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The Best Wood to Use for Paneling the Walls of a Sauna Hot Room

If you ask 5 professionals in the lumber industry what the best wood paneling for your sauna hot room is, you may get 2- 3 different answers. But the most common answer is Western Red Cedar.

Troy V. Rockwood, Ontario: My dad asked me to somehow include in the sauna project a piece of 4×4 western red cedar he’d saved since 1975.

Western Red Cedar is:

  • Slightly aromatic yet not smelly or overpowering.
  • Holds up over generations (literally).
  • Expensive, but readily available and is cheaper over the long haul.
  • Doesn’t get as hot to the touch. Soft wood. loose grained.
  • During construction, most sauna builders love the smell of freshly cut cedar in the morning…. smells like victory.

Other common species include basswood, spruce, and aspen. These are softer woods, which are more prone to rot and decay. But with good ventilation, and practicing the bake and breathe method, using these species for our sauna paneling can be a good choice.

How Much Paneling Do You Need for Your Sauna Hot Room?

Whether a wood fired sauna or an electric sauna, when it comes to building our own sauna, lots of folks get tripped up about how much material they’ll need to panel their hot rooms. We get our pencils out and start writing down some numbers. We scratch our left ear, do some calculations, then we scratch our forehead. “board feet, lineal feet, square feet, oh, my! I’m not a total idiot here, but why is this so hard?” I’ve built a bunch of saunas and still, I get tripped up on this.

Let’s Walk Through How to Do It

  1. What is the square feet of your sauna hot room?

Add up the length of all four walls. Take that number and multiply it by height of your sauna hot room. This number is the square feet of your walls. But you also need to add the square feet of your ceiling. Easy. Multiply the length times the width of your hot room. At these two numbers together. This is the square feet of your sauna room.

  1. Subtract for windows, doors and add for trim.

Here’s the secret. Chances are if you measure all that stuff, then add back in what you’re needing for trim, odds are that your numbers are going to be pretty close to each other. So, just go with #1 (and maybe a little more for mistakes, etc.).

Now you have TOTAL square feet of material you’ll need to panel your sauna hot room. But we need to convert this to board feet. uggh.. this is so hard to explain.

Let me just try to roll through an example.

  • 7’+7’+7’+7′ = 28′ That’s the perimeter of my hot room
  • 7′ That’s the height of my hot room.
  • 28′ – perimeter of hot room
  • x7′ – height of hot room
  • 196′ = that’s the square feet of my walls
  • 7′ – length of one wall
  • +7′ – length of the adjacent wall
  • 14′ = square feet of my ceiling
  • 196′ – square feet of walls
  • +49′ – square feet of ceiling
  • ~ 250 = square feet of sauna.
  • 5″ exposed height of t&g paneling
  • x12″ number of inches in a foot.
  • 60″ – square inches of 1′ of paneling.
  • x.00694444 – 1 Sq. Inch = 0.00694444444 Sq. Foot (this is a formula number)
  • 0.41664 – square feet of one board foot of 5″ paneling.
  • / 250′ – square feet of sauna.
  • 600 – lineal feet of 5″ paneling needed to panel my sauna.
  • / 14′ – length of boards.
  • 43- number of 14′ boards needed to panel my sauna.

This is the best way I know how to figure out the number of cedar boards to panel my saunas. Again, there’s all kinds of weeds we can get tangled in, trying to subtract for windows and doors and durock corners behind our sauna stoves I’ve built my share of saunas. It’s crazy how subtracting for all that is about the same amount you’ll want on hand for ripping trim and making a sauna hot room door. So, order 37 boards, 14′ long and let’s start paneling our hot room!

Money Saving Tips for Wood Paneling

Here in Minnesota, we use Western Red Cedar for our sauna hot room wood paneling. In Scandinavia, many saunas are paneled with White Spruce. Both these species are not cheap, but definitely, definitely stay away from Pine. I will fill you in why another day. Don’t be tempted by compromising on wood species. Most any home improvement expert can help you understand the importance of using good and durable materials when building a structure. They can provide you fiscally responsible and good quality suggestions for construction. Focus more on reducing your required square footage instead of using cheap materials.

Reducing the Amount of Premium Paneling Needed for Your Hot Room

These are my tips for wood paneling for your sauna hot room, and you may let us know if you have any more tips along these lines. Just start typing in the comments below.

  1. HOT ROOM SIZE: Don’t make your hot room too big. 6’x8′ or 7’x7′ are ideal sizes for hot room. Any larger and you’re just being American with a bigger car. Bigger is not better. I can fill you in why another day.
  2. DURROCK AROUND STOVE: Code requires non combustibles within a lot of inches around your sauna stove. Applying durock over studs and vapor barrier in the stove corner – plus on the ceiling around the chimney – helps reduce your wood paneling square footage. I have tiled and I have skim coated on top of this. Either way, it looks great and is safe and durarock is cheaper than wood paneling.
  3. CHEAPER WOOD UNDER BENCHES: It’s darker and quiet down there. You could screw in some primed plywood or get more creative if you need to. It’s not the end of the world, few will see what’s going on down there.
  4. CANDLE WINDOW: I am a huge fan of the candle window. It creates collusion with your changing room, gives a feeling of openness, and as an added bonus: cost: the glass window can be free or cheaper than wood paneling (recycled or surprisingly it’s not a rip off to get glass cut to size from a local glass company).
  5. TRANSOM WINDOW: Lately, there’s been a sauna building trend towards putting windows in the hot room to the outdoors. A transom window – a longer rectangular window set up higher along the wall – is the best option. A transom window allows the sauna bather to have a more panoramic view of the outdoors. Those outside peering in may only get a glimpse of the sauna bather’s head vs. *gasp* a pair of boobs or gosh knows what else! (insert the horrors of nudity in American culture here). Again, a custom piece of 1/4″ tempered glass can be cut for a surprisingly reasonable price from a glass company).
  6. #3 GRADE: Because Western Red Cedar is a premium species, there is often lots of #3 grade product out there at lumber yards and wholesalers.A guy can save some coin here.
  7. SHORTER RUNS: The introduction of windows, doors, durarock cut down on the amount of wood needed for a sauna hot room. What’s more, now you will be using lots more shorter boards to fill in. Short runs means that a guy has lots of flexibility when using #3 grade or recycled product, cutting out bad areas, warped boards, etc.
  8. RECYCLED PRODUCT: Out of all the ideas, using recycled cedar paneling is probably your best tip. There’s Craigslist and there is a ton of remodeling going on right now. It’s amazing how many thousands, millions of premium grade cedar board feet are being ripped out and tossed in dumpsters. Don’t believe me? Hop on a bike and cruise around a tony neighborhood in your town. I literally cry when I see cedar tossed in construction dumpsters. When I see or smell cedar, whether dressed in shorts or work attire, I will stop my car, put on my flashers, and am unabashed about climbing into the dumpster to get that beautiful wood out of there and into my car for reuse another day. This ethos, I know, is shared by all reading this which is another reason why we are a tribe of kindred spirits.
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116 Comments

