Black saunas with large windows are the most popular style right now, but the way the sauna wood is darkened couldn’t be more different. The technique used has implications for the longevity and beauty of the black sauna wood, so make sure you know the difference.
Type 1: Shou Sugi Ban Black Sauna Finish
Shou Sugin Ban, also known as Yakisuko is an ancient Japanese method of naturally preserving wood and it is really simple: you burn it! While techniques very, the most common method used by sauna builders is the torch method. Nomad Sauna and New Primitive Saunas are known for this simple, time-honored method.
Softwoods like cedar are the best for Shou Sugi Ban, but almost any wood can be used. Hemlock, and Pine would be a good choice for a torched black sauna finish on a budget.
Type 2: Painted Wood
Painting wood is the obvious way to make wood black, but it doesn’t do anything to improve the durability of the wood beyond the surface. Painting the exterior of a barrel sauna is not recommended, as it will need to be touched up and generally you want to treat wood all sides evenly. The biggest problem with painting wood as a sauna finish is that you generally can’t paint the interior of a sauna black because of toxic fumes and off-gassing. The Finnish companies that make black ‘sauna paint’ are actually wax, more on that later.
Type 3: Stained Sauna Wood
Staining sauna wood can work on the exterior but has the same drawbacks as painted sauna wood. It generally can not be done inside the sauna, so it won’t work well on barrel saunas that should be treated evenly. It also has a dull look in our opinion. Stained black sauna wood is how ‘Almost Heaven‘ achieves the black Onyx finish on some of their saunas, and we generally don’t recommend it. Stain just isn’t something you want on or in your sauna space.
Nordic Spruce is an excellent choice for stained black saunas. Here it is on our SaunaLife G2 kit. Notice how you can still see the wood grain in detail.
Type 4: Black Waxed Sauna Wood
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Finnish companies have made natural sauna wax for decades and it gives the ‘smoke sauna’ look to modern electric saunas that no longer have shared walls. We love this look, especially the Tikkurila black wax that’s used by Thermory.
We sell black waxed sauna paneling; inquire here for availability, lead times, and pricing. It is especially striking when paired with a light sauna bench material like Aspen.
Option 5: Thermally Modified Black Sauna Wood
Finally, our favorite option is a new product from Thermory, called Thermory Ignite. It’s made to mimic the look and qualities of Shou Sugi Ban without the flame, and it actually does a better job of making the wood more durable because the wood is thermally modified all the way through, while the flame only reaches the outer layer (same with black wax, and paint).
For a striking example of Thermory Ignite paired with Thermo-Aspen walls, check out the Auroom Vulcana indoor sauna kit.
Auroom Vulcana masterfully uses thermally modified aspen benches with a backdrop of Ignite black cladding for a stunning sauna finish. Note the stealth vent and backlight, details Auroom is known for.
Black Sauna Type 5: Savusauna
Savusauna, or ‘smoke saunas’ are the original black saunas, and quite possibly the original saunas. They were developed before metal was available for chimneys. These are the original black saunas, because they were covered in soot. Believe it or not, the carbon particles in the soot are believed to help to keep the sauna clean, making it a safe and hygienic space.
They offer a unique and immersive sauna experience that is deeply rooted in tradition. These saunas are heated over several hours, a process that requires patience and mindfulness, adding to the overall therapeutic benefits of the sauna experience.
We recommend trying a savusauna (smoke sauna) if you get a chance, but if building a modern sauna you will want to try another method. We recommend Shou Sugi Ban with cedar, thermal modification with spruce, or black wax with alder as the claddings of choice for a black sauna.