We didn’t want just any diy hot tub… we wanted one of those beautiful wood fired cedar hot tubs. But instead of buying one, we decided to make our own, and since no plans existed on the internet for them, we documented our process!
On this page you’ll find a multi-part video series documenting our entire wood fired cedar hot tub build.
Do-It-Yourself Wood Fired Cedar Hot Tub Series
Because we have a large YouTube channel, we determined that the best route would be to make an entire series on our wood fired cedar hot tub build. The project is both simple and complex at the same time, so we thought we’d break down the information into shorter videos for each step.
Episode 1: Finding Clear Cedar Boards for Pennies
In this video we begin the process of accumulating materials for our cedar hot tub. After a bit of time with a galvanized steel tub (the cowboy hot tub route), we realized it wasn’t going to work for us and that cedar would be a much better option in both form and function.
The only problem? Cedar wood can be incredibly expensive. But we didn’t let that stop us!
In this video we go through some of our tips and hacks for finding high-quality cedar at very low prices, even from wood that at first glance appears to be low-quality.
Having ‘knots’ in a board of wood dramatically lowers the value and makes that piece of wood pretty unusable for most projects, especially for projects where the goal is to hold hundreds of gallons of water.
The good news is that we founds ways that lots of lower grade lumber could still be usable for us, even with a few knots.
Watch this video to learn our tips for where to find this high-quality wood for incredibly cheap, and how to utilize it for a cedar hot tub.
Episode 2: Cutting the Staves
In our previous video we went through our process of finding high quality cedar wood at very affordable prices. Now it’s time to turn that wood into staves (narrow wood panels like the side of a barrel) for building the sides of our tub. We found that cutting wood staves took a lot of creativity for us because we want to reuse as much full-width excess wood as possible for other projects like stairs, benches or handrails. Simply ripping each board in half to pull out the staves would waste a lot of wood. To get the maximum yield from our cedar wood, we inspected each board carefully and isolated where the good stave wood was for each board. Next, we varied between cutting boards with a cross saw or ripping them in half, depending on where the quality wood was located on each board. This is a slower, more deliberate process then just going to town with the chop saw, but the amount of quality wood we were able to salvage for other projects is well worth the slower pace. Watch this video see the process we went through to make each cut to maximize our wood!
Episode 3: The Stave Joinery
In this video, we’ll share what we’ve learned about creating proper stave joinery.
There are multiple ways to do this, but this is the way we have found that works best for someone with minimal tools. This is arguably the most important step in this entire project… if your joinery is bad, the rest of the project will go downhill.
In the end, YES, our tub holds water (what a relief!), but even after making this video, we’ve found additional things we would have differently found in our tips and tricks section.
All you need to do the joints in the video are two router bits and a router. Patience is a virtue…. do it right, and don’t move on until you do the joints correctly!
Practice, practice, and practice some more before you do the final joinery. If you need to go through 10 test staves, then do it… we promise you, your future self will thank you.
Episode 4: Building the Floor
After gathering cedar wood, building staves for the sides, and creating a proper stave joinery, it’s, time to build the floor to our tub! In this video we go through the materials we used, how we laid them out, and how we made the important cuts for the tub. Our material of choice for the flooring was 1×6 tongue and groove cedar. Why? Short answer… it’s what was available to us. Cedar is expensive and surprisingly hard to source around us so we use what we can get. Commercial hot tubs typically use a wider board with measurements of 2×6, so we are allowing ourselves some flexibility to try our narrow boards instead. If they don’t wok, we can find something else. Just like with our staves, we thought through each cut we needed to make to avoiding wasting ANY usable cedar scraps. In this video we demonstrate how to align the boards to and draw a perfect circle to make one easy cut through all the best pieces of wood. We also talk about the ‘magic number’ of stave depth groove and how doing this one simple calculation several times saved us a major headache down the road. We had a few unexpected things happen on this part of the tub and learned some lessons about our materials along the way. Watch along with us and see how you can avoid experiencing these lessons first hand like us!
