Converting a sauna from an electric stove heater to a wood stove heater

From the mailbag:

Hi, I saw you were willing to give advice and had a question. I am contemplating purchasing an electric sauna. It is a 6′ 10″ x 10′ sauna with 4 benches and for the price it is a steal. Only thing is, electric saunas suck! Was wondering if you have ever seen or have advice for trying to convert an electric sauna to a wood powered one? Thanks! -Josh


I once converted a wood fired sauna for a couple who insisted on an electric stove.  Despite my pleading to the contrary, it was easy enough to do, but it was a sad experience.  It reminded me of painting over original molding or maybe putting down our family cat.  Anyhow, there was a bonus: I was able to reuse the awesome wood burning sauna stove for another sauna build.  In your case, Josh, converting an electric stove sauna to a wood stove sauna is more work but very doable.

  • I’m assuming this is a free standing structure?
  • Will you need to alter benches?
  • Where do you live?

 Choose your wood stove

As you probably know, i’m a big fan of the Kuuma Stove from Tower MN.  He’s the microbrewer of sauna stoves.  There’s also Helo/Tylo, Cokato MN importers of quality Swedish/Finnish stoves of same names.  Tylo/Helo sells through dealers in North America.

Make a template

On a piece of cardboard, measure and draw out a footprint of your sauna stove.  This may sound like kid stuff, but it is very effective.  (Thanks Mike!).  Within your template, include the location opening for the stove chimney pipe and center point for chimney pipe.  Kuuma footprint is here. (link coming soon).

Mark and cut out sauna ceiling

Do some detective work locating hot room ceiling joists.  Look for finish nails in tongue.  Joists should be 16″ on center and hopefully you will be able to cut out and frame a 12″x12″ box opening within two existing ceiling joists.  Mark carefully by extending a string with a weight from center of stove pipe opening on your stove template up to ceiling.  Cut out with a skill saw.  If you have to cut a joist, you will need to get up there and reframe.  Tricky, but doable.

Mark and cut out roof

Locate rafters.  You can stick your head up through your 12×12 ceiling opening and mark center point, like you did with ceiling.  At center point, set a screw through roof sheeting and roofing material, so you can locate it (but not step on it) from up on the roof.  Rafters generally, run 24″ on center.  Cutting out for Chimney on a slope roof takes careful measuring.  The process is detailed in my ebook Click here,.  You need to make four marks from center point.  To left and right of slope is easy.  Just measure and mark (5″ I believe for a 6″ stove pipe).  To measure for opening up and down the slope of the roof, you need a level and mark the opening with a horizontal mark.  Because your chimney pipe goes through the roof vertically, and your roof is on a pitch, your opening will be an oval, not a circle.

Screw in cement board in hot room

  • Walls:  32″ from each corner up to ceiling.
  • Ceiling: 31 1/2″ square.  Mark and cut out 12″ square for chimney opening.
  • Consider adding a second layer of cement board with 1″ spacers for total fire retardant.

Purchase and install stove and chimney components

I’ve always used the Selkerk brand, available at Menards (yea, save big money, but don’t try to return anything without a receipt).  There is an order to installing stove pipe and chimney components.  For example, stove pipe adapter goes above the ceiling support kit.

Set stove

Sauna stoves need to cure.  The Kuuma, specifically, burns off some really yucky paint smell with the first couple firings.  I build bigger and bigger fires over the course of 12 hours to properly cure a new sauna stove.  It’s an agonizing test of patience, especially on a winter day while wearing a bathrobe and sandals and sipping from a nICE mug.



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2 thoughts on “Converting a sauna from an electric stove heater to a wood stove heater”

  1. I have had no problems with the electric saunas at the health clubs, but now that I live in the woods I have a wood burning sauna. All of a sudden smoke is coming out the rocks. Can you come up with a few ideas as to what could be wrong.
    Thank you

  2. Marty, take out all your sauna rocks. Inspect. Odds are that you’ll find a crack or erosion in your sauna stove such that you have a leak down into your heat chamber. Find a buddy with a welding torch and put in a new plate. Add rocks. Make a nICE mug. Sauna.

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