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How to Make a ‘Poor Man’s’ Hot Tub

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Enjoy a long hot soak without paying for an expensive hot tub…

By Marcella Andrews, Posted Jun 14, 2012

poor man's hot tub When I see the prices of hot tubs these days it looks like the pleasure of enjoying an outdoor hot soak is reserved for those with fat wallets. And I suppose if you want the fancy Jacuzzi jets and bubblers than you’ll have to shell out the big bucks. But those of us with limited budgets, and who value recycling, can enjoy our own ‘poor man’s’ hot tub for just a few dollars and an hour or two of work.

The one item you’ll need is an old cast-iron enamelled bath tub. The old-fashioned standard tub with feet, which used to be common in homes a generation ago, can withstand being heated by fire and will provide a safe, comfortable and long-lasting hot soak for your weary bones. These tubs can usually be found in the Buy ‘n Sell or by asking around. My tub cost $40, and this is about what you should expect to pay. Avoid going to antique shops where they charge a premium.

Only a cast-iron tub will do. The modern, lightweight tubs will not work for this purpose. The cast-irons tubs are heavy, and the most challenging part of building this ‘poor man’s’ hot tub is getting it to your home. You’ll need a friend or two and someone with a pickup truck to get it to your yard. Once the tub is on site, the fun begins.

How to Build a ‘Poor Man’s’ Hot Tub

1. Prepare a clear, level site for the fire pit and tub.

You’re going to love your ‘poor man’s’ hot tub, so choose the location carefully since you’ll be spending lots of time there. The first consideration is fire safety, so be sure your site is well clear of brush, overhanging branches or any other flammable material. The ground should be level around the tub to make it safe for building a fire and for getting in and out the tub in slippery conditions.
Clear the ground


2. Dig a low spot for the fire and line it with rocks.

Once the ground is cleared for the tub, and the dirt is removed down to mineral soil, dig a hollow spot for the fire pit. This should be about 18” below the bottom of the tub, to allow for the lining rocks and to create plenty of height space for the fire. The fire pit should be centered beneath the tub, but does not need to be as wide as the length of the tub. A pit roughly circular in proportion will suffice.

While you’re in digging mode, dig a depression where the tub will drain, and dig a small channel to direct the draining water away from the fire pit. This way the draining tub will not flood the fire pit. If someone else wants to start another tub of water heating, the fire pit will be ready to go.
Dig down


3. Set bricks in place for the tub feet.

Measure the space between the feet on your tub and set bricks into the ground to serve as the base. Stack one or two bricks for each tub foot as necessary to achieve a level base, then backfill and tamp down the soil firmly around the bricks. It is important to use a carpenter’s level to ensure the tub is level both lengthwise and across from side to side. In setting your tub to level, it will be more stable and you’ll be able to fill it close to the top for a more enjoyable soak.
Set bricks


4. Seal spigot holes on tub.

A 2/3 full tub is not good enough for diehard hot-tubbers. Apply a ring of exterior silicone caulk around the three holes for the spigots and press a small square of plywood against it. Apply a similar square on the outside of the holes and through-bolt with a few small bolts with nuts and washers. This will let you fill your tub higher, so when you get in the water level will rise right to the top.
seal spigot holes


5. Set the tub on the footings and test it before using.

Get a friend to help you set the tub on its footings and check for stability. You might try sitting in it to make sure there’s no wobble, or you can just fill it with water and push down on the tub from the sides to be sure it is solid on the base. Now you’re ready to get some small pieces of firewood and prepare your tub for your maiden soak! Bring a book or set the radio nearby, because you’re going to be here a long time.
set on bricks


Tips for using your ‘cannibal-style’ hot tub:

1. Fill tub with water before starting the fire.

The tub must have water in it before starting the fire, or the enamel will be chipped away. The fire should be modest and in control at all times. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour for the water to heat up. Once the water is hot you can get in the tub, but don’t put out the fire. Let it keep going while you are in the tub, as this will let you stay in longer without the water getting cold.
fill with water


2. Cover the tub with a sheet of plywood or similar material.

Cut a piece of plywood to the width and length of the tub. 1/2” plywood is ideal since it’s not too heavy. Set this ‘cover’ on the tub while the fire is burning to speed up the process of heating the water. Be sure to keep an eye on the fire to ensure flames do not climb too high and start to burn the edges of your cover.

