The history of the barrel sauna as a daily ritual in Finland

The history of the barrel sauna as a daily ritual in Finland

Did you know that “sauna” is the only Finnish word to make it into the English language?


The Barrel Sauna, also known as the “Finnish Round Sauna,” is a common variety of sauna in the United States with a design originating in Finland where saunas have a long and distinguished history that dates back thousands of years.


Traditionally, saunas have been used for physical and spiritual cleansing, as well as social gatherings, diplomacy, relaxation and even birthing. Each sauna is believed to have it’s own “loyly”, or distinctive character of its evaporating hot steam. The better the loyly, the more enjoyable the sauna.


Finnish saunas are typically constructed of natural materials such as wood, stone, and clay, and frequently situated near easy access to water for cooling and washing after the sauna. 


Today, Finland is home to over 2 million saunas, at least one per household, more per capita than any other country in the world.


The sauna has often been regarded as the “poor man’s pharmacy” in Finland, given its health benefits for body and mind. But a sauna session is more than just a way to relax and cleanse the body for many Finns. It is a deeply personal and spiritual experience through which they can connect with nature and their inner selves.


Traditional Finnish saunas are frequently located outside, surrounded by the natural beauty of Finland's forests and lakes. This outdoor setting allows for a truly immersive experience while providing an escape from the bustle of everyday life. Finns frequently take a dip in a nearby lake or river before entering the sauna to cleanse their bodies and prepare for the sauna experience.


This is followed by a series of rituals, such as alternating between the heat of the sauna and cooling off in the water, and invigorating the skin with a whisk made of birch branches. These rituals, combined with the outdoor setting, make the Finnish sauna experience a daily escape deeply ingrained in the Finnish way of life.


The Outdoor Barrel Sauna 

The barrel sauna, also known as the kelo sauna, is a distinct sauna construction originally invented by Finnish water tower builders. These builders created a portable sauna out of the cylindrical shape of water tower staves. The barrel sauna's design allowed for quick and easy assembly and disassembly, making it an ideal solution for outdoor use.. 

Cedar, redwood, and spruce are the most commonly used woods in the construction of barrel saunas. These woods are well-known for their durability, rot and decay resistance, and attractive appearance. Each type of wood has distinct characteristics and benefits, and the type of wood chosen will be determined by personal preferences and the environment. 


Understanding the Basics

As a potential sauna owner, the first thing to know is that barrel saunas are a unique and aesthetically pleasing option that's perfect for those looking to harness the benefits of sauna use right in their own backyard. Their distinctive barrel shape not only adds a rustic touch to your outdoor space, but it also serves a functional purpose: the round design allows for efficient air circulation, creating an even distribution of heat throughout the sauna. This results in a faster warm-up time compared to conventional rectangular saunas, thus saving energy. Additionally, barrel saunas are often crafted from high-quality, durable woods such as Western Red Cedar or Nordic Spruce, which are resistant to decay and insects and emit a pleasant aroma when heated.


Considerations Before Purchase

Before investing in a barrel sauna, there are several factors you should consider. First, think about the size you'll need. Barrel saunas come in a range of sizes, typically accommodating 2-8 people, so consider how many individuals you plan on having in the sauna at a given time. Next, consider whether you prefer a traditional (heats the air in the sauna) or infrared (heats the body directly) sauna; or even offer a hybrid option like the Nature 8 which features low EMF infrared and traditional heat in one.

Also, reflect on where you plan to place your sauna – you'll need a flat surface and should consider proximity to your home for ease of access. Finally, while many barrel saunas come as pre-cut kits that can be assembled with relative ease, you may want to consider professional installation to ensure a secure and efficient setup.


Pre-cut Kits

Pre-cut kits for barrel saunas are an excellent option for those who enjoy a DIY project and are looking to save on cost. These kits come with all the necessary materials and parts required to assemble your sauna, and the components are designed to fit together easily. Many kits include pre-cut boards, pre-assembled benches, a heater, rocks, a bucket, a ladle, and a thermometer.

One of the main advantages of pre-cut kits is their flexibility. You can assemble the sauna at your convenience, and if you need to move it later, disassembling and reassembling is possible. They're also typically more affordable than pre-assembled models, making them a great choice for those on a budget. Additionally, the assembly process can be a satisfying and rewarding experience. However, it's worth noting that assembling a sauna kit does require a certain level of handyman skills and can be time-consuming.


Fully Assembled and Custom Barrel Saunas

Fully assembled or custom hand-built saunas, such as the Satori barrel sauna, are an excellent choice for those who prefer a turnkey solution or have specific requirements for their sauna. A pre-assembled barrel sauna arrives ready to use, eliminating the need for assembly. This can be a significant advantage if you're not handy or simply don't have the time or desire to assemble it yourself.

Opting for a custom hand-built sauna means you can personalize your sauna to your specific needs and preferences. You can customize the size, the type of wood, the number and placement of benches, windows, the type of heater (electric or wood-burning), and many other features. This level of customization ensures your sauna perfectly fits your aesthetic and functional requirements.

While pre-assembled and custom hand-built saunas tend to be more expensive than pre-cut kits, they often come with professional installation included in the price, ensuring a correctly built sauna that can last for many years. Also, the craftsmanship involved in these saunas can enhance their aesthetic appeal and potentially their durability and functionality, making the investment worthwhile.

In conclusion, whether a pre-cut kit or a fully assembled custom sauna is right for you will depend on your budget, your DIY skills, your specific needs and preferences, and your desired level of involvement in the sauna's installation.


Maximizing Your Barrel Sauna Experience

Once you've selected and installed your barrel sauna, the next step is to understand how to maximize its use for your health and wellness. Typically, a sauna session might last around 15-30 minutes, with temperatures ranging from 150-195°F for a traditional sauna. Remember to hydrate before, during, and after your sauna sessions. Consider integrating your sauna use with cold therapy for contrast (like a plunge pool or cold shower), which can amplify the benefits. Adding essential oils to your sauna routine can enhance the experience as well, and always ensure to allow time for relaxation and mindfulness during your sessions. Finally, like any significant investment, proper maintenance, including regular cleaning and periodic wood treatment, will help ensure your barrel sauna provides years of enjoyment and wellness benefits.

Yes, you can even install a barrel sauna installed on a boat or barge.




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