In the north country, it was common for the sauna to be the first structure built. It could be lived in as the house was being built. As you drive around Cook County MN, you can’t help but notice the many styles of sauna the majority of which are wood heated. Wood is plentiful, affordable, and easy to get. While it takes a bit of planning and work to prepare to sauna, it is worth it. Read on to learn more about the how-to’s of the wood-fired sauna.
Size matters—consider your needs when planning your sauna. Also, window versus no window, and stove access inside or outside. Our sauna was built by Owen Christensen of Duluth. The building is 8×12. Inside there is a 3 foot changing room with the remainder being the hot room. The stove feeds from the changing room. This is nice as all stove work is inside for comfort.
The sauna gets used during each visit to our cabin. We have experienced every season in Cook County Minnesota multiple times over the past 25 years. That said, I usually plan 2-3 hours for the sauna to get to temp. It is just part of life and you need to learn planning with a wood fire. During the colder months it is much slower to get 120-140 degrees inside the sauna.
I like to use compressed wood chip blocks for the sauna. These burn cleaner and provide consistent btu output. Menards has large ones and we have picked up smaller ones in the Amish area of northern Indiana. I like the smaller ones as there is more control. I can load the stove with 4 blocks and run to town for a couple hours. When I get back, the sauna is 80 to 100 degrees. Dress the fire and it will be 120+ in a half hour.
During the winter, getting a good temperature takes a little more work. We had a heavy canvas made that hangs down the middle of the sauna. This essentially divides the hot room in two. We are able to get 120 degrees on the stove side of the canvas even at -25 outside. This divider functionally gives us three rooms. Changing room, warm room side, and the hot room side.
We are a dealer for Panther Primitive Tents. Our custom dividing canvas was manufactured by Panther Primitives after I measured and submitted a drawing.
The canvas is impregnated with a flame retardant at the factory. Never use unknown canvas or non-treated canvas near any fire.
The other day it was 23 degrees outside. The hot side of the canvas was 140 degrees. The stove damper was open about 25%. There was enough heat that we pulled back the canvas so that heat could bleed over to the other side faster.
Folks often have water available to put on the rocks that are located on the top of the stove. When we first had the sauna, I used a cooking ladle to dip water over to the rocks. This progressed to a spray bottle. After having a very tired trigger finger, I purchased a 1 gallon plastic bug sprayer. This filled with water is fantastic. We are able to maintain humidity while sitting back on the bench and shooting the rocks. We also spray down the canvas. The evaporation from the cloth also increased humidity.
The Scandinavian counterparts say to use the sauna. You just need to use caution and common sense. Consult your medical advisor.
We opted to have a removable water jacket for our stove. We get very hot water we mix with cold water to achieve the rinse water temperature we like when ending our sauna.
Other features to consider adding to your sauna would be a sand, hourglass flip timer. I mounted one to the wall and we gauge our time spent in the sauna. Owen Christensen offered a candle window which we opted for. The window connects the changing room to the sauna room and you can put a flashlight lantern in there for a night sauna.
I hope I’ve peaked your interest in a wood-fired sauna. Below are resources I mentioned above.
Fort Couch Quartermaster LLC
Panther Primitives Dealer
By Pete Avery