Most folks in Tower, MN will tell you that February 4, 1996 didn’t feel much different than any other cold winter day. Yet for meteorologists and weather enthusiasts around the country, this day is marked in history as the coldest day in North America, -60f. To get a handle on just how cold this is, consider:
- 60 degrees f. – golf weather, maybe a long sleeve shirt.
- 0 degrees f. – f*** ing cold! Unexposed skin subject to frostbite in minutes.
- -60 degrees f. – UNFATHOMABLY cold.
Tower, Minnesota is the climate where three generations of Lamppa’s have been building sauna stoves. 3rd generation Daryl has spent countless hours and many years refining the design of Lamppa’s wood burning sauna stove, called, simply, The Kuuma (Finnish word for hot).
Daryl Lamppa’s dedication to design and function is matched with his authenticity. He was building “green” before it was a marketing word. He understands exactly how wood burns, and the fact that 70% of a wood’s BTU potential is in the smoke. Further, smoke escaping up the chimney is dangerous. Smoke leads to creosote build up, a leading cause of fires. Facing this issue head on, Daryl kept working to maximize gasification, the burning of smoke. His stoves are very safe and very efficient.
Authentic wood burning sauna enthusiasts are amazed at how, with a few sticks of firewood, a Kuuma stove can throw so much heat for such a long time. Further, looking up at the smoke stack, it’s often hard to tell if the stove is on or off, as once the stove is up to temperature, there is no smoke coming out the chimney.
Lamppa Manufacturing is a production facility set back in time. It is a no frills, purely functional production center. Raw steel comes in through one door, and Daryl’s staff of a few long standing employees manually cut each piece, welding, assembling, until what appears out the same door is a work of high quality with beautiful simplicity. This is how factories functioned through the industrial age. Lamppa’s factory floor boasts nothing shiny or new, just tried and true machinery.
One only has to look at the welds: straight, true, uniform, to understand the attention to detail and craftsmanship. The Kuuma stove is a beast. 1/4″ steel. Sure, thinner steel could work, but Daryl isn’t into maximizing gross profit, just wood burning efficiency. The stove will outlive most people. A Kuuma will never end up in a landfill.
Like discovering a fabulous restaurant, one is torn with keeping it a secret, or sharing the enthusiasm with others. I am reminded of Joe Seliga, now deceased, a master canoe builder from Ely, MN. In his one stall garage just up the road from Lamppa Manufacturing, Joe spent most of his life building handcrafted canoes of impeccable quality and design. I visited Joe one day soon after folks from New York Times Magazine ventured out to write a story about his craft. He got a chuckle about the photographer taking shots of his paint dripped cement floor. Joe Seliga was humble and unmoved by being “discovered” nationally.
These are artists and craftsmen. Folks dedicating their life to a skill. Perfecting their design. Working in a rural environment free from marketing hot air and noisy SUVs. Maximizing efficiency through excellent design. Building with their hands. Putting their name on their product. Standing behind their product, and proud of what gets shipped out the back door.
Look out Hollywood! Daryl Lamppa is turning down offers from Hollywood to stay on board as CEO, Chairman, and chief welding operator for Lamppa Manufacturing. This is great news for us sauna enthusiasts. Below is his Hollywood screen test, where he details the Kuuma sauna stoves. We have detailed the quality and performance of the Kuuma sauna stove many times (here and here) as we are loyal fans.
Investing in a Kuuma sauna stove is one of those rare treats. It enhances the sauna experience for many reasons:
- The sauna stove performs perfectly every time.
- The quality is unmatched anywhere in the world.
- Daryl’s pride and workmanship is felt with every sauna.
- The stove is built like a tank. It will outlive you.
- Three generations of sauna building have helped perfect its design.
In a world of outsourcing, mass production, cutting costs, consider for a moment how rare is it today to find a quality product and actually talk to the man who not only had a hand in its construction but who actually designed it!?
Like hand made kitchen cabinets, or your favorite microbrew, or a Silega canoe, it’s one of those rare purchases where you smile every time you look at it and thank whoever or however you found out about it. Whatever the freight is to get one delivered to your sauna build, just do it. You’ll be thanking us by the end of your first sauna round.
