The Best Sauna Wood Types
Since you now know that having a sauna at home will help bring you massive health benefits, it’s time to discuss the right wood to choose for your unit. Choosing the right type of wood for your sauna is absolutely a vital step if you want your investment to last for a long time.
As a future home sauna user, the type of wood you choose for your sauna will determine the durability, the style, the texture, the longevity and even the atmosphere of each session. If you want your sauna to last you a lifetime, make sure to keep on reading as we will discuss some of the best sauna wood types available this year.
Thermowood For Optimal Durability
Thermowood is not a species of wood per say but is defined as a process in which a certain type of wood is exposed to high temperature (between 180C - 230C) in a low oxygen environment for over 30 minutes - 1 hour using water and steam ONLY.
Thermowood is a process originating from Finland in the 1990s and has been practiced using mostly Spruce (Picea Abies) and Pine as these species are some of the most common in the Scandinavian region in Europe.
Heating wood in this temperature range results in chemical modifications to the structure of the cell walls of the material: degradation of hemicelluloses which have hydrophilic properties and crosslinking of lignins signifying the formation of chemical bonds between molecules. The crystal structure of cellulose could also be changed. These modifications of the chemical components of wood affect its physical and mechanical properties.
How The Thermal Process Enhanced Wood Properties
Following the results of the work carried out within the framework of various research projects carried out at the VTT laboratories in Finland, the FCBA in France and FPlnnovations in Quebec, Canada among others, the main advantages of thermally modified wood compared to unmodified wood can be summarized as follows:
- Improved dimensional stability of wood
- Increased resistance to fungal degradation
- New attractive colors of wood following treatment.
- No reduction in elasticity following treatment
- Slight improvement in wood hardness
Finally, in general, it is known that the variation in the properties of thermally modified wood is proportional to the treatment temperature. For example, the higher the temperature reached during processing, the more the resistance to fungal degradation and the dimensional stability of the product are improved.
Better resistance to fungal degradation and improved dimensional stability are properties that allow thermally modified wood to be used in exterior applications such as siding, saunas, patios or door and window joinery.
If you’re interested in exploring the Thermowood option for your sauna, we currently offer 2 outdoor barrel sauna options using Thermo-Spruce. As you will see, not only the wood properties are enhanced, but the color & the smell is also boosted. I would even argue to say that I favor Thermo-Spruce over cedar for outdoor saunas.
Basswood Against Allergies
For individuals with sensitive skins, basswood will be a premium choice. It's light brown color coupled with it's hypoallergenic qualities and soft texture Basswood is a tremendously durable and affordable wood option.
Basswood will not emit any fragrance or toxins and rarely contains knots which makes it very soft to touch. Classified as a hardwood it is unlikely to bend or warp over time and will be great both for residential and commercial uses.
One of the upsides for choosing Basswood over other woods would be it's affordability. Some of our best infrared saunas are made out of basswood. I personally recommend all models made by Clearlight Infrared.
Cedar Is Almost Always A Great Choice
Used both for traditional and infrared saunas, cedar is a superb choice because of its natural resistance to moisture & temperature changes. Cedar wood saunas do not expand or contract as much as other woods when temperature fluctuates which makes it great both for indoor and outdoor applications. Furthermore the natural essential oil present in this wood smells amazing and has antibacterial properties.
Cedar just as Thermowood is especially prized for outdoor models such as outdoor barrel saunas and cabin saunas. It's robustness and ability to withstand harsh weathers years after years with little degradation makes it hands down a top 3 pick when it comes to sauna construction.
Although pretty rare, some people have a natural sensitivity to cedar wood which gives them a runny nose, itching and flu like symptoms. If that is your case we would recommend other alternatives such as spruce, pine, basswood, aspen, hemlock or eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus A More Scarce But Interesting Option :
However quite rare, another strong & durable wood option is eucalyptus. Historically, eucalyptus has been used in cabinetry .
This premium wood is similar to teak in many regards yet slightly cheaper.
Durability & Heat Conduction
If you’ve ever climbed inside a hot vehicle and been slightly burned by leather seats, you’ve noticed the importance of material for comfort.
