How to Build a Finnish Sauna From Silo Staves

You can build your own outdoor, wood-fired Finnish sauna from recycled materials including silo staves.

| March/April 1978

My husband and I knew the very first time we experienced the pleasures of sauna bathing many years ago that we wanted — someday — to have a Finnish sauna of our very own. (In the best Finnish tradition, we wanted our sauna to be outdoors — next to our pond — so we could dunk ourselves in cold water immediately after each steaming.) Due to a chronic cash shortage, however, our "dream sauna" remained just that — a dream — for a long time.

But then about three years ago, the farmer down the road from us decided to replace his old, wooden silo with a fancy new one. So we decided to ask him if we could use the wood from his old silo to construct our long-awaited sauna. Sure, enough, he was delighted to have us cart the many silo staves away.

We couldn't have been happier with the deal! The silo staves were a lovely weather worn gray, all tongue-and-groove and in excellent condition (silage is a great wood preserver). And there were more than enough of the curved boards to construct the pint-sized silo-sauna we had in mind.

We'd already chosen the construction site: a spot at the end of our lawn where a sorry-looking clump of brambles was growing out of a rock pile. After clearing away the thorny plants, we used a stick and string to measure off a circle 10-feet in diameter. Then we leveled the site, setting aside the many stones for later use.

Next, we made forms for our sauna's concrete floor from some aluminum garden edging we'd found at the dump. (The 5-inch-high barrier was held in a circular shape by a series of small stakes driven into the ground around its outside. Any material capable of being bent into a 10-inch diameter circle — thin plywood, hardboard, etc. — would have worked just as well.) Afterwards, we poured a 5-inch-thick slab, which we reinforced with old chicken wire, pieces of iron and the rocks we had set aside while clearing the site. (We decided not to use footings since we figured the slab would merely "float" without cracking if the frost heaved it.) As soon as the concrete began to set, we laid one course of bricks around its edge.

The next day, Henry and I filled in the gaps between the bricks, built a simple door frame and cut all our staves to a uniform 8-feet length (except for the six staves — which were much shorter — that were to go above the door). Then we began to build the sauna's walls.

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