Picture of Wood Burning Sauna DIY
This is my first Instructable but I have used so many for ideas and love the community input!

I live in downstate Michigan and went to college in the UP met a whole crew of Finlanders and was introduced to the Sauna! and its pronounced SOuna not SAWNA but i still slip from time to time if you arnt a yooper it takes time.

I graduated and moved back downstate for work but my life was lacking because i no longer had access to the "poor mans medicine box" so naturally i want to fill that gap. Research began to see my options for having my own sauna. Student Loan debt is a mother sucker and takes up a large portion of my income so $$ was tight so building looked better than buying and of course is much more rewarding.

I searched the web and found a few things but nothing really helpful for building a finish style  wood burning sauna. I am getting into woodworking its becoming  my after work hobby and this was the largest project i have done and still have a few things ill get to at some point. So I winged it at times but at the end of the day the sucker works as intended.

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Step 1: Fall 2013 Update

Picture of Fall 2013 Update
The Sauna has been up and running for over a year now and been used about ~70 times. It has grayed from original yellow looking pine on the exterior and the cedar interior is still aromatic but less intense after time has gone on. The window that cracked has been replaced by an vinyl window picked up from Habitat for Humanity for $20 and a woodbox/bench has been built. Over the summer it didn't get used weekly but now that fall is here it is Sauna season!! I also improved the rock to stove pipe ratio by taking a section of steel wire rack and bending it to create a cylinder. The heat has been able to be held for a much longer time with these additions and looks pretty good with the flowers in bloom.

Step 2: The Stove

Picture of The Stove
I wanted to do this DIY and on the cheap and after seeing a few stoves made from propane tanks I checked the garage and we had a 20lb tank collecting dust. The tank had been used but was empty so I Took off the fitting with a little elbow grease and let it air out for an hour. I then filled it up with water and let it sit for 20 min. Then it got tossed in the fire pit and burned for an hour to remove any traces of propane and the nasty additive that I believe is poisonous. 

I wanted to keep the building small and fit 3-5 people so to save space I made the choice/mistake to have the tank sit upward. I went to the hardware store and purchased 8ft of 6" single wall stove pipe. Which i cut a hole  smaller than the pipe in the tank using an angle grinder. Lots of sparks and loud but pretty fast work. 

I made a door in the front and used steel banding and sheet metal screws to attach the strapping and door hinges. Because the tank was vertical not horizontal i had to create a baffle to keep the fire in the fire box and not in the stove pipe!  So i used a piece of plate steel and some bolts so i could adjust the air gap to the optimize draw but still keep the fire in the box.

Note: in the picture u will  see a piece of air duct on the tank this is galvanized and a big NO NO for a chimney end up with zinc poisoning but it is 6" and worked for a demo fit. I made a cage for the rocks using steel shelving.

I put on a section or 2 i believe of stove pipe and balanced it while i tested the baffle until i was happy. I was getting results i wanted and was ready to start building the frame for my sauna shed.

Step 3: The Game Plan

Picture of The Game Plan
Step 1 was complete I had a fire box that seemed to be working pretty good and i was able to do it weld free. I knew the project was going to cost a few hundred bucks but was going to be frugal and resourceful as I could without sacrificing to much time to save a buck. So I looked at what floor plans i could find on the web and for dimensional lumber reason I decided on 4'x8' and settled on a shed roof that would be 7ft on the high end and 6ft 4 on the short end.

I really wanted to have this be a legit sauna and cedar was the wood of choice. But no way jose would I be buying that much cedar at a big box store thats the opposite of a frugal build! 

So i searched hi and low to find cedar. We have several Amish saw mills around here but no cedar mostly hardwood that fuels the pallet industry but very cheap rough cut wood if you live in the country and you have access to a planner good way to go.

But I found a place with a resaw bandsaw that had 5x5x8ft western red cedar blocks that ran $18 per and could get them re sawn to any thickness

I also found a local guy with a tractor powered sawmill who had white pine for cheep.

So the plan was formed. I would build a frame using dimensional lumber and line it with ~3/8' cedar boards and then the exterior would be .75-1.25"  white pine. I could insulate and install a vapor barrier with 2 layers of wood sounded doable and heat worthy

To save $ I cut 2x4's in half and the frame was built one wall at a time. The pine boards were 9-15" wide and 8-11 ft long and varied from .75-1.25 thick. I ripped each board in half and was left a variety from 4.5 to 7.5" wide.

