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Defying the impossibility of obeying the “Law of Löyly” within a seven foot tall sauna

light steam graphic

Please welcome back Jeff to Saunatimes, who defies the impossibility of obeying the “Law of Löyly” within a seven foot tall sauna. Enter Jeff:

I built our first sauna at our lake house in 2005 and built another at our home in 2016, a seven foot tall sauna. My son Ted recently resolved to build his own wood-burning, backyard sauna. He decided to build it with a shed roof and I offered advice on ceiling and bench height. 

seven foot tall sauna inspiration

I had been in the floating sauna at Sauna Days in Duluth, MN last year and it was my favorite of the 13 saunas I sampled. It had a shed roof with the stove on the low side and benches on the high side. The lower bench was above the height of the stove per Finnish custom, in order to obey “The Law of Löyly”. It had a Kuuma stove and it rocked!

Sauna Days 2023: a day in the life | SaunaTimes
A couple of floating sauna thermal enthusiasts, Sauna Days 2023

Ted settled on building a sauna with a 9′ ceiling on one side sloping to 8′ on the low side, which would allow the lower bench to be placed well above a standard 32″-tall Kuuma stove. 

ted's sauna profile
9′ high side walls
ted's sauna benches with ladder
Climbing to the Löyly pocket in Ted’s sauna

Ted’s sauna build really got me thinking about my seven foot tall sauna that I built in 2016. I originally built the benches with an “L” configuration. The “L” turned out to be pretty impractical and actually reduced the ability to accommodate guests. My top bench was built about 44” from the ceiling with a 19” drop to the lower bench, then a 20” drop from lower bench to floor.

Photo: 2106 Jeff’s original benches

After seven plus years of daily sauna (over 2,500 sessions all above 200°f.!), my sauna was getting pretty crusty. It desperately needed some R&R and had been constructed in flagrant violation of “The Law Löyly”. The interior had developed a LOT of what Glenn Auerbach calls “spiritual patina.” Gross!

Sauna with a lot of patina
Jeff's original sauna bucket
Jeff’s original sauna bucket

Time for a makeover

It was time to rebuild my benches and freshen up the interior. I wanted to raise the benches to bring the sauna more in conformity with “The Law” and also do away with the “L” configuration. It was also time to buy a new stove and pass down my old Kuuma to my son for his soon-to-be-completed sauna (firstborn gets the Kuuma).

I was looking at my old Kuuma stove (with no ash pan, because that was all that was available to me at the time) and noticed the legs under the stove were 8″ tall. I asked the folks at Lamppa if they could build me a new stove with short legs. They kindly obliged and even included a “bonus” larger window from their new Blu Flame stove. This stove only sits 25.5” tall! I was ecstatic! So it was out with the old and in with the new.

The second Kuuma Low Profile ever made (royalties to Jeff P.).

I ordered new fire brick for the old stove from Lamppa. I badly abused that Kuuma and routinely over-fired the poor stove over more than seven years and 2500+ saunas. It was time for some rehab on the old stove before installing it in son Ted’s new sauna.

The original Kuuma

Rehabbing the 2016 Kuuma

Removing the old fire brick required a little chisel work and was a dirty job. The top plate of the stove required some repair. The smoke flap needed replacement. My son spent some time wire-brushing the rust off of the stove, gave it a new paint job, and installed the new fire brick. Soon, it was like new. The folks at Lamppa even sent me a Kuuma badge for the old stove, as this stove was built before the badges were used.

Resanding the old Kuuma

The old stove is currently running strong in Ted’s new sauna and still produces that powerful heat Kuuma is known for. Combined with a full slate surround, Ted’s sauna produces a “wall of heat” with amplified löyly up in the bleacher seats!

Refurbished Kuuma in Ted's sauna
Ted’s refurbished 2016 Kuuma

Remodeling Jeff’s 2016 seven foot tall sauna

Ted’s high benches got me back to thinking about my remodelling project. So, I removed the “L” section of my benches and started to experiment with bench heights. 

bench height testing board
Messing around with bench heights before demo
bench height testing makeshift
More messing around with bench heights before demo
Bench height testing with the new low profile Kuuma

After some experimentation, I found the right formula. Starting with two fists above my head, I worked my way down to the height of the upper, then lower bench. 

Jeff testing for two fists over his head to ceiling while sitting on his upper bench (other fist is off camera, and extended outward to hold the phone to take this photo)

I found that a 16” drop from upper to lower bench was quite comfortable for my 5’10” frame. This allowed the lower bench to sit at 26.5”, one inch above the top of the stove! Eureka! I no longer have to live in my life in fear of the Löyly Poliisi!

Finnish Poliisi, ready to issue citation for law of löyly infraction
Low profile Kuuma, with feet in foreground, confirming law of löyly compliance
Poliisi happy with Jeff’s bench height

Bench building

Now it was time to start building new benches. The old ones were just too far gone to bring back with power washing. Besides, I wanted a nice wide 24” top bench instead of the 20” one I originally installed. Losing the “L” gave me more wiggle room to also build a 20” lower bench, instead of the original that was 15”. Given the height of the lower bench, this was going to be a three-tier situation. I decided to make the lowest bench a moveable stoop/foot rest that would sit below one-half of the lower bench opposite the stove.

My original benches were made from “clear” cedar to prevent KBBS (knot-burned buttock syndrome). I checked into the current price of this stuff and nearly went into anaphylactic shock! It was time to go the “Save Big Money” store and sift through the inventory.

Menards Guy
Jeff, saving big money procuring clear cedar

Well, I had to plow through the entire 2”x4” cedar inventory of three different stores to come up with the 13 or so clean boards I needed. Once again, I used the “Glenn Method” of bench building. This time I was smart enough to use stainless-steel 16-gauge finishing nails to “pin” the boards (galvanized turn cedar black when mixed with ass sweat at 210F). Also, I screwed in coated screws from the bottom and sides.

Jeff’s new sauna benches

Now time to remove the old benches and do a little power washing to start over with a “clean slate”. Although quite grungy, benches were fairly easy to remove. I also replaced the cedar floor boards. That “spiritual patina” will now be recycled in the kiuas to provide heat and löyly for the refreshed sauna.

Old benches stacked up
spiritual patina benches ready to be recycled for kindling

Finishing touches

With the sauna now completely stripped, I first washed walls and ceiling with “Oxy-Clean” solution, which is a non-chlorine oxygenated bleach. Then I pre-treated the sauna walls and ceiling with a Baehr deck and wood cleaning product. Finally, I power washed the walls and ceilings at a fairly low pressure, to avoid damaging the soft cedar wood. After a night of drying, it was time to install the new benches. I had my heights figured to the millimeter, and new supports all cut and built, so this went fairly quickly.  Finally time to fire up the stove for a sauna!

Jeff’s reconfigured sauna

Finishing touches included a clear cedar backrest (more digging to save big money) and footrest/guard rail. The footrest took two tries but I finally got it right. Now time to work on development of new “spiritual patina”

Jeff’s 8’x8′ sauna hot room, with prayer station.
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3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Defying the impossibility of obeying the “Law of Löyly” within a seven foot tall sauna”

  1. So, how was the steam in the new vs the old? Did ‘feet above the rocks’ fundamentally transform your experience or…? I feel like the biggest question this whole article is leading to has yet to be answered! Don’t leave me hanging like that!

  2. Kaleb, it certainly intensified the sauna experience. I find myself pour much more löyly than before the remodel.

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