Thinking of building a sauna? You might want to consider your choice of wood.
Of all the variables that should be considered before building a sauna, the choice of wood is most important.
But how should you go about it? What type of wood is suitable for building saunas? And what are the qualities you should look out for in the wood for building a sauna?
In this blog, we will answer these questions and guide you into buying suitable wood for your sauna solution.
But first, let’s understand the type of sauna you are looking to build.
The Type of Sauna (Traditional vs Infrared)
Traditional saunas and infrared saunas employ different heating methods. Therefore the choice of wood should also be different.
Traditional saunas use steam to heat the cabin and help us sweat. A traditional sauna has a bucket of rocks that are heated using wood, fire, or an electric heater. When these rocks are heated, the temperature rises.
A traditional sauna also has a bucket of water and a ladle to sprinkle the water over the rocks. This helps produce steam and cool down the rocks for a while, thus maintaining an ideal temperature.
An infrared sauna, on the other hand, mimics the sun. They use infrared lights to heat up your body directly instead of heating the air around you.
We are mentioning this because the heating method determines the choice of wood for the sauna.
For traditional saunas, you want the type of wood that can withstand heat and moisture. For traditional saunas, you want the type of wood that enhances your heat sessions and can manage the high temperature.
Now that we have understood the requirements for traditional and infrared saunas let’s take a look at the qualities you should look out for in your choice of wood.
What Qualities You Should Look for in Wood for Sauna
There are several types of wood available in the market, each with its unique characteristics and strengths. Let’s look at the most desirable characteristics you need in the wood for a sauna.
While traditional saunas offer dry heat, they can still reach a humidity level of up to 45%. So, you need to choose a wood that can withstand humidity without giving in to molds or any other issue associated with regular humidity.
For infrared saunas, humidity and mold resistance wood are not that essential as they heat up the body directly.
As we mentioned earlier, traditional saunas have water to be poured on rocks for steam generation. Water may often splash across the wall or spill on the floor. Moreover, you will also be sweating in a sauna, and you don’t want the wood to absorb all the moisture.
Make sure to choose a water-resistant wood for your traditional sauna.
This goes without saying that the wood you choose needs to be heat resistant. The temperature in traditional saunas can reach up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Choose a wood that can withstand a high amount of heat over prolonged periods of time without discoloring or degrading in quality.
Infrared saunas don’t heat up to such high temperatures. But it’s always better to use heat-resistant wood for assured safety.
A sauna room constantly goes through the heating and cooling phases. Therefore you must choose the wood that doesn’t warp, expand, shrink, or crack.
For infrared saunas, this is even more important. Since infrared sauna uses drier heat, it sucks the moisture out of the wood, leaving it vulnerable to cracks.
This is why infrared saunas are mostly made of kiln-dried wood.
Antimicrobial and Antifungal Properties
The warm and humid environment of sauna rooms can encourage the growth of microbes and fungus. Go with wood with antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
Cool to Touch
Another essential factor to consider is that the wood doesn’t absorb too much heat and gets hot to touch. This is important because choosing the right wood will keep you safe and comfortable during your sauna session.
Softwood is more suitable for sauna rooms because it doesn’t absorb too much heat and will remain cool to the touch.
Lack of Knots and Saps
Lastly, take a look at your choice of wood for saps and knots. While knotty wood can be used in paneling the parts that you don’t interact with, it can still take away the aesthetics of your sauna.
Knots should especially be avoided for benches as they can cause skin rash issues. Moreover, make sure your choice of wood does not have any sap in it can melt in the heat and weaken the structure of the sauna.
Now that we have looked into the specifications of the wood for a sauna let’s take a look at the best ones that possess these qualities.
The Best Types of Wood for Saunas
Western Red Cedar
One of the most preferred choices for saunas, western red cedar is softwood and thus less likely to crack or expand under high temperatures. Cedar is also colorful in appearance with various hues, which can be a plus for the aesthetics of your sauna. Cedar’s insulation properties allow for the heat to flow evenly through the sauna while keeping the surface cool to the touch.
Most importantly, cedar is fungus and decay resistant and can last a long time.
Redwood is quite similar to the western red cedar, except for a few factors. It is softwood and can withstand high temperatures. It is beautiful red in color, giving your sauna a distinct look. Redwood is also resistant to molding, fungus, and decay.
