Sauna bench design, along with heater placement are the most important factors to consider when designing a sauna. And just like heat and steam, they are very much interrelated. Heater location should influence your bench placement, and vice-versa.
The goal of designing a sauna is not to cram in the most seating possible, but to put the sauna bather in a relaxing position where the heat and steam are the best. It’s also a good idea to have a less intense option a step down.
The ultimate goal for the “hot seat” is to have the sauna bathers feet be at least as high as the sauna rocks on the stove, and have a tall person’s head be almost touching the ceiling when seated. Otherwise the best steam and heat will be wasted above the everyones head.
This usually requires a 2-tiered sauna bench with lower and upper benches, or “stadium seating.”
Sauna Stadium Seating
At SALT Arts and Music in Oslo, Norway – they take stadium seating in the sauna very seriously.
So once you got the placement and height figured out, it’s time to think about aesthetics and comfort. A beautiful sauna is simply more relaxing and a nicer place to spend time. And while sitting straight up on a normal bench is best for meditation, ergonomic bench designs are becoming popular and take the comfort to new levels.
Here are the sauna bench designs that we like to look at for some serious design inspiration.
Heartwood curved Sauna Benches in the UK
Heartwood Saunas in the UK offers two modern styles of benches depending on the model. Both are modern, elegant, and somewhat DIY friendly that you could probably build yourself.
The benches in the Aire+ are a minimalist design that looks great with the HUUM stove and floor to ceiling window. We love how the two benches are built to look like one flowing bench. The ceiling to wall connection behind the bench has the same rolling transition.
The cedar slats run the width of the benches and are very comfortable, shed water, and ventilate. They are most likely supported by 2x4s and screwed in from the bottom. The tricky part would be getting the platform to “roll over” in such a smooth way.
The problem with this method, and most other modern sauna designs, is there’s not a great way to clean under the benches without taking it apart.
The second design from Heartwood Saunas is even more stunning.
In the Arbor saunas, they are using very smooth Alder wood with curved edges and corners that have incredible details.
We love the contrast between the alder and cedar wood. This sauna is a great example of a sauna with a big window that has no shortage of thermal mass and wood to add warmth.
Heartwood Saunas also do an amazing job of sustainably sourcing their lumber from the forests around their shop. Quite possibly the most sustainable saunas out there.
Floating Sauna Benches From Finnleo
These custom made sauna benches from Finnleo can work with almost any sauna that has structural sidewalls. Floating benches look clean, modern, and are also the most practical because you can clean under the bench.
When building a sauna with floating benches you have to make the bench a part of the structural framing. The best way to do this is to notch out space for a horizontal 2×4 to run through your wall studs. This horizontal 2×4 will be the wall end of your sauna bench.
Built by BW Sauna in Duluth, Minnesota. Check out their rental sauna here.
It makes a little extra work but it’s very possible for DIY sauna builders and 100% worth it.
You can also order custom benches from Finnleo here.
A Modern Sauna Built Into The Rocks on Lake Huron
The Grotto Sauna by the Partisans Group is a remarkable modern sauna located north of Toronto on Lake Huron. It is far too extravagant and beyond the capabilities of any DIY sauna builder we know (and most professionals), but we love this sauna for showing what is possible and to start thinking outside the box.
We especially love how the bench flows into a nook in the window, and the skylight. This playful sauna design is sure to inspire.
Ergonomic Pod Sauna Benches By Jana Cerna Design
This Czech design company went back to first principles and shaped the sauna bench to maximize comfort. Sometimes a flat bench just isn’t what you want to lay on, and these look amazing.
They were also smart enough to leave 2/3 of the bench flat so you can also sit.
The opposing benches make for a nice balanced pod sauna that would look great in a large bathroom or by an indoor pool. I think we’d see a lot more pod saunas like this if you could get them through a door!
This is a really fun shape for a bunch worth considering for a home sauna. Of course the challenge is shaping the structural boards that have to be perfect. Not sure you could do this without a CNC machine.
Tuntu Hanging Benches From Finland
Finland is known as the nation of traditional saunas, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t innovating. Tuntu is a prime example of that, with hanging sauna benches that are relaxing, ergonomic, and don’t touch the floor.
As we mention above, not closing off the space under the sauna bench makes it easier to clean (that’s where the sweat ends up!) and mounting the benches on the wall makes for a modern look AND the easiest possible clean up.