This stove is our best friend. This sauna stove is 400 lbs., and has been designed and refined over 3 generations of Lamppa sauna builders. The Kuuma stove burns super efficiently. Because of the efficient burn, when the stove is tuned properly, we need to use less wood than with other sauna stoves, while producing maximum heat.
It is important that the firebox is free from ash. Use the ash rake to pull all ash to the front and down the air chambers into the ash pan below. Empty the ash pan. Ash can smolder for hours, sometimes days, so be extra careful when disposing ash. Dispose ash in a non combustible receptacle vs. a standard garbage can.
Keep the ash pan door open. Pull damper lever (middle lever) all the way up. This allows for maximum oxygen within the firebox.
A crumpled up piece of newspaper and a handful of dry kindling is all that is needed to get a fire going. 2-3 sticks of firewood may be added once a good fire is going.
Alternatively, many are having huge success with the “upside down fire technique.” More information here.
Once the fire is roaring, after about 2 minutes or so, close the ash pan. Add a couple more sticks of dry, seasoned firewood. Lay firewood in parallel, along the bottom of the firebox on top of existing wood and coals. Unlike a campfire, the Kuuma stove is designed to allow for plenty of air flow surrounding the wood.
About 20 minutes after ignition, the firebox should be very active and all wood should be well ignited. You should be seeing no smoke up the chimney. At this time, you can begin to damper down the middle lever, which controls the air intake.
After about 45 minutes from ignition, the sauna hot room should be about 130-140f. As the stove heats and the fire becomes hungry for more wood, use the ash rake to pull hot coals from the back of the fire box to the front, then lay on a stick or two of firewood, again in parallel and on top of the coals. Pulling coals forward is a very important procedure. As the Kuuma stove burns from front to back, bringing coals to the front enhances the burn rate and efficiency (Kuuma means “hot” in Finnish!).
Once the sauna hot room is up to desired temperature, “tune” the stove by lowering the damper to just a bit above the closed position. This reduces air flow and burn rate, but counterintuitively produces more heat. 70% of the heat in a stick of firewood is from the gasses from combustion. We capture this energy by turning smoke into flame. A well tuned Kuuma produces “the dancing blue flame.” A mature fire with the damper slightly open produces the most heat while consuming the least amount of wood, keeping the heat within the hot room vs. going up the chimney.
Also, one can tend to a Kuuma sauna from the outside, just by observing the chimney. A clean burn means zero smoke is being emitted from the chimney. We are looking to achieve no smoke and only heat trails emitting from the chimney. The Kuuma should burn smoke free starting about 10 minutes after ignition and throughout the entire sauna session. (With the upside down fire technique, we are able to reduce the smoke up the chimney to virtually zero). Seeing smoke means the fire needs tending. More oxygen and pulling coals forward are the two primary solutions to a smokey fire.
If a fire has been neglected and only a few coals are left in the firebox, we can perform “sauna stove CPR” and resurrect matters by pulling any remaining coals forward, adding a few sticks of firewood as detailed above, and opening the ash pan for a few minutes. This will reignite and re-energize the fire. This is the only time when we should consider the ash pan being open during a sauna session.
One more sauna round? Should we add one more log? Pull the coals forward, then decide if you need another log. Chances are you may not need another log. The mature hot coals provide a lot of heat, and more immediate heat. By pulling the coals forward, the Kuuma stove produces very little ash. Many sauna veterans need not have to empty their Kuuma ash pans but once every dozen or so sauna sessions.
In addition to seeing the sauna stove fire, sauna veterans become tuned to listening to their sauna stoves. With a well tended fire, as we pull coals forward and toss on another log, we will notice the stove responding with a “tck, tck, tck.” This is the sound of expanding metal from our sauna stoves as it reacts to increasing heat in the fire box.
Looking for a great instruction manual on stove operation? Having guests over to use your sauna? Looking to AirBnB your place? This one pager is a fantastic piece to print, laminate, and post outside your sauna. (Thanks John!) Click here and print:
There is a lot to take in with burning wood in our sauna stoves. Some of us get really into the process of wood heat and tending to our sauna stoves.
- Use dry seasoned firewood.
- Use dry kindling.
- Pull your coals forward before tossing on a stick of firewood.
- Damper down as you get close to “serving temp.”