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Sauna build in Northwest Wisconsin has changed the whole cabin experience: everyone wants to hang out there

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Guest post series continues. Please welcome John from Minneapolis by weekdays and Northwestern Wisconsin, near Hayward, by weekends. Welcome John:

What compelled you to build your own sauna?

I have been in love the authentic sauna experience since spending time living in Sweden and Germany In the 1980s.  I have wanted to build a sauna at my cabin since I bought it 20 years ago.  I have a building that is 5’ x 8’ right on the lake shore.  It started life as a pump house and later served as a fish cleaning house.  Today, we use it for storage.  I had always planned to use it as a sauna and everyone I discussed it with felt that it needed to be on the shore of the lake.  I could never pull the trigger because I could not figure out how to get what I wanted.  The shore is 35’ below the cabin.  There was no place for a good changing room.  I could not envision shlepping wood down the hill.  It just did not feel right.

Then, one day, it hit me that I had the perfect building – a 10’ x 20’ 100 year old vertical log structure up near my cabin.  Once, I got my head around that , it was easy.  The building has been used as a wood shed and a place for garden tools.  It took a while to clean it out and evaluate it.  But it is a very straight forward structure and just the right size for what I wanted to do.

John’s urban vehicle with sauna building in background, fire pit and family dog in foreground.

How did you find Saunatimes? Give us a few examples where the DIY eBook helped you out.

I found sauna times via Google.  Once I decided to build a sauna, I started looking for someone who understood the Scandinavian tradition of wood-fired sauna and could help me with a few key decisions. There are several places that design and sell sauna kits but they were all electric and they were all much more polished that what I had in mind.  When I realized the Glenn lived in town, I called him up and asked for help.

Getting started was the hard part.  Being able to visualize the project end-to-end and having someone to play with was all I needed to get started.  Glenn drew a plan and we discussed it.

Sauna building as a storage garage, before removing firewood and tools

As we talked, several ideas emerged, it needed candle windows and transom windows to let in natural light.  We talked about it a couple of times a week and the project just unraveled itself.  Having someone to brainstorm with kept me moving.

Final drawing of sauna building, with notes

Glenn recommended the Kuuma stove and helped me get to the head of the line with the guys at Lamppa Manufacturing.  They got one ready for me right away.  I drove up to Tower, MN and picked up the stove in October.  We tore off and replaced the roof the next day and got the stove hooked up and framed in the hot room.  After that, we had a warm space to work in and the project took on a life of its own.

Hot room, changing room common wall rough framed. Note how stove is installed and functioning as phase I.

What were the biggest 1-2 challenges for your Sauna build?

Making the decision and getting started was the only hard part.  Once I reached out, the community of wood-burning sauna enthusiasts was super helpful.  Jeff Kasten of Jeff’s Quality construction helped me with a lot of the carpentry and kept the job moving.

We built the hot room right away and started using it during the build.  In this way, I was able to live into the project.  Jeff’s work was fantastic.  I think he had as much fun as I did.

Once we had a vision and understood the constraints, it was easy.

Sauna building as seen from the outside.

What aspect of your Sauna are you most proud of?

Jeff’s wife’s stepfather had built the original building in 1927 so I liked the continuity for having him involved in the project.  He fell in love with the vision and added several flourishes of his own.  The building is made of 6” – 8” pine logs, milled flat on two sides and tied together into slabs.  We were originally going to build a whole insulated hot room inside the structure.  Once we got started and could see the way the pine logs and the cedar worked together, we knew we could not cover up the logs.

I love the way the whole project holds together.  We are still working out details.  I think the thing I like the most is the lighting,  We use candles and the light from the fire.  At my age, we all appreciate the warm soft light when we are sitting naked in sauna.  Glenn suggested putting dimmers on every light and using indirect LED rope lighting under the top bench.  We discovered that we could not set the lights low enough so we turn them all off.  It is nice to have them when we are cleaning up or getting things started.

I love the doors that Jeff built and the cedar door handles.  I love the natural light from the windows.

The 10’ x 12’ changing room is very important to the experience.  We typically do 15-minute rounds in the hot room, then spend long spells between relaxing in the changing room.  We built a day bed in the form of a sauna bench.  It is a great place to hang out when we are all sweaty and it can convert to a full-sized bed, making the sauna a great guest space.  There is also a table for games, snacks and conversation.  We are figuring out how we will use this space before finishing it.  The fact that it has doors on both ends makes it feel smaller than it is.

The sauna has changed the whole cabin experience.  Everyone wants to hang out there.  Our late afternoon sauna sessions often stretch out to two and a half hours.  It is just the thing to bring everyone down a notch, to really relax and be present.  And, no one wants it to end.  We have a lot of wonderful conversation in the sauna.

As seen from inside the hot room.

Any regrets or do-overs?

Only that it took me 20 years to do this.  I cannot believe I waited so long.

We made a lot of decisions on the fly.  We ended up putting in fewer windows and making other adjustments.  It has worked out very well.  I wish I had water there for showers but I can add that later.

The only other issue is that we might need to create a visually screened area for our more modest guests to change.  Coming from the European sauna experience, we often need to discuss what to wear.  We prefer to wear nothing at all but, here in the midwest, we need to accommodate our guests so most people wrap up in big towels.  We need to somehow screen the windows and make it possible for people to change in a place that is comfortable for them.

Embracing the heat of a kick ass authentic Finnish sauna stove (400 lbs. of thermal mass).

If you could have a Mobile Sauna anywhere in the world, where would you bring it and go Sauna?

My home in Minneapolis.  I live in a sixth-floor condo downtown.  I would love to have a sauna there.

For more information about building your own wood fired authentic Finnish sauna, please go here.

Want to see another cabin sauna build?  Please click here.

Oh, and here’s a link to all John’s sauna build photos.  Click here.

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9 thoughts on “Sauna build in Northwest Wisconsin has changed the whole cabin experience: everyone wants to hang out there”

  1. This web site is a great resource! It was super helpful to see the details of other sauna builds. I would not have thought of the candle windows nor to build our own doors. The bench furniture and cedar floor mats were other details that emerged from the site and my discussions with Glenn,

  2. Hello, I am a journalist writing a story for the Wall Street Journal about the sauna industry. Could you contact me at the email below? Thank you.

  3. Great line; “In this way, I was able to live into the project.” It grabs the essence of the building experience.

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