Finishing a job is always a sweet endeavor. I usually budget in one day of fussiness—a day when I can pay attention to all of the little details, get the stove in place and then, as a last step, give the sauna a test run. This is when I get to see how my efforts have paid off and take note of how the sauna actually fires. Is it hot enough? Is it light and airy and does it have that right sauna “feng shui”? Does it reach a good temperature and would Ozzie, the Finn who started me on my sauna-building path, approve.
The job I just finished is a modest affair: bare bones in that Finnish sort of pragmatism. I converted a kit-built garden shed, the type you’ll find parked on the edge of a big box home store parking lot, into a simple sauna with no dressing room. I liked the challenge of working within a modest budget, and I liked the folks: down-to-earth modern day Helen and Scott Nearing types. I had to remind myself that a sauna does not have to be a luxury item, affordable only by those in the higher income brackets, but that a sauna should be essential and ubiquitous as indoor plumbing.
I lined the inside with knotty pine—a low budget alternative to cedar. Sitting on the top bench I noted that the smell of pine reminds me of my forays into woods here in the east and is a close and familiar smell—unlike the rarefied smell of cedar. Aside from the knots, which will bleed sap forever and inevitably find it’s way into someone’s hair, it is a fine wood to use. It is not as stable as cedar but the inevitable cracks will open the sauna up and let it breathe. We always said that Ozzie’s old sauna at Podunk, with its gappy knotty pine walls and sagging ceiling, felt better than any other.
My Lämpimämpi stove fired fast and hot. The rocks quickly reached good löyly temperature and the first splash of water had me moaning in ecstasy. At no point did I feel that claustrophobic locker-room-sauna feeling of not being able to breathe. The dual windows filled the space with light. The benches will hold the couple, their kids and several neighbors. In term of the essentials, it is a perfect sauna. Nothing more is needed– no fancy tile work, no dressing room, no fancy cedar trim work. It works, plain and simple, and it works well. It was the best sweat I’d had in a while and a good sweat is almost payment enough.