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