Hey Team! Long time no see. Wowzers, we’re doing distance learning over here and it’s a real time suck! I’m so thankful that the kids are actually doing more learning this year than just teacher/student check ins. We are all enjoying getting back into a real routine. I’ll be doing my best to keep you, my squad, abreast of all the latest goings on around here as we move forward into the school year.
Anyways, school updates is not what I’ve got to share with you today. What I’ve got is way hotter, check out my summer project – the new cedar barrel sauna at the cabin! A quick little background, we jumped on the home improvement bandwagon just like everyone else did this year. We were looking for a project that was fully DIY to bide time this summer, but we also wanted the project to be something that could help us enjoy and get through the winter – which I’m sure will end up being a rough one. Enter, The Barrel Sauna! Not only did it provide me with a project for the summer, but it’s gonna make winter a whole lot more doable. Hot humid therapy during those freezing cold winter months is gonna slay.
So what is a barrel sauna you ask? Well, it’s an outdoor barrel-shaped-sauna that can seat up to six people at a time. For us northern folk it creates a respite from the cold winter, can be refreshing on a summer evening or morning followed by a jump in the lake, or can be used as a form of complete chill. It’s how the old Finnish folks used to bathe, and even today, sauna’s are common in nearly every Finnish home. The sauna heater creates a dry hot heat and then water is poured over sauna stones to be vaporized immediately, creating a hot humid environment. Basically you get real hot and sweaty and then you stand in the cold, jump in a lake, or shower off and the whole process feels really good and refreshing.
This barrel sauna is ordered as a kit and arrives in a crate. Since our road is pretty rural we had to offload the crate piece by piece onto a trailer at a nearby highway intersection and THEN deliver it to the cabin. The entire thing has to be assembled – I’ll be the first to admit the instructions were limited and putting it together was not my favorite project ever. I nearly screamed, “uncle” and threw the towel in a few times. I shared earlier this summer that I created a deck for the sauna to live in the wooded area near our cabin. I had completed the deck months in advance (and way before the cedar shortage) so I when the sauna arrived we had a landing pad for it.
The sauna starts with a base or cradle. The staves are the long cedar boards that go the length of the sauna. Each stave has pre-cut notches to accept the circular ends of the sauna. Which reminds me, what’s really nice about this sauna is that it’s completely customizable. We designed ours to have a window in the front as well as a door with window and transoms on the side. You can even add a changing room to your sauna if you like. We really liked the quaintness of adding a porch with benches to the front of ours, so we did! It will be a great place for folks to drop their slippers, bathrobes or towels upon entry of the sauna. Anywho, that explains why our barrel sauna has two circular ends and an overhang.
Once the front and back of the sauna are in place you just continue to add the staves around them. This part was easy, my 12 year old, Finn, even helped do most of the stave install. It got hard when we were working against gravity and all the staves would fall down the side of the sauna. I think I cried a little after the third time. Eventually Finn and I got all the stave pieces into place. The NEXT hard part then began to get them all to fit. By design, not all the staves fit around the diameter of the circular ends on the first go around. To create a secure seal the staves need to be tapped together, while also being tapped outward to create room for the last two staves. To do this you need to pound out all of the staves using a mallet until you get them all to squeeze together just right, and then tighten them down with aluminum strapping. The tapping/mallet work took me hours, and I was desperate to have them fit together.
You can check out my IG highlights to see more vids on the build.
Once the barrel was complete it rained a few days (of course it did) and then I put the roof on. No instructions were provided for this part of the journey so I winged it. It turned out alright in the end but I’m one piece of roofing short, and in these covid times there is no cedar left ANYWHERE. So for now, I’m using a 1 x 4 piece of lumber to bridge the gap on the roof of the sauna. As you can see in some of the photos. There are some water marks from the days that it rained that can be gently sanded out, which I planning on getting back to perfect condition on one of my next trips to the cabin.
To build the sauna (not including the decking) from start to finish took me around four days, then it took about three weeks for the electrician to show up and get us up and running (wah, wah).
So while I waited for the electrician I added some landscape lighting, including a few step lights to illuminate the walkway in the evenings. I also finished the trim around the edge of the deck with some 1×2 sections of cedar that I was able to find at a Menard’s a short hour and 15 minutes away. Phew. The deck just wasn’t looking finished with the raw edge of the deck lumber showing. The trim really finishes it off nicely.
So there she is! We’ve only got to enjoy a sauna a couple of times, we are eager to get back to the cabin and begin a new tradition over the winter. Who knows, maybe we’ll even have to cut a hole in the ice and jump in the lake to really get our spirits lifted this winter?
PS I have another post in the works where I share how I magically can control the sauna lights from an unwired switch inside the cabin! Hope everyone is safe and well. Keep hanging in there.