What is a common denominator of wood fired saunas of Alaska? Well, two words come to mind:
Many sauna enthusiasts living in Alaska are well seasoned to DIY building (vs adding products to a shopping cart on line). It costs a lot of money to ship materials to Alaska, so for many, sourcing long lasting quality materials are critical. Many sauna builders in Alaska spend the time clicking around to find the best, as the cost to replace is high.
Many Alaska saunas show locally milled wood. And often up cycled materials such as second hand windows and doors.
Many of the saunas of Alaska are built for function as much as enjoyment. Show me an Alaskan sauna without a wash tub or large water bucket and I’ll show you a California transplant who didn’t get the memo. Like New England, Minnesota, Nordic countries of Europe and much of Canada, it gets cold in Alaska. In cold climates, sauna takes on a functional purpose. Whether in from skiing, shoveling the driveway or the roof, or repairing a blown down fence, there’s nothing better than that first throw of löyly and “ahhhhh” to help our bodies and limbs start to thaw and warm.
Many Alaskan sauna enthusiasts live in remote or rural areas. Many don’t prescribe to running water. For these folks, sauna is the best way to bathe, relax, restore, rejuvenate. With functional saunas, heat is the key. No room for wimpy heat.
Let’s hear from a few Alaska sauna enthusiasts
Note: I put a call out to many who purchased my DIY sauna build ebook, as well as asked a couple sauna stove companies for names of customers where they shipped to Alaska. You’ll see a common thread, below, and that’s the unmitigated raving about the Kuuma stove. In full disclosure, I own two Kuuma’s and am also a nut for Kuuma. Here’s some feedback from the wood fired saunas of Alaska:
“Hey Glenn. I actually got the idea of the Kuuma stove from your book and doing research on other stoves. There is nothing that even comes close to that Kuuma. The quality is outstanding and couldn’t be happier with my Kuuma. Money well spent. Oh and the customer service is awesome. Very nice people!”
“Sure no problem, glad to share the origin story. For me it’s quite simple. The stove I purchased is for a client that my work partner and I are building a custom timber frame home for. It’s a unique, remote and off-grid neighborhood on the Chilkat Peninsula just south of Haines, AK, with a tradition of custom homes and saunas. It happens to be that the closest neighbor to our client’s house has had a Kuuma in his sauna for quite some time now (must be at least 15 years), and I have had many great experiences with it. So, it was an easy decision to make, and an even easier sell to our clients, when I pushed them towards a Kuuma. The sauna building is a part of another timber frame we built on the property, and I we will be finishing it this summer with hopes for saunas coming soon.
I am definitely familiar with saunatimes, and have perused your site for layout ideas and many other insights into sauna design. I love the Kuuma build, and will be purchasing one for our own sauna hopefully sooner than later!
Take care, thanks for reaching out”
I’d be happy to tell you how I came upon my Kuuma stove. I was well along my path of searching for the “perfect” hand me down wood stove on Craigslist and then I came across your ebook where you talk about good heat and the difference between the kind of stove you want to heat your house and hear your hot room. Anyways…I was sold….I called up Lamppa Manufacturing about getting it to Alaska and several months later I had it….I have never looked back, except I wish I paid extra for the window in the door.
I burn a mix of spruce and alder and it heats my hot room up in about an hour. I’ve recommended it to several friends, a few of which have followed up and bought one, so I’m happy to say I know of at least 3 or 4 in burning in Juneau. Anyways, I’m a big fan of what you do and the first thing I tell people when they say they want to build a sauna is to buy your ebook.
I didn’t follow your design per se, since I built it on a trailer, but gleaned many tips and insights from you. I’ve periodically sauna’d/banya’d for the past 20 years that I’ve lived up here, but not until I built my own have I realized the true power and glory of good sauna!
PS…thanks for the tip a few years back about the plastic trough for cold plunge. That’s also been life changing.”
Happy to hear from you, and yes, I’m familiar with you and Sauna Times.
In summary, I guess you could say the origins of my sauna stove quest dates back to around 1960, as that’s when my folks built the log cabin that I will soon be converting into a sauna house and using the stove. And the answer as to how I settled on purchasing a Kuuma is quite simple…I had purchased your sauna build book and took your recommendation for Kuuma as a good option to consider. After researching the company and product offerings, I was sold that they built a quality product.
