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Product Review: Kuuma BluFlame wood burning sauna stove

light steam graphic

I’ve recently come down from the Sky Blue Sky to offer my product review of the new Kuuma BluFlame wood burning sauna stove.

The Beginnings

About a year and a half ago, Daryl Lamppa came to me: “I’ve been working on my new sauna stove, and I would like you to try it out.” And to be candid: I resisted. For Replacing my 2003 Kuuma is akin to a baseball player giving up his high school baseball glove. Memories, comfort, understanding. Further, I felt perhaps that Daryl was one of those retirees with too much time on his hands. Like a former greenskeeper spending the better part of his walking hours on his lawn, trolling back and forth, looking for a stray dandelion.

So, most of this past summer, while I was frolicking at our island cabin, my Kuuma BluFlame sat cold and quiet in my Minneapolis garage. But summer turned to fall. And one day, the UPS man showed up on my doorstep with a big box. I thought it was a gag gift. Inside were several pieces of crumpled newspaper, and then kindling, and birch firewood. The return address? Lamppa Manufacturing, Tower, Minnesota, USA. Inside was a one page instruction sheet: cleanly hand written in pencil.

Daryl’s wood loading instructions. “Steam King” as the working name for the product back in 2021.

“What kind of crazy retired greenskeeper would send me firewood in the mail?”

It was time to get serious about operating my Kuuma BluFlame prototype. And here are the key findings:

Appearances

This first BluFlame looks pretty much like the legacy Kuuma sauna stove: same height and width. However, the surround in the BluFlame is different. The back heat shield is fixed to the stove. With even more heat output, Lamppa Manufacturing has expanded the rock chamber compared to the legacy OG Kuuma. As of this writing, they are testing and offering different shrouds and surrounds. Though many gravitate to the industrial utilitarian look of the Kuuma, my prototype “looks like a Russian washing machine” chides my British Thermal Unit buddy.

Others are more drawn to sauna stoves that promote a shiny FOMOness of an Instagram photo. Whatever the case, Kuuma users, generally, are pretty dedicated thermal enthusiasts who welcome the industrial, functional look of their stoves.

Late fall 2021, Glenn (left) with Daryl Lamppa, tossing water on the 450°f. rocks atop the first BluFlame.

Loading the BluFlame

I loaded the fire box exactly to Daryl’s drawing and instructions:

  • 3-4 crumples of newspaper in the front.
  • Kindling atop.
  • 3 smaller pieces of firewood, in parallel, on top of the kindling (about he size of your wrist)
  • regular sized pieces of firewood, in parallel, to fill the fire box (about the size of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s neck).

Middle lever/damper up all the way, And I did veer from his instructions by opening the ash pan door open (*gasp*) during ignition.

Fire good

With one match, I lit the edge of the newspaper, and closed the fire box door. The wood in the stove gets going fast. It’s as if there’s a sprinkling of lighter fluid in the fire box. Air is drawn into the firebox from the front, underneath. The principle of igniting of the Kuuma BluFlame is a logical, basic stepping stone:

  • match ignites paper
  • paper ignites kindling
  • kindling ignites small wood
  • small wood ignites larger wood.

But I’ve been told that what goes on within the fire box is anything but basic combustion. And this is where I start to become a deer in the headlights listening to Daryl Lamppa talk about the inner workings of his wood burning stoves. I understand the concepts as:

  1. Get the fire chamber hot fast: this turns smoke into flame (gasification).
  2. Maximize front to back burn: this helps extract all the btu’s out of the wood.
  3. Control the amount of oxygen within the fire chamber: this allows heat to stay in the room, not as much up the chimney.

Looking up

After lighting the fire, I step outside and inspect the chimney. I do see some trails of smoke. I tend to my cold plunge, and sweep my sauna deck. After about ten minutes of tidying up, I return to the hot room. The fire in my BluFlame is rocking. Returning to Daryl’s instructions, I close the firebox and bring the middle lever/damper in the stove to about half way. The flames are dancing, a Grateful Dead loose and free flow style. The stove takes on the sound of “tick, tick, tick” as if in rhythm. Expanding metal.

Now, I am curious. What is it about all this gasification and clean burn talk? Returning to my sauna deck, I note that a trail of white smoke is still coming out of the chimney. Have I done something wrong? But suddenly, like when Wizard of Oz turns from black & white to technicolor, the smoke is gone. WTF? Did my fire go out? Returning to the hot room, the flames are dancing right along. And sure enough, wisps of blue flame.

We have achieved gasification!

Sauna time

From match to this moment, ten minutes have elapsed. It’s too cold and wet outside for a bike ride. So, I return to my house and ride my stationary bike for 45 minutes. Could it now be sauna time? Heading back out to my backyard sauna, the stove chimney is showing no smoke, as before. Just the tell tale heat trails that all is well inside the hot room.

It is now just under one hour since lighting of the match. Stepping into the sauna, we are at 155°f. (68°c.).

There is still plenty of fuel in the fire box from the original five sticks of firewood. I toss in one more stick of firewood, and settle into round one on the upper bench. I am feeling pretty good! Daryl would approve. I followed his instructions exactly, and things are humming along just fine.

Steam or not to steam? That’s a question

Some like to hit water on the rocks right away. For others, like popping the cork on a bottle of merlot, we like to decant on the bench. A friend likes to wait until the first bead of sweat drops from his forehead, then reward oneself with first steam.I follow that prescription. I fill the few minutes with my hand held heat gun. Most of the rocks are between 350°f – 400°f (177°c – 205°c).