I used a ship lap of about 1/2 inch on each board to create a more air tight seal because the boards are gonna move around with the moisture and the changing of temps. I didnt use any pressure treated wood in this project for health concerns so it may only last 5-10 years but by then ill be ready to build another one! The wood will age and enhance the rustic look.....

I had the four walls mostly built but was ready to see the space i had created so using the tractor and a trailer moved the walls into place and got some screws in and i was happy to see the 4 walls were square enough and standing strong.

Step 4: Button it up

Picture of Button it up
I continued to nail up pine boards until the exterior was up to the roof level, which is at an angle so the boards near the top had to be cut at an angle to follow the roof pitch. My dad gave me a hand and we framed out the roof and purchased some steel roofing in a lovely forest green. 

The door was made from left over pine boards that already had the ship lap cut in them and a ~100 year old window I found in the attic that imagine was from when my parents house was built. I wanted to do a curve door but should of just stayed square would of been easier...

I attached a spring to the door and wall to keep it closed and that heat in!

The window was made from a plate of glass that I had laying around. 

I had a whole mess of plastic sheeting from past projects and using a stapler I created a vapor/wind barrier on the inside of the frame. I came across 3 sheets of polystyrene foam insulation board and cut it to fit between the studs on all the walls and the roof expect in the area where the stove pipe will be.

I then had my cedar hookup cut me up enough boards to line the inside with the western red cedar. Each board was 5.25 inches wide and had to to be touched up with the table to be square enough for my liking.  I chose not to ship lap these boards and just lay them on top of each other and use an air nailer to make this step a little faster.

I did a wall at a time and it did go quick. I then was ready to cut a hole in the roof for my stove pipe. I measure to where the pipe would need to be and then using a jig saw and a fresh blade i cut the opening and put some pipe in and set the stove in place.

Its not a perfect fit and when it rains water drips through but its minimal. 

I had some cement board around and used that as a barrier from the wood stove and the walls its not the prettiest but so far has done its job.

I wanted two rows of seating at different levels so I ended up going with a bleacher style set up and used  left over cedar and oak for that it fits 4 people full house and very comfy with 2.  Not the best pics on the inside the lighting makes it hard to show.

Under the bench is open and i currently store fire wood and the water bucket there but i may add some boards to close it in.

Step 5: Stove Redo

Picture of Stove Redo
Well it was looking like a sauna and technically did work but It would take 2-3 hours to reach temps of 150 degrees. And never really was hot enough for my liking. The stove had great draft but i think a large portion of heat was lost out of the top of the stove pipe based on the vertical design. So I searched craigslist and found a larger 30lb tank for $10.

This time i wasn't messing around I wanted to keep more heat in the building and opted for the horizontal design which appears more commonly done with the propane tank wood stoves. It was a good move, and basically repeated the same process and built some legs and  a larger door than before and cut up the old stove to use as a baffle for the new one. which fit like a glove because it follows the curve of the tank.

I also used a section of the old tank where the door was cut and turned that into my rock holding tray. Which my brother grabbed a load of rocks from a quarry and so far non have exploded...

Now the sauna heats up rather quickly in about 45-1hr its ready to use.

Step 6: 4 months in...

Picture of 4 months in...
Sauna has been up and running for 4 months now and gets used about twice a week. It burns about half a wheelbarrow of wood each fire so that has been my biggest challenge is finding dry fire wood. Having the right wood is key so much easier to get the hot box up to temp if you have a dry supply.  This summer I will stock pile up but so far burning pallets and scraps from the sawmill. I avoid burning plywood or pressure treated but oak pallets burn hot.

The wind also plays a big role in the draft and a slight breeze seems to be best for the quickest hottest fires. I had a whole bunch of  oak and pine strips and on a 18 degree day had the sauna at 201 degrees which is as hot as i go, usually 175 is my zone.

We got some wet snow and eventually rain but u can see the snow difference on the roof from before and after a fire.

I use a kitchen thermometer to gauge temp and that hangs 6" off the ceiling on the high side of the sauna hit 175 today.


Step 7: Review

Picture of Review
If you live in the country and dont have major zoning/building code issues to overcome this is a totally doable project. It is a little messy and ash tends to get on the floor. 

Stove design is key and the next sauna i build i may just find a used woodstove and save the headache. 

Cedar is nice but i might just go all white pine it smells so good and is cheep and really haven't had issues with sap.

The window was kinda of bust it basically is a huge heat loss and didnt last long the plate glass cracked and for now is covered up with plywood, ill be keeping my eyes open for a small window.

I used alot of scraps from other projects to build this and spent about $325 in supplies. U might be able to spend less but not with out sacrificing time time time. 