I also liked that Kuuma offered a water tank option as I have friends here in Alaska who had their sauna stoves welded locally with a built-in water tank, and I knew this was a feature that I wanted in my stove as well. All in all, the Kuuma provided what I was looking for, seemed like good value for the money, and came with what I considered to be a trusted recommendation from you.
Now you might be wondering why my stove purchase from a few years ago is not yet in use, and that’s because prior to converting the old cabin into a sauna, I decided to first build a new cabin so the family could start spending time at the lake with me in more comfort than what a tent would provide. And along with the new cabin I also needed to build several necessities, including a couple of docks, a shed, and what I’ll call a “little cabin”. Once the new cabin was somewhat weathered in, playtime with the kids started cutting into build time…and having a day job in town during the week, a relatively short build season during the Alaska summer months, and doing a remote cabin build project entirely by myself didn’t help to expedite progress.
Now with just a bit of finish work left on the new cabin’s interior, my plan is to get the sauna house started (and hopefully completed) this summer…which will entail raising the cabin and installing a new foundation, replacing both the roof and floor, rebuilding the deck, and converting the approx. 14’x16′ footprint into an 8’x10′ sauna with adjoining changing and relaxation areas. If all goes as planned, I hope to be firing up the sauna stove by September!
I’ve included a few pictures to give you a peek into my fun journey to having a lakeside cabin sauna. If you ever find yourself coming up to Alaska on a sauna tour, drop me a note and I’d be happy to show you how my sauna project turns out.
The old cabin and soon to be sauna house (after all logs had been thoroughly cleaned after sitting unattended for 50+ years)
I have seen your website SaunaTimes while I was doing research on my sauna build and stove. A friend suggested I build a cordwood sauna and sent me a video of a sauna build, so I actually did it! Boy, did I learn a lot! It was worth it though as I’ve been enjoying it all winter and had a nice hot sauna today thanks to the Kuuma stove.
I did a google search for sauna stoves, and Lamppa/Kuuma was one of the top hits. After looking at their website, I didn’t search much farther. I grew up in Glenwood, Minnesota and moved to Alaska in 1994. There are a lot of Minnesotans here. As a MN native, I felt like a small company in Tower, MN had to be making a quality product and knew they would stand behind what they sold. I liked the idea of supporting a MN business and also being able to spread the word here in AK. The stove has been great! It took me a few tries to learn to let it burn hot enough to get my sauna up to 150-170 degrees, but it’s been great all winter, even when it was below zero.
Yeah, that’s a good angle to take on it, because the stove is the heart of the sauna. The steam it puts off is amazing! Sometimes I use a large sponge for a lot of water and a big dose of steam, and other times I use a wooden ladle to slowly add some steam to the sauna. Both feel really good, and the stove is the source for all that steam.
Feel free to email or call if you’d like to talk further about the stove or sauna.
Here’s a picture for you. Best I could do with my phone and the auto timer.
“Hey Glenn! Great to hear from you. I get your newsletters and love what you do. Thanks for reaching out.
So let me start this whole thing off to let you know that where we are there are no roads, everything that comes into here has to come by boat, and there is no running water during the frozen part of the year. Consequently sauna is the only way we get clean.
There are many saunas in this quiet little community, some are on their 3rd or 4th stove. For me the decision was a no brainer. My neighbor Dave had a Kuuma in his sauna and it was by far the best quality sauna stove I’ve used. The biggest question for me was whether to get a stove that loaded from the inside or the out. I spoke with Garrett at length about that issue, and several of the other things I wanted and he convinced me to stick with the model that loads inside the building. That was the big “research” I did! Ha. I’m glad I followed his advice.
Sauna is part of the Alaskan culture and there are many variants. There are the Russian Banyas, the Finnish Saunas, and many Indigenous varieties – I’m sure you could write a book just on the Saunas of Alaska. I moved up here when I was 16 (about 41 years ago) and I lived with an old Swiss homesteader here on the opposite shore of Kachemak Bay in what was then the very little town of Homer. We had sauna on Wednesdays and Sundays, and there was a regular crew that would show up and bring anyone else along who wanted to come. Yule and his son Otto dug a pool while I lived there and we lined it and would dive in when the season permitted. Yule preferred the dry sauna, with heat in there frequently above 220. That is where I really learned to sauna. There were times when you would watch the perspiration evaporate as it rolled down your fingernails! Ah, good memories!
