A wood burning sauna without the buttons or dials: a psychosomatic analysis.

We wood burning sauna enthusiasts have to be careful.  We can start waving our flag high and mighty about the virtues of a wood stove (vs, electric and especially *gasp* anything to do with an infrared light bulb).  But we get it.  We understand that heat isn’t heat.  Yes, those hell bent on an electric stove can try to tell us that all that matters is a sauna stove’s ability to heat rocks.  But we know there is more to it than just heating rocks.

We may be psychosomatic.

We may just be hell bent on the awesomeness of chopping wood and carrying water as part of sauna therapy because we are crazy.  That feeling we get, in nature, of producing our own fuel in terms of harvested wood from our land may just be a misfiring in our brains somewhere.  A caveman gene resurfaced because of a bad Leave it to Beaver episode from our youth.  So, we overcompensate with a plaid shirt and an axe.  Maybe.

We may have a higher than average pyrotechnic tendency.  Perhaps we were denied matches in our childhood, so we are driven to making our own free range organic firestarters from candle wax, recycled burlap and sawdust from cabinet makers.  We marvel at birch bark, nature’s gasoline, and its ability to get a roaring fire going in our sauna firebox.  A quick light and “whoof.”  We smile wryly as our sauna stove fire takes hold.  tick, tick, tick goes the metal.

We watch the flames dancing in our sauna stove.

We may, if only for a moment, think about the experience of other sauna enthusiasts – those with electric stoves – who at this same moment may be “firing up” their own saunas, yet doing so with just the turn of the dial.  Or flick of the switch.  Or even a clever app on their smart phone.  Aren’t buttons and dials fun?  No, we say.  They suck.  We push buttons and dials all day long.

Try buying airline tickets, for example. Logins and passwords and fill out forms.  Hit enter and find the red exclamation points for the boxes you missed.  Try renting a car, for example.  Try to get into the mindset of a new team of  engineers hell bent on adding new buttons, new screens and functions just to make themselves look clever.  All at the expense of us users who just want to play the radio.  And how about the wood burning sauna stove enthusiast who had to abandon his rental car last week, because the parking break button wouldn’t shut off.  It took 3 drivers from the warehouse and half an hour to throw their arms up and say “it’s broken” with latino accent.  And here I thought I was the crazy one who couldn’t find the button to turn off the emergency brake.

But watching flames dance inside our sauna fire box, we are a million miles away from buttons and technology and apps and engineers.  We adjust a manual lever that controls the amount of air that feeds the fire in our sauna stove.  We reach our hand out and move this lever.  Manually.  We are in control of our sauna stoves.

We are crazy wood burning sauna enthusiasts.

We are cavemen who murmur “fire good.”  When we sauna, we feel better being far away from screens and apps.  Buttons and dials.  controls and sensors.  We may wear berkinstocks and say “natural heat, man.”  We may be told that electric coils produce heat through an electrical current that makes a wire glow and this, in turn, heats our sauna rocks and all is well.  But something doesn’t connect with us with this formula.  Just as “off gassing” is presenting new concern, beyond too much grain in the gorillas diet at the zoo, we can get worked up with the idea of electric stoves emitting positive ions as a less than natural way to heat our sauna stoves.  We don’t throw water on our toaster or toaster oven.

We think about the term “clean heat.”

We chuckle at the Electric Appliance Action Committee smear campaign against wood stoves.  Asthma suffers on a rampage.  Yet none of these folks have ever stepped outside and looked at the chimney of a well built wood fired sauna stove and could tell whether the stove was burning or not.  Gasification isn’t just a term for too many beans at dinner.  Thanks to decades of tinkering, at least one kick ass sauna stove manufacturer has been able to engineer a sauna stove that burns virtually 100% of all smoke and gasses through the burning process.  And all this without any buttons or fancy dials.

But we wood burning sauna stove enthusiasts are just Kool-ade drinkers.  What do we know about clean burning electric vs. wood heat?  Why do we toss a log into our sauna stove and idle down our burn with a smile?  We are just immersed in our own dogma.  We feel the wood heat warming our sauna hot rooms and we believe that this heat is a better heat.  We can feel wood heat in our bones.  We don’t just feel it on our skins.

We don’t have to be a weatherman to understand thermal mass.

Electric coils vs. a raging fire.  hmmmm..  One produces a deep heat that heats through metal.  And rocks.  One heat penetrates through the skin and into the core of our bodies.  One heat penetrates our tongue and groove paneling, hits foil bubble wrap reflective insulation and penetrates back out into our hot room.  One heat produces hot rocks on top of a stove that create steam (loyly) that is different than another.  Steam that is heavy.  Soft.  Rich.