Feel free to leave your comment and ask questions. I am the type of person who learns best from doing things on my own, They may need to be improved but thats learning. My dad is a mechanic and my brother is an engineer so I am constantly told how i could of done things differently, yah well i didn't so to bad!

Thanks Enjoy!!!!!
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JoshuaC2025 days ago

This is absolutely awesome! I have been thinking about building a sauna for a long time, but I'm waiting until I choose which one to build. I have found on the internet three different types. Traditional saunas, infrared saunas, and portable saunas.

So far infrared saunas have seemed to be the most simple/efficient to buy and build. There are many kits out there that are relatively cheap for the value that they provide. Has anyone tried infrared saunas before? The best information I have found about them so far has been from this page http://www.bestsaunaheater.com/best-type-of-sauna...

If anyone has experience please reply back as I'm leaning towards this type of sauna.

deluges1 month ago

Thanks for this instructable, the instructions are much appreciated and I'm looking forward to try and make my own

SKall6 months ago

Nice project! A few years back I (well, mostly my dad) we did a backyard restoration; refinished the pool, built a deck + a woodburning sauna. Unlike yours mine was done with bought material including the kiuas (stove).

Pictures of the whole project: https://plus.google.com/photos/1107783735777855924...

1) Insulating the walls would help greatly since the wood used is quite thin: https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/kJ9KeFrh-BO9gD_T...

2) Adding a brick firewall around the stove would be a good security feature: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/zmal5vEoF0GI0Rig...

3) Fire-proofing the pipe exit hole should be done with extra care: https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-RuVZqVMiKQ0/T2P...

Enjoying the fin(n)ished product in Texas winter: https://plus.google.com/photos/1107783735777855924...

I have since moved to Florida and in the next few months I will start building an electric sauna inside the house.

deluges SKall1 month ago

Thanks for potting those pictures and great work! I plan on building one on a budget for my parents this summer and your pictures are good inspirational material

TylerB142 months ago

enjoyed your diy so much it inspired me to have a group of my building trades students make a similar sauna. They had to research first and found they used slat floors, poplar benches (don't hold heat). They made it so it was a true 4 x 8' on the inside. Thanks for the inspiration!

jrytlews (author)  TylerB142 months ago

Wow! Thats beautiful! Your students did a great job. I live in Florida now so when I want to take a sauna I just sit in the car with the windows up...

Does someone get to take it home?

TylerB14 jrytlews2 months ago

I opened it up for students to buy it first, not much interest so I am hoping to sell it and make a little for the program.

kelms12 months ago
Great indestructible I also just saw somewhere a article about the major health benefits for a man's heart using one of these !
GrizzlyT3 months ago

looks like it could be a nice smoke house too with some small changes...

millere653 months ago
Looks good! A suggestion for you for a cheap but heat proof window. An old oven door window can be picked up for next to nothing and should be a lot more stable for you. You'll of course need to frame it yourself but that's half the fun.
Philipd16 months ago

Well done... a project I have always wanted to take on but local zoning has made it questionable. I like your resourcefulness in building, planning and cost control. For the next sauna many big city municipalities are banning wood stoves in certain provinces like Quebec thus giving an opportunity to pick up a wood stove for scrap metal cost. See a dealer and put in a request now and store the stove for future use thus giving time to pick and choose. They store easily outside covered. They will likely give you the address with the clients permission and you can pick up a wood stove for the $100 or less. It is picking it up. Check online to see which municipalities are banning. Nice project.

Just putting this out there, but wood dries really fast in a 150 degree sauna. Just sayin'.

kmarie226 months ago

I love this idea of a back yard sauna. Thank you for posting your project. It is years away for me but I like knowing that the plans are out there.

Nice job! I really miss our sauna. We moved from Chicago to Nairobi, Kenya. Though the evenings can get chilly here, it wouldn't be quite as satisfying to build a sauna -- at least not compared to the crazy cold and snow of the Midwest. After seeing the kit prices, I built mine from scratch in my house's old root cellar. Excellent location if any of you have one and aren't really using it. The thick cement walls and partially underground location is ideal for insulation. Being inside without access to a flue, I bought a new electric sauna stove. Not as nice as a wood burner, for sure, but necessary. Also worked with a great lumber mill (in N Michigan) for cedar. They were great. While not a kit, they did use my drawings to cut sizes to just over my dimensions, making for very little waste.

One thought on anyone wanting to build one... you might want to invest in foil-faced insulation. In addition to a vapor barrier, I covered all of the framing with this, sealing it with foil tape, and it not only insulates but bounces back the heat into the room.