So when I set out to build my sauna here a couple of years ago I decided that I wanted something very simple, easy to maintain, and built with the highest quality I could put together. No exposed fasteners, no floor that could rot out etc etc. I called one of my old wood supply gurus and asked him if he could dig up enough Port Orford Cedar for all the panelling and everything fell into place. The Kuuma was the natural choice, as I never want to have to replace it.
Bring something here once and done!
As it was we had to lift the stove out of the boat with a gin pole set up and then Dave and I had to wrestle the thing up a couple hills with multiple picks from a set of come alongs but we finally got it up and into place. I’m sure you have seen all kinds of different stoves, from tinfoil patched camp stoves to barrels covered in rocks to whatever someone decided to weld up the week before using their 3 year olds foot pattern as the pattern for the stoves feet. My goal was to build a sauna I could get to temp on as little wood as possible, and maintain the temp without having to constantly stoke it.
The Kuuma does just that. I can get it to 180 on 3 pieces of firewood after getting the kindling all going. It holds the heat perfectly, the draw is perfect and I love the water tank. My neighbor needed a new stove for her sauna (which is another community fixture) and I talked her into the Kuuma and we had them shipped up together. So there you have it.
I hope I have answered your question (in a roundabout way), feel free to email back if you want or need any more info.
Stay Warm and Healthy Sauna,
“Hi, Absolutely. Please tell Garrett that I believe they build the best. You just sent me way down a rabbit hole looking at pictures of getting the stove up onto our landing, and of the whole construction project which took over a year as it had to fit in between about a hundred other projects. Looking forward to your write up!”
Well, I must say I was a bit surprised to receive your email (in a good way). And no issues at all reaching out to me. I owe Garrett some pictures of my sauna build and setup too, but I wanted to finish it to near 100% if I can before I share it with him. I also have no secrets and I even told Garrett if someone from Alaska inquires about the Kuuma’s I’d be happy to show mine to whomever is interested.
As for Alaska and my love for Finnish sauna’s. I came to Alaska the first time in 1980 for a visit in Fairbanks. My brother was stationed there as an Air Force pilot and I was in love with Alaska. Then I came back in 1983 also through the Air Force and stayed here until 1987. Not able to find work back then, I returned to Pennsylvania but visited friends that have remote cabins in the bush for fishing and hunting seasons through 2006 when I finally moved back to Eagle River Alaska permanently.
I share this history because it was my exposure to sauna’s that started back in 1983. As I am sure you have seen on your own, I’ve many wood sauna’s, and most of them were old stoves converted to sauna stove with tubs on top for the rocks etc. But when I came back in 2006, this is when I really started to see some decent Finnish sauna’s with better looking wood stoves but not anything like Kuuma’s.
I’ve used about 10 or 12 different sauna’s up to 2018 through friends that have bush cabins. And my real desire to build my own sauna started to kick in. Also, in 2018 I had some life changes and one of them was a divorce. But through it, my son and I purchased a log cabin in Eagle River with 1.4 acres. And that’s when I started my sauna build plans and I started searching through the web about sauna builds and sauna stoves. I knew that I wanted a decent wood stove that was ideally built in the US. Through my web searches and Pinterest reviews, I came across this guy who I think loves saunas more than I. His name is Glenn and he has this website called Sauna times with Glenn.
This is when I really started to look into the Kuuma’s, my first call to them in 2018 was a bit disappointing though because when they quoted shipping to Alaska, the cost was about $1,000, and I thought that was just nuts. No fault of Lamppa though, it’s just one of those things about Alaska. People are just shocked that we are still part of the US, lol. So anyway, my son TJ and I started the tree cutting to make a parking pad first, then soon after the parking pad, we cleared a patch of trees for our sauna that is about 30’ off our back porch of the cabin. Unfortunately though, my front porch was in desperate need of being replaced, so I had to delay our sauna build for a little bit, which then led us into the pandemic and the world stopped for several months.
To ease the pain, we ended up buying a used infrared sauna. And while I like it, it just isn’t a wood fired sauna. And I just kept on doing my research on sauna builds and sauna stoves. I pretty much made up my mind that Kuuma is going to be the stove we install. I would work on other shipping methods to bring the stove to Alaska.
