Guest post series continues. Please welcome Jason to Saunatimes, as we follow along from Birkie skiing to building his own backyard wood burning sauna. Here, Jason shares his journey from a ski trip to conviction towards building his own authentic Finnish sauna. Before sending it over to Jason, keep in mind a word from our sponsors: this site has helped mountains of people build their own kick ass authentic saunas. Jason followed a familiar path. He invested the ebook Sauna Build, Start to Finnish, he researched further, using the search bar at the top of Saunatimes,com (just above these words to the right), and then he came back for more action, signing up for my one on one consultation plan. (set up not to fleece the sauna builder for more cash, but to keep my bandwidth in check).
Email exchanges started bouncing back and forth. Then he’d go quiet for a period. Then, just when I thought he moved on, his emails and questions would start up again. I could say that his tenacity was starting to drive me crazy. But the secret here is that as Jason was building his own sauna, I was in the thick of revising the 2nd edition of my build your own sauna ebook. Jason was gracious, appreciative, and respectful to my time, I helped him along his sauna building journey, and some of our dialogue helped me with the 2nd edition sauna writing journey.
Jason built a kick ass sauna. Can you feel the heat from here? Please give Jason a warm thumbs up welcome to Saunatimes!
What compelled you to take on your backyard wood burning sauna building project?
In 2010, I moved up to the Twin Cities because my wife landed a job in Saint Paul. My sister came up to visit us shortly after we settled in, and she was telling me about some friends that were training for the American Birkebeiner ski race. The running joke in my family is that if you aren’t careful around my sister she’ll have you signed up for a marathon after a few beers. She gets a kick out of getting people motivated and setting goals. Well, when I woke up in the morning I was signed up for the Birkie and had 5 months to learn to ski.
I bought some skis the next day and patiently waited for the snow to fall. It wasn’t long and winter came. I quickly realized that the Twin Cities are a XC skiing mecca (tons of trails). Skiing turned into an obsession for me and I began heading to the trails regularly after work to dial in my skiing technique. It was an incredibly positive force in my life, and I soon began venturing outside the Twin Cities to explore other trail systems.
Somehow, I came across ABR Trails in Ironwood, MI, which has 76KM’s of meticulously groomed ski trails and various lodging options. When we were booking our stay, we were asked if we’d like to reserve the wood fire sauna at the trail head. We did, and it turned out to be the most incredible part of the trip. I had always enjoyed saunas at hotels and resorts, but that remote wood fire sauna experience was like none other.
ABR became an annual trip for us, and while the skiing was the reason we started going, the sauna kept drawing us back. I knew I needed sauna to be a more regular part of my life.
Picture is from 2012 at ABR trails, Jason is playing air guitar as he cools down from his first wood fire sauna experience. This is what a future sauna builder looks like. (Notice the skis in the snow, because the ski trails lead you right up to the sauna.)
In the fall of 2020 my dad, who’d joined me on the ABR trips, got a good deal on a Barrel Sauna. The price was surprisingly manageable, and I convinced my wife to buy the same sauna. However, by the time I got around to placing the order, the price had doubled (thanks coronavirus).
I started looking for other sauna options and I came across Saunatimes. The information on the blog convinced me that I could build a “real” sauna. Since I had limited construction background I was hesitant about my abilities and I still had a lot of questions. I found the consultation service on Glenn’s site and went for it. With some extra guidance and a lot of enthusiasm I was on my way.
How did you find Saunatimes and give us a few examples where the DIY ebook helped you out.
I found Saunatimes through basic internet searches for information. The main thing Saunatimes did for me was give me the confidence and encouragement to believe that I could pull this off. It’s scary jumping into a project like this by yourself, however the Saunatimes community and resources make you feel supported. Without that, I don’t think I would have taken this on.
To get specific, I found a lot of value in the photos included in the ebook and the Sketchup model. I’m a very visual person, and usually if I see something I can pretty quickly understand the steps I need to take to accomplish it. Also, I followed the Sketchup model to a T as I was framing up my structure. That was incredibly helpful.
Finally, the book points out all the features you might not “need” but you’ll later “want”. Example, why a change room is important, installing a drain, and wiring volume controls. I haven’t once said to myself, I wish I would have thought of this or added that.
What were the biggest 1-2 challenges for your backyard wood burning sauna building project?
General decision making – Throughout the build I had trouble making decisions regarding the design, materials or construction methods for fear that a wrong turn might derail the project. What helped, was coming to the realization that everything can be fixed (some fixes take longer and might cost more money, but in general there is a fix for everything). Also, I quit trying to plan too many steps ahead. I’d lay in bed pondering how I was going to pull off a certain phase of the build, but when I’d get to that stage of the project it would be clear there was only one viable solution.
Time – As a father of 2 small children it can be difficult to get uninterrupted time to bang away on the sauna. Or if you do, it means that you might be neglecting some of your dad duties. I ended up cutting things out of my normal routine to make time for the build, most significantly was ski/bike training. At first it was difficult to miss my long weekend bike rides, but I quickly settled into my new routine.
My wife and family were very generous throughout this process and the family really rallied around the build. I’m so happy it happened this way. The last thing I wanted was to have a building out back that created resentment and was looked at as “dad’s sauna” as opposed to the “Family’s sauna”
What aspect of your backyard wood burning sauna building project are you most proud of?
I am most proud that I built the structure myself, with a little help from my Old Man, who made the trip up from Central Wisconsin on several weekends at critical points in the build. I was planning on doing a Tuff-Shed or contracting the structure, but quotes for the structure blew a hole in my tight budget. So I started building it from scratch. It was great to bond with my dad while lifting the walls into place as well as during the much-needed roofing tutorial he provided. I learned so much about general building skills/techniques and I feel like I’m a more well-rounded person because of it. Also, I added a scalloped bargeboard to give it a European vibe. It only took a few minutes to cut out with a jig saw but I get lots of compliments on it.
What did you enjoy most about the build?
A few things come to mind:
- When I finally got a roof on the structure there was a sense of comfort knowing the building was weatherproof. I spent many evenings listening to music in the unfinished shed while I admired the progress, and I kept pinching myself as I realized my dream was coming true. Also, the kids had a blast playing in their new “playhouse”.
- installing the Tongue and groove Cedar. I bought a new RYOBI cordless nailer for this job. At first I was clumsy and unsure of myself, but by the end I was moving fast and finished the entire interior with confidence. I really got into the zone and time flew by.
- Construction pencils – I bought a box of these on my first visit to Menards. I always had one tucked into my hat during the build. It allowed me to get into character and pretend I was a real contractor. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there something satisfying about scribbling on your studs and marking your cuts with confident slashes of sturdy pencil. I still find myself using them around the house and my kids like to write with them too.
If you could have a mobile sauna anywhere in the world, where would you bring it and go sauna?
I would like to bring a mobile sauna to Lake Hayward during the Birkie. For those who don’t know, the last few miles of this iconic cross country ski marathon are crossing lake Hayward before finishing on main street in downtown Hayward, WI.
There would be nothing better than to finish my race, and then walk back down to the lake and celebrate with a beer and a few sauna rounds. Between sauna rounds, I’d cool down on the ice and cheer on the finishers from the later waves.