116 thoughts on “Wood Paneling for Your Sauna Hot Room”

  1. Hello,
    I am planning to convert a small shed on my Wisconsin property into a sauna. Your site has many helpful and resourceful ideas.

    I would be interested in learning the specifics of installing a wood burning stove to assure is is safe. For example, How far from the wall? Does the tile around it have to be coded for high heat? Are there special rules for the chimney placement or height?
    I have a Franklin Stove style of wood burner which I believe would produce an appropriate amount of heat for the size of the building as well as being quite attractive!

    Thanks for the advice in finding reasonably priced cedar paneling. I found a wonderful resource on Craigslist which will save me a lot of money!

    Thank you for your advice,
    Jeannie Abel

  2. Hi Jeannie: I can direct you to Silkerk. I use their chimney components. They are from Canada and distribute via some big box outlets including Menards, where one can save big money procuring when they do the 11% back offer. Your Franklin style stove probably has some uncharted, undocumented code, so I can suggest following building code and setbacks in place with existing sauna stove companies like Kuuma and Tylo/Helo. BOTTOM LINE: Keep your combustibles arms length and get used to Durarock, and spacers.

    THE BIG SELL: Installing wood sauna stoves and more are detailed in my Build your Own Sauna ebook. $20, and will save you mountains more in money saving tips.

  3. In my sauna, I used an old shower door mounted horizontally, it was tempered glass and frosted . Good thing too because I was running out of cedar siding. I also used a plywood door with an old truck slider window in it. With the metal around the stove, I saved getting wood I did not have.

  4. Great tips, Glenn. Thanks for all of your hard work. I had a question about door dimensions and construction — what is typical for hot room door widths? And do you like to make your own door with a foam core for insulation? Just curious to hear about some ideas here. Thank you for your time!

  5. Zig. Thanks. I like hot room door 24″ wide. 26″ Rough Opening. 6’4″ door height. 1/2-3/4″ gap below door for air flow. (gentle blowdryer). Door construction: Sandwich a 23 1/2″ x 6’4″ x 1/2″ piece of plywood with t&g cedar. BIG SELL: All this is detailed (with photos) in my ebook.

    It’s nICE to be able to make our own sauna doors.

  6. venting a sauna is a good thing. Especially electric stove. If a wood stove, you can have in inlet vent along the base of the sauna door (gentle blow dryer) as air gets sucked in to feed the stove. I like a vent opposite wall to the stove, but then again, I’ve built saunas without vents and they have been working fine for over 20 years as a guy can just crack the door open after sauna and to air things out.

  7. I’m curious. Does it matter if the wood has been treated our not? I don’t want to get midway with creating it and find out that there should be no chemicals on the wood.

  8. Aaron: You are a smart man. NO treated wood in our saunas. (exception: drip edge along bottom perimeter. Yet this piece gets buried by durarock and first course of t&g cedar as detailed in my ebook: Sauna Build: Start to Finnish.

  9. Hi! Thanks for all the great tips! We are building a sauna out of a garden shed and couldn’t find proper foil backed vapour barrier. We did find some reflective material but I don’t think it’s vapour barrier. We were going to poly behind it. Is poly a bad idea? My other plan is industrial strength aluminum foil with tuck tape….

  10. Finally installing a back yard sauna, price has gone up since last year as a result of US duties on cedar from Canada. Less expensive option is hemlock. Since I will only have one sauna, should I spend the extra $ on cedar or is performance/look not significant enough for incremental $2k? Thanks for help

  11. I am wanting to make a cinder block and concrete room into a sauna. Using an electric stove. Do I need a barrier between wall and stove. Thanks

  12. yes. stone walls will take a very long time to heat up. We’ll need a barrier to keep the heat isolated. In commercial saunas, they often have stone walls, but these saunas are always hot, so the walls (insulated from the outside) become a constant thermal mass and heat source for the hot room. Hope this helps!

  13. Hi Glenn,

    Your website is very helpful for somebody building a sauna in North America. I’m originally from Finland, transplanted to Canadian mid-west, and am finally building my own sauna and building materials has proven to be the biggest challenge. I’m building my sauna on a trailer, and in phases, so I have some additional challenges, but I’ve definitely picked your brain on some things, such as sloping the floor. While I got some advise on not needing insulation in a tiny trailer sauna, I decided otherwise as I want to use my sauna even when it dips down to -30. I ended up using Iko Enerfoil 1.5″ insulation in the cavities. Iko Enerfoil is really close to popular Finnish sauna insulation branded Sauna-Satu. You should look into it as it’s readily available in US and Canada, and similar price to bubble wrap stuff.

