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Building a Sweat Lodge

Article added by TractorUp on 04/16/2003
Full Article Title: Building a Sweat Lodge
How to build a sweat lodge:
This article refers to a sweat lodge that is a temporary structure, i.e., one that you can build in the woods or your backyard where setup takes about an hour or less.

There are many ways to build a sweat lodge, some work better than others. One of the most important things to keep in mind to build a good quick sweat lodge is that it should be as air tight as possible. With minimal materials and a quick build time, there will always be an air leak of some kind or another. But if the rocks are really good and hot, this may an advantage, providing relief from the searing heat if you do a good job at heating the rocks.

Before you build the sweat lodge, get a camp fire going and put quite a few softball to double-softball-sized rocks into the fire and keep the fire going and hot and keep the rocks in the embers when they start to form. The best way to have a hot sweat lodge is to make sure you heat the rocks long enough. Be sure to select rocks that are dry so they don't explode in the fire or in the lodge. Cook the rocks for a minimum of 2 hours in the fire before using them, have on hand extra rocks to replace rocks that you take out if you intend to run the sweat lodge more than one time. One final thing to do to avoid water running all over the place inside the lodge, is to dig a depression in the center of the lodge where the rocks will go. This will hold in any excess water and help to keep the rocks in place. When the lodge is ready to go and the rocks are hot, select 10-15 of the hottest rocks (the hottest rocks will glow) and carefully move them into the center of the sweat lodge. A shovel is a big help for this. Once the rocks are in the lodge and once you've placed as many gallons of water that you can fit into the lodge (at least 5 gallons is good), get yourself a gallon or so of drinking water and seal up the lodge. Begin by pouring small amounts of water (1 cup over a 5-10 second period) over the rocks, after you do this a few times, the sweat lodge will begin to heat up quickly. Continue pouring water in bursts until you can't take any more heat. The water should vaporize instantly upon contact with the rocks and will not form visible steam if you got the rocks hot enough. Once the rocks start to cool, they will turn the water into steam and fog up the structure significantly. The base of our structure was sand which was good because it absorbed excess water. The rocks will remain hot after quite a few bursts of water have been poured on them. Remove the rocks when they are no longer hot enough and bring in a new load of hot rocks from the fire and repeat until satisfied or just sick of it.

To build the sweat lodge, make some kind of enclosure out of whatever materials you have. I've built two different designs, the 2nd one worked better than the first, for space considerations inside the lodge, airtightness, and hotter rocks.

The first lodge was built as follows: We took two sets of jointed (A-frame) 2x4s. The legs of the A-frames were joined with a single bolt (kept loose until setup was finished) about 1 foot from the end of the ~6 foot long 2x4s. We set the A-frames up 90 degrees to each other, tightened the bolts and tied them together with a rope (Tee-Pee style). For the covering, we used a large heavy duty tarp but this didn't quite make it around the entire lodge. We had on hand some extra rope and a popped blow-up air mattress. We tied the mattress on to get as good of a seal as we could and the lodge was done. This lodge was a cramped fit around the hot rocks in the center but held 3 people. The air mattress attached to the tarp was a constant problem causing a significant air leak. We did not have a shovel on this occassion, so we used 2 sticks to move the rocks into the lodge.

The second lodge was better than the first because it was easier to setup, held 6 people comfortably instead of 3, used hotter rocks, and was sealed much better and still had easy entry/exit. We used 4 coffee cans filled with concrete and fitted with a female pipe receptor. Into each of these cans receptors, we put a 3 or 4 foot length of pipe with a large 90° elbow at the upper end. We attached the 4 legs with 6 to 8 foot lengths of electrical conduit (thin metal tubing) place into the large elbow fittings. Next we covered the structure with two large tarps, dug out a center pit for the rocks and it was done. This lodge got so hot that it was very difficult to breathe, getting out was tempting.
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