The definitive word on cedar for our saunas

As we plow forward expanding with building more kick ass authentic saunas in our world, the topic of what particular wood species for our hot rooms has become a “hot” topic.  And it is VERY important to use the right kind of wood in our hot rooms.

For example.  What is Eastern White Cedar?

I’m pleased to bring into the fold my friend Scott.  Scott comes to us with MANY years experience in the sauna industry.
here is Scott’s explanation of cedar.  Enter Scott:

I have never heard of Eastern White Cedar.

I wonder if it could be what is more commonly identified as Northern White Cedar? Or Eastern Red Cedar (aka Aromatic Cedar) is another one it could be and the only Cedar I’ve known to have the “eastern” name in it. If it is Eastern Red Cedar I would avoid it as this is the one that has the pungent smell (often associated w/ “Cedar Closets” and “Cedar Chests”), it reminds me of a hamster cage smell. The other downsides to ERC is that the boards tend to be very streaky and zebra like which I personally think looks bad.
The two “cedars” that I would strongly discourage using in a sauna application are Aromatic Cedar (Eastern Red Cedar) and Incense Cedar (sometimes called California Cedar). The article at the link below may help you in making your decision if you are considering Cedar for your sauna.
As always, I encourage the use of clear Cedar. If you are trying to keep costs down, knotty Cedar will work fine for walls but clear Cedar should be used for benches and backrests at a minimum.
Making decent sauna benches require clear cedar stock. 2″x4″ material is solid. This design allows breathing.

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14 thoughts on “The definitive word on cedar for our saunas”

  1. Above photo is example of more reasonably priced (in North America) knotty t&g Western Red Cedar, of which I am a big fan. Regarding the sauna benches, a sauna enthusiast with keen eyes will note in the photo a few small knots on the lower benches, but clear 2×4 cedar used for upper benches.

    The double secret hot tip on how to purchase “clear” cedar at much less expensive non clear cedar prices can be found in the ebook Sauna Build: from start to Finnish. (at a cost of 1/100th the price of clear cedar vs. knotty cedar). The book is offered here

  2. I dare confess this here, but I built our first sauna with pine tongue and groove. I used much of the advice from Glenn’s e-book still, particularly regarding placement of lower quality materials in unused areas (i.e., placing knotty parts below benches, around stove, etc.). I reserved the clearest pieces for the seating areas and faced the backrests and bench tops with aspen. It took some extra planning and I do not disagree with the general recommendation that cedar is best, but it worked out for us. The hot room has a very pleasant smell and no weeping sap burns to report anyway. Perhaps we got lucky.

  3. What opinions and thoughts do you have on Abachi wood for the benches etc?
    I’m also considering Nordic Spurce for the roof and all paneling for an indoor sauna.

  4. Nordic Spruce is excellent.

    I’ve not sat on benches made from Abachi wood. The species may be good for sauna benches, or may be too hot.. let us know how it goes.

  5. We used a white cedar that looks very much like the cedar in the pics. The lite cedar smell at first was nice but became so strong once heated we could not use and will have to remove. Breathing issues. This common cedar board is sold at Home Depot or Lowes and is usually in stock. Careful.

  6. Hi- I bought your book and found it to be useful. However, I wasn’t able to find:
    “The double secret hot tip on how to purchase “clear” cedar at much less expensive non clear cedar prices can be found in the ebook Sauna Build: from start to Finnish. (at a cost of 1/100th the price of clear cedar vs. knotty cedar)”.
    What page is it on?

  7. Brian: I’ll check on where the double secret hot tip resides within Sauna Build: Start to Finnish ebook. In the mean time, here’s the tip (and it’s a tip that i’ve executed many times at Home Depot / Menards / Lowes. As of this writing, a 2x4x8′ cedar board is/was $8.72. This is for #2 and better. A 2x4x8′ CLEAR cedar board is $32.45 (special order, lumber yard). So, the suggestion is to get your hunting gear on (gloves and a tape measurer is all you need) and head out to a big box lumber retailer and start picking through the stacks. Often, the 8′ bins do not offer much in terms of finding clear boards, so the additional tip is to head over to the 10′ or 12′ bins and start picking through there. As you know the length of your sauna benches, you’ll be able to seek out boards that contain clear sections long enough for your sauna benches. The remnant cuts will be used for framing underneath.

    I am never too proud to do this at a big box retailer locale. I always return unwanted stock to their proper bins and “leave no trace” for good sauna wood karma. If all this is too much for you, then here’s the double secret hot tip: pick through and purchase 2×2’s for your sauna bench. When they mill cedar, they are forced to use clear stock to make 2x2s (otherwise they’ll break if they have knots in them).

    I”ve built 30 plus sauna benches. I love the smell of cedar in the morning, it smells like victory. I get more enjoyment out of finding a clear cedar board than I do catching a fish. I think the hunt is rewarding. I feel that much closer to my sauna benches knowing how special it is to find clear cedar (and at a fraction of the price as clear cedar). Call me crazy, it’s ok.

  8. I love your website. I’m building a sauna inside my 32×40 steel shed. We logged downed windblown northern white cedar and had 850′ of 1″x 4,5&6″ boards sawn for only $80. Then had them planed and t&g for less than $300. I think Northern white cedar should work great. Sure looks good!

  9. Great work Mark! Take some pics. Northern White Cedar is about as good as it gets, especially windblown down trees (vs. clear cut/harvested). Love the random widths too: it shows the resourcefulness of using as much of the material as possible. Awesome.

  10. I’m about to panel my sauna. And i am deciding between grade A white cedar and grade A western red cedar. The white is 1.22 a Lineal Ft and western red is 1.55. That’s in Canada. Any experience using white cedar? Somebody said the smell becomes unbearable after a while…did anyone else have that experience?


    Howdy, just wanted to check back in and give you an update. I ended up NOT replacing my eastern red interior. I dug deep on the internet and ended up using two methods to help reduce the intense aroma of the eastern red cedar.

    1). Bake the living hell out of the hot room. I ran the stove SEVERAL days at high high heat. Intermittently, I would hose down the room and the stove to create a steam so hot that the devil himself couldn’t survive in.

    2). In the midst of some of these hot room baking sessions, I would dilute 1.0gal white vinegar to 2.5gal water into my Stihl backpack sprayer, and spray the whole interior down. This helped neutralize the intense aroma quite a bit.

    All that plus eventual frequent sauna use has released enough of the wood’s resin to make it so my hot room is very nice smelling and enjoyable. I had to give it my best shot; after all, I did plane and route every single one of those boards on that build. Would I use the proper cedar next time?? absolutely yes. I just wanted to let you know that there IS hope for anyone else who makes the same mistake.

    Thanks for writing me back so quickly amidst my sauna crisis.

    Here is to a great summer! Cheers.

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