Construction (Benches, Walls, Floors)
Posted byBy adminAugust 9, 2019
What is the best wood for building a sauna?
I became interested in saunas after hearing about all the health benefits and how it helped muscle growth, and caused you to live longer. But while I may have come for the health benefits, I stayed for the experience itself–the enjoyable aesthetic and the relaxing atmosphere.
The physiological effect of heat may rejuvenate the body, but the experience of the sauna will rejuvenate the spirit.
The foundation of a good sauna experience is the design and build of the sauna itself. This all starts with finding the best wood for constructing your sauna.
So what is the best wood for constructing a sauna? Cedar is the best all-around wood for sauna construction. It allows heat to dissipate so that it doesn’t get too hot to the touch and it is a beautiful reddish color with very few knots. Additionally, cedar gives off a pleasant natural aroma.
While many people like the scent of cedar, there are plenty of people who don’t.
If you want a scentless sauna, then Poplar wood is a nice alternative to cedar, hemlock and pine. It has a clean and crisp look to it and has relatively few nots. In fact, poplar is commonly used in medical facilities because of its lack of allergens and toxins.
At the beginning of this article I will explain some basic factors to consider–like the difference of hardwoods versus softwoods and the presence of wood phenols which give wood its scent. Then I will discuss the types of wood commonly used in saunas. Finally, I tell you the best type of wood to use in your sauna walls, floor and benches.
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Understanding Softwoods vs Hardwoods
Softwoods come from conifer (evergreen) trees. These are the ones with needles. Cedar, hemlock and pine are softwoods that are commonly used in saunas.
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees–these are the ones with leaves. Poplar, basswood, eucalyptus are examples of hardwood.
Deciduous trees tend to grow slower than conifer trees. This causes the wood from deciduous trees to be more dense and harder than the less dense and softer wood of conifers.
Softwood is easier to cut. Hardwood is stronger and more durable. Even though softwood is usually weaker than hardwood, softwood is strong enough and durable enough to be used in saunas.
Perhaps most importantly, softwood is generally cheaper than hardwood.
When hardwood absorbs sauna heat it tends to get hotter and be less comfortable to the touch.
Types of Woods used in Saunas
Cedar is one of the most commonly used woods in sauna construction. Because cedar is low density, cedar does not become hot to the touch. Cedar gives of a strong scent, which most people enjoy. The phenols which give it its strong sent are mold resistant.
The downside of cedar is that it is more expensive than other woods. Also, some sauna users find the scent of cedar to be overpowering. If you don’t like the scent of cedar, don’t expect it to disappear. You should select a different wood for your sauna.
Hemlock is a cheaper alternative to cedar. Like cedar, hemlock has a reddish brown color. Like cedar, hemlock has a fragrance, and is a good choice for those looking for a fragrant wood.
Hemlock tends to have knots, making it less ideal than cedar.
Pine is a light colored wood that looks similar to spruce, with the exception that it tends to have knots. As you would expect, it can give off a pine scent. Pine is one of the cheapest options for sauna construction.
The downside of Pine is that these knots can fall out and leave holes in your sauna. While there are treatments commercially available to deal with this issue, you should research any treatment that you are considering to be sure that it is not toxic.
Spruce is a very light colored wood with a fine grain. It is commonly used in Finnish Saunas.
Spruce is cheaper than other options like Cedar and Hemlock.
Basswood is a light colored hardwood. It has little to no fragrance and is a good choice for those who wish to avoid the strong scent of cedar.
Basswood is also usually cheaper than other hardwood alternatives.
Poplar is a hardwood. It is light colored, though usually slightly darker than basswood. Poplar is often used in medical facilities because it is odorless and hypoallergenic.
As a hardwood, Poplar will be hotter to the touch than softwood alternatives. It is more expensive than cedar or hemlock.
Eucalyptus is a reddish brown hardwood which grows in Australia. Eucalyptus grows quickly and is environmentally friendly as it can be replanted and regrown.