Episode 5: Assembly
All the separate pieces have been made (and remade!) so now it’s time to join everything together! In this video we assembled the staves to join them to the floor.
After we got all the excess wood glue off the floor we used a small stave trimming to easily pound the ‘bull nose’ side of each stave into the floor joints.
In our experience, patience at this stage really pays off. We worked with each stave to get them to fit correctly and occasionally switched a few out to find ones that created a better fit.
But all the patience in the world couldn’t save us from our MAJOR CONUNDRUM! Somehow our careful math was off and we were left with a half stave gap on the side of our tub. Major bummer.
Thankfully we used a little of our off grid magic and came up with an ingenious solution to fix the problem. The gaping hole plugged, our tub should be ready to hold water in no time.
The next step was racketing the sides of the tub together with tension cables so that we could flip it over. We learned a valuable lesson in buying materials when we bought the tension cables always buy more than you think you need!
We had bought five extra feet but again our math turned out to be wrong and we needed every inch.
Despite a few small setbacks, our contraption is now looking like a real hot tub. Watch this video for more information about the assembly process!
Episode 6: Benches and Plumbing
In this video we are installing the floor drain and benches into our cedar hot tub. The benches were built as four sides of a hexagon, and we got to recycle the blemished staves that didn’t make it into our hot tub frame into supports for the benches. Though our wood costs were minimal, we certainly paid a hefty price for the hardware. At $.50 to $.75 per screw, the benches cost us close to $44. Thankfully the benches are a perfect fit. Four people should fit comfortably in our 5ft hot tub, so we can’t wait to invite some neighbors over! We installed the floor drain where there were no supports in the floor and attached an extended elbow joint to create a backup drain system. This is really helpful because we can attach a hose to this joint and water our garden when we drain the tub. Now that our tub is fully assembled it’s time to see if it holds water. Keep on watching our video series we’re just getting to the good stuff!
Episode 7: Filling the Tub
It’s been a long process, but the tub is complete and ready to be filled with water.
Sounds simple, but one big factor made this process exponentially more complicated for us: we live off grid. All the water we use in the tub has to be brought in, and we initially relied on five gallon jugs.
We tested for leaks in the tub by pouring in these jugs, but the water leaked out faster than we could fill it, leaving our tub empty and our precious water wasted.
Plan B was to expedite our cistern tank plan and use the power of thousands of gallons of water in one place to quickly fill the tub. Easy enough, right? It wasn’t.
We struggled with our leaking tub for two weeks before it consistently held water. This was such a tedious process that even the fun of filming wore off.
But it was all worth it! Our cedar boards have swelled enough that the tub now holds water! We’ve been losing some on the hottest days (mainly due to evaporation) but beyond that our tub has been watertight.
If only the water were warm and inviting… We are so close to getting this project wrapped up! Stay tuned for the next video as we install a wood fired stove into the tub…and get to use it!
Episode 8: Installing the Submersible Wood Stove
Filling our hot tub has been a less than enjoyable experience (as seen from our previous video) but after the tub had consistently held water for two weeks we were ready to heat it up. This involved buying a used stove from a friend. We originally planned to build our own out of an old washing machine drum, but that would have been a labor intensive project that wasn’t worth it when we managed to score a used working stove for only $250. We have lots of tips on what to look for when buying a stove for a tub, so be sure to check out the video for more information.
We installed the stove by bolting it to the floor with stainless steel bolts (it was so buoyant we needed to use bolts instead of screws to keep it down!) In fact, we had to reattach the benches to the tub floor because the screws we had used didn’t go through the floor deep enough because we were cautious about puncturing it, so the benches came loose and floated to the surface. If you do this project be sure to invest in a thicker floor than we did! Our tub has been a ton of effort to get to this point but we are thrilled to announce that everything has come together. The stove works and we have been soaking in our warm tub every evening we can. Every step in this crazy process has been completely worth it.
