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7 steps for awesome operation of your Kuuma wood burning sauna stove

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I have taken well over 6,000 saunas, and most have begun with me firing up the Kuuma wood burning sauna stove.

So, call me a “dedicated enthusiast.” I purchased my first Kuuma sauna stove in 1989. My cabin sauna, built in 1996 has a Kuuma. I built my first backyard sauna in 1998 with a Kuuma, then we moved and I built another backyard sauna in Minneapolis in 2003, yes, with a Kuuma. Also, I was volunteer lead builder of the 612 Sauna Society sauna, where we installed a medium Kuuma. I’ve helped Voyageur saunas get rocking with mobile and backyard sauna building… with the Kuuma! Most of my friends have a Kuuma.

I talk with many people and have never known anyone who has regretted purchasing a Kuuma wood burning sauna stove.

I’ve built more than a dozen saunas, all with the Kuuma. And through my ebook, I have helped hundreds build their own sauna, and, yes, you guessed it, many have installed a Kuuma. Matter of fact, if my wife would let me, I’d put a Kuuma sauna stove in our living room.

7 steps to fire up and operate your Kuuma wood burning sauna stove

  1. Start with a clean fire box. Pull the ash out of the firebox, down into the ash pan.  Use the tool that Daryl designed.
  2. Logs. Lay 5-6 logs into the firebox. Lay them in parallel like you would stacking your woodpile.  Ideally load firewood a bit higher on the sides, lower in the middle, creating a “U” or pocket.
  3. Paper. Light a crinkled sheet of newspaper or birch bark. Set atop the logs in the firebox.
  4. Kindling: lay a few sticks on top of #3.  (Note: It took me 28 years to learn the upside down fire!).
  5. Leave everything alone for 45 minutes: damper up, ash pan closed.
  6. Pull coals forward. Then toss on a “yule log” for sauna, if needed.
  7. Damper down. You’ve reached Kuuma nirvana when, as you look through the glass window, you see the “dancing blue flame.”(1)
Firewood for a sauna, left. Kindling for a sauna, right. (haircut sold separately).

There is something counterintuitive about wood burning

Controlling the damper controls the burn rate. And, less oxygen will slow down the burn, but it will also contain more heat within the fire box. Therefore, when you have achieved a good fire in the fire box, we create more heat in our saunas by dampering down the stove. Generally speaking, when our saunas are up to about 150°f., this is about the time to begin dampering down.

There is an incredible amount of science that goes into the design of the Kuuma wood burning sauna stove. So, if wood burning efficiency and sauna stove design is something that interests you, I encourage you to listen to my 2016 Sauna Talk interview with Daryl Lamppa.

Glenn interviewing Daryl Lamppa for Sauna Talk. (note pads sold separately).

BONUS: 4 Tips for operating your Kuuma wood fired sauna stove.

  1. Use dry seasoned firewood.
  2. Use dry kindling.
  3. Pull your coals forward before tossing on a stick of firewood.
  4. Damper down as you get close to “serving temp.”
Medium Kuuma Stove
The Kuuma Wood Fired Sauna Stove (flames sold separately)

(1) “The dancing blue flame” is actually smoke gases that are turning to flame, or combusting. This process occurs when the temperature inside the fire box is high enough and air flow low enough. So, slowing down the air flow with ample heat is what creates the proper atmosphere for what is called gasification. Building stoves that can reach gasification is an art and a science. Achieving a clean burn is something that Daryl Lamppa, 3rd generation sauna stove builder, has spent his entire life studying, optimizing, and achieving through decades of testing and iterating.

We welcome your ideas and experiences in comment section.

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2 Comments

2 thoughts on “7 steps for awesome operation of your Kuuma wood burning sauna stove”

  1. Chris:

    Getting Daryl’s blessing does not come easily. When we cure our stoves for the first time, we want to gradually build hotter and hotter fires. Just kindling to start, and ash pan closed, and tuning the damper to keep the fire from raging.

    For everyday use, I start with the upside down fire: ash pan closed and damper up all the way, until the hot room is 140f. ish, then, when the fire box is hungry for wood, I will pull the coals forward, toss in a yule log, and damper it down a bit. I like tuning the damper down to achieve the dancing blue flame. This is when gasification happens, a hot, even burn where the heat radiates within the stove, rocks, and hot room vs rushing up the chimney.

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