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5 tips from the Sauna Build Start to Finnish ebook

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Guest post series continues. Please welcome Nick to SaunaTimes. Nick embarked on his own sauna build and followed along with the ebook Sauna Build, Start to Finnish. Here are Nick’s Top 5 Tips from the Sauna Build Book, in his own words.. welcome Nick!

Hi! I’m Nick and live in Mounds View, MN, just north of the Twin Cities. I have been in the Home and Garden industry for more than 30 years. I was exposed to Eastern European wood fired sauna and cold plunge a few years ago and immediately fell in love with the hot cold exchange. When the opportunity presented itself, I had to build a sauna of my own! What an experience! I bought the SaunaTimes ebook and…

Nick's wife unloading cedar for sauna
Nick’s understudy, unloading wall cladding for their sauna

1. Bench Height

Building benches “top down” may be the best tip I learned from the Sauna Build e-Book. Understanding where the best heat is and how to build the benches is nice to know and accomplish the first time! Having a “two-fist-gap” or 10-12” space between the top of my head and the ceiling, meant that my upper bench was to be installed 48” from the ceiling (I’m 6’5”). The next, or lower bench for most saunas, was installed 18” from the top of the upper bench. With an 8’ ceiling, this gave me a 30” rise to the lower bench!

My solution was creating a large step stool with a topside that was 18” lower than the top of the lower bench. Thus, my step is 12” tall. I am extremely happy with my bench heights and arrangement. There is something regal about a high upper bench. After achieving this, I mildly cringe now when I see photos of saunas with only one low bench installed 18” above the floor. What a travesty!

Nick installing sauna benches for his DIY sauna
Nick installing sauna benches for his DIY sauna

2. Window Placement

I knew I wanted a window or two and ended up with two in the hot room. There is a building supply re-seller that has hundreds of windows that were once used, or new but didn’t fit. The window I purchases was a 16×22 inches and opened top-down and bottom up. I wanted a source of natural light and to be able to see who is approaching the sauna from my hot-seat. The other window that I had not really heard about before the book, was a candle-window. I found a great spot next to the door and installed an 8.5″ x 12″ tempered glass pane between the hot room and lounge. I am very happy with both!

Nick's hot room window
Nick’s hot room window

3. Stove Pipe and Chimney

Learning the parts and installation process of the Stove Pipe and Chimney is worth the cost of the eBook on its own. Prior to my sauna build, I have never installed a chimney. This part of the process sparked some anxiety, I won’t lie. But, the way the parts were listed, and the steps laid out in the book, I achieved confidence and was able to frame in the cathedral box and install all parts in less than 2 hours – with an extra pair of hands.

If you are able to purchase these components from a retail store nearby, there can be savings over a designated chimney supplier. (I was quoted $1200+ for a stack at a local fireplace supplier. Wow. I ended up paying about $430 for the same stuff at Menards (a big-box hardware store near where I live in Minnesota). Still costly components, but a mere 1/3 of the price otherwise!

The manufacturer of the pieces I bought also had a nice pamphlet with the types of systems to get, whether doing a through-wall or roof application, going through multiple floors, roof pitch, etc. It was a nice compliment to the chimney chapter in the Sauna Build e-book. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment (and relief) when I had it attached to my stove and capped!

NIck's sauna stove, installed himself with chimney components from big box store.
NIck’s sauna stove, installed himself with chimney components from big box store.

4. The Stove

The engine. Before I knew better (14 months ago), I thought I would modify a small stove I had access to or buy something second-hand and call it my sauna-stove. I soon learned that a sauna stove deserved and required a bit more attention and respect. There are several unique and very functional stoves in Russian Banyas, and even acquired plans for a custom-build, but was lacking three important things: specialized tools, expertise and time. What I later learned, is to purchase the best stove that can be afforded. Get a stove with a baffle! Get heat shields as needed. Add the water tank! Get a window in the door to see the flames.