No matter from which country or continent, Löyly is a spiritual thing. The steam created from water being tossed on sauna rocks is Sauna Magic. And I take this first blast with full force, like jumping off a cliff into a cold water mountain stream (insert Wim Hof YouTube video here). The feeling on the bench is opposite, but exact. And a kick ass sauna stove meets you more than half way, and then some. This is the feeling I get from tossing water on the rocks with my BluFlame. As we know, heat is not heat. Rich dense heat does something different with steam. And whatever that is, I like it. (note: Emma Kelly’s book: The Power of Deep Heat).

Blue Flame simulation in accordance with Instagram worthy eye candy ordinance 37B.

Back to earth

The wave of steam envelopes me completely. I have reached thermal velocity in my backyard sauna heated by the Kuuma BluFlame.

Minutes pass. The steam/löyly lingers. It is as if my entire body (soul?, mind?) has been transported to a new place, time, and microclimate. But I am here to review the Kuuma BluFlame sauna stove, not to get all sauna spacey. That is some woo woo for another time. What’s going on in the fire box? The new stick of firewood is barely ignited. Below is firewood from my initial load, over an hour ago. The thermometer now reads 175°f. (80°c). I have reached “serving temperature” so I bring the stove damper down just under half way. The dancing blue flame becomes brighter.

Alone with my thoughts, I can hear Daryl Lamppa’s voice: “I’ve spent my whole life watching fire burn.”

Inner tech

The technology of the Kuuma sauna stove and its sister product, the Vapor Fire wood burning home furnace, is rooted on a front to back burn.

No matter what the look on the outside, there is some major “tech” happening inside the fire box. Daryl explains to me the outcome of years of testing and development of the BluFlame. This iteration is on top of decades of research and development put forth with the original Kuuma. The BluFlame contains a third gasification chamber. It comes welded with a panel of heavy as hell 310 stainless on top of the firebox. I am not aware of any sauna stove using 310 stainless.

Matter of fact, this part alone, I am told, costs more than most wood burning sauna stoves.

Like the original Kuuma, the BluFlame firebox is lined with 40 pounds of firebrick. Firebrick helps with gasification, protects the steel, keeps heat within the hot room, and like listening to China Cat Sunflower by the Grateful Dead, the firebrick encourages the dancing blue flame.

No smoking

Unlike a Grateful Dead concert, outside of the first 10 minutes, there is no smoke happening with the BluFlame. No smoke. Unlike freedom, gasification is just another word for no smoke left to lose. All the smoke turns to fuel. The BluFlame is dancing thermal goodness. Sitting outside between rounds in the garden all misty wet with rain, it is hard to tell if the BluFlame sauna stove is burning or not. Some neighbors used to make fun of us, but now want a seat on the bench. For those sauna enthusiasts looking for a higher level of privacy, this can be good news. Better news is for neighbors who may complain about smoke. And the environment. And our wood pile.

Wood burning sauna stoves are not regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). But wood furnaces are. The sister product to the Kuuma sauna stove is the Vapor Fire, Lamppa Manufacturings home furnace. The Vapor Fire burns so clean, it exceeds all EPA standards. And the EPA recently purchased a Vapor Fire to help refine their testing criteria.

Cost

At $3,500 plus freight, the BluFlame pushes the top range of the wood burning sauna stove market, which is about $1,000 more than the original Kuuma. A Harvia M3, and similar class of wood burning sauna stove, can be carried out of the trunk of a vehicle like a bag of groceries (with one hand) and for about 1/3 the price of the BluFlame. The Aito Kiuas 47 is about $1,000 more than the Kuuma BluFlame. The AK47 requires three patient Finnish hockey players about 4 times the time to get up to serving temperature (extinguish the fire when the lower rocks are glowing). Perhaps these comparisons are apples to oranges, in terms of both lämpömassa and quality of materials. But it does give one a perspective of where this product sits, cost wise, whether or not “on the spectrum.

Longevity

Whatever the cost, the Kuuma BluFlame. like the legacy Kuuma is known to last a lifetime (and then some). As mentioned, the top plate of the Kuuma BluFlame, its hottest spot, is made with 310 stainless. The remainder is 1/4″ mild steel. With commercial daily use, many sauna stoves need to be replaced annually. There are several Kuumas that are several years old, chugging along for years now. Exceptions are in situations where people leave the ash pan open, thinking that this makes for a hotter sauna. But the irony is that they are channeling heat right up the chimney, and stressing the steel along the way.

Red hot steel breaks down fast. Daryl Lamppa will have none of this. As of this writing, he may be designing an ash pan that welds itself shut if the user runs their Kuuma wide open. I wouldn’t put it past him!

Heat

Sitting on the sauna bench, I feel none of the “dreaded” radiant heat coming off the Kuuma BluFlame sauna stove. Sure, if I bring my face down to the glass to admire the dancing blue flame, a marshmallow may be warmed. But heat is not heat, and with the Kuuma BluFlame, I feel the finely tuned blend of the jazz trio of heat transfer… right to the bones.

It is hard to explain sauna heat. However, when you feel good heat, it’s all over. I enjoyed two hours and 4 resonating sauna rounds with the Kuuma BluFlame. 6 regular sticks of firewood. For rounds 2-4, the temperature in the hot room held steady at approximately 175°f. (80°c). I could have easily altered the temperature by raising or lowering the stove pipe damper.

Toweling off after my sauna session, I pulled the coals forward in the firebox and brought the stove damper lever up all the way. “Tick, tick, tick” Bake and breathing my hot room, and burning off most all the ash. Setting up a clean firebox for my next session.

Is the Kuuma BluFlame right for you? Well, it’s not for everybody. However, for those interested in investing in a clean burning, efficient, deep resonating lämpömassa producing sauna stove set to last the rest of their lives, the Kuuma BluFlame is surely worth the investment.

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