Similarly, saunas need a wood that remains comfortable to touch even at high heats.
Hard woods, like oak or teak, will often overheat when exposed to high temperatures for two long hence why we do not recommend them.
Considering this, make sure to select a wood that will not conduct heat as much. The ambient air must be scorching hot but your butt shall remain intact. Let's remember we're not cooking steaks here !
Softwoods, like eucalyptus, cedar, and basswood are all great in that regard. This why they are perfect for sauna use.
There are several types of soft wood, so it’s important to choose one that works for your sauna and your budget. Likewise, woods with excess sap in them should also be avoided. These woods can create dangerous fumes and even liquids capable of igniting when used in a hot sauna.
Heat & Sturdiness
In terms of practical woods to use, heat absorption is key. The wood for your sauna should be able to absorb the heat from the sauna without overheating. It’s important to find a soft wood that can soak up steam and deal with heat absorption without any type of long-term damage.
Eucalyptus, basswood, cedar and even spruce are some of the best types of soft wood for long-lasting saunas. There’s nothing worse than a beautiful sauna that isn’t heat resistant and won’t stand the test of time. Buying a sauna that will warp or rot will certainly be a major disappointment for those invested in long-term health benefits.
In addition to absorption, it’s also important that the sauna is affordable. Some types of wood are far more expensive than others.
As such, many people feel like saunas are a luxury item, but this often depends on the type of wood used. Saunas can be affordable for those who use the right type of material.
Another crucial issue to consider is the sturdiness of the wood. Since you can’t afford to take a chance on a flimsy sauna, it’s important to find a sturdy soft wood. This also means finding a well-built frame so the sauna can be used day after day without worry.
Indoor Vs. Outdoor Saunas
For the most part, the health benefits of an indoor sauna versus an outdoor sauna is essentially the same. Instead, the choice of indoor versus outdoor depends more on the owner, their preferences, available space, time, and budget commitments. Within this decision, of course, there are pros and cons for each option.
Outdoor saunas require a suitable electrical connection, unless they’re built for wood burning only. Since heaters require an outlet, this option isn’t for everyone.
But, with an outdoor sauna, there’s more room for creativity when it comes to design and quirks.
These saunas are perfect for individuals who want to enjoy their detox experience outside of the home.
With indoor saunas, however, the options are much easier to install as they simply need to be connected to the home’s existing electrical system.
Likewise, the home works as somewhat of a barrier for the sauna, protecting it from the weather. With interior saunas, it’s important to research dimensions with the manufacturer.
Many individuals will choose to have an infrared sauna installed in an unused space or even in a large bathroom. Whether you choose indoor or outdoor, however, it’s important to conduct research on the specific sauna to be installed.
Choosing the Right Size of Sauna
When it comes to size, you want to make sure you have enough space to move or lay down comfortably. Being in the sauna should be relaxing, you should feel at ease & safe, not claustrophobic. Of course, everyone has a limited amount of space available within the house or in the backyard so sometimes a little sacrifice in comfort is needed to be able to enjoy a good sauna daily.
After all a small sauna is better than no sauna at all !
Sauna Aesthetic 101
Some saunas have a rustic, authentic, traditional nordic look, while others have a more modern, contemporary, minimalist style. These different looks are undeniably a result of the wood used for the construction. If you're not sure where to start your thinking process, you might want to consider a few of the questions below :
- Do I want to use light colored wood such as Basswood, Pine, Hemlock or something darker like Cedar, Thermowood or Eucalyptus ?
- Do I want a more rustic, raw & traditional look or something cleaner, modern and classy ? Depending on what you are looking for you might want to choose a knotted or clear wood.
In terms of aesthetics, some good guidelines would be to find a type of wood and style that already matches your current home decor or backyard set up. If you are building something completely, you might want to think about durability or what kind of sauna experience you're trying to create, how you want to feel in the sauna.
Think of your home and how you want your future sauna to add value to it. Then, look for a model that are aligned with your goals.
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Keep it sweaty !
Gabriel from Northern Saunas