The stove will be doing some major work for your enjoyment, hopefully for many years and hundreds of sweat sessions. Are you ok with being able to burn just 12” long sticks or is a 16” deep firebox (or deeper) better for your needs? Is the rock storage/basket sufficient to achieve the level of Oompa-Loompa-Lampomassa? How much can you invest? $1K? $2K? $3K or more? I was fortunate to find a local manufacturer (20 miles from home) who agreed to custom-build my stove. I am so glad I added a couple inches to the standard 16” deep firebox. As I had already cut (lots) of wood to “about 16”, I didn’t want to have a bunch of pieces that wouldn’t fit.

A good sauna stove makes for 16″ logs

5. Finishing Touches

This is the fun stuff. As soon as I had the chimney stacked, I still had a few ceiling boards to install. But I couldn’t wait. So, I started a fire in my stove while I was still installing tongue and groove. I also had a handful of sessions without a door knob/handle. You don’t know how inconvenient it is to not have a handle on a sauna door until you have a door without one! The thermometer, a place for essential oils, hooks for towels, felt hats and venik, and a shelf for matches, a lighter or whatever. These are the items that helps bring character and makes the space your own.

door handle fine tuning
door handle fine tuning

If you are embarking on a sauna build, buy the book. Thank me later!
Thanks Glenn.

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5 thoughts on “5 tips from the Sauna Build Start to Finnish ebook”

  1. Great article! I love all the building tips and tricks, they really help in planning and avaoiding mistakes that others have already learned from. Not sure if this is a good place for my question but I’m asking anyway! I’m prepping to build a backyard sauna in SE Manitoba and have a quick question about hot room insulation that isn’t covered in the e-book. My sauna building will have squared log-built walls and I was still planning on lining the hot room with foil bubble wrap and tongue and groove but I wonder if one layer of foil bubble wrap will be enough insulation. Would it be a good idea to double up the foil bubble wrap? I’m leaning more toward the single layer but would like any insights any of you would have.

  2. Hi Dominic,

    Are you thinking of using foil for insulate value or for vapor barrier? Many use log built walls as stand alone.. no insulation, vapor barrier etc. It takes awhile to heat up, as you need to heat the mass of the wood.

    Covering the inside of your log built walls with foil, then you will apply t&g paneling on the inside. If i were doing this, i’d use straight foil and not foil bubble wrap. Even though the service temp rating for foil bubble wrap is high, it is poly based product, not the best move.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Thanks for the insight. Even though my walls will be log built, the squared timbers will only be 4″ thick x 8″ tall… I’m thinking I’d need some insulation to go along with that and that’s why I was thinking foil bubble wrap. I have a bit more thinking to do before I start building!
    Thanks again for your site, e-book and sharing your knowledge and experiences!

  4. Hi Glen, we’re building our sauna in our basement on a cement floor. There is a slight slope to the back corner of the sauna due to the floor drain that was installed when the house was built. It’s maybe less than 1/4” slope over the last 2’ to the corner of where we want the sauna to be. Will that cause any issues if I shim up the corner and leave a small gap for water to drain? I know where the water would drain out now. Should I level that part of the floor and build on top? I don’t plan on putting a drain in the sauna if we did level it. Thanks for your help. The ebook has been a big help with our planning

  5. Mark,

    If i’m hearing you right, you want to shim up your bottom plate so that any water on you hot room floor works its way down the slope of your basement floor towards the floor drain. If I got it correct: I like this plan. It’s a very good one. Water setting against a bottom plate is a real trouble spot. It sits and sits and that’s where mold can grow, and smell can happen and yuck. So, great idea. Shim it up, allow that air to move freely underneath there and water can move its way out. And imagine one day when you clean your hot room floor and same goodness can happen.

    I like this.. this concept could go into the annals of dealing with hot room floors.
    Ben Square
    Trevor Trowel
    and now..

    Mark Bottom Plate Gap (help us with a better name).

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