Luan, or lauan, is not typically thought of as a flooring material. It is a thin, 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick plywood panel made from mahogany hardwood. As a lightweight plywood, luan is typically used for cabinet backs and under-eave soffit panels. Luan can be stained or painted to create a floor treatment, although its soft nature makes it less than ideal.
Like most plywood, luan comes in standard 4-by-8-foot panels. It has a reddish color with an even, pithy grain that is peppered in short strokes across the surface. Some cheaper luan panels include sapwood from the mahogany tree, which ranges in color from off-white to slightly yellow. The panels are easy to cut with a handheld cutting tool, can be sanded to a medium-fine finish and will take stain and paint well, although luan absorbs more than many hardwoods, being a dry wood.
Luan as Underlayment
Luan panels are frequently used for underlayment to save money over traditional plywood. Its extreme light weight makes it flexible, which can cause problems with the security of its fasteners. Luan is fairly rot resistant, as is most mahogany, which is a plus when working on floors in damp areas such as kitchens and baths. One way to install luan as underlayment for another floor is to use construction adhesive.
Luan as Flooring
Luan sheets can be installed full, cut into planks or cut into square tiles before application. The sheets should be glued down, either with flooring adhesive or construction adhesive, since both nails and staples have a tendency to pull through the thin panels, and screw heads make for unsightly fasteners on a finished floor. Luan can be installed only over solid, smooth subfloors, such as wood, plywood or concrete. Since luan is lightweight, its use as flooring is typically considered temporary. It has been featured on several television design shows as a flooring option, where its physical appearance was touted, although its longevity is questionable.
Finishing Luan Flooring
Dark stain and several coats of polyurethane clear finish will bring luan plywood to a high luster. Stain can be brushed or rolled on with a long extension handle and should be allowed to dry completely before polyurethane is applied. Polyurethane finish is best rolled on for convenience and speed. Multiple coats will need to be applied. Follow the label's recommended drying time between coats before applying additional polyurethane.