Could cedar dog ear fence pickets be the sauna builders’ cost effective work around?

As of this writing, Cedar dog ear fence pickets cost $0.61/lineal foot. 1×6 tongue and groove Western red cedar is running $1.55/lineal foot. (Source: Menards.) With some resourceful digging via Craigslist, etc. we often are able to find #3 grade tongue and groove at lower price.

As a sauna builder with a commercial account at a lumber wholesaler, I am able to purchase 1×6 Western Red Cedar at about $1.15/lineal foot. This is about the same price that one can find the product on Craigslist, via discount suppliers.

With this pricing, it costs about $800 to panel a typical sauna hot room with 1×6 Western red cedar. #2 grade knotty. It would cost about $400, maybe less, to panel a hot room with Cedar dog ear fence pickets.

We are talking about apples and oranges in these respects. Cedar dog ear fence pickets are:

  1. Thinner. About 1/2″ thick.
  2. Not tongue and grooved. Something to consider.
  3. Advertised as “Japanese Cedar.”

I have found no detailed information on Japanese Cedar via the Googlator.

Japanese Cedar fence pickets have performed really well for me. I have noted no weirdness.

I have had great results using cedar fence panels for trim and cedar duck boards. Matter of fact, I prefer this stock for trim. Cedar fence panels are thin. I like thin trim as it has a lower profile. Lower profile means that trim doesn’t stick out as far. This means there is less chance of rubbing against trim.

For those looking for money saving tips for building their saunas, I encourage you to look into Cedar dog ear fence pickets.

For those who have already built their saunas, looking to build duck boards, fix trim, enhance their saunas with additional features, I encourage you to look into Cedar dog ear fence pickets.

When I purchased Cedar dog ear fence pickets, I spend the extra time to dig through the pile, grabbing pieces with as few knots as possible.

Caution: If using cedar dog ear fence pickets to panel a sauna, it is super important to:

  1. foil vapor barrier your hot room well.
  2. let product dry before nailing in place.

We want to avoid shrinking as much as we can, otherwise gaps will look janky.

Cedar dog eared fencing: a frugal sauna builders hack?

Want to see Cedar dog ear fence pickets in action? Check out how Steve used and adapted Cedar dog ear fence pickets for his changing room via this recent Sauna Talk podcast (Steve Sauna Talk here).

Steve and Glenn between rounds (note the cedar fence paneling in Steve’s changing room).

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28 thoughts on “Could cedar dog ear fence pickets be the sauna builders’ cost effective work around?”

  1. Probably worth it to mention if one already has the tools, it is fairly easy to make tongues and grooves on boards. Router and a couple of bits. And maybe a third bit if you want to be fancy and bevel the edge a bit.

  2. Glenn, thanks for pointing this out. I used recycled versions of these cedar pickets, which had already been used as fence and rustic paneling in an apartment. It is now on its third use, and needed a little sanding, but worked just fine. Probably 75% were warped a little or not very straight. One can just rip them lengthwise on the table saw to straighten them out. You may lose 1/4″ or so, but not really significant. I also ripped them at a beveled angle of about 5 degrees to give the effect of overlap for any remaining straightness imperfections.

    The best ones were saved for bench materials. Though I will admit that I was too cheap even to use the recycled cedar for the duck boards. Sanded boards from old pallets work great for this because they are generally water tolerant and you don’t mind when they get cruddy or ruined. Once sanded and trimmed to fit your space, they don’t look like pallets at all.


  3. I have not build my sauna yet, still in the planning stages. I have given thought to this idea though of using fence panels. It would be pretty easy to run them through a table saw to make a form of ship lap. You will have to face nail the boards, this is the draw back. However it would be wise to use stainless steel brad nails to mitigate the dark staining that will develop with standard brad nails.

    Thanks for this post Glenn!

  4. whether you cut the boards or buy you need T&G boards in hot room. you will see the foil wrap if you dont use T&G.
    The changing room is a great place to save $ and use the fencing.
    spend $ wisely.

