One of the most common question we get here at Backcountry Recreation is related to cedar vs thermowood vs. hemlock vs white pine and which type of wood is best for your sauna. Each species has its own unique properties and consequently varies in price points. This page is will help you navigate which building material is best for your specific needs.

Resistant to Rot, Antimicrobial And Antifungal, signature "sauna" aroma, Long Lasting outdoors
Clear or Shop Grade Western Red Cedar - Excellent Quality / Highest Price

Clear Cedar refers to A & Better Cedar and is free of almost all knots, but it isn't 100% free of knots. If you want Cedar that's 100% free of knots, which is difficult to find and costly, then you would need Clear Vertical Grain Cedar.Western red cedar is one of the most commercially valuable species. Its exceptional working properties like natural resistance to termite, rot and decay make it an ideal choice for outdoor applications. The appealing dark color, lightweight and soft texture makes it suitable for various applications . Its flexibility and versatility enables its usage in roof shingles, exterior siding, exterior cladding, decking, greenhouses, and saunas. Although there are many grades of red cedar saunas on the market Backcountry Recreation only uses the highest clear grade cedar available making our saunas one of the highest quality saunas on the market.

- Lightweight
- Excellent working properties
- Can be sanded to a smooth satin finish
- Planes and shapes well
- Glues easily
- Naturally resistant to rot and fungi
- Contains natural semisynthetic substance that is capable of killing and inhibits the growth of microbes.
- Most durable for outdoor usage
- Intense signature cedar aroma 
- One of the most robust and durable wood types for outdoor saunas
- Unparalelled beauty

- Can be expensive
- Some people are allergic to cedar

Dimensionally Stable, Eco-Friendly, Resistance to Rot and Fungi, Improved Insulation, Long lasting outdoors
Thermowood -  Very Good Quality / Moderate Price

 Thermowood is created by heat-treating Scandinavian softwood to temperatures ranging from 180 – 230° in special chamber kilns for up to 96 hours. Steam is used as a protective gas and helps to prevent the wood from splitting and becoming damaged during treatment. This process causes chemical and structural changes to occur within the timber, which therefore alter some of its characteristics and qualities. Dimensionally Stable – The intensive heat the wood is exposed to during its production dries out deep into the core, causing all moisture and resin to be removed from the timber. Thermowood therefore doesn’t react to changes in humidity as drastically as untreated wood (the risk of swelling, cracking and shrinkage is decreased), allowing it to retain its shape far better. The wood also doesn’t secrete sap or resin even in high temperatures.

- Dimensionally stable
- Environmentally friendly
- Resistance to rot and fungi
-Increased longevity
-Improved Insulation
- Will last many years outdoors 

-Rarely Available In North America
- No "sauna smell" like cedar

20%-30% cheaper than clear cedar, Knots are dense and can burn bathers, Less Attractive Than Clear Cedar
Knotty Cedar - Moderate Quality / Low Cost 

Sometimes referred to as "Rustic" or "Heritage" cedar. Knotty or select tight knot cedar cedar can be used to build saunas but is a much lower quality when compared to clear cedar. This is because of two main reasons, the sauna will expand and contract over time and the knots can come loose and fall out leaving your sauna with unplanned ventilation holes. The knots are also very dense and dense  means heat retention, these dense knots can burn skin and make the sauna seating almost unusable. Knotty cedar is coming more and more common in eastern Canada as access to clear cedar in most parts of the country is getting very hard to come by.
With the scarcity of available clear cedar more and more producers are using this grade of cedar, but be aware! Knotty cedar cost around 20%-30% less than a clear cedar sauna and any finished product should be 20%-30% less than a clear cedar barrel sauna. Knotty cedar allows producers to use the desirable term "cedar sauna" although the quality is far lower. If you are trying to keep costs down, knotty Cedar will work for walls but clear Cedar should be used for benches and backrests at a minimum. What you save in price you lose in longevity, beauty and long lasting enjoyment. 


