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Built from reclaimed and collected materials, this DIY sauna build will make you want to step right in

Collaboration with Ken and his Dad produced this elegant stain glass feature to the sauna space.

Guest Post Series continues:

Welcome Ken from the beautiful and awesome sauna climate of Whidbey Island, Washington USA  Ken shares with us how sauna design and construction is an expressive opportunity to exercise one’s right brain and creative design ambitions.  Ken is a poster child for the saunatimes formula of WIT/M = :)2.  With your own Will, Information, and Time, you can create your own authentic sauna.  This will allow you to dig yourself for many years.  Ken’s sauna is a wonderful example of a backyard health and wellness retreat.

Enter Ken:

I was introduced to the sauna in high school through one of my best friends.

His father grew up in Finland and had built a fine basement sauna. His family decided it was a shame I had no connection with my own Scandinavian heritage and set about schooling me in the ways of steam. My personal sauna journey began in college, when I acquired a canvas wall tent and thin walled wood stove which occupied an unused part of our driveway- while I could produce the resemblance of a hot room, the experience left a lot to be desired.

After moving to Whidbey Island, I acquired a rusted old wood stove from a friend and cleaned it up with plans to install in my house- but then I learned that the stove was too old to pass inspection for a home heating unit.

Ken with his woodstove and an advance look at his hot room.
Ken with his woodstove and an advance look at his hot room.

Alternate plans for the stove emerged in my head, and 3 years ago I put up a wall enclosing the last 6′ of our 12’x24′ woodshed where the lawn mower and yard tools live. During this period we were building a second dwelling on a section of our wooded property, and had to cut down a number of trees to make room for the new house. We hired a guy with a portable sawmill to mill 1x10s for the siding and 2x4s for decking, and when he said we had more than we needed for the house, I asked him to mill the best cedar into 1x4s for my sauna walls. Some of the 2x4s became the ceiling, benches, and outdoor decking; a mix of cedar, hemlock, and fir.

Ken's sauna build at the very rough stage.
Ken’s sauna build at the very rough stage.

 

 

 

 

The floor in the woodshed was well packed dirt, with posts set in concrete as the “foundation”.   An acquaintance was tearing out their paver patio, so I hauled off a trailer load of concrete pavers, which I set into the ground over layers of gravel and sand to “level” the floor- there is actually an intentional slope in the floor, with the stove end about 2” lower than the benches so water can drain off downhill if too much accumulates. A layer of floor leveler on the pavers, then I set cement board sheets in thinset mortar and set tile on top of that. My Dad and brother in law did a lot of tile work professionally, so all of the tile in the floor, wall, and shower are cast offs and extras from years of their various projects put together. A cool end result but definitely a challenge to lay up, with drastically different thicknesses and textures from one tile to the next.

Ken installing custom designed sauna benches.
Ken installing custom designed sauna benches.
Left over tiles from previous jobs make for an awesome outdoor shower.
Left over tiles from previous jobs make for an inviting outdoor shower.

For work, I own and operate a small painting and remodeling company, and many other components of the sauna came from my years of collecting faucets, shower heads, lights, ends and pieces of beams and finish lumber to complement the dregs of the boards from the sawmill work done years before. The niches in the exterior fence walls are a feature, but they only exist because I didn’t have enough of each kind of siding to cover a whole wall. The chairlift was an original from the Stevens Pass ski area where I grew up skiing, sold off when they upgraded the lift 15 years ago turned into my 30th birthday present. All of the stained glass was done by my Dad, and were windows in my childhood home until they were removed while upgrading the house years later. Thankfully they were stored instead of tossed and now they have a great new home!

Collaboration with Ken and his Dad produced this elegant stain glass feature to the sauna space.
Collaboration with Ken and his Dad produced this elegant stain glass feature.

Things I had to buy included the cement board for the tile backing, 4×4 posts for outdoor structures, LED under bench lighting, and most important, the high quality stove pipe that keeps the place from burning down. The rocks are imported from the volcanic gorges of central Washington, and impart a nice smell of rainfall in the desert when water is poured on them. The outdoor shower is only powered with hose water, which is great coming out of the hot room most of the year but a bit shocking in the winter. Currently I have a gravity bucket shower and pull chain water dump bucket system above the shower floor that can be filled with hot water hauled from the house. Future plans include a hot water line from the house, and/or a solar hot water heater.

Stained glass window to the cool down patio creates a warm glow to the hot room.
Stained glass window to the cool down patio creates a warm glow to the hot room.

The stove in the hot room takes some practice to get the room hot quickly without heading above 200F, but I can get it up to the normal 160-180+ temp in 1-2 hours. The moderate maritime climate here in western WA puts most evenings of the year in the 45-55F range- while an indoor changing room would certainly be nice, the evening air usually feels great when stepping outside.

Ken's outdoor patio offers privacy as well as a great chill out zone for enjoying life on cool Widbey Island evenings.
Ken’s outdoor patio offers privacy as well as a great chill out zone for enjoying the moderate maritime climate on Widbey Island between sauna rounds.

 

 

 

 

I feel the health benefits of sauna (both physical and mental) are too numerous to list, but having a home sauna is not very common in these parts so I’m trying to slowly introduce my uninducted friends and neighbors to the experience. I’d like to thank my friends Jason, Jason, and Jim for their work helping me to fulfill my sauna dreams.  I also want to thank my most frequent sauna partner, my wife Cailyn, for tending to our young daughters during the months and years I spent building the sauna.  It has been a joy to see her embracing the sauna life and helping start our girls onto their own sauna journey.  Also, thanks to all the other people who knowingly or not contributed parts and pieces to my project.

Ken welcoming guests with his ergonomically designed sauna benches.
Ken welcoming guests with milled cedar wall boards from his property and ergonomically designed sauna benches.

Editors Note: Ken is clearly an accomplished builder.  Further, for his build, he had access to lots of materials that he put to good use in construction of his own backyard sauna.  The awesomeness of this sauna is evident.  Ken clearly enjoyed his sauna building journey, and wow, what an awesome destination.  Who else is in the mood for a backyard sauna right now?

4 thoughts on “Built from reclaimed and collected materials, this DIY sauna build will make you want to step right in”

  1. Great job, very creative with everything you did. The windows really add a nice touch.
    Love it

  2. Looks awesome Ken, I love it. We’re from Whatcom County, and we go up to Vancouver B.C. to go to Hastings Steam and Sauna, a Finnish sauna that has been in business for 80 years. It is so…wonderful. But this having one in the backyard, wow!! That’s even better. Now I am looking at our woodshed with new eyes.

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