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Thread: Sauna, or banya?

  1. #1
    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    Default Sauna, or banya?

    Has anyone built a wood burning sauna or banya? While it won't be used remotely, unless the backyard counts I'm planning on making a small one this winter to hang off the back porch.

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    I built a small wood burning sauna in my backyard you are welcome to drop by and see it. pak

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    Pete,

    Actually I've been meaning to drop you a line to take a more careful look at your sauna and take a couple of pics. I'm thinking of ballpark dimensions of 3' by 6'. I wanted to get more details of how you mounted the wood burning stove.

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    Member Nukalpiaq's Avatar
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    Default maqiq

    Now this is an interesting topic, in my part of the State we call the sauna or banya a "maqiq" or in english a "steambath". I have always been curious on how maqiq are constructed in other parts of the State. I know a man who traveled extensively throughout Alaska and he told me that there are distinct differences in the design. If you can pak how about attaching a photo or 2 to a thread, sure would like to see how you build them. Thanks

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    I have enjoyed hothouses around the state. I admit that I really do not prefer the really hot/humid baths. I prefer temps in the 150 to 170F with moderate humidity. I like to be able to take a longer time in the sauna.

    My sauna is 6'X8', 20gal barrell stove, lined with Alaska cottonwood and it is wired for sound and lights. I'm looking forward to listening to the world series while in the sauna.

    My sauna is too small. I think 8'X8' to be a minimum size. My stove is too big. I still don't know if I would insulate the next one or not. Mine is not insulated. I do not know how to post photos but I can e-mail photos. If you PM me your e addy I'll sent photos. In general mine looks like a small shed with a metal pitched roof and sided to look like my house. The access to the stove is on the outside and this keeps the sauna much cleaner. Mine can also accomdate steam.

    All up, I built it for about 600-700 dollars. It is on a block foundation, all weather wood sub deck plywood subfloor with cork floor. the bench is 2x6 with 1x6 cedar on top. I made the door and got the 3/4"X6" t&g Alaska cottonwood for the walls and ceiling from Poperts mill in Wasilla(and it is beautiful stuff). Heat is a 20gal barrel stove and the stack goes through the ceiling and roof with no angles.

    As to wood, Cured wood is a must. I have not tried birch. Spruce is good for a medium temp without getting the stove too hot. I go by local cabinetmakers shops for hardwood scraps(more BTUs per piece).

    It is an enjoyable hobby.

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    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Default our sauna experiences

    Paul,

    We've had a sauna here for over 25 years. Current sauna is log-cabin design out of white spruce, total size is 12x8' but is divided into a 4x8 changing room (with short benches on both ends) and 8x8 sauna room. We're using a crude homemade 55-gallon barrel for the sauna woodstove. Takes about four hours to get to temp and heat the water too that we have in buckets on the sauna bench. Stove is surrounded with river rocks. Sauna itself is off the ground a foot and a half, banked with dirt and moss on outside.

    Couple things about saunas worthy of mention:
    Lamps won't work inside (too hot and humid) so we have a small window on one end with a shelf outside, and that is where we put the kerosene lamp, on the shelf outside. Plenty of light from outside there right next to window to light inside of sauna. In the changing room we use a battery-powered led light.

    Where does the water go? This is perhaps the thing most forget to deal with; where does all that water for steam and bathing go? Even with our sauna off the ground as it is, back when the kids we here we'd typically "fill" the area underneath the floorboards by spring (it would not leach into frozen ground) and so it would begin to come up into the sauna as a giant ice cube. So if you're building off the deck...you'll have to figure where to drain the water.

    We keep oven thermometer on ridgepole in sauna and typically like it between 180 and 200 degrees. Very hot steams followed by longer periods in changing room, jump in river when it is liquid, followed by successive steams. Really can't say enough good things about steam baths...just a great way to get clean and to refresh the body.

    The changing room has been a problem for us as the moisture from inside the sauna pervades the changing room (we just have a thick blanket hanging for the small door between sauna and changing room) and I've had to replace the changing room roof once already due to mold and rot. Nothing was painted or any sealant or anything applied. Can't even really use a small boombox in the changing room as the humidity is right near 100% and fogs the cd player to where it won't read. Old sauna didn't have a changing room; for us now the changing room is a must-have. Beats sitting outside on step at forty-below, and just nice place to change and hang clothes.

    Another thing my wife likes to do is use a "steam can" on the sauna stove, filled with whatever plant or herb she has available, with water too. Our favorite is the balsam poplar buds, heat them in the can then pour water until it overflows on the stove and sends up a nice herbal steam. We also like to use wormwood in summer.

    You'll love it once you get it built.
    Best,

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    Member greythorn3's Avatar
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    maybe a ipod would work good since there are no moving parts and you can get waterproof cases for them.
    Semper Fi!

