Not long ago, I posted photos of caterpillars devouring the Crown Flower tree in our yard. This plant is the life force that allows the Monarch butterfly to create the cocoon necessary to house its metamorphosis.

2015-09-25_caterpillars cocoon

We watched as every last leaf was eaten, then wondered where on earth all of those brightly striped, freshly stuffed, caterpillars crawled off to. We inspected under the eaves of the house and all of the neighboring tree limbs, never finding any cocoons hanging.

(My original post did feature the one beautiful cocoon we found attached to a Crown Flower leaf, glistening golden in the sunlight. Within days, the ravenous caterpillars had digested the entire leaf from which it hung, leaving the cocoon to fall to the ground. Though I tried to re-hang it with a string, I think the damage had been done in the fall, and a butterfly never emerged).

Just this week, we have begun to spot Monarch butterflies flitting about our yard. It appears as though the transformation has occurred!

Not only are butterflies aflutter among the foliage, the Crown Flower tree is pushing out fresh leaves, seemingly unfazed by the sacrifice it offered.

2015_09-25_crown flower bud

But what does this have to do with plywood subfloors?

Well, as change darts about mid-air, the transformation has been afoot in our abode, as well.

Since our family moved into our home about a year and a half ago, it’s been a slow process of home improvement projects. We’ve had plenty of dreaming, and lots of prioritizing. Our dwelling is rich in renovation potential, but our budget is nearly zero.

I am continually in awe of the Bohemian’s incredible knack for utilizing materials at hand to achieve the fullest potential. Hence, our revamp endeavors have been carefully calculated, and far from cookie cutter.

So a few weeks ago, as the caterpillars were munching, the Bohemian and I were working on our own evolution. We were investigating carpet in the bedroom. I’ve always appreciated bare floors, and have never understood why anyone would put carpet in a home built in the moist climate of the tropics. In our case, the past home owners opted for a white Berber rug, which is ever impractical, as we are situated on a farm surrounded by red dirt.

The amount of moisture in our island air naturally settles into the fibers of carpeting, inevitably creating must and mold. The breathability of the master bedroom was such a challenge, that over a year ago, the Bohemian and I gave up sleeping there, moving the king size bed into the living room, where there was better air flow.

When we decided to lift a small corner of the carpet in the master bedroom closet, we discovered what we already knew was there- a plywood subfloor. As rough as it was, it still seemed better than dirt-stained, moldy carpet. And it was coming up, surprisingly fast. Within a few minutes, we had the closet completely cleared.

Nearly as crazed as a caterpillar on a Crown Flower leaf, the Bohemian and I excitedly began to tear into the carpeting of the whole room. We made progress quickly, and it felt fantastic to remove ancient layers from the floor.

2015-09-25_carpet subfloor

I’d never taken on a project like this, and I was thankful to have the assistance of several informative DIY blogs (“Do It Yourself” – for those of you, like me, who needed a hint on the acronym), that chronicled experiences in trying to transform a plywood subfloor into something presentable.

Though I’m not ready to convert the Archives into a DIY blog, I will share our experience in this flooring renovation endeavor.

Pulling up the carpet was easy, the real work came after…

The junky plywood subfloor, full of paint stains, plaster goop, and rough edges, all needed to be sanded.

2015-09-25_bare subfloorWe wanted a very fresh start, which meant that the Bohemian and I ended up sanding, and sanding, and sanding. By the time we were done, the whole room smelled of fresh wood.

The Bohemian was on the belt sander and I was on the palm sander, focusing on the edges and corners that the Bohemian couldn’t reach. The belt sander was much more powerful and took a lot more muscle. We were both on our hands and knees, sanding a room about 300 square feet. We used 40 grit sand paper on the first pass, and then 80 grit sand paper on the second pass. We estimate that we sanded for a total of about eight hours. This, I do not recommend.

Initially, we thought that renting a ‘walk-behind’ sander would be unnecessary for the relatively “small” size of our room. But in hindsight, we see that it would have been much faster to use a larger sander, especially since we were taking great care to get the wood to a very fresh layer.

The sanding process creates a lot of dust, and we both wore respirators, kept the windows open, and ran a fan inside the closed doors of the room. We also kept a shop vacuum on hand, and continually sucked up the accumulating dust.


Once the room was sanded, we vacuumed the room very well. Then, we applied a coat of pre-stain to the floor.

2015-09-25_prestain floor

After that dried, we sanded it again, this time with 200 grit sand paper. Then we vacuumed and cleaned the floor again. The next step was staining the plywood.

The Bohemian had chosen a stain color called “Harvest Gold.” When it was first applied it had an orange-ish tint to it, that made us wonder if we’d chosen the wrong shade.

2015-09-25_stained floor

But we found that when we applied the first layer of polyurethane finish coat, the stain darkened.

We used a water-based, interior finish coating, and followed the three application recommendation. Each coat needed 24 hours to dry, so this process took several days. By the time the third layer of finish was on, the Harvest Gold stain had deepened and warmed to a pleasant honey color.

2015-09-25_finish coat complete


2015-09-25_final floor



Now, I’m not going to say that our floor is showcase-ready. It’s a plywood subfloor, so there’s no hiding that. Despite the fact that the ‘distressed’ look is in vogue right now, this room still wouldn’t make the grade in the shabby chic world.

It is, however, clean! Fresh. Wood, not carpet! And the color tones are much more pleasant on the eye.

In summary, the poet in me wants to express the beauty of metamorphosis.

The pragmatist in me wants to provide a checklist of how we accomplished our transformation.

Here it is:

  1. Tear out carpet in strips that can be rolled into black trash bags.
  2. Pull up all staples from the plywood subfloor.
  3. Sand the floor with 40 grit sand paper
  4. Second pass the floor with 80 grit sand paper
  5. Vacuum all dust until the room is very clean
  6. Apply a pre-stain to the floor to help absorb the stain that will be applied next
  7. Sand the pre-stained floor with a 200 grit sand paper to smooth
  8. Vacuum all dust again
  9. Apply the stain and let it dry overnight
  10. Apply the first layer of a polyurethane finish coat and let it dry for 24 hours
  11. Apply two more layers of finish coat, allowing 12-24 hours between applications
  12. Enjoy your transformed room!
courtesy of Earth Gifts: Healers and Messengers
courtesy of Earth Gifts: Healers and Messengers

3 thoughts on “Butterflies and Plywood Subfloors

  1. Likewise, I am impressed. In this instant culture, few would have the vision and endurance for such a project to accomplish so much with mostly elbow grease. Kudos for you and the Bohemian. Looks fantastic. Bask in the light of your accomplishment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks to you both! We knew it would be work, but we didn’t know it would entail quite as many hours. And the funny thing was, we opted to tackle this project in record-breaking heat, no wind, and three hurricanes at sea! What were we thinking? Except…clear out the funk!
    It was a learning experience, which is how we rationalized putting so much time into, what are really, “sub-par” floors. If we paid ourselves an hourly wage, then our ‘cost’ would have been the equivalent of installing real flooring.
    However, this left us with new knowledge, and the option to install any floor we like (or that the homeowner may like) in the future.
    Now that we’ve done it once, we’re ready to do it again. We’ve got our eye on Jeb’s room next. 🙂


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