sauna builders

How to build a sauna on a budget.

Sauna Building - Sauna Stoves

Disclaimer: this account of sauna building is what worked for us. It is entirely at your own risk to pursue such a project and a fire extinguisher to hand (stored outside of the sauna itself), never bathing alone and leaving if you feel dizzy or overheated are essential for safety. People with heart conditions or not used to sauna bathing should exercise extreme caution with this type of sauna bathing.

the finished sauna

This is a basic account of how we built a basic sauna on a small budget, including a wood burning sauna stove. This shed based sauna is not designed to give a lifetimes use but ours has been used frequently for a year or so now and has held up and works perfectly adequately. A fun project for little cash, less then 200 in our case. How cheap you can do yours depends on what you can scavenge so this article is mainly about giving a few ideas and showing what worked for us and how it could be improved.

The criteria we set for our sauna was that it had to be comfortable, capable of reaching proper sauna temperatures, 80'C to 100'C (yes centigrade not fahrenheit), maintaining a good temperature long enough to give a good sauna experience and heating the stones sufficiently to give good loyly (sauna steam)

Where??

We chose the shed. Now obviously you can build a sauna anywhere you wish and basements etc. are popular but for a wood burning variant not in the house is probably wise and easier, i.e. doesn't require routing a flue/chimney through brickwork etc. and your not going to burn the house down.

Building the Sauna

the finished sauna

Our shed was a pretty standard 8'x5' size of the type found in many gardens. We chose to partition the shed at about 2/3 to give a 5'x5' room. This partition was achieved by running battens across at floor and head height with vertical support. To this was screwed a fibreboard partition, obviously to the outside edge of the battens (the pine lining would be screwed to the other side leaving a space for insulation material in between. We cut a door into this and fitting with two hinges and spring closer to push the door shut.

The floor of the shed was lined with pine planks, sanded smooth and splinter free. We put a standard concrete paving slab in the corner where the stove would sit.

The walls and roof were lined with standard tounge and groove pine cladding. A bit of research suggested we ran a risk of this warping and cracking but this has not proved to be a problem. This was screwed to the existing battens to which both the shed outer panels and roof were attached. It is worth pointing out at this point that the wood should not be treated in any way, as the heat of the sauna could cause treated wood to smell unpleasant or even give out noxious fumes. Before screwing the panels on standard rockwool insulation was sandwiched in the gap. Stapled to the outer wall periodically to prevent it sagging.

the shed

In the corner where the stove sites we screwed fireproof panels, cement particle board, to both sides, as well as a further on to the ceiling above the stove. Individually these were the most expensive pieces for the sauna at about 12 each. Sadly they are also the only part that has failed slightly. The heat of the stove causing them to bow and crack slightly. Fortunately not sufficiently to be a major problem although would look for an alternative in future.

Ventilation is very important in a sauna. We fitted a sliding grill to the lower part of the door and left a gap at the top of the partition. These gaps at top and bottom help to create a good air flow.

Gas Bottle Stove

There are many ways to build a wood burning stove however we decided to base ours around a gas bottle. A quick scout around the net revealed a popular choice for DIY wood burners are converted gas bottles, mainly as shed heaters funnily enough. We sourced a 19kg one from the tip which worked admirably.

These are the alterations we made to create the stove:

the sauna stove, kiuas sauna furniture

Furniture

Every sauna needs somewhere to sit. We built a bench out of an old futon, unvarnished. This worked perfectly. Note: all screws in both bench and sauna construction must be well countersunk to ensure lack of contact with naked flesh!!!!!

Running the sauna

Once all assembled we had the delight of fireing it up for the first time without bathers, a dry run so to speak. It took a bit of practice to get the procedure right for creating sufficient temperature, in both the sauna (80c+, 190f+ roughly) and rocks to provide a good sauna experience but this is what worked for us:

Initally building a good hot fire in the stove, leaving this for 20 mins or so then regular stoking every 15 mins or so for 2/3 hours. The longer you do this for the more heat you get into the rocks and the longer it is usable.

Before bathing it is VERY important to give a good couple of ladles of steam to the sauna and leave for 20 mins. This helps to drive off the carbon monoxide and leave a smoke free environment. 10-15 minute stints in the sauna are ideal for effective bathing.

In the absence of a plunge pool a cold shower or even some cold buckets of water over the head afterwards is wonderfully invigorating.

Improvements: There are a few things i would do differently; routing the chimney straight up through the ceiling to maximise heat gain from the stove, better fireproof panels that do not warp or crack, damp proof insulation (this didn't cause a problem but if unused for a while rock wool could soak up water. Especially in the damp british climate.)

Disclaimer: this account of sauna building is what worked for us. It is entirely at your own risk to pursue such a project and a fire extinguisher to hand (stored outside of the sauna itself), never bathing alone and leaving if you feel dizzy or overheated are essential for safety. People with heart conditions or not used to sauna bathing should exercise extreme caution with this type of sauna bathing.

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