Episode 9: The Finished Hot Tub & First Soak
Episode 10: Keeping the Tub Clean & Winter Maintenance
Episode 11: Replacing the Water in the Hot Tub
Tips, Tricks & Things We Could Have Done Differently
All said and done, we have a large, growing list of tips and tricks that weren’t mentioned in our video series. Our video series was real-time, and these we added after the fact and will continue adding to them as we find things we could have done better! If someone would have told us these things before we started our project, we would have saved ourselves a few headaches.
Wood & Staves
- Be sure you have enough wood to have a minimum of 10 extra staves. When doing the joinery on the staves, create many more staves than you’ll need to do the hot tub. If you think you’ll need 60, make at least 70.
- When installing the staves on the floor, if you have two staves that don’t seat really well against one another, take the time to remove the stave and find a stave that fits better. This is well worth your time.
- When using wood glue, be sure not to place wood on wood so as not to glue wood together that shouldn’t be. If possible, use paper or something that will release easily.
- If you use wood glue, especially Gorilla Glue, it WILL expand 3-4 times its size, and it WILL explode out of the joinery, thus gluing itself to anything that is near. Yes, we speak from experience, and we thought we were being pretty conservative on our gluing.
- The amount of love and attention you give to the stave joinery will greatly affect the tub’s ability to hold water quickly.
- When assembling the turnbuckles and cable clamps, place the tail of the cable against the wedge part of the clamp, not the u-bolt part of the clamp. This will make adjusting the cable as needed much easier, because it will slide easily through the u-bolt, but it won’t slide at all through the edge of the cable clamp.
- Don’t forget to place one end of the cable through the eye hook of the turnbuckle before installing the clamps.
- Use firm pressure to force the thimble over the eye hook of the turnbuckle.
- Two people installing the cable clamps makes life a lot easier. If possible, install the cable clamps over somewhere where if you drop the nuts (we did this many times), finding them won’t be like finding a needle in a haystack.
- When installing your turnbuckles, be sure to leave more than enough room to tighten the clamps down multiple times. Every day our tub seemed to shrink in the sun and we had to shorten the cables three times (we ran out of space to tighten the turnbuckles on three occasions, that is).
- Before installing the cables, use three ratchet straps to tighten the tub up. Don’t measure the amount of cable you need until you do this step, and even once you cut the cable, be sure to leave plenty of room to tighten the turnbuckles. We neglected to measure with ratchet straps so all said and done, our cables were far too loose.
- To cut down on the amount of water needed to fill the tub, put objects into the hot tub to displace the water
- Be sure to get the tops of the staves wet as this helps them to rapidly soak up water
- If you keep the tub filled for three days and it’s still not sealing properly, you can use some waterproof caulk as a backup plan. Not sure on the longevity of this solution, but it’s better than not using your tub! Be sure to let the caulk cure for the recommended number of days. I think we let ours cure for 5 days (well, we first tried for 24 hours but our caulking failed)
Our Hot Tubbing Essentials
The Decision to Build Our Own Cedar Hot Tub vs Other Options
When we first started talking about a DIY hot tub, we envisioned building a cowboy hot tub out of a water trough and a cheap, DIY wood heater contraption on the outside.
However, as time went on, it seemed that this wasn’t going to be a long-term, practical solution for our homestead. It would still cost money to do only the heating system would be ineffective, it wouldn’t be pleasing to the eye, so we thought “Why not just do it right and build a beautiful cedar tub?”
Cedar hot tubs are expensive if you buy them retail – anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 depending on the size of the tub and the number of upgrades you choose to have.
We did some rough calculations and determined that we should be able to build our own cedar hot tub for pennies in comparison, so we set out on a journey to try and are more than pleased with the results.
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Questions? Get involved!
If you have any questions that we haven’t addressed in this video series, we’d love to hear them in the comments.
We want this to be an excellent recourse for those looking to build their own cedar hot tubs so we’ll try to get some of those questions answered on this page for all to benefit from.
Or, if you have some great tips, leave those in the comments as well for others to benefit from!
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