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What is a Wood Fired Sauna Heater?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A wood fired sauna heater is a heater that uses wood, rather than electricity or propane gas, as a source of energy to heat a sauna. Saunas were traditionally heated with stoves that had to be stocked with wood, and some traditional saunas still use this method. Most modern saunas, however, use more clean burning and efficient forms of energy. The exception is a sweat, a type of temporary sauna that is built ceremonially by some Native American tribes. In this case, a wood stove may not be used at all, with sauna bathers instead creating a fire and surrounding it with sauna rocks.

Learning how to use a wood fired sauna heater is a complex process. For people who have never worked with wood stoves before, the first step is learning how to build a fire and keep it going. Each wood stove is slightly different, and the precise needs of the individual heater must be learned. Part of learning how to use the stove involves which kinds of wood should be used, as damp wood will create smoke and woods heavy in tar and pitch can make the sauna smell unpleasant. Fragrant woods like cedar and cypress are preferred, along with hardwoods such as oak, which will burn for a long time.

After learning how to build a fire and keep it going, someone can use a wood fired sauna heater relatively easily. He or she will need to learn how to operate stove flues to manipulate the flow of air to the wood heater, which can make the fire burn hotter or cooler, depending on what is desired. Using this type of heater also requires patience, because it will take a long time for the sauna to come to temperature. Furthermore, the temperature of the sauna cannot be as readily controlled, with changes to the oxygen level and fuel having an impact up to half an hour or more later.

Some advantages are conferred by a wood fired sauna heater. A wood stove can heat a very large sauna relatively quickly, especially if there is residual heat from the last usage. The stove can also be kept burning continually at a low level with the assistance of slow burning hardwoods. Furthermore, differently scented woods can be used to create different atmospheres in the sauna, and it is easy to create sauna steam, or loyly, with a wood stove. Sauna bathers can simply splash the specially treated stove with water to create a cloud of steam. The larger surface area of a wood stove also allows for a sizable collection of sauna rocks. A wood fired heater also requires much more space than a smaller electric or gas heater, however, and fueling it can be expensive in areas where access to wood is limited.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon149858 — On Feb 05, 2011

The previous commenter is correct. your article is vague on this point and needs to be clarified. Smoke inhalation can be quite harmful.

By anon14768 — On Jun 23, 2008

I've sweated in Sioux, Cheyenne and Crow sweat lodges and I've built my own. No Native American would *ever* build a fire inside the sweat lodge. The smoke from the fire and embers would run you out if you didn't succumb to poisonous gas first. They build the fire outside, heat the the rocks til red hot and then move them into a pit inside the lodge -- carefully so as not to bring *any* embers into the lodge. Even small embers emit smoke that is completely intolerable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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