Though I'll never complain about the temperate climate here, I would love to teleport back for a weekly sauna during a Chicago winter, complete with some cycles of jumping in the snow and dumping buckets of water over our heads out in the backyard. Good times.

superlite6 months ago

I have built a number of sauna/ Bania stoves and buildings, the first thing to remember as a previous contributor mentioned the stove is best when fed from the outside with the chimney running horizontal going out above the stove. The stoves i have built have been made from steel pilling cut offs with a bock and a door welded on along with the chimney adapter welded on the top. My home sauna is built from logs with one large double glazed window the room is 10' by 12' and heats up to 180+ if anybody would like pictures I would gladly provide such.

As far as the mention of the temperature measurement system is concerned......deg Fahrenheit are quite simple and it does not take much imagination or intelligence to deduce the nature of the scale being used. The arbitrary use of the boiling point and freezing point of water as the basis of the system of measure has a few problems related in it's own right, along with the arbitrary use of inconsistent standards for measure that are employed in the same system.

Yeah, you'betcha, dis' here is a nice instructable. Holy wah!

mnealgibby7 months ago
I failed to mention in my previous comment that lining the propane tank with fire brick will increase the thermal mass of the stove and help it stay hot longer.
mnealgibby7 months ago
Nicely done!

The propane tank stove and black stove pipe definitely don't meet clearance to combustibles, but being a shed out back, who cares really. You could get 4" inner, 6" outer double wall flue pipe to decrease the necessary clearance around that flue. That would also lessen the chance of someone being burned. Another added benefit of the smaller inner flue pipe is a bit slower burn time. Adding another offset may also increase your burn time. I'm sure you already know, but choking down the air intake or closing up the baffle will slow the burn.

For the leak take a 2" piece of thin sheet metal wrap it around the flue and attach it to the roof with screws or rivets so you have a 2" vertical wall that mimics the flue, but a bit wider than the flue pipe. That is called a spin collar. Seal that piece to the roof with NP-1 and then take another piece of sheet metal and wrap it around the flue above the spin collar. It will make a skirt over the spin collar, called a storm collar. The storm collar can be screwed to itself. Seal that piece to the flue with high temp silicone and you will no longer have leaks. This apparently is a bit difficult to explain, but I can send you pictures to illustrate if you would like. Depending on your Google-Fu, you may be able to search out an illustration.

1/2" or thicker acrylic could be used for your window to mitigate heat loss.

Source: I am a home builder and certified chimney sweep.
hemi12347 months ago
I used an old stove and moved the pipe from back to front, then put a baffle inside. Essentially, the door and pipe are outside the sauna, the only thing in the sauna is about 2 feet of stove(the rear). It heats to over 170 degrees in an hour and sits 6-8 people.

Great job ! How I like it!!!

Rapturee7 months ago

Great Job! :{)

nickern7 months ago

very inspiring! Thanks for posting this!

jammaki7 months ago

Hey dare jrytlews. Greeting from da UP. Great sauna project. I'd suggest using aspen or popular for benches (no knots to weep sap like pine). You were right to use cedar on the walls. It has much better moisture resistance than other species of wood. This one should last you for some time to come. Again, great job!

Invention17 months ago

RE: Exploding rocks. This is a big risk but a little basic geology knowledge will help you out. We have built a lot of native-American style sweatlodges using hot rocks for heating, just like a sauna except made out of tarps and blankets. Chert, which is commonly found associated with limestone, will explode when heated. Shoots hot splinters all over the place, one time right through one of my tents. Many other kinds of rocks will not, (this is based on experience) including granite (might be common in Michigan?) limestone without chert nodules, sandstone. Most igneous rock (basalt, granite, etc) should be OK. I'd probably stay away from Shale, Coal (this could burn!), and anything crumbly (might hold water which could explode).

Keep this in mind: Some rocks are Gneiss-er than others, but you can take it for Granite that these should be fine. Your sauna will be hot, not Coal, if you follow these instructions. If you can't keep this list straight, put it into a checklist on a clipboard and keep it as a Chert on the wall. Never Basalt your food before tasting it. Now the judge has finally banged the Gravel.

Tate19638 months ago

Hi jrytlews just an idea you may consider for more efficient wood burning and more heat capability. Make a rocket stove, Their a wealth of ideas on youtube. you can make it with a small barrel for your main heat source, takes up little room. also for good wood supply their are plenty of FREE pallets out there. just ask around. Most are made of oak and it burns clean and hot.

