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Clear the Steam Ep. 4 – What wood would you use in a sauna?

Western Red Cedar, the Gold Standard for Sauna Construction

                Western Red Cedar has been the default type of softwood for sauna construction for many decades. This material has been available from mills on the west coast of Canada and contains many benefits that make it ideal for sauna construction. It is a light weight wood, with a wide variety of colours shown in the grain. Typically it is available as clear cedar, which allows for very few tight knots. Vertical grain is a step above, and does not have any knots or flat grain, making it suitable for some components such as door jambs. Most of the clear cedar on the market comes from old growth forests on the coast, and due to limited supply prices have been rising of late. Cedar is also available in a knotty grade. For sauna use, you want the cedar to be kiln dried, which makes it resistant to warping and swelling due to the heat and humidity of regular sauna use. It also has a pleasant aroma, as well as anti-bacterial properties that prevent mould from growing and helps repel insects. You can read more about the benefits from one of our partners, Quality Cedar Products here.

Eastern White Cedar – a more economical option

Another option that is available is Eastern White Cedar. Typically this is available with tights knots, as opposed to clear. These are often logged from new growth forests in Ontario and Eastern Canada. The new growth forests do not grow as large as their western counterparts, and as such knots are more common. However, this allows for a lower cost compared to red cedar. We have recently launched a line of White Cedar sauna kits, from the Canadian Timber collection by Leisurecraft. You can see the different type of wood on our line of Cabin Saunas and Barrel Saunas. White Cedar has many of the same properties as Red Cedar above. You can read more about Eastern White Cedar on the SaunaTimes blog here.

What is Scandinavian Spruce Thermowood?

Saunas in Finland and the Nordic countries typically use Spruce for sauna construction. The term “Thermowood” refers to the kiln-drying process that is done to cure the wood for use in saunas. Thermowood can refer to Spruce as well as other types of wood, such as pine. You can read more here. The thermal treatment process gives the wood a nice dark colour, and helps provide resistance to moisture, mildew, and insects. Our line of Thermowood barrel saunas are hand-crafted in Estonia by sauna experts. You can see our most popular Scenic View model here. Below I have also included an image from our showroom, and you can click here to see the construction process our team went through. The secrets of Scandinavian Spruce Thermowood have come to North American Markets!

Clear the Steam – A Sauna Blog by Robert Furlong

Clear the Steam Ep. 3 – How Tall is Too Tall?

84” Height – an industry standard

                One question I hear frequently is “What is the best height for the sauna room?” Many DIY sauna kits include material for 84”, and I would like to explore where this came from. There are companies out there who say the ceiling should be less than 7’. There are also infrared cabins, which naturally have lower ceilings so these kits can be put together in a smaller room. For DIY kits, a drop ceiling is often installed, to allow room for proper fiberglass insulation. Many electric heaters have a minimum clearance of 78”, meaning lower ceilings would void the warranty on the heater, and may be a fire hazard. To fit most applications, DIY kits are typically made for 84” height, and additional material can be quoted to raise the ceiling if desired.

Considerations for height

An important feature of traditional saunas is the steam, or loyly that is created by pouring water over the rocks. One source of heat loss is through the door, especially with a taller door. This is the reason most Sauna doors are shorter than standard doors. The goal is to create a heat bubble, or loyly pocket above the door opening. Your head should be in this space to enjoy the heat! So the question is – what ceiling and bench height is ideal to maximize this benefit? A traditional 84” sauna room would typically have benches around 17” bottom and 35” top. Raising the ceiling, we would want to make sure the benches are raised by the same amount. I propose that an ideal height for the top bench be measured from the ceiling, and a distance of 44-48” from the top bench to the ceiling would be ideal. For 96” saunas, we provide benches that have a 24” bottom, and 48” top for 2-tier benches. 3-Tier benches is a strong recommendation when working with this ceiling height.

What if I want higher ceilings?

If you raise the ceiling, the benches should also be raised to around 48” to keep you in the heat. A 96” ceiling height will also allow for 3-tier benches, which is ideal for enjoying the heat. Here is a great article from SaunaTimes regarding the law of loyly. This is a traditional saying that your feet should be above the sauna rocks, and this is possible with a 96” ceiling and 3-tier bench setup. However, not every build is able to incorporate this ceiling height, and compromises have to be made. One solution is the new style of “Tower” sauna heaters, which have a much larger rock capacity, including rocks to the floor. Below is an image of a recent build with a HUUM Steel heater. The customer is more than happy with the heat provided, despite many criticisms about his bench height. Ultimately, higher ceilings will allow for better enjoyment of the heat, provided the construction takes into account taller bench heights, but it is not absolutely necessary to raise the ceiling to have an authentic sauna.

Clear the Steam – A Sauna Blog by Robert Furlong

50th anniversary sale. Every sauna kit purchase will receive 50% off duckboard flooring, bench skirting and fixed backrests. Free bucket, ladle and sauna brew with image of free products. Plus $200 off. Ends may 31, 2024.