Companies make customers sweat
DULUTH — A small cluster of companies in the Duluth area takes pride in making customers sweat.
These homegrown sauna manufacturers occupy a relatively small market niche, but their