3. Cut a ‘bum board’ from a piece of plywood.

When you step into the tub, the bottom will be hot. You’ll need a small board to sit on during your soak so you don’t get a hot seat. I use a piece of ¼” thick plywood cut to 16” x 24”. This is a perfect size because it is a little flexible when you sit on it, for added comfort, and it submerges easily under your weight. If you use a thicker board it will have more flotation, and will want to slip out to either side of you and rise to the surface when you are trying to sit on it.

4. Keep the hose alongside the tub while bathing.

This is important. The hose is right there for fire protection of course, but you can also use the hose to cool the water while you’re in the tub if the temperature gets too hot. (Remember, the fire is still burning. It will be just coals at this point but it still generates heat.) Keep the hose within reach so you don’t have to get out of the tub when you need it.

5. Keep a few pieces of wood within easy reach.

You can extend your soak by keeping the fire going while you’re bathing, since this will keep the water hot. Leave a few small chunks of wood within reach from the tub so you can simply drop a piece onto the coals if needed.

6. Soak with a friend? By all means!

Yes, you can fit two people in this tub. One person can sit at each end with legs extended and it is quite comfortable. Yes, it is intimate, so be sure you’re good friends!

This tub will last years and years, and I hope you enjoy it as I enjoy mine!


Marcella Andrews is an artist, business woman and organic gardener. She has a passion for finding simple and practical solutions which lead to a sustainable lifestyle.

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  • Lael

    Uh…someone could kill themselves doing this. They need to beware of the water temperature!

    • AZHomesteadergal

      Thats why she said keep a water hose near by so you can cool the water off if need be as well as in case it gets out of hand, which if you are careful it shouldn’t. People use to do this years ago when there was no running water and as a homesteader I have also thought of doing this and I just happen to have a claw tub as it is called and needs to get some use out of it. So this will be my next project. 🙂

      • Markiv Martin

        This Really a very brilliant idea for those people who are living in areas out sides of the cities. Because this is not possible in city.

        • shof357

          Any place you can have a barbeque you can do this. Charcoal briquets can be used instead of wood, if you are unable to build a smokeless fire.

    • Tom

      My father used to do this in 1970, and we just set one up in our backyard, overlooking a green farm field. Amazing… Really, if the water is getting too hot, jump out…

      • We have a small ‘bum board’ to sit on, and a hose is set within arm’s reach so if it gets hot you just pull the hose in and add some cool.

    • shof357

      When the water temp gets high enough, I shovel the coals from under the tub into a small stove and put a pot of water on it to be added as the tub cools. I use a wire shroud from a defunct fan as a butt shield while the tub is to hot to sit on.

  • For some reason I tend to appreciate DIY solutions for modern day living more than they “fancy” counterparts. I guess that working all day long behind of a computer screen I’m always looking for an excuse to get up and out. Pretty awesome DIY hot tub!

  • Mntlady

    a person could also use some thick rubber mats for the bottom of the Tub.  My husband and I were thinking about using a water trough that is sold at the Feed and Seed store. And then laying down some of those Thick rubber mats on the bottom of the tub. However I really like the idea of a claw foot tub I have always wanted one….:)

  • Dluthey576

    I don’t know why but this so appeals to me. Maybe the fire. It is so hands on. Nice project!

  • Lol. This is the first time i saw a home made hot tub. But it really amazing but i am concern of fire below the tub.

  • Jamesmartin0123

    This so good stuff keeps up the good work. I
    read a lot of blogs on a daily foundation and for the most part just wanted to
    make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog.

  • Lee

    Brilliant! I would have thought the fire would crack the tub but I guess the water protects it.

    • shof357

      Tubs are fired at temps that melt glass to fuse the enamel to the metal. No open or semi-closed fire would get any whre near as hot.

  • lorraine

    Lovely project. I like that this can be situated anywhere. My vision is a tub like this near my garden, for a days end soak where I can see my garden grow. Thanks for the idea!

  • Here in Colorado, our county is under a fire ban that even includes smoking out of doors, so you couldn’t do this for many months. Luckily, it’s too hot to want a tub right now anyway.

    We once had some neighbors who had two tubs like these side by side, in the mountains with heavenly views. Worked grea!

  • js electric

    This is a brilliant idea. But, not possible for all. People living in the cities can’t use this.