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    Bushrat, I like the herbal steam idea and will start collecting buds next spring.

    All my electrial stuff is close to the floor where the temps are much less.

    If I lived in the Bush, I would have one, as Bushrat describes, with changing room.

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    Member Nukalpiaq's Avatar
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    Default maqiq

    Years ago I built a 7ft x 20 ft plywood maqiq, it is also insulated. The cooling room is 8 ft long and the steaming room is 12 ft long. The floor space in the steaming room is 6ft long with an equal area for the woodstove. For wash water drainage I circle cut in the floor in the left front corner a hole the same diameter as a piece of 3" pvc pipe and have it connected to another piece outside that allows wash water to drain away from maqiq area. Outside drain pipe is 20 ft long. For my woodstove I use a 55gal drum it sits on a metal stand that sits on a pad of gravel and scrap metal roofing. The top is covered with lots of river rocks, in the front opening where I load the wood I have a 8 gallon welded aluminum water container. My floor is covered with a heavy duty white vinyl type material to keep the floor clean and makes it easier when we clean up the maqiq. The height in the steaming room while sitting in the center of the floor is 4ft 6 in. high, makes for hotter temps. The cooling room height is 6ft high at the center. I put in a plexiglass window at the far end of the steaming room to use available sunlight. Also have plexiglass windows on each side of the steaming room door. I hang a shop light in front of one of the windows in the cooling room, works great when steaming after dark. I built a bench in the cooling room to sit on and it is wide enough so a person can lay down too. In the steaming room I sit on the floor. I usually splash cold water on the steaming room floor to keep it clean and cool before I go in to steam. Usual routine when taking a maqiq is to dip water from the hot water container using a long wooden handled dipper and splash it over the hot rocks on the stove, splash as much as you are comfortable with. Occassionally I throw a little bit of spruce needles on the stove or put some in the hot water, makes for a nice spruce smell all around. Steaming is the best therapy a person can have, nice and relaxing and you get a really good night's sleep after.

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    Default Bushrat - a trip down memory lane...

    Mark,

    Your post brings back fond memories for me of sauna time spent in northern Minnesota on West Bearskin Lake back in the late 70's and early 80's. I worked at a YMCA camp that focused on canoeing and backpacking trips throughout the Boundary waters, Canada and the western US. One of the highlights was the log sauna next to the lake. It was really the only source of bathing to speak of and we'd fire it up with wood and then jump in the lake. In the winter we would cut a hole in the ice and jump in...quite the heart stopping experience at sub-zero temps.

    The sauna was much like the one you built, a small changing area separated from the larger sauna room by a framed wall and wood door. The floor was crudely poured concrete which helped with water drainage issues. At night we would also use a Kerosene lamp that was hung outside the window for lighting.


    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

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    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Default The "jump in cold water" effect <grin>

    Austin, neat experiences you had. In my younger days we used to chop a hole in the river ice in winter large enough to lower yourself down into after a hot steam. Used to take a mini-maglite with me and check out what it looked like under the ice, pretty freaky scary feeling down there really. One winter I came up with the not-so-bright idea to chop two holes about fifteen feet apart and swim between the two. Well, as you know, that first initial dunk in ice-cold water can have a weird effect...so I take a big breath, lower myself down pointing in the direction of the other hole (my wife was at the other hole shining a flashlight), and kick off, but apparently I kicked off heading 45degrees the wrong direction <grin>. I don't see any light and my back is scraping against the river ice that was a foot and a half thick at the time, and for a second there it was almost pure panic time...but I looked to the left and saw "the light" and kicked off and bolted out the other hole so fast it cut my thighs up as they scraped against the ice. Last time I tried that stunt.

    I've had many friends here over the years and we've sauna-ed together and I try to get them to jump in the river (when it's liquid) and feel that experience. I tell them jokingly it's the "cheapest high" you'll ever get. Going from nearly 200degrees into 40 degree water is something else, and for about five minutes after you get out of the water your body tingles and you get quite a head rush <grin>. Amazing feeling really. Our sauna is about fifty yards from the river...had always wanted to build a small sauna on skids, with hole in the floor...skid the sauna on the ice right over a hole...that would be cool.

    Nukalpiaq, nice maqiq you've built. I'd wager you've indoctrinated some folks over the years...in SW Alaska it's common practice to see who can stand the hottest steams <grin>.

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    Member AKDoug's Avatar
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    Just a word to the wise for PaulH. Having extinguished a couple sauna fires I would recommend that you might want it seperate from the deck and the house.

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    Member Nukalpiaq's Avatar
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    Good advice AKDoug, I have heard of so many maqiqs out here in the bush catching on fire, mostly the backwall just behind the stovepipes, or the area where the pipes go thru the roof.

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