TOWER- The portable sauna sitting in the parking lot of Lamppa Manufacturing was a toasty 190 degrees this past week and the small bundle of firewood fueling the stove had burned down to a pile of red-hot embers. But anyone walking by would not realize the sauna had been lit, because no smoke was coming out of the chimney.
The sauna, built by Bear Naked Sauna from Hermantown, has been serving as a testing ground for a new type of sauna stove developed by Lamppa Manufacturing. It’s Lamppa’s latest invention, the Kuuma BluFlame wood-burning sauna stove, and it has the potential to revolutionize the sauna stove market.
Lamppa sold about 20 of the new stoves this summer, mostly to commercial sauna businesses who have been providing feedback and suggestions. The stoves feature a very high-grade stainless interior, that won’t rust and can withstand the higher temperatures. The stove exterior is more decorative. The commercial operators appreciate the stove’s efficiency, using less wood and requiring less frequent refilling, which means little or no smoke escaping into the sauna room. They also appreciate how easy these stoves are to use.
“They are using less wood and getting more heat,” said Garrett Lamppa, the fourth generation of the Lamppa family designing sauna stoves.
While residents of the North Country can get firewood easily, it is expensive and harder to come by in urban areas, Garrett noted, so efficiency is a key selling point.
The decorative rock box that sits on top of the stove was designed by Garrett and Lamppa’s plant manager Dale Horihan. Plans are to offer different designs, which can also be swapped out on existing BluFlame stoves.
“There are a lot of strong supporters out there who like this product and what we stand for,” Garrett said.
Orders are now being taken on their new website for BluFlame Stove, and stoves are expected to start shipping out in January. The stove is priced about $1,000 higher than their regular sauna stove but comes standard with a large glass window to view the fire inside.
“These are built to last and last,” Garrett said. “Our competitors are using lower quality steel and materials. They care about their margins. They don’t care how long their stoves last.”
Garrett said they have been selling quite a few stoves to people in Alaska, and while the cost to ship them is quite high, the customers know they won’t need to be replacing the stove anytime soon. Also, he noted, Alaska has air quality restrictions, so the smokeless stoves are a big draw.
Developing the BluFlame
Lamppa Kuuma is synonymous with sauna in the Northwoods. Since moving to their new manufacturing plant in Tower, they have been selling over 500 of their traditional wood-fired sauna stoves each year.
After the move in 2019 from Lamppa’s cramped quarters in an old dairy plant on S. Third Street in Tower, and with Garrett now leading the day-to-day operations at the company, Daryl Lamppa took his semi-retirement time to work on a new dream– designing and testing how to transfer the technology they had developed when creating the cleanest wood-burning furnace to the simpler set-up required for a wood-burning sauna stove.
Creating a “gasification” process in a sauna stove, without the computerized controls utilized in Lamppa’s Vapor-Fire Furnace, is something that turned out to be tricky to achieve. It took Daryl about three years and five pickup loads of firewood to get a stove that could achieve a burn process hot enough to burn clean and hot enough to capture over 70-percent of the heat in the firewood. And to their credit, it is the only sauna stove they are aware of that runs this efficiently.
In the meantime, the staff at Lamppa Manufacturing was also working on creating a new stove design that was safer, prettier, and had more options than their current model.
Garrett gave credit to his entire crew, but especially employees Nick Lempia, Jason Barnes, Chad Reichensperger, Todd Peterson, and Lauren Aho.
“That’s the coolest part of this,” Garrett said. “They wanted to help make it better. We worked through all the challenges, and there have been plenty of them. This was really a team effort.”
This new stove is filling a relatively new niche in the sauna stove market. The popularity of sauna has exploded in recent years, and that means more saunas are being installed in urban areas, and more sauna-related businesses are popping up in urban centers.
“There is a new generation getting into sauna,” Garrett said. “And this appeals to them.”
Saunas were and still are a fixture in many rural homesteads in the northern states, where firewood is readily available, and neighbors are far enough away that chimney smoke is not an issue.
But wood-fired stoves in urban areas can cause problems with particulate pollution, as well as producing smoke that is irritating for neighbors.
“This stove can normally be used in states that regulate wood-burning stoves,” Garrett said. “It won’t bother neighbors. It’s environmentally friendly. It burns much less wood.”
No smoke means no creosote, and creosote is what causes chimney fires, Garrett said. The new design also features a larger decorative rock box on the top of the stove, which can be filled with up to 275 pounds of rock. More rocks create a more mellow steam, he said. But sauna owners can choose to use fewer rocks, which will get hotter and produce a more stinging steam.
Sauna stoves run
in the family
Garrett’s great-grandfather Richard welded up his first sauna stove back in the 1930s, with help from Garrett’s grandfather, Herb. The stoves were made from old metal oil drums, and one of these earliest models is on display at the Lamppa building.
That first sauna stove was about 15-percent efficient, meaning that 85-percent of the potential heat from the wood being burned was piped out and out the chimney.
Richard had taught his son Herb to weld, and in later years Herb along with his son Daryl went on to manufacture a much more efficient sauna stove, the Lamppa Kuuma in the 1970s. The sauna design was refined over the years, and in 2004 the stove received its UL approval.
The Lamppas went on to manufacture what is now the cleanest burning wood furnace ever tested, along with both wood-burning and electric sauna stoves.
Daryl’s son Garrett soon joined his father in the business, and shepherded the business as it moved to their new manufacturing plant on Hwy. 135.
The BluFlame is burning wood with efficiencies in the 70th-percentile.
Lamppa is also working on developing a highly-efficient and UL certified electric sauna stove. About 80-percent of sauna heaters currently sold in the U.S. are electric, so they see another opportunity to grow their business by entering this market.