  • mathewmakio

    lol great idea

  • glenda

    What about the plug? Rubber stopper cooked by fire?

    • The plug is not affected by the fire since it is at the front of the tub and it is kept wet by the full tub.

  • James Speedy

    It would be possible in the city if you used a wood gas stove fireplace (mega woodgas stove) as the heat source, it would be more controlable and have minimal smoke easier clean up, Maybe even a stovetec stove would do the job too. Got to try this one day, there are plans on the instrucatables web site for large portable wood gasifier.

  • Laurel Tess

    I’ve see this before and am so happy to have found these instructions! How do you deal with drainage?

    • You dig a drainage channel leading from the drain hole. Ours runs about 12′ down a slight grade. Be sure to dig the channel so it leads away from the fire pit!

    • shof357

      Using reducers to adapt the drain to hose fitting lets me put the water to use any place it is needed.

  • Jenn

    Do you get smoked out sometimes? What about a chimney and cover for the fire?

    • It does get smokey sometimes! But usually there is some breeze or airflow to keep the smoke out of hte way. If it’s a good fire with dry wood there should be less smoke, which is ideal.

  • Debbie Buxton

    what about the smoke in your eyes is not so great

    • Good point. If you use seasoned wood there should be little smoke once the fire is established.

    • shof357

      By the time the water is hot there is little smoke, and the fire has died down to just coals. A few twigs of eastern red cedar the coals smells great!

  • Phil S Stein

    ive helped build and used a few firebaths, usually they are bricked or mud/cobbed around the edges, the fire at one end and he chimney at the other, this method uses a lot less wood and creates less smoke than an open fire would, also a fair bit safer.

    • shof357

      Chimneys pull alot of the heat away from the tub. Takes almost twice the fuel to heat a tub full of water with just a six foot stove pipe chimney.

  • Sorry to say, the Coleman stove will not do the job. You need a pretty good blaze beneath the tub to heat such a volume of water in a reasonable time.

    • shof357

      My three burner colman stove raised a full tub of tap water to 105F in less than thirty minuets

  • csp

    Has anyone tried this with a stock tank? i am today!! Hope the metal does not get too hot…. but I think it should be the same… just curious… thanks!

    • Sounds like it should work. The key is having a ‘bum board’ to sit on, or you might fry your butt. We use just a piece of plywood maybe 12″ x 20″.
      And situate yourself to be upwind of the smoke.
      Enjoy your soak!

      • csp

        Thanks!! We did it! I wish I could post a picture here… we did the fire on one side and used a crate to sit on on the hot side. Got a little smoky and ashy but we will figure that out. Gonna close up the fire a little more… maybe even create a chiminey to send the smoke away. It was SOOO nice to soak on my land last night! I thank you for this post and for the reply! 🙂 Great inspiration!

        • The chimney is a good idea, I’ve seen others do this and it makes sense.
          Another suggestion is to keep a few pieces of firewood within hands reach (while you are in the tub) so you can just reach over and toss them under to keep the fire going for those extra long soaks.
          Way to go!

    • Alex Pemberton

      Be careful with stock tanks! A lot of them are galvanized and when it gets hot the zinc burns off. The zinc gas is poisonous.

  • Swagman

    Looking at that finished photo, wasn’t this in an episode of Looney Tunes where Bugs was led into a boiling tub by a witch? Maybe not, just looks familiar….LOL. Great idea regardless. Just watch out if someone walking by starts dropping in chopped carrots and celery and wants to stir!! 🙂

  • Hilary Spenceley

    I love this bath idea…I am wondering if there is a way I could use gas and what type of equiment I would need….thanks Hilly

    • You would want to ask your local gas contractor, there are a number of options for using gas for this application.

  • Another great use for an old clawfoot tub! Are you able to recline on the sloped end of the tub? Just wondered if it is too hot.

    • Yes, you can recline against the sloped end of the tub, it does not get hot. The only protection from heat you need is the “bum board”. We just use a small piece of plywood for this.

  • Love this! How do you deal with the overflow of the tub? Or does it just drain to the floor?

    • You leave a few inches at the top unfilled, calculating how much water you will displace. There shouldn’t be any overflow to speak of, or you risk dousing the fire.
      We used to have a little trench on either side for this purpose but it was never needed.

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