Wall mounted benches and sauna chairs also provides the best airflow which is always good in a sauna.
The Tuntu sauna chairs may not be available in North America but they could provide plenty of inspiration for sauna builders and designers. The ends could be cut from plywood with a jigsaw and a similar effect could be achieved by most DIYers.
Traditional Sauna Benches
And finally we have the design DIY builders will use, and for good reason. They are super functional, give the sauna a traditional look, are easy to clean, and DIY friendly.
The simples of the traditional methods is a ladder-style support using 2x4s and running your cedar straight across. This method is great if you are adding benches to a sauna that already has the wood paneling on the walls, as it doesn’t even have to be attached to the wall. It doesn’t get easier and more functional than this:
Traditional Frame Bench
The other traditional sauna bench design is a little more work, but seems to be the most common these days. You’ll want to use 2×4 cedar stock without knots for them.
First frame it out using measurements from the sauna after the cedar paneling is installed. Subtract 1/8″ from the measurements so you can slide the bench into place. Be aware that the front and back measurements may be slightly different!
Cut the 2×4 that will be the front of the bench first, make sure it will fit in its final position. Then cut the back 2×4 and the short ends that will make up the depth of the bench. Screw the frame together and make sure it fits again. It’s much easier to make adjustments now.
Using a tablesaw, rip a 2×4 down so you can put your top boards over it and have it be flush with the frame. If you’re using 2×4 for the top boards, rip it to 2″.
These ripped 2x4s will make supports in the frame roughly every 24″ spread evenly across bench so the top boards don’t span too far without a support. You’ll also need to add a ripped 2×4 to the ends so you have something to screw the final top boards to.
Now that you have the bench frame with supports, simply add the top boards horizontally across the bench, screwed from below, and you’re good to go.
Sauna Bench Dimensions
The dimensions of your sauna bench are obviously going to be based on your room size, but here are a few rules of thumb to follow:
- Width – Maximize the bench length and run your benches from wall to wall whenever possible, which allows for the floating bench method. For benches that share a wall with your sauna heater, you’ll have to look for the required clearances for your sauna stove.
- Depth – Lower bench can be anywhere from 11″-24″. If you are only putting in one bench try to get closer to 24″. Upper bench height should ben 18″ to 24″.
- Bench Height – Always calculate the sauna bench height from the top down. A good place to start for your top bench is 42″ below the ceiling. This will put the sauna user in the hottest, steamiest part of the sauna without wasting too much heat above everyones heads. Approximately 18″ under the top bench is a good place to start for the bottom bench.
Other sauna bench design considerations and FAQ
It’s also important that the sauna bench doesn’t burn the sauna bather. Much attention is given to the species of wood (cedar and aspen are best), but the design is equally important. If there are screws or nails exposed on the bench, they will get EXTREMELY hot and potentially dangerous.
Should I close off the sauna bench underneath?
We recommend not closing off the bench, unless you have a good way to remove the cover and clean underneath the seat. Think about it, where does the sweat from the sauna bather ultimately end up, and how would it be cleaned?
How wide should the gap be between bench slats?
Leave enough for air to flow between the wood and keep it consistent. Space the gaps evenly anywhere from 1cm to 1/2 inch. The narrow side of a carpenters pencil works great as a spacer. If you don’t have gaps in your sauna bench you may be sitting in a puddle by the end of the sauna session!
What’s the best ceiling height?
Most sauna books and designs suggest a 7′ ceiling height because it allows for two bench heights with the top bench at the optimal height from the sauna heater.
What’s the best sauna bench Depth?
We recommend 20″ deep for the top bench and 16″ deep for the bottom. For a tight sauna, the bottom bench depth could be as shallow as 11″. Ideally you’ll want at least 20″ to accommodate laying down on the bench.
What’s the best top bench height for a Sauna?
A good height for the top sauna bench height is 42″ from the ceiling. The goal is to have the distance from the bathers head to the ceiling be about 2 fists (two fists theory). It is important to not have too much room above the person sitting on the top bench because that would waste the best heat and steam.
What height should the lower bench be?
The lower bench should be approximately 18″ from the top bench. If there is no top bench, then it should be 42″ from the ceiling with a step or two to get there.
What angle should the sauna backrests be?
An optimal angle for most is 15 degrees so the seated person can lean back.