Edgar Tate19637 months ago

My thoughts exactly, rocket stoves are great, it freaks me out to learn that "smoke" was nothing but unused additional Fuel! :)

harold Paine7 months ago

Basic but very very do-able

Thanks for the inspiration. I have a bunch of old glass blocks laying around was thinking of using those as a window for light source, that will allow for privacy. Used to live in rural Alaska. Yupik Eskimos loved steam baths...most were the size of a large dog house. Your sauna would be top of the line in Western Alaska.

Amones11 months ago

I'll be saving a copy of this post of yours for when I retire and move to Maine, where there are also a lot of Finns, many related to me. I was little when I lived in the UP, and don't remember any saunas, but remember taking sauna every time we visited relatives in Maine while I was young, and lots of people had their own. My mom even grew up on a farm with a sauna near the lake. So you'd take sauna, jump in the lake, and back to the sauna. Can't wait to build my own, thanks!

PS!... you have inspired me to move! That is to do one for myself. I had been looking to do one big enough for the whole family if they came over, but after seeing yours I am going to check the building codes and move forward for my self. Plans, designs, purpose, frequency of use, time of use, and last but not least best location on my property for its use. Plus the little extras that make It my own. That would be the easy part. Convincing my wife its a good idea, now that's gona take some work! Once I finnish (a pun to say the least) my blue prints, I will share them on Instructables to be followed by the actual doing. Thank you for the time you took to share.
jrytlews (author)  CHIEFGR8TWOLF1 year ago
Good call on the advice! I have made a few adjustments to the stove and burning Oak and other hardwood has really increased how fast the sauna heats up and the new window holds heat much better. I used 1.5" foam insulation on all walls and the celling and that expanding foam spray to get the gaps. The next one I build I would change the size just slightly. 4x8 interior is just a little small I would go 5x8 next time. I look forward to seeing yours and glad to be a starting point for u. If you spend $1000 and take a sauna a week that's almost $20 per bath so good luck on convincing the wife. Sauna promotes healthy living, relaxation, Romance...
Like what you have done under the circumstances. I am sure you have read the comments and realized before anyone told you that the building should be insulated with reflective insulation in the roof as well. As to your stove I don't believe your problem is in the stove design itself. Stick with the horizontal design, ad dry sand to the bottom and place a layer of fire brick on top of it. as for the reason your losing so much heat from it, run the stove pipe one length up to a 90 degree elbow and out the side or rear wall keeping the draft valve in the first section before the elbow will cause a slower burn. (Not like a rocket stove) Third the wood that u burn should be mixed with a little green wood as the burn will last longer. Last but not least if you put cement board or just plane old adobe bricks in the corner behind the stove that will also improve its efficiency. (Just stack the brick no mortar on two or three sides depending on the placement of the stove. And a little help on the window, use two panes of plexi-glass with space between in your own premade frame.
HollyMann1 year ago
Looks amazing!
renni2 years ago
Nice job!

You might want to put some insulation in the walls and roof.
You might also want some draining for water on the floor.
Glass window is no problem in a sauna, it just has to be a double window.
Good you have plenty of snow there, nothing nicer than go rolling in the snow directly from sauna.
sousap2 years ago
congrats, it will be one of my next projects, I already have an electric stove (got it for free) now I must make a construction plan and start working. I need some info about vapour barrier... I still don't know how to do it.
cg50712 years ago
Permies is a great site. Love the idea of the propane tank/stove. Deffinately a mass rocket stove would be a good addition ad you can prob just use the tank you have ;)
Henge2 years ago
Awesome instructable, will be building one in my future. Not only poor mans medicine box, but also his shower. From my experience with backyard saunas, it seems like a good idea to rig up a stove that is loaded from the outside. For one, it reduces the mess inside; and two, saying your structure is airtight, increases the draft. I've also heard warnings about asphyxiation from the stove drawing out the breathable air, but that could easily be an old-wives tale. I've used many saunas not so different from yours and have yet to die. Job well done!
jrytlews (author)  Henge2 years ago
Dude nice tent greenhouse set up that's a project. I agree the sauna gets u so clean
pkien2 years ago
A minor point, my reading of sauna literature has informed me that the first vowel in the "sauna" is a three-sound vowel, ah-oh-uu. So the proper Finnish pronunciation would be sa-oh-uu-na, sort of a rippled sounding word.
AuntTumia2 years ago
You need a Massrocket stove in here! Look it up on Permies. http://www.permies.com/ it would use less wood heat faster and the heat last longer.
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