- Can be left outdoors untreated
- A lot of the same properties as clear cedar
- Has the "sauna smell" many are used to
- Great strength and dimensional stability
- Outstanding wood working properties
- Generally far cheaper than clear cedar

- Overtime knots can fall out
- Unsightly
- Knots are dense and can burn bathers
- Not as harty as clear cedar

Wont last outdoors with out regular treatment, Prone to severe warping, Good strength-to-weight ratio
Western Hemlock- "OK" Quality / Moderate - Low Price 

There are a few reasons why cedar is a better choice than hemlock for building a sauna. One reason is that hemlock is prone to splinter. In the construction of a sauna, it’s important to use wood that is both pliable and strong. Cedar is reflective of both of these traits and works very well in all aspects of the sauna. Hemlock is better suited for framing use within a building such as a home or a barn. Hemlock is a very straight grained wood which is one of the reasons that it does splinter and in some cases snap. This wouldn’t be a wise choice for not only the construction of the sauna itself, but also the benches of the sauna. The benches need to be comfortable and smooth and with cedar they are.

Good strength-to-weight ratio
- Excellent machining properties
-Good sanding, staining and painting properties
- Glues satisfactorilyTurns, planes and shapes well
-Moderate nail- and screw-holding ability
-Polishes beautifully
-Wont last outdoors with out regular treatment
-Prone to severe warping
- Short lifespan in outdoor applications

Extremely short lifespan if left untreated, Inexpensive, More likely to bend or warp over time, Large loose knots
Pine - Poor Quality / Lowest Price

The pine or fir group is a mix of Engelmann Spruce, Lodgepole Pine and Subalpine Fir. SPF has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is primarily used for framing in North American housing. Due to its dimensional stability and superior gluing properties, SPF is used extensively in the flat-packed furniture industry. It is also a great choice for modular houses, interior finishing, boxes, pallets, packaging cases and concrete formwork but not the best choice for outdoor application when left untreated. 

- Good planning and shaping quality
- Most affordable/inexpensive
- Excellent nail and screw holding properties with very good resistance to splitting
- Good staining properties
- Great strength and dimensional stability
- Outstanding wood working properties
Won't last outdoors without regular treatment
- Unsightly
- Extremely short lifespan if untreated
- Large, loose knots
- More likely to bend or warp over time
- Most likely to seep resin

One of the more affordable sauna woods besides Cedar, Scent is subtle, forest scent , May seep small amounts of sap
NORDIC SPRUCE - Moderate Quality / Moderate Price

Nordic Spruce (Picea abies), also known as Norway spruce or European spruce, is native to Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. It’s high density and firmly ingrown structure makes it an excellent wood choice for a sauna —  which is why it is one of the more popular sauna woods used in Finland and other European traditional saunas. Nordic spruce has a beautifully light coloring and is known for staying mostly white throughout its lifespan. It also has a subtle, yet therapeutic aroma. It contains terpenes hydrocarbons which are natural insect repellent.

Creamy white, with a hint of yellow or red
- Scent is subtle, forest scent One of the more affordable sauna woods while offering high quality
- Commonly used in Nordic countries
- Its high density and firmly ingrown structure makes it excellent for sauna construction

- More knots in the wood when compared to clear cedar
- May seep small amounts of sap 

Our Promise

Outdoor saunas vary in quality & price. At Backcountry Recreation, we will not produce our saunas out of materials we are not 100% confident will endure the test of time. We stick to the highest available wood grades and won't produce products out of anything but the best. We believe in offering affordable outdoor luxury and won't ever overprice our products. We rarely offer discounts, but for a good reason. We strive to provide the best possible pricing on the highest quality products 365 days a year.

Now that you have the basics of wood types, all you need to do is decide between electric or wood burning for your heat source. Have a look below at our comparison of each.

Wood Burning Vs. Electric Heat

Both are very popular choices and offer an overall similar sauna experience. What's the best option?

Read More
Electric Heater Comparison

Each sauna heater we offer we are proud to offer but some features are better suited for different people.

Read More