tips

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  1. kddomingue
    March 9, 2016 at 6:47 am

    These look fabulous! We went with a laminated wood plank floor…..and I hate it. It would have saved me a pretty penny to go your route but the husband didn’t want to. Sigh. Wish I had bargued longer.

    • March 9, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that! It felt like a little bit of an experiment (and they are by no means perfect) but so far we’re really happy with them and we always figured the cost was so little in comparison that if somehow they didn’t work out we wouldn’t be out a lot. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Tessa
    March 25, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    I think i am going to try this in a home we just bought. When you put the floor down did you seal put anything between the boards, like a sealer? Or did you just seal it over the top? I keep thinking of dirt being trapped in-between the boards.

    The floor looks beautiful

    • March 29, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      Tessa, with our changes in temperature and climate this far north (MN) we have definitely see the gaps between the boards get bigger with the seasons and, yes, dust definitely gets trapped beneath them. To help minimize this I would have glued them down as well as nailed them down, I think that would have helped a lot when it came to their movement depending on the humidity etc. Also, bring the boards in for a good month before you nail them down. Otherwise there will be movement just because its wood and there isn’t much that can be done about it 🙂 But that kind of adds to their character. I have read that sealing all sides of the boards will help with that too, but we only sealed the top. Great inexpensive floor!

  3. Emily Facio
    April 25, 2016 at 8:36 am

    I love these floors and this idea! I am about to lay some wood floors down on concrete and sub wood flooring. I was wondering how I would put these on the concrete floors? Would I glue them down?


    • April 25, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      Well they do make “guns” that shoot nails into concrete, they’re loud but they do work, so that’s something you might want to keep in mind. However, the glues today are pretty hard core and would probably be enough but I would warn you if you are only going to use glue to make sure that those concrete floors are at least clean enough to eat off of!

  4. June 22, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    This floor looks amazing! I am so impressed! I’m not sure I could do it. 🙂

    • June 22, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Thank you Leigh! It was really simple with the two of us working at it!

  5. Olivia Kundisch
    July 3, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Hello There,
    the floor looks faboulos.I just wanted to ask which exact color & brand of poly acrylic finish you guys have used?
    I am german, so I won’t find the exact same products probatly here anyway but I really don’t know which color to buy
    to have a beuatiful floor liek yours. Thank you so much for this amazing inspiration here.

  6. July 8, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Oh my gosh! They’re too gorgeous! I want to do this sooo bad. We have wood in our kitchen and that’s it. Everywhere else is gross carpeting and unfortunately no wood underneath 🙁 I know we could do it but, still intimidated I guess.

    • July 9, 2016 at 2:29 pm

      Hey Angie! It really wasn’t very hard, pretty simple project all told, but you could always start with one room (maybe an extra bedroom you don’t use often) to start and see how it goes! 🙂

  7. Rebecca
    July 16, 2016 at 1:57 am

    Hi! We have been contemplating the plywood floor route and find ourselves in the same predicament of not having a table saw to cut the plywood. I did a quick search for 6″ pine boards and didn’t find anything for under $4 :(. I know Lowes probably isn’t the cheapest place to look. Any suggestions for other types of outlets? I know there may be regional differences, but figure it can’t hurt to ask!

    • July 16, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      Hi Rebecca! We did the entire floor with 1x4s that we got on sale at a Menards store. We chose to go with the lesser quality 1x4s that we picked through (because they can be really rough!) Hope that helps!

  8. Joanna
    August 14, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    This is in response to Emily Fasio. When laying a wood floor on concrete you must use an underlayment. Concrete never truly dries and depending where you live it could be a real desaster. If you are wanting to nail the floor like they did then you would need to put a wood subfloor down and then nail the floor to that. If you are going to float the floor like engendered wood then you use an underlayment made for that purpose. NEVER glue solid wood to concrete. I hope this is helpful and gets back to Emily.

  9. August 30, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous. What a smarty pants idea.

    Sarah @ Gypsy Girl Revivals

  10. Kathy Puerling
    September 7, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Looks great. Are the brads enough for installing flooring? How well is it holding up now that it has been in use for several months

    • September 7, 2016 at 5:10 pm

      Hey Kathy, its been over a year now and we have had no problems at all. It has shrunk at tad, so where there was no gap when we laid it now there is a very tiny gap between the boards, its a little annoying when we sweep but now it actually looks more original to the house 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

  11. cristy mcmaster
    September 13, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    I have been planning to do this on my concrete floors. I have done a lot of research. The floor does have to be clean and free of dips from carpet strips etc. I was planning on having lowes cut 4×8 foot plywood into 8 inch strips. My house is almost 3000 sq ft. Whats great Is I can do 1 room at a time.
    The tutorial I watched was wood Directly on concrete flooring with NO subloor. However, they did a test on the concrete to make sure that the concrete was dry enough for this application. They put a good glue down that was for flooring that would also act as a rubber type barrier. They snugged the boards together with one another. I’ve also seen where people will put a quarter between each row to allow for expansion.
    I hadn’t considered a 1×4 but, I may now. I guess it would come down to whats more cost effective. I’m remodeling a 1970s house. So far we’ve scrapped ceilings, painted the whole inside of the house. Turned a dining room into a bedroom. We’re planning on knocking down that 70″s wall that is in the entry. We plan on knocking out a few walls and will need to re route some hvac. I have a workshop behind the kitchen that I’m turning in to a butler pantry. The kitchen is a gut job I plan on doing myself. Even building the cabinets. It’ll be a labor of love. Can wait to finish.

    • September 14, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      Hey Cristy, yup I have seen them glue wood down straight on concrete floors but moisture is always a concern. It seems like a moisture barrier of some kind would be inexpensive enough and guarantee the wood floors stay nice for many years! We got a good deal on the 1×4 and because of the size of the room we got 12 footers so the spanned the entire width so that also helped in keeping them in place etc. I love the look of plywood for a floor too and I think that would have been even prettier (depending on the plywood you chose) though cost wise I think plywood might be more expensive though that would all just depend on where you get it I guess. I wish you so much good luck on your project!!

  12. Dorothy Mushinski
    October 6, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Is it possible to do this on a concrete foundation?

    • October 7, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      Hi Dorothy I believe it is possible to glue wood down on to a concrete floor but you must first be sure that the concrete is dry enough or the wood will eventually deteriorate. I know they have testers that you can buy and/or rent to find out the moisture of the concrete. I would think if it is a very old concrete floor and if there has never been any flooding you would probably be all right.

    • Kenny Kyle
      October 14, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Dorothy, yes you can put this on a concrete floor but there are some things you need to make sure of. You will need to make sure your floor is level, meaning no dips or high spots in the concrete. If so get some leveling mix and make the floor level. You should use a vapor barrier of some sort which would mean you will have to make your floor a floating floor. You can glue it straight to the concrete but you MUST make sure the moisture level of the floor is at it’s lowest degree. Then you can put it down with a commercial grade glue for flooring. If you put the flooring down with moisture in the concrete your floor will pull away from the concrete and buckle and that’s when it gets real fun having to rip up the floor to lay new, because while the wet area will just pull away the other part of the floor won’t it will splinter some will stay on the concrete. But good luck with that.

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