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DIY sauna builds space and character

Dear Diary,

Building is hard work. But it is also oh-so-satisfying. On that note, progress on building a sauna is coming along quite well.

The “we” mentioned in the following references myself, occasionally my sister, my father, and my friend.

We are further behind schedule than I had hoped, but not by too much. We are trying to use a mix of conventional and unconventional building techniques on this project, and a few elements of the unconventional took longer than I expected.

Specifically, the framing took longer than I expected because we are using a mix of bought and found lumber.

The found “lumber” has been for the corner posts. This lumber wasn’t actually found in a typical, thrifting sense. My father had a fallen cherry tree, still in good condition on the inside. My sister used her Alaskan chain saw mill to quarter it.

Before I go into detail about setting the resulting posts, let me back up and explain about the foundation.

Since this is a small building (10×10 feet on the outside) we went with a very shallow and simply floating ring foundation.

The first step was leveling the area — the site we chose was not level to start with. In fact, it spanned a trench with soil built up on the sides. It took me a day to shovel the clay soil back into the trench.

After piling the dirt up, I had to dig it back out to make a trench for the foundation — but only a few inches deep to fill with gravel. On top of the gravel we made a form out of 2×8 and 2×4 inch rough-cut lumber to pour concrete into.

The outer form was 10×10 feet, and the inner was 8×8, creating a one-foot-wide mold. Then we spent a day mixing and pouring concrete to fill it. This process included tamping and leveling the top of the concrete.

Once it cured (after about a week), we started work on the above-mentioned corner posts. I thought we would be able to get them up in one weekend, but it ended up taking longer — three weekends.

The extra time was due to it being our first time using unconventional lumber. The quartered log had some challenges, such as leveling the base, and cutting notches off the top (to create a square section on the rounded log side, see my blog for photos) to which to affix the girts (boards which frame the top of the walls).

We made templets and practice runs.

But we did it. Then we bolted the posts to the concrete, with a section of shingle underneath to prevent moisture wicking. We had to drill into the concrete to secure a bolt, and then up into the post at a corresponding spot.

Once the posts were in place we attached the girts —  the two sloped girts needed triangles cut out where they rested on the post, so they would have a flat surface making contact.

Finally, we were ready to place the rafters — we again cut birds’ mouth angles on each rafter, and secured them to the front and back girt with hurricane clips. Next, we will add the roof and ceiling before beginning to infill the walls with another unconventional building method (more to come on that soon).

Dear Reader, I wanted to share these building notes with you because while planning and working this project I found myself interested in the building experiences of other people. I hope mine will in turn be interesting for other DIY builders.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, exploring possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County.