  5. Would dog eared pickers need to be planed to be smooth enough for the hit room? Just thinking aloud. I like this thrifty idea!

  6. About to build my first sauna and this is the route I’m taking. I found a pallet of 140 WRC planks 1″x 8″x 6′ for 300 bucks. Best I found in my search so I went for it. The plan is to sand them down then stainless Brad nail them and then wood putty the holes to avoid any exposed metal.

    Without that T&G overlap there could be a gap that may expose the foil – maybe running some wood grain tape over the foil between each seam would eliminate that.

    I also thought about just beveling each plank at 45 along both edges to make an overlap.

    Any suggestions or insight is appreciated.

  7. Cody: I think it’s great. After foil wrap and taping the seams and everywhere, I would season the wood in my sauna for a few sessions, just lay out the boards with air gaps and sauna with the wood as if the planks were your best friends.

    Then nail the wood up. If over time the wood separates a bit and you can see the foil behind, well, them’s the breaks, because you’ve done something unique and cost effective and it’s just part of the character. That’s how I see it.

    But someone else could argue that for about the same time invested messing around with your $300 planks, instead, you could, say, do a little landscaping moonlight work over a weekend and earn enough cash to purchase pretty high grade tongue and groove cedar.

    So it’s all about how we pronounce potato. We are doers and take satisfaction in doing. What we enjoy, how we value our time, and apply the formula: WIT/M = :). https://www.saunatimes.com/building-a-sauna/amazing-house-cat-helps-write-4-letters-and-this-revealing-new-formula-may-change-your-life/

  8. The T&G cedar in our sauna was grown and available here in Maine. The smell when heated up was over powering for us. Just mentioning this as we had to take it out. Ouch!

  9. Eastern Red Cedar is a whole new animal, as you experienced, Steve. For gerbil cages and cedar clothes closets.

  10. How has the Japanese cedar been performing for you with sustained use? i.e. smell, structural, signs of warping.
    I have the option to buy it in New Zealand for much cheaper than Western Red but as you say, the googlator isn’t revealing any answers!

  11. Mitch:

    Japanese cedar: thumbs up! The smell is familiar, like victory in the morning. It is prone towards curling and warping (probably as it is only 1/2″ thick), but with some face nailing it’s doing fine. I have been working with Japanese cedar mainly for trim, years but I just finished an extensive screen porch project where I used the Japanese cedar fence boards to make knee walls with good success.

    Tip: Lay all the boards out during a sunny day or two to dry out. I happen to have given mine a good sauna session, overnight to dry them out, then started working with them.

    Thought: I ran the fence boards through table saw, given the edges a 45. My hunch is that in an aggressive sauna climate, they will curl. How nuts would it be to run these boards vertically, with firing strips or sleepers between joists such that the spans are less than 16″ oc?

  12. I am seriously looking at using the dog ear Cedar pickets, thought I would do a shiplap on the edges, I have a friend who built the number of fences in California this way so that it was more private, just wondering how in the sauna if it will hold up with the moisture? if that will create more warping?
    Also thought about just using this under the benches and maybe on the ceiling so that it can help save some of the cost of the tongue and groove

  13. Larry:

    Absolutely! Go for it. Suggestion: After foil bubble wrap stage, install stove, fire up, and then bring all your cedar dog ear pickets into sauna and give them a good sauna session. Toss some water on the rocks, etc. Sit on the bench with the cedar boards and talk to them, like you would a good friend. Really “cure” your boards, then install. (I’ve learned this trick the hard way – separation anxiety).

  14. Find someone who wants to get rid of an old cedar deck. They might even pay you to take it down for them. Remove all nails. Plane the wood. Mill it into tongue and groove. Throw steam. Be happy. I know a few saunas made this way. It’s more work, but works well, and it’s free. A good finlander can’t argue with that.