But we wood burning sauna stove enthusiasts are just crazy.

We’ve taken thousands of saunas, and we could be let into a sauna blindfolded and though we could tell the difference between a sauna heated with a wood stove vs. a sauna heated with an electric stove, we still don’t get it.  “all that matters is heating the rocks” we are told.  Ok, sorry.  We got it all wrong.  All our years taking saunas and appreciating the subtle, optimal differences of heat are totally false.  We are crazy, we are psychosomatic.

We wood burning sauna stove enthusiasts must be like those vegetarians who won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.  We have brainwashed ourselves to believe a myth.  Wood heat is the same as electric heat?  You sure?  I’m sorry!  We got it all wrong after all these years!  All these thousands of saunas!  What do we know about wood heat vs. electric heat, anyway?

God bless electric sauna stoves for allowing us to enjoy sauna wherever OSHA regulations prohibit a wood burning sauna stove.  God bless all sauna enthusiasts who have run 240v to their saunas and sauna with health and wellness enthusiasm.

But we wood sauna stove enthusiasts are just crazy.  That’s all.  We don’t know what we are talking about.  We are psychosomatic.  We have all drunken too much Kool-ade.

Is heat just heat?  No.  Heat is not just heat.

Wood heat is our heat.

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8 thoughts on “A wood burning sauna without the buttons or dials: a psychosomatic analysis.”

  1. Of course you are right, a wood fired sauna smells different, sounds different, and most importantly, the heat from a wood fired stove feels different, much different. The same goes for a living room heated by a wood stove versus a house heated with a central electric furnace. I believe it is the radiation of the stove, the power of fire going right through the walls of the stove. Nothing beats a wood fired sauna, the light of the fire, the peacefulness of a cold winter evening and the cold tub or garden hose outside the sauna. MS

  2. Wood stoves are a terrible way to heat a home if you’re looking for even comfort everywhere. Nothing beats the nostalgia, but there is good reason that it’s not the norm anymore. As far as sauna stoves go, I have both. They’re both wonderful experiences. I fell trees on 85 acres at my cabin, split it, and cure it. I have a Kuuma stove. It’s glorious. And I love my 30 yr old 7.2kW stove in my garage just as much.

  3. RE: “Wood stoves are a terrible way to heat a home if you’re looking for even comfort everywhere.” We are most pleased with our wood stove that heats our entire 1,500 sf cabin. The Fireplace Extrodianire utilizes an outside air intake to feed the stove, and a blower for inside the cabin such that we benefit from a positive warm air pressure (no drafts). The blower and one ceiling fan circulate warm wood heat air throughout. Evenly. Nadda terrible, but “wunderbar” as they say in German engineering class. THAT SAID: If i were to do it all again, I’d be doing radiant wirsbo cement pour with a wood fire stove supplement, and call it over, which is something i’d like to do for my $100,000 sauna.

  4. my parents have heated their home with wood stoves for almost forty years now. there is a ‘main’ stove as well as two additional stoves that get fired up in sequence as the temps drop. it is an open home concept, no ductwork or forced air units, just some ceiling fans to move air around. the place is very well insulated (actually an earth home with berm around the north side and a good chuck of the east/west sides). the back bedrooms can get a little chilly when it is super-cold and the upstairs bedroom can get a little hot but in general, pretty even heat.

  5. I live in a big city. my neighbor has asked me to not put a wood stove in my back yard detached shed sauna citing fire safety and smoke disturbance. my neighbor is otherwise being very cool about my sauna which is important in the city because one phone call to the city planning dept could complicate my hot box. my main home does have a wood fire but the chimney is 30 ft+ tall. In such an urban environment I don’t see any other way but electric. I grew up with wood, just not very likely here.

  6. If your neighbor is being cool, well, that’s a good thing. One thought is that as you frame your sauna building, consider where a wood sauna stove would go, and box out a 12″ x 12″ in your hot room ceiling and roof above and mark it. After awhile, when your neighbor joins you on the sauna bench, you can, over time, move the conversation towards the adjacent possible of converting the sauna from electric to wood… and your framework for this will be all ready for you both.

    Lots of content on this site regarding the UL certification and “safety first” of the Kuuma wood stove. And as far as smoke goes: even more good content. After a couple few minutes of ignition, the Kuuma emits zero smoke. Nadda. Gasification. Really clean burn.

    Good luck Nathan, and keep up the positive sauna vibrations burning bright.

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