However, there are also a few drawbacks with redwood that needs to be mentioned. Firstly, redwood fades in color over time. After a few months of use, the red hues will deteriorate and turn greyish. Newly installed redwood saunas also secrete red color, which can mix with your sweat and turn your body red.
Western hemlock does not have as many favorable characteristics as western red cedar, but its durability and distinct pattern make it a good choice for sauna. This type of wood is best paired with other woods for a complete sauna solution.
You can use the western red cedar for the interior and exterior construction of your sauna and the western hemlock for the benches and doors.
Keep in mind that western hemlock tends to expand a bit and is not as decay resistant as other options on the list.
Nordic spruce is also known as Norway spruce or European spruce. It is found in Northern, Eastern, and Central Europe. It is one of the preferred choices for a sauna because of its density and firmly ingrown structure.
Nordic spruce is the most used wood for building saunas in Finland. It is a light-colored wood that remains pale throughout its lifespan. It also exudes a subtle aroma and contains natural insect repellent properties.
Nordic spruce contains a bit of sap that will vary from board to board. So, make sure you check the wood for the same.
Aspen is another distinct wood that is often used for building saunas. It is bright in color and is found in cooler regions of Europe, Asia, and Northern Russia. Aspen is naturally non-toxic, non-allergenic, resin-free, and moisture-resistant, making it an optimum choice for saunas. Aspen is also resistant to fungus and bacteria, making it a safe choice of wood.
Common aspen can give your sauna a luxurious look, thanks to its unique light tone and patterns.
Alaskan Yellow Cedar
Alaskan yellow cedar is a prime choice for hot tubs, saunas, and pools. Since it grows in humid environments, Alaskan yellow cedar can withstand the hot and moist sauna rooms. It is lightweight but dense enough to allow for intricate construction.
Alaskan yellow cedar is not actually a cedar but rather a type of Cypress that was once used by Native Americans to build totem poles.
It is highly resistant to fungus and molds and is often chosen for its unique yellowish tint that gives the sauna a rich look. Alaskan yellow cedar also exudes a subtle smell that can add to the sauna’s therapeutic effects.
Douglas fir is not a true fir. It belongs to the pine family. Found in Western North America, the douglas fir yields more timber than any other tree in the region.
Douglas fir is used as a Christmas tree, thanks to its ornamental appearance. It is highly valued for its durability, strength, and appearance. Douglas fir offers a beautiful uniform appearance to your sauna. It has antifungal and decay-resistant properties and exudes little to no scent.
Pine is the most affordable wood for building saunas. Most pine trees yield darker color wood similar to spruce, except they tend to have more knots.
These knots may dry and fall out, especially in infrared saunas. So, they aren’t a preferred option for infrared saunas. If you are planning on using pine for building a sauna, use it for the parts that you won’t interact with.
However, if pine is thermally treated, it becomes an entirely different type of wood: stronger, denser, and more stable. So, make sure the pinewood you use in your sauna is kiln-dried or thermally treated.
Eucalyptus is an aromatic softwood. It is a fast-growing tree, which makes it a sustainable choice of wood. It has a beautiful, unique look that can give your sauna a distinct personality.
Eucalyptus is quite rare and is more expensive than other options on the list. This is the reason why it is not often used in building saunas.
It is the only wood, besides cedar, that boasts natural insect and rot resistance. Eucalyptus also comes in a range of colors and grains, and it changes color as it fades.
If you have sensitive skin, basswood is the premium choice for you. It is light brown in color and contains natural antifungal properties. It is also softwood, which means it will last a long time and perform well under high temperatures.
Basswood does not contain any smell or toxins and has little to no knots. It is soft to touch and resistant to expanding and cracking.
The best thing about basswood is that it is affordable and accessible and the most recommended wood for infrared saunas.
There you have it, the best wood for building saunas. If you are looking to build a sauna, this guide will help you choose the right wood. If you need any help choosing the right wood, you can always reach out to us.
Better yet, we can build you a custom sauna room made of the best quality wood and equipped with all the features you need. We have been in the sauna industry for the past 17 years, and throughout this time, we have worked with various clients to develop high-quality, efficient saunas.
So, if you need a custom sauna solution, you can trust us to deliver you an optimum solution. We will find the right wood for you, design the sauna room according to your preference, and install all the necessary add-on accessories for a complete sauna solution.