  15. We are currently about halfway through lining the inside of our sauna with cedar pickets. They came from the lumber yard at 5/8″ thick. I’m using a thickness planer on one side to get the thickness down to 1/2″ while at the same time smoothing that side. Then, I use a router table to put the shiplap rabbets in them. I never could have afforded top quality new tongue and groove stuff, and this way each piece gets custom cut to fit perfectly where it belongs. It looks much better than I expected.

  16. Nathan: Super great! Please email me a couple pics. Maybe we do a guest post on saunatimes? So great what you’re doing, a little table saw effort to save some coin.

  17. So far I’ve had great success using incense cedar fence boards purchased from Home Depot for the entire exterior of my sauna. I’ve beveled all the long edges at 45 degrees on the tablesaw so they fit together nicely, with no gaps. Stainless steel brads are barely visible. I’ll do the same in the changing room, and just might do the hot room this way as well!

  18. Just curious about the Tuff Shed model Steve used for the sauna he built (which this blog is related to). Is this in your ebook?

  19. Milagros: The Tuff Shed model used by Steve is called “Auerbach pro ranch.” If you call the Shakopee, MN Tuff Shed and ask for this, the sales folks should have this on file (I have ordered a few of these exact units).

    If they’re out to lunch, tell them you want a “12×8 reverse gable, man door on 12′ side, 2′ from end wall, 1′ gable and eave overhangs, 2 openings for windows, detailed by the ROs defined by these windows i’m purchasing from …”

    Hope this helps, man. Starting at the shed stage is a sweet way to go.. as you know.

  20. just curious, for those of you saying give your dog ear fence boards a good sauna session, are you just running the sauna with just the vapor barrier bubble wrap up and no finished walls ?

  21. Hi Glenn/Sauna Times community;

    Had a chance to buy a large lot of used cedar dog ear fence pickets for a decent price for my sauna build;
    I have a nice Dewalt planer so they should be nice and clean once I’m done with this part.

    I know what my options are to overlap and secure boards, however I am still undecided on the most effective (effort vs benefits) approach; I have ranked various options below from what I think is best to worse.
    Let me know what you think; So far, I’m thinking 30 degrees bevel.

    – use router and make your own T&G (I don’t have the correct tools to do this – time consuming – no nail heads showing ; feel free to comment if you’ve done it and the method used)
    – Shiplap (time consuming on the router and would require 2-pass on the table saw)
    – 30 degreees bevel (maybe less risk of breaking/warping at the sharp ouside angle vs 45 degrees?)
    – 45 degrees bevel

    Thank you!

  22. Yann:

    I just 45° bevelled a shit ton of cedar dog ear fence panels for exactly what you are doing, too.

    I think it’s great.

    The advantage of 45° bevel is that you can flip boards so as to choose the best face forward.

    Only other suggestion: cut all your boards about 1″ long. Then move over to chapter 7 of the ebook, and install your sauna stove. Then bring in all your cedar material and sauna with it, so as to acclimate the material and reduce chances of shrinking / expanding.

    I did this, and feel better that most all of the expanding and contracting of the material has it out of its system.

    But given you are using used fence paneling, maybe it’s already gone through its expansion, contraction, acclimation.

  23. Thanks for the suggestions Glenn,

    Yes, based on your previous posts, I was already planning some sauna time with a bunch of cedar boards; I’ve heard they are great listeners =)

    What do you mean by cutting all boards about 1 inch long? do you mean an inch “longER” for potential shrinkage before final cut ? otherwise that’s a lot of small boards! =)

    So you don’t see any benefit on lowering the angle to 30° ?

    Thanks again!


  24. Yann:
    Yes, cut them a little longer than the final cut, in case you get some lateral shrinkage during the curing process. This may be a tad overkill, but with the 1/2″ fence panels, we can cut 6 or so at a time on the miter saw, so it goes pretty fast.

    30° angle:
    I kind of lock myself into the 45° angle. Having this degree on both edges allows us to flip the board to pick the best face of each board. Plus more angle means more surface across the plane of the boards, so that if they separate, there’s less chance of exposure. But if you want to go 30° with yours, I say do it, and lemme know how it works out, thx.

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