Although Eucalyptus is a great option for a sauna, it is typically more expensive than other woods on this list.
The Scent of Wood
If you like the fresh woody smell of softwoods like cedar and hemlock, then the good news is that these scents will persist over time, lasting for months or even years.
The bad news is that if you DON’T like the scent of softwoods, the scent can last for months or even years. For this reason, you should pay special attention to your personal preference, because no matter how much you try to air it out, the scent will likely be with you for some time.
Are Phenols Toxic
Phenols are aromatic chemicals that frequently occur in nature. They are both inhaled and absorbed through the pores in the skin.
Phenols are technically toxic, however, most of the phenols that people encounter are relatively harmless. Phenols are found in food. And phenols are even used in soaps and mouth wash because of their antibacterial properties.
Some woods, like pine, and especially cedar, are known to contain phenols. It is phenols which give wood its fragrance.
To most people, naturally occurring wood phenols are harmless, but people with particular sensitivities or people who are prone to allergies should avoid saunas made from cedar and other fragrant woods.
Never Use Synthetic Wood in a Sauna
Composite woods are made of a mixture of wood fibers, plastics, glues and other binding agents. Composite woods often contain formaldehyde, which is both an irritant and a known carcinogen.
In the United States, composite wood must meet certain formaldehyde emission standards, before it can be commercially sold in furniture. This doesn’t mean it should be used in constructing saunas because the heat and humidity of the sauna is likely to exacerbate this formaldehyde emission problem.
Oils, stains, laminates, glues, putties, and other adhesives should not be used in a sauna construction because they can give off toxins. Also the heat and humidity of a sauna is likely to cause them to degrade prematurely anyway. This is why saunas should always be built with stainless steel screws.
What is the Best wood for Sauna Walls and Benches
A softwood like cedar or hemlock will be the most pleasant surface for your bare skin. For this reason, these softwoods are ideal for benches and for any walls which are likely to serve as a back rest.
One trick to save money in the construction of your sauna would be to use more expensive woods like cedar or hemlock for your benches and backrests, while using cheaper woods like spruce or pine for framing and walls.
While haphazardly mixing wood types won’t look great, if you mix contrasting colored woods and arrange them with care, you have the potential to create a beautifully two-toned sauna.
What is the Best wood for Sauna floors
Perhaps the best wood for a sauna floor is no wood at all.
Since the floor is the ultimate destination for most of the humidity in the sauna, a more durable and non-absorbent material like ceramic tile or even concrete may be your best bet. Keep in mind, concrete can be polished into a beautifully smooth surface.
If you want to keep with the wood theme, then your best option is to purchase hardwood sauna floor tiles. The surface of these tiles have wooden slats. The slats rest on top of a plastic or rubber layer which will allow water to pass through to the sauna drain.
Hardwood slats are recommended, since they will be more durable than softwood. Consider these ones made from teak wood.
Best Wood: Traditional Saunas vs Infrared Saunas
The important thing to know about traditional saunas versus infrared saunas is that the wood in a traditional sauna will be subject to more extreme conditions than that of an infrared sauna.
Because the air temperature is significantly hotter (170℉) and because of the increased humidity caused by steam, the wood in a traditional sauna will experience much more stress.
Infrared saunas are much cooler (120℉) because the heating panels heat the body rather than the air. Without the steam, the boards will swell less in the dryer air.
While I would never recommend that anyone purchase low quality wood for their sauna, you should take into account that the wood of an infrared sauna does not need to be quite as durable as that of an infrared sauna.
Wood Treatment and Caring for Sauna Wood
You must be about any treatments applied to the wood in your sauna. You should never paint your sauna, you should also avoid applying any stains and varnishes which are toxic and will release toxins into the air.
In caring for the wood in your sauna, you really shouldn’t need anything other than a good sauna oil, like this one.
Some wood oils don’t fare well in high temperatures and will even produce smoke. It is essential that you make sure that you choose an oil that has specifically been tested for use on wood.