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.
This is very bad ass. Super awesome. I spent many years in Ely at a 2nd home where we had a sauna in the woods. It is the best thing every in the winter especially. I love it in fall too. I hope you have a blissfully happy time with your sauna. Very bad ass.
Thanks, Dana! I’m so glad to hear a glowing endorsement for the outdoor sauna! I’ve never experienced an outdoor sauna before this, and I really hope that we make a routine of using it throughout the winter. Thanks for stopping by the blog!
I live a short 20 min drive from the largest Scandinavian spa in North America (it’s called “Le Nordik” in the Canadian Province of Québec (which is why it’s French)) and they have a couple of those Barrel Spas which are some of my absolute favourites! I would kill to have a cabin and a spa like this in my cabin’s “yard”. I mean I can just imagine enjoying it either super early in the morning after jumping in the lake (as you said) and late at night, following a romantic path of lights to it. Dreamy!
Hey, Caroline! Wow! That sounds very cool. I’ll have to google that. We hope to add a path, landscaping and more path lights in the coming year so that we can have a straight shot to our lake for cooling down post sauna. I wish we had a little more summer to enjoy the lake/sauna combo so I’m already looking forward to that experience next summer.
Really really bad ass! As previously said.
It is marvelous. I think you will have lots of sauna moments to incorporate into the Northwoods experience on the regular! Memories ahead!
You worked really hard to make this so perfect and great. Tell us again how you got stuck
On the sauna roof!!!!!!!
What a beautiful sauna!! My college boyfriend was from the Upper Penninsula (in Michigan) and I became well-versed in the sauna lifestyle. I think they mostly rolled in the snow – jumping in the lake sounds a lot more fun! Enjoy!
I love this blog! You are so on point with your description of the outdoor barrel sauna assembly. I’ve watched many video on the DIY barrel sauna’s, and I have seen a couple of tricks others have used by others, like placing a rope around the sauna to hold the staves in place while your adding them, so they don’t fall down. Just figured I’d share. Thank you for the good read. You really had me chuckling there a few time! Thanks!
This is super cool & I’m thinking about taking on a similar project in my backyard this summer and this has been all the inspiration I need. After hours of research online, I’m struggling to make a decision around what sauna kit to buy out of fear that I’ll buy the wrong one. Can I ask which sauna you decided to build & why? Who did you end up buying it from & what is your level of satisfaction thus far with it’s quality & performance?
p.s I love this blog. really good content here.