    Anyway…good site and much appreciated info.

  14. Olli: Very cool. Enerfoil. Yes, I have used it a couple times. I like it too. Ty for the idea and sharing your story.

    Insulation: Great move. Glad you did that.

    Sauna on a trailer: Love that. Send pics if inspired/able. Mebbe we do a guest post. Show others.

  15. There are more. We were able to get Western Red Cedar locally, though it was harder to find. Locally, Eastern White cedar is abundantly available and easier to find. I wouldn’t reccomend pine for the hot room – as it will weep pine sap when it gets hot.

  16. I’ll send some pics your way once I get paint on and all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. I was just doing the roofing and panelling this weekend and while I should have taken some photos, I was on overdrive to get as much accomplished as possible, so missed a whole bunch of “in progress” photos. But I built almost everything myself, including the trailer, so it was a long process of building, watching for sales and digging through scrap piles for usable materials.

  17. Use Pine if that’s all you got or can muster Yet we build our saunas once. A more premium species creates an “ahhh” that we will “ahhh” about for many years to come.

  18. We used Western Red Cedar for the walls with redwood for the trim, benches, and backrests. Dimensional redwood is much easier to come by in Southern California than WRC so that drove the decision.

    The redwood looks beautiful but there is a downside in that redwood doesn’t smell anywhere near as good as WRC. I never realized redwood has a pretty strong odor of its own and it smells like generic wood. It tends to mask the WRC aroma which is too bad.

    Other than that no complaints. Our built-from-scratch sauna has been up and running about seven months now with 2-3 times a week usage. What a fantastic way to spend the evening! Thanks for all the inspiration Glenn.

  19. There are many ways to calculate the amount of lumber you will need for your room ( I prefer the method I’ve used for thirty years plus, as it is simpler and more accurate )
    And as I used to tell my students, when figuring material quantities, always check the math, or have someone else look it over for you; as errors can be costly…
    (The ceiling area you’ve used here Glenn needs to be checked, your order is short…)
    Thanks and good luck…

  20. We just bought a house in central new york. A local Amish guy build us a 12×14 workshop on skids that turned out great. Naturally, my mind turned to sauna. I can get an 8×10 shed very cheaply
    My question involves flooring. Can I do this on typical shed skids? What about drainage?

  21. you can do this sauna project on skids, yes. Drainage: If you dump water over your head in winter and go with an outdoor shower other seasons, you don’t have to worry too much about excess drainage. Lots more about drainage detailed in the ebook. And for more, you can search “drain” on right hand side here.

  22. Does anyone here have any experience using hemlock as flooring? Or just how it holds up in a hot room in general?

    I’m working out my flooring plan and currently thinking about just floor joists, insulation between and some shiplap hemlock for flooring. Do I need plywood too? Trying to keep it simple and affordable but want the hot room hot.

    I live in the northeast and hemlock is easy to get. I’ve read a little about it low toxicity and rot resistance, but thought I’d ask the group. Any input appreciated. Just starting to break ground! Very exciting…

  23. What if the vapor barrier is polyethylene? Do I need to replace it or is it alright? I was told by someone at the hardware store that it’d be fine, but am second guessing this advice now.

  24. Grady: My cabin sauna (25 years old) is poly. My backyard sauna (20 years old) is foil. I could tell you to take it down or leave it up, depending upon how you’d feel better. In other words, if your at the poly stage, rip it up and start again. if, you’ve already tongue and grooved, move on and you’ll be ok.

  25. I don’t want to go cheap on the hot room, but am looking to save money in changing room. Any ideas? How about 1/4″ t&g cedar, perhaps over wallboard? What have you seen that looks good, but isn’t full on t&g cedar like in the hot room?

  26. I went with pine 1×6 t&g. It’s beatiful and is almost 3 times cheaper than western red cedar. At least in Canada.

  27. Thanks. Will very seriously consider t&g pine for changing room. At Home Depot in Minnesota (on homedepot.com), a 1 in x 6 in x 8 ft t&g pine board is listed at $3.98, or $1.08 per square foot. The cheapest cedar I could fine was knotty 1 in x 4 in x 8 ft 6 packs for $43.23, or $3.09 per square foot. High grade cedar 1 in x 6 in x 8 ft 6 packs are $100.88 per 6 pack, or $5.05 per square foot. That’s a huge difference (and it might be caused by recent trade frictions with Canada.)

  28. Chris- Try calling a local sawmill and get them to price you your cedar you will need. I am in MN also and contacted a sawmill in the Duluth area and told them I am building a sauna, gave them the dimensions, and they gave me prices on different grade cedar. I went with white cedar kiln dried and got a better deal than going through the local big box stores.

  29. Great tip, David! Folks at local sawmills are generally great to deal with, especially when it comes to sauna building. Kindred appreciative spirits of the DIY ethos.

  30. Thanks for this guidance. I have a bunch of cedar planks leftover from a fence project. Do my boards need to be tongue and groove? Are there other tricks for using regular boards? I know exposed nails/screws will get hot. Thanks again!

  31. Mae: T&G is an aesthetic good thing in that as boards expand and contract, naturally from heat and moisture, they have tolerances for not exposing what’s underneath. (hopefully foil vapor barrier). If using regular boards, one trick is to season your wood well, in hot room, so when you apply they are contracted well. You could ship lap or run through table saw to bevel. Please consider listening to Steve’s Sauna Talk, where we review the cost saving virtues of putting cedar fence panels “in play.”

    note here:
    https://www.saunatimes.com/building-a-sauna/could-cedar-dog-ear-fence-pickets-be-the-sauna-builders-cost-effective-work-around/

    and here:
    https://www.saunatimes.com/sauna-talk-podcast/sauna-talk-steve-friedrichs-walks-us-through-all-it-takes-to-build-your-own-backyard-sauna-and-how-it-has-enhanced-the-lives-of-he-and-his-family/

  32. I have built a 5×7 foot room in the back of a garage extension to hold a sauna. Since Cedar and almost all building supplies are expensive in NW Wyoming, I was planning on buying a kit to get all the parts delivered ready to go. I am a decent carpenter and electrician but still feel a kit will save me time and effort. I have a bid from a sauna supplier lined up but realize it did not include duckboards or any vents. I am now questioning if I have chosen the right sauna supplier. I want this done right.

