What wood is used for saunas? Pick the right one

wood for sauna

What Wood is Used for Saunas?

Nowadays it is popular to purchase an electric sauna heater and do things modernly. Of course, an electric heater requires less attention and is easy to use. However, I think a wood fired sauna heater gives a much more authentic sensation. In the old days sauna lovers even used an open fire inside the sauna room to heat it up. Now using wood fired heaters is much more convenient because you avoid the smoke. Despite of what heater you choose, sauna itself will be made of wood. Therefore, it is natural that a question pops up on your mind: what wood should I use if I want to have a wood fired sauna heater or build my own sauna room?

When you decide that you really want a wood fired sauna heater, pick the wood which you have plenty in your surroundings in order to build a stock. Basically, any kind of wood goes well in a wood fired sauna heater. However, the recommended one is the hard wood, such as oak, birch, ash, grey box, ironbark, maple. The most important thing is to burn it when it is well dried and clean. And finally, the best wood for a sauna construction is spruce, pine, cedar, aspen, oak, hemlock.

Usually when I go with my dad fishing, he knows all the trees which we happen to see while walking to the river. And I used to ask him: “Dad, what is this tree? And how this one is called?” He always knew the answer. But I have never looked at it from a different perspective – like a sauna craftsman. Maybe when you have this idea to build your own sauna room, you will start looking at wood with different eyes. Here I will shortly present what the eyes of a sauna craftsman could see looking at wood.

How does a wood fired sauna heater work?

Wood fired sauna heater
Wood fired sauna heater

First thing you need to know about wood fired sauna heaters is that it might get really hot in a sauna room. A wood fired sauna heater doesn’t have any temperature limits and the heat depends on how much wood you will be able to fit in the fire box.

Another luring feature is the aroma it produces – it gives a sensation that you are in a very natural surrounding. Maybe that is why wood fired sauna rooms are considered to be the traditional ones – it is like they are bringing us to the roots.

If you are worried about how to install a wood fired sauna heater, it is not more difficult than installing an electric or gas heater. The only difference is the need of a chimney for the ventilation of smoke (the chimney should be cleaned from time to time). The heater also must draw air from the outside to leave the oxygen in the room. If you know these basics, you should be able to enjoy a wood fired sauna room safely.

Finally, the choice of wood makes a difference of the aroma you will have in the sauna room and the heat you can reach. The size of the heater is not so important as the kind of wood. It makes your sauna room to be cooler or hotter. The harder wood – oak, birch, ash, grey box, ironbark, maple –  will burn longer and hotter than the softer wood such as pine. It is recommended to stick to the wood you find good for you. In this way you already know how to control the fire and the temperature of your sauna stove (as we said, each kind of wood has its different “character”). Sauna rocks are used anyways. And of course, each wood has its own smell which can be chosen according to the taste.

So sauna using a wood fired sauna heater can be an authentic experience, a bit different to sauna when the wood isn’t used. By all means it is a safe way to enjoy sauna, if you know how a wood fired sauna heater works.

Why saunas are made of wood?

wooden sauna
wooden sauna

I have finished the part about wood fired sauna heaters and now hopefully you can imagine better how wood works as fuel in sauna. Now I am going to continue talking about the wood used for constructing a sauna.

We all probably have noticed that every sauna is made of wood. And this is not without a reason. The wood has its purpose even in the walls.

Originally the word “sauna” in Finnish means “a room of wood”. It is widely accepted to build it from wood for some practical reasons such as comfort, safety, freedom of design, heat and moisture preservation.

Wood remains cooler than other materials in high temperature and that is how it is safe to touch the material the sauna is made from and it is possible to sit there, even if the right usage is considered to be laying under a towel before sitting.

Moreover, wood isolates heat in a natural way and collects moisture much better. Also you have less possibilities the mold to appear when you use wood for building your sauna. Not even just this – the same as wood which burns in a sauna heater, the wood in the walls and benches will produce its smell which most likely will be pleasurable and will add up to the experience.

How to choose the right wood for your sauna?

Best wood for saunas
Best wood for saunas

I used to have wood workshops in school. The teacher was telling us how important is to choose the right wood when we want to make anything of it. I guess building your own sauna is like one of those projects I used to have in school but a really big project. So my message to you is the same as my teacher’s: it is important not just the kind of wood you choose for building your sauna. The qualities have the same significance.

If for the fuel it is better to use hard wood, for the structure of the sauna itself softwood is recommended. First of all, softwood doesn’t heat up so fast like the hard wood, secondly, it absorbs heat from the steam much better. Spruce, pine and cedar are the best options of softwood.

A couple of words about these kinds of wood: spruce is a light wood which is cost-effective; pine is similar to Nordic spruce but has larger knots which will fall out when the wood becomes dry; cedar has a nice color, a nice smell, doesn’t rot but it is more expensive, creates mold, after some time starts looking dirty and can cause breathing problems.

All these three kinds of wood don’t have much sap: wood with a lot of sap is not recommended for building a sauna. This kind of wood can release fumes and hot liquid which might burn you.

Pine’s quality to loose knots is good for us because usually wood with knots contains sap and is not the best for sauna construction.

One of the most important aspects of picking the wood for your sauna concerns health: the wood mustn’t be stained or painted. When such wood is in use, it can release some harmful toxins.

The wood in your sauna will need to endure many temperature changes so it is better you choose wood of good quality. Some tips on how to do it: pick wood which has little variance in color; there should be no broken knots of heartwood.

To conclude, these are the aspects you need to take into consideration when choosing the wood for sauna: the strength, the kind, whether it has sap, knots, is it stained or painted, the quality.

Good luck in doing your own wood project!


As much as I have heard, wood fired saunas are the best when located somewhere in the forest. Where you can feel a real bomb of nature fusion overwhelming your whole being. I really like the smell of pine so probably I would like to choose it for my sauna. But as we have learned while doing this research, there is much more than the smell to be taken into consideration when building your own sauna and choosing the wood which is one of the most important attributes. Hopefully this article helped you in the process of building your own sauna temple or picking the right wood for saunas.

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