Fast forward to 2021/2022, we made up our minds that the sauna was going up. I told my son who is 36 that if we commit to this build, then that’s all we are doing for the summer of 2022. So, in June of 2022, we started pulling tree roots and leveling the area for the sauna build. I figured it was going to take several months for the Kuuma stove to be built so I called Garrett in August to place my order. Low and behold they had one already built.
So through several calls to shipping companies, I ended up having Lamppa truck my stove to the Seattle port and then having Span Alaska ship my stove. I saved over $600 in shipping costs. Since the stove shipped sooner than I expected, I had to wait about a month longer to finish the sauna well enough to put the stove in the sauna hot room. And since October 30, 2022, we’ve been using our sauna almost every day since. I think I may have missed 5 days total.
Sorry for the long story but I think it tells you my origin and settling on the Kuuma. The main reason I went with Kuuma is durability and (hoping for longevity). Kuuma stoves are build like tanks in my humble opinion. They are about 200 pounds heavier than any competitor that I have seen. And to be honest Glenn, your input and write ups I’ve read are another big reason I went with them. Plus, I don’t believe I have come across any negative comments about them. And funny enough when I was shopping around locally here in Alaska, when I mentioned Lamppa Kuuma stoves, every location said, “Oh, yeah we don’t sell them. You’ll most likely have to call them direct”. Which is how Lamppa does work.
So, we are about 90% complete with our Finnish sauna build. I have to finish the trim work in the changing room and put a railing around the deck on the front porch. I’ll do these last few things once our snow and ice melt. This year as with your neck of the woods, we ended up with 88” of snow. And as you know, saunas in the winter are the best. Our sauna is 10’ X 20’ total exterior dimensions with a 9’ X 9’ sauna room, 9’ X 5’ changing room, and a 10’ X 5’ porch. I plan to make a movie of the entire build and will post it on my YouTube channel once completed too. But here is a picture or 2 of our sauna.
I’d be happy to respond. Thank you so much for your efforts to promote and support the sauna design, building, and use. I’ve been an active wood sauna user for 25 years since I turned a small shed into one on a property I was renting. I put an ad in the local newspaper looking for stoves, and amazingly found a small Finnish sauna stove that the family of an exchange student had brought as a gift to the host family. Apparently they brought it in their luggage, made a few welds and installed it. Lots of fun saunas in that one, amazing how many 20 somethings are willing to pack into a small space! So I have known that a purpose built sauna stove is ideal.
It is quite possible that I learned about Kuuma through your website when I was doing research on sauna design for my 3 year old sauna. At that time I was interested in Kuuma, but found an unused 1970s woodstove (found in the back of an old stove shop) for $150. It went into service 1/1/2020 and definitely made for a much better pandemic lockdown.
My wife and I used the sauna 3-4 days a week, which largely continues to this day. Juneau is a temperate rainforest, receiving 100 inches of rain per year in my neighborhood, and probably another 100 inches of snow. Year round dry out, heat, humidity, dunk is necessary. This winter we hosted weekly Sunday afternoon open sauna /potluck for friends.
After a year and a half of use, it was clear that the 1970s stove was not meeting our needs. Hard to get the rocks hot, without overheating the room. We invested in the medium sauna and am a big advocate. It uses less than 1/2 the wood, and produces amazing steam. I have a buddy who built his sauna mobile sauna right after I completed mine. He actually bought my excess WRC, so our sauna’s are strongly related. He chose Kuuma for his sauna and know he is very satisfied.
Why Kuuma over other options? Maybe the American made, family business sealed the deal. I’d seen reports that other brands were being made in Asia, and wanted something robust that will last. Here in Juneau we are used to paying for barge shipments from Seattle. No matter what we ordered, the shipping costs are significant. I believe another Juneauite was was featured on the Kuuma website, but I didn’t know them.
Happy to respond with other info if that will help. Again, thank you for your efforts on all our behalf.
Kuuma medium, ash pan, heat shields, glass door. 84 sqfoot hot room.
Ha, that’s fun. My buddy Sergei got his Kuuma first, but we learned about them independently. Once I used his, I was definitely convinced. Yes, we you are paying anyway (shipping), it’s always better to buy quality.
My buddies and I joke that we need 3-4 saunas. Home, cabin, mobile, floating (I’m very interested in creating one floating in the salt water), and tent for camping. Alaska has a strong tradition of sweats, but not in this part of the state as much. The sweats I’ve used in other parts of the state tend to be used for bathing in locations without hot water, etc. I’m considering ways to partner with local Alaska Native Tribal entities to “create” some public sauna/sweat locations. Such a good practice.
Cheers to you,
“Sorry for the late response! Been working too much.
Long story short I wanted the best stove possible and after researching I thought it was the Kuuma. I wanted lots of metal, lots of rocks, and deep enough for big pieces of wood so we got the large. My hot room is 9×7 but I think the large is perfect.
I’m the same guy that facebook’d messaged you about a month ago about heat shields and distances etc. we had an electric Kuuma when we first built our sauna in 2014 and it just died. I decided to replace it with the wood burning so we had to rebuild some of our sauna to be ready for the new stove.
I moved to alaska in 2011 from California for work, and took my first sauna the day I arrived with folks I had never met but knew through a friend. 180 degrees, three rounds, one beer per round, and rolling in the snow between each round. It was so hot I could barely stand it, but I loved it right away.
Several years later when I bought a house we built a sauna in our backyard with the electric Kuuma, and now have the wood burning Kuuma.
We have a cabin in “the bush”, accessible by airplane or snomachine only, and it has a sauna too! It was built in the 70’s but I just replaced the stove pipe and the bench and added more heat shield… never did I think I would ever own one, let alone 2 saunas. Ha!
Attached are some pics of the Anchorage sauna and our bush sauna. You can see old stove pipe and old bench in the bush sauna and the bench and stovepipe added recently. Still has the old barrel stove.
We also just discovered “long drink”. Have you had it? We can’t get it in alaska but I fly cargo to Asia and I bring it back from Hong Kong. Precious cargo!
Should we open a Kuuma sauna store in anchorage?!?
If you would have asked me 3 years ago I could have likely given you great detail on the reason(s) why I chose a Kuuma stove; now, it is a bit rusty in my mind, but I will do my best to resurrect my thought process.
As you know, many products nowadays are simply junk. Throwaway. Disposable. You get the idea. Generally speaking, these throwaway items are also found on the most convenient websites; sell them cheap, and sell lots of them. Capitalism at its best.
Being originally from the midwest (and raised on a farm), bring frugal with money is second nature. As my father used to say; buy cheap, buy twice. That didn’t always mean buy the Snap-On tools….but it commonly meant don’t buy the Asian made special. So when I set about re-tooling a now well shaded by cottonwood trees former greenhouse, the size of my proposed sauna was larger than average.
See, the 24′ x 12′ greenhouse would be partitioned into thirds; one third would remain for plant pot storage, one third would become an indoor “deck” (and changing area), and the remaining third would become sauna. Quick math says a 12′ x 8′ sauna is sizable…and it is! The other variable, is that instead of pouring a “real” floor, I decided to also use a simple deck floor. In other words, water drains straight to the earth, and breaths (cold) air up through the floor for the combustion process.
Why is this important? Because I chose to not have a “real” floor, I was advised by many people this was foolish, and I would not be able to heat my sauna properly up here in “cold” Alaska. What outsiders don’t understand is that living on the ocean in Alaska is not cold! The coldest I’ve ever seen it at my house was -20C, and 90% of the time our temps range between -5C and 0C. Anyway, I heeded their advice, and perhaps got a slightly larger stove than I needed, but I didn’t want to have regrets later.
When I looked at stove choices, I was focused on finding one that was made well; something that would last a lifetime. If my memory serves me correctly, my decision was made after reading reviews on “the web”, reading feedback from sauna experts, and evaluating the website of each manufacturer. Each company only has so much money; do they invest it in their marketing and website or do they invest it in their R&D & their materials/welding. I generally opt for the latter.
As it all turned out, I got lucky. The Kuuma stove is well made. Dare I say almost “industrial” in it’s appearance and built quality. It’s not shiny, or polished, or a piece of art. It’s a hunk of functional steel, that burns hot, and burns clean. And I say I got lucky because the floor I mentioned previously has been amazing. Our daughter (who has enjoyed the sauna since she was 3 years of age), can join us, throw as many snowballs at us as she wishes, and then fall asleep comfortably on the floor. The upper reaches of the sauna are commonly +90C, but at floor level is only +20C to +25C (due to the cold and consistent airflow.
Hope that helps, come on up sometime.