    Do you have a recommended suppliers of ready to go kits?

  33. Jordan: Sending you a separate email. I hear you. I”ve gotten enough emails from folks “blah” about their sauna kits. I think we can help you out.

  34. Glenn–
    What do you know about using basswood in saunas? We are gearing up for our sauna build (thanks for re-sending the book, it’s great!). A small local sawmill can get us a great deal on basswood T&G, which has the benefits of 1) being locally sourced, 2) much less expensive than cedar, and 3) apparently is the most common wood used in Finland (along with spruce), as they don’t have access to reasonably priced cedar. It’s advertised in many of the dreaded infrared “saunas” because of its complete lack of odor which can be nice for people with allergies (not an important attribute in my case). Sounds like you recommend western red cedar (commonly found in big box stores, imported from Oregon/Washington)….any cedar locally grown in MN is white cedar, which is a bit softer and potentially lower strength ratio, also tends to be pretty expensive as the state has placed more restrictions on cutting in the last few years. Long story short–have you ever used basswood, and what are your thoughts?

  35. (I posted this on another page, but it seems more relevant here.)

    Hello, we found a great deal on some knotty cedar T&G and I am curious if you have recommendations to patch or seal the back side of the knots? In cases where they have a crack that goes all the way through I’d like to fill it a little to stop vapor from going through.

    I’ve looked at PC wood epoxy and Gorilla Glue Epoxy as options, but am also concerned about the VOC’s / off gassing of those products. Don’t want to turn the sauna into a toxic environment!

    Thanks!

  36. AJ:

    This is a good one, and I don’t have a suggestion. Further, i’m not sure even who to ask. Half of me thinks the best option is to use no filler and avoid the t&g sections with really bad knot holes.

  37. AJ – think about a paste of water-based wood glue and wood flour (sawdust). I think that would present no problems. I’m thinking about it more from the perspective of keeping the knots intact with the rest of the board, so you don’t end up with holes over cycles of heating and cooling. I would think that in general a hot room will have more opportunities for vapor passing through the wood layer at joints and intersections than through some knots, and anyhow that’s what the foil vapor barrier layer is for.

  38. I wonder why you don’t consider aspen. I read that it is used in Finland where cedar is rare. I used for the walls of my sauna & it is holding up well after 2 years. Half the cost of cedar.

  39. Hi Joe:

    Aspen/poplar is indeed “poplar” in Finland (cough!). One downside potentially is that it is much more prone to rot when wet/moist vs., say, cedar. They used to build coffins out of aspen.

    Anyhow, i’m very much with you though, as our cabin is all local NE Minnesota aspen interior (walls and floors). We have had some minor wood rotting, but only where we had a water leak and that sucks, but them’s the breaks. Very pleased that your hot room walls have held up well. With a well ventilated hot room, you are getting no moisture hanging around and great to hear that life is good in your sauna. More songs about wood species in Finland here: https://www.saunatimes.com/sauna-culture/sauna-travel/sauna-talk-from-harvia-world-headquarters-central-finland/

  40. Here is a tip that literally saved hundreds of dollars on the western red cedar T+G wall panelling.

    The longer a board of cedar needs to be clear, the higher the price. So for example the price of a 2foot clear cedar board is very cheap, however a 10foot clear board ran about 50$ eachin my area.

    The longest walls were threatening to turn expensive, so I framed in a shadow box in each wall.
    As a result, I was able to use 3 foot pieces to the right and to the left of the boxes, still using clear cedar, horizontally installed. Into the shadow boxes, I will put an aroma light and a Himalayan salt lamp for that special ambience and atmosphere.

    That cut up the length of that awfully expensive clear cedar, into mostly reasonable cheap shorter pieces.

    Hope this helps someone

  41. Mike: Fabulous tip! Along these lines, if a sauna builder wants to use short cuts of cedar, it’s not out of line to line up the short cuts along the wall and bury the seam with a vertical firing strip, or racing stripe. Same concept as your great idea, above.

  42. Thank you, Glenn, for sharing the pictures and valuable tips. I would like to ask you two doubts – can we use untreated wood and is there any guide for placing the chimney. I found your site helpful and has many resourceful ideas. Thanks for the assistance in finding a reasonably priced cedar panel. Waiting for more tips and advice.

  43. Hi Donnie: Yes, always untreated wood in the sauna. yes, there is a detailed guide for placing the chimney in my ebook, Sauna Build, Start to Finnish..

    Happy to help, and the book has been refined over hundreds of sauna builds, folks just like you and me rolling up our sleeves.

  44. Glenn,

    I know you have discussed repurposing cedar siding for use in saunas, and there has been much talk of not allowing chemicals to leech in a hot room. I have not been able to find any information online about removing paint for the purpose of using the boards in a sauna. I have a large quantity of painted cedar siding, some T&G, some that I will rip. I plan on planing them down, as it seems to be easier than sanding. Is this a necessary course of action, or could the boards just be flipped around, with the unpainted side facing the room?

  45. Eric:

    My thinking is that if you’re at all concerned about chemicals and leeching (either actual or just perceived) from using repurposed cedar with paint on it, then i’d say that the labor/time to plane the paint off the cedar will allow for you to fully enjoy the atmosphere in your hot room forever.

    I am very familiar with this ethos. My wife is completely free range organic with everything. I don’t dare spray our lawn with anything even if she’s not around. Having weeds around is better than any of her angst.

    Same concept with your project. Even if flipped around, you’ll know there’s paint on the other side. So, plane it off, and you’re good to go.

    Wear a mask. 🙂

  46. What about Basswood? I have read that it is hypoallergenic and that it is commonly used in saunas. I don’t think I have seen this species mentioned on your site.

  47. Basswood, spruce, aspen/poplar, alder are all viable species (and there are a couple more). I haven’t worked with them. I do know that aspen/poplar is not durable in moist environments. Where saunas are good with ventilation and the “bake and breathe” method, the wood does hold up fairly well.

    Call me a stubborn mule, but here in N. America, i’ve been so completely pleased with Western Red Cedar, that I just haven’t moved off that reservation.

  48. Does wood used for saunas need special treatment? Like a special coat of some chemical or something to keep moist away? Or is it the same wood you can buy at any Home Depot? Asking because I know that wood naturally shrinks a bit in hot temperatures and if you add moisture to the mix I can imagine it being a nightmare, so I´m wondering if the wood has to be special wood meant for saunas or if it can be the same wood you can but at any home depot?

  49. Hi Valeria:

    Sauna wood is a certain species of wood, and the most popular species are detailed above. Don’t treat the wood. Au naturalle is the way to go. It gets hot, it gets moist, but the “bake and breathe” method and good ventilation will ensure that your sauna wood will last a long time. (25 yrs. and counting for my sauna).

  50. i am planning my sauna and was wondering if cementboard can be used at all in the sauna
    was planning on doing the walls and ceiling with it and using high grade cedar for benches and backrests

  51. Marc… You’re thinking crazy… and I like it. I’ve NOT build a sauna using cement board as walls, but have been thinking about it a lot. Especially running the bottom half of the walls, an extended knee wall as cement board.

    To get nerdy with you, we want to be sensitive and responsive to this principle:

    Metals and stone are considered good conductors since they can speedily transfer heat, whereas materials like wood, paper, air, and cloth are poor conductors of heat.

    So, let’s start with:
    1. Our walls will get super hot: 250f. at least.
    2. Time to heat up: cement will be sucking in lotsa heat.
    3. what kind of yuckiness is in cement board? – ie, the dreaded “off gassing” (not aufgussing).

    So we’d need to account for all this, and probably more. And there’s a good reason why saunas for dozens of generations have been built with wood, but that’s similar to what Steve Jobs could have said looking at his dial up phone.

    So, let’s nerd out more if you like. If I were to direct you towards more efforts at discovery, I’d suggest you contact the cement board trade counsel, or some possible existing organization, who can give you heat tolerance testing of cement board, and any results from gas emissions and BS., then please email me at saunatimes@gmail.com

  52. Hello! I’m happy to report that I’ve put the proverbial cart before the horse and procured a sauna heater today. I have to admit it was a bit of a Covid purchase as I’ve got suspicions that they are possibly going to be hard to find (much like trying to find a hot tub in our area apparently). In any case, I’ve got big plans for a sauna to warm my bones in after long days carving this winter. I’m an ice carver and spend most of the winter outside even on days where the rest of thew world wants nothing to do with the outdoors. I feel like a sauna is tailored for me for sure.

    Anyway, the questions will be plenty. Starting with this one. You mention Durarock up above. Do you ALSO use stand-offs either under the durarock and/or do you suggest a steel heat shield spaced off the Durarock? Up here in Canada the stuff I’m sure you are referring to is called cement board or Hardiebacker (brand name). It’s widely used in bathrooms under wall tiles. Is that all you need? The heater came with a “one size fits all” disclaimer on distance to combustibles which seems written to cover everyone’s butt legally (but mine)…unless I want a 20 X 20 hot room with the heater right in the middle.

    I’ve got he book and have devoured it once through already. SHould be a great resource in this process for me.

  53. Hi Kelly:

    Yes, Durarock or cement board is a great go to for stove surrounds. It’s officially a “non combustable,” reasonably priced, available everywhere, easy to work with, and is an awesome solution on its own, offering a rustic finished look, (mounted with printing side against the wall) or as the ideal substrate for tiling or stone.

    Setbacks: You got it. As you say in some parts of Canada “le coveur du butt”.

  54. Thanks for sharing ideas for materials. I have about 17 pieces of milled cottonwood – average size of 90″ x 10″ x 2-3″ thick.

    I wanted to know if anyone has experience 1 – using cottonwood for the benches and/or floor and 2- most benches I see are made with ‘slats’ – any issue with using these wider boards I already have? I don’t see ‘solid benches’ in any photos- does it need to have space for air circulation?

  55. Terri:

    I’ve not experienced cottonwood. If it is a soft looser grained wood, like cedar or basswood, you should be able to make it go. If it is a harder, tighter grained wood, like oak, then run away. And knot free or very small knots is quite important.

    As far as board widths, you’re right on. There’s an “optimization” here and based on my 30 year experience sitting on sauna benches, 2×4 stock is miles best. The thicker stock is key, as the density of the wood makes it less tin can ouch, and the width and slats, you got it, help create air flow.

  56. Hi, thanks for all and I have a question. When you say repurposed cedar panel do you mean siding? Also, I have a line on some old cedar siding. What to do about nail holes?

  57. Hi Tom:
    Repurposed cedar: Referring to any cedar, really. As long as it’s not all yuck-ified with stain and paint, which could be planed down.
    Nail holes: I’d leave them as part of the character. Trying to fill them will most likely not work over time, as the fill material will not expand and contract with the natural wood.

  58. Currently is is difficult to find Cedar. What are your thoughts on using basswood for the walls? For the benches?

  59. yes, cedar is tough these days. Our cabin is all poplar (native aspen). This species and basswood are known to be fast growing, common, and so relatively inexpensive compared to cedar. I am very pleased with the poplar for our cabin. It’s lighter than pine and has held up well. We had some water damage and the floors, on the other hand, haven’t held up that well over time. The lore is that they used to build coffins out of basswood and aspen, because the wood deteriorates quickly, and all goes back to the earth.

    So, bottom line is that I haven’t used these species for my builds, as I have been very happy with cedar which is known to be about the best for damp environments. I’m thinking that if you dry out your sauna well between sessions (search “back and breathe method” on this website), well, you may be just fine.

  60. I read somewhere in here about knots and what to do. I’ve got a number of boards that have the knots completely knocked out, sometimes leaving a 1-11/2″ hole. I have completely wrapped my walls in foil bubble wrap. Will the holes just be a cosmetic issue, or will they be a problem down the road allowing moisture through the board? I can live with a few shiny spots under the bench for the prove I got these boars at.

  61. Do I *need* a table saw to make rip cuts? Can it be done with just a circular saw? I’ve seen videos on how to make rip cuts with a circular saw and a guide. But will it actually turn out well or will it look like crap.

  62. Sometimes is hard to draw the line between – “I’m only doing this once, just spend the money”, and saving a few bucks where it’s reasonable.

    What are your thoughts on using pine 2×4 as bench supports instead of cedar 2×4? It would save at least $50 on an item that isn’t really seen other than the ends on each side wall. Since I’m using Michigan white cedar T&G, it shouldn’t look extremely different in color either.

  63. Hi Todd:

    Pine 2×4 bench supports: Yes, very doable. The caveat is “only if your sauna breathes well” (is well vented), which yours is, I can tell. And you’ll be following the bake and breathe method. I’ve used pine for cleats and such under cedar benches for a friend’s sauna build and all is well (15 yrs. ago and counting).

    Michigan white cedar: Love this! Send us a pic.

  64. Thanks Glenn! I do still need to figure out how to create a vent in the back or side wall opposite the heater that doesn’t look terrible and is adjustable. Any ideas? I was thinking of a section of pvc pipe going through the wall but can’t quite think of how to finish it with some sort of baffle that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the paneling.

    I will send some of the latest pics! Cedar T&G is coming along, and my custom door is 1/2 done.

  65. The big box Depot/Lowes sell a simple dryer vent system. It’s detailed in the ebook. Basically to install,
    1. pick up one of these dryer vent kits.
    2. use a 4″ hole saw.
    3. cut through your t&g, through joist cavity, and through your exterior wall.
    4. install the dryer vent.
    5. install a kick ass vent chute cover slider from the inside.

  66. Hey Glenn,

    Do you sand the Tongue and Groove panels on the walls and ceiling after putting them up? (Or before but I’ve already put them up…)

    Thanks,
    Dan

  67. Hi Dan:

    I have never sanded t&g. I’ve installed with smooth side out, and i’ve done builds with rough side out. I like cedar so much that I like both sides for different reasons. Anyhow, good on you for getting your paneling up, and no need to sand!

  68. i sanded mine after install, just the areas above the benches. i hadn’t planned on doing it but after comparing to sanded benches and doing a test spot, i liked it enough to do the whole thing. not necessary though.

  69. Hi Louise:

    If you don’t mind the inevitable gap-age that will happen with the expansion and contraction of your cedar paneling.. well.. I think you’re good!

    I wouldn’t seal between the boards. That’s trouble in that when you start mixing mediums (wood and seal) it won’t hold up well, as these mediums expand and contract differently, so chances are the seal won’t hold. So, I like your spirit of living with the gap-age, and a little space age foil exposed between gaps isn’t the end of the world.

    One thing to consider, for minimizing gaps is to cut your paneling to size, then take a sauna with your paneling to get it acclimated before nailing. It’s a great way to go, as your cedar paneling is a good sauna companion. It won’t talk back to you on the bench, and it’ll help it become one with you, before nailing it up.

    I built a sauna once where we ran the straight paneling lengths through the table saw at 45° and this is possible for you, but your call there.

  70. So my friend and builder has an abundance of 1” western cedar boards which I could use to line my sauna shed, although it is not tongue and groove. I don’t mind that spaces between them will be visible and showing a little bit of the foil vapor barrier. Are there other problems I should be aware of, if not using tongue and groove? Or could I perhaps seal between the boards?

  71. Hey Glenn, thank you so much for your efforts! Currently designing & pricing my sauna build after purchasing your e-book, just curious if you have comments about using 1/4″ T&G cedar paneling instead of the 1″ normally used? Would substantially reduce cost, so I want to make sure I am making the proper considerations before finalizing my materials list.

  72. Hi Sisu Mark:

    I’m not familiar with 1/4″ T&G Cedar paneling. As you know, that is super thin material compared to standard T&G. I have worked with 1/4″ T&G oak flooring and am well famikiar with that. Oak is tight grained and the T and the G hold up, albeit not ideal, as if a guy starts sanding floors this thin, they’ll completely expose the G to the T and that pretty much wrecks the product.

    Anyway, that’s a tangent. There is an argument that thicker wood paneling in the hot room helps produce better lämpömassa.

    The important thing is foil and tape seal the seams, for good vapor barrier.

    So, there you have it, a bunch of blah blah that doesn’t really answer your question!

  73. Thanks Glenn!!! The 1/4″ T&G Cedar was found on Home Depot’s website: https://www.homedepot.com/p/1-4-in-x-3-5-in-x-8-ft-Cedar-V-Plank-6-Pieces-14-sq-ft-8203015/202106509

    I’m just trying decide if I wait another year or two to build it so I can save more and expand my budget and really do it “right” (whatever that really means?), or keep moving ahead now and trying to go in as economically as possible to get it done NOW within my current budget. Ugh…..money….

  74. Hi Sisu Mark…

    hmmm.. well, i HAVE worked with this product, but not for sauna. If you asked me to choose right now, I’d say that if you’re very well foiled and sealed that you could probably use this 1/4″ T&G cedar with no ill effects. Given how thin it is, i’d be thinking of 3/4″ spacers 16″ oc so that your nails have more meat in which to sink into.

    As I think about it, there will probably be more of this material being used, for reasons you describe above.

  75. Hi Glenn,

    We purchased a 1979 home in Utah with an indoor Sauna (6x8x6) with a Metos W8 electric heater. The hottest we can get to is 150F after 1+ hours. We have been using it weekly for the past 3 years. We are remodeling the adjoining room and found zero insulation. I also discovered the sauna room is sheet rocked with cedar T&G attached. The sauna door bottom is gapped. Because we’ve paid for the heat we’ve always left the door ajar…which also is releasing any humidity.

    While I am insulating the shared wall with blown in fiberglass should I blow the other sauna walls including the ceiling? Should I place reflective bubble material against the drywall prior to insulating? I am planning on installing an exhaust fan in the opposite corner of the heater and venting it into our hallway. Utah has low humidity. Which 8kw+ electric heater would you recommend? Would like the controller to be digital and prefer an app so we can start it from upstairs.

    I plan to install LED lighting below the benches for access lighting. The trick I have found is to mount the aluminum track, place the LED strips w/3M tape and then cover the strip with 100% Silicone. The Silicone will keep the LEDs cool enough to function while the Sauna is in use.

    What are your thoughts about having a water tap inside the sauna? I can easily plumb in the tap using PEX or Copper tubing. Any recommendations on installing a tap including a preferred tap would be greatly appreciated.

  76. Yes, insulation, then foil, then air gap or no air gap, then t&g.

    The electric heaters I recommend: I’ll send you a separate fax.

    Water tap: I don’t recommend inside the hot room, unless it’s a tap and down low just high enough to set the löyly bucket underneath. This is common in Finland, and I think they are using copper.

  77. Hi Glenn,

    I have recently purchased your book (LOVE the title!!) and I’m half way through taking lots of notes along the way. I also listen to your podcasts and have gotten lots of great ideas from them already. So, on that note thank you.

    I have a couple of issues with the first stages of my planning though which I would like to get right before I go any further as it will determine how I build the rest of the Sauna.

    In Australia we commonly use H2 and H3 treated pine for framing. (H2 protects against termites and is for internal use only. H3 protects against termites and wood rot, and is for outside, above ground only, exposed to weather)

    This material in essential if we want a structure to last. My concern is the chemicals used to treat this timber is going to leech into the air once the sauna is reaching temperature and affect the air quality or make me and my family sick. I have spoken to company’s who build Saunas here and they say this is the wood they use to build the framing…… but it’s readily available and cheap so I’m not 100% on the motive for using this product.

    What sort of timber is your framing built out of ? Will the internal foil layer and wood lining be enough to protect me from the chemicals?

    One other thing that is tricky living in Australia is sourcing Western Red Cedar, it needs to be imported, it is very expensive and hard to find. I have had some people suggest “Finnish White Wood” for the internal lining and benches as an alternative. ??

    Are you able to shed any light on these issues or point me in the right direction ?

    Thank you for your time, much appreciated

  78. Hi Mason:

    Glad you are digging saunatimes.

    Treated Pine:
    If you talk to enough sauna builders (or those proclaiming to be), you will find ones that are way freaked out by using this material for sauna framing. These are the same folks that freak out about fiberglass batting, and like to use the term “off-gassing” like baristas use the word “crema.” And just because we know how to make cappuccinos with foam at the top, doesn’t mean we are right.

    What I am rambling about here is that you need to frame with this material as a conscious builder in your region. So go with that. Then, because we foil vapor barrier our hot room, and tape the seams, (as you reference) we can sit on the bench happy to know that any yuckiness is safely sealed and contained outside our hot room. That’s my logic, and I stand by it.

    Western Red Cedar:
    I hear you there. This article above may be a good resource for alternative species. Specifically, the Finns often line their hot rooms with Spruce, and everybody is happy with that. You can listen to this podcast, where we get into the weeds on species for sauna hot room paneling.

    Sauna on, Mason!

  79. Hi Mason and Glenn i got a similar problem about hot room panelling here in new zealand sourcing suitable red cedar and alternatives are not available. i found local spruce, which will be different from nordern/baltic spruce, can that be an alternative, is it still good enough?

    maybe an idea, could i take samples into a sauna session and test them, like a trial?
    cheers Hugin

  80. Hi Hugin:

    For sure and good idea to test. Two areas of focus:
    1. pitch – stay away from Pine that pitches and drops hot pitch on your head or on benches. It’s a forever issue.
    2. Moisture – soft woods like poplar, and maybe your local spruce, are less moisture tolerant. This is where the air gap and drip edge are very important, both of which are well detailed in my ebook..

    Sauna on! Love sauna in New Zealand and glad you’re advancing!

  81. Hi Glenn, love the post about dumpster diving for cedar! Is it okay to repurpose t&g cedar in the hot room? I can get cedar boards that have been varnished as they were inside a home.. If it sand them down, can they be used without any concerns of hazardous fumes? Thanks.

  82. Hi Pia,

    Often when repurposing paneling for hot room, it’s good to be thinking planer (vs. sanding). We can plane off the yuckiness (varnish) and get a serious wow fresh look.

  83. Thank you for all the information on the Sauna. We are going to build our first sauna. We were planning on an 8x8x7. But you stated anything bigger then an 7x7x7 was to big. Plus I like the fact you have all the numbers worked out for a 7x7x7. I do have a couple of questions. (1) we want to use an electric heater with lava rocks for steam and additional heat. Do you know what size heater we would need? (2) I did see any figures for the benches for the sauna? We want an upper bench the length of 2 walls L shape and a lower bench also L Shape. Could you tell me how to add that lumber in? Is there different wood for the ceiling meaning is it t&g cedar as well? And the benches are made with 2×4’s correct cedar of course. And what about the floor? Same cedar wood? And sq ft same as ceiling? Thank you for you help! Much needed to complete our sauna. Bobbie Montana

  84. To be clear, 8x8x7 can work just fine, and anything bigger than 7x7x7 may be just fine as well. It all depends on your use, and if you are shoe horning the sauna into a small space, etc.

    1. Heater size: follow the recommendations detailed from the mfr. Depending upon such things as percent of glass, cool down room, climate, etc. 9kW may be the best.

    2. Benches: Figure out your bench lengths, follow along with the instructions in my ebook, and you’ll know how much material you’ll need.

    Flooring depends on what you want to do. I’ve gone with ripped cedar fence panels as duckboard, and i’ve gone with 2×4 decks style raised floor.

    Keep at it Bobbie.. my book should help you along.
    g.

  85. I have found a source of reclaimed douglas fir and was thinking of using this for paneling in my sauna room. I have looked and found no references to using fir in saunas and was curious to know if others have experience with this.

    Steve

  86. I have a little different question from the norm. I’m in the process of a new sauna build. Hot room is 7.5’X7.5X7′ all cedar. My wife is in a wheel chair, has no use of her legs, but good upper body strength, and I’m trying to figure out how to get her up to the upper bench. My bottom bend is 22″ height and top is 40″. these are placed across the back wall. I need to make some hand rails that she can grab onto to go up and down. To make these so not to have any hardware exposed, so not to burn herself. Anyone have any experience doing this?

  87. Yes Gary!

    I built a sauna for someone with this same need. We used strong handrail hardware and screwed it right into the studs. The hardware accepts a wood railing. and for that we used clear cedar. long grain. Very strong yet light.

    The hardware is semi exposed, but only on the back edge. The hardware has two screws to secure the banister/railing. It’s the best solution we could come up with.

  88. Hey, I’m planning on building a sauna and for 6 inch boards instead of 4 inch ones. Is there a difference other then cost?

  89. no difference as far as i know, from a function or performance standpoint, and if there is a difference, it’s very nuanced. Some like the look of 4″ better, some like the look of 6″ better.

  90. Do you have a strong opinion on the moisture content of the moisture content in paneling for the hot room? Have you found that ‘lumber store’ KD (kiln dried) cedar tounge and groove is adequate? I belive indoor sauna room kits spec material +/- 5% wick is specialty for sauna and much more expensive. Thanks!

  91. I don’t know much about this. Moisture content in wood is a good judge to know whether it’s dry enough to put up/apply. I like the idea of cutting paneling and then firing up the sauna and getting it acclimated. Especially wood like clear cedar where the moisture content can be variable… sometimes the outer boards in a pile pick up too much moisture or like a house cat, have been caught out in the rain. It’s good to get it all acclimated.

  92. Hey there~ what about finishing? Do you think it matters if it is smooth and finished or is it ok for it to be unfinished? Thanks!

  93. I like the rough side out for sauna paneling often. I think this is maybe what you’re asking. And unfinished as in no sealants or treatments.. au naturale is my strong preference for wood paneling in our hot rooms.

  94. Hi, would the “engineered ” grade cedar paneling at Menards be an idea. Suspect that there would be potential of off gasing with the paneling idea, or am I wrong.
    Was thinking of using cedar paneling in enclosed trailer converting to sauna.
    Thanks

  95. Joel, we want au naturale wood or heat treated. It’s not worth going “engineered” despite the fact that they’ve gotten a lot better about minimizing harmful chemicals in treated wood.

  96. Great article. I’m in the process of converting a shed into a sauna. I’ll be using white cedar (sourced locally) for exterior siding and interior wall/ceiling paneling.

    I’m going to used the shou sugi ban (Yakisugi) technique to char the exterior shiplap black. I would also like to do the same technique to lightly treat interior wood paneling. I just want to darken the wood and highlight the wood grain, so the wood would not be charred black like the interior.

    Here’s my question: Is it okay to use the shou sugi ban (Yakisugi) technique on paneling inside your hot room?

    Thanks,

    Robert

  97. Robert:

    Though I haven’t done shou sugi ban for paneling inside hot rooms before, I know someone who has. David and his Father from Superior Saunas. They dig it.

    Now, to nerd out with you a bit, there is a thing called pyrolysis. (and there is a SaunaTimes post in draft mode entitled “is pyrolysis just another word for something major to lose?”

    So, this technique in the hot room will move this possibility much further down the road.

  98. Glenn
    Thanks for all the amazing info-very helpful to the novice home sauna builder. I now find myself in the final stretch… wrestling with fasteners for the 4″ x 5/8 thick T&G WRCedar. Once one locates a supplier of stainless steel products, should I go with 1 1/2″ or 2 ” finishing or brads, 16 gauge or… (18 gauge for the trim I suspect)
    My concern is splitting the tongue with 16g finishing nails

  99. Chris.

    Exact. I go with the 18g as yes, the 16g is a “bigger hammer” that is too thick and prone to splitting the tongue, as you reference above. This is example where a bigger hammer isn’t better.

    And stainless vs. non stainless. I’ve never done stainless, truth be told. As we nail tongue, and set compression to just a touch of a recess, the nail is covered by paneling and just fine in its safe from moisture rusting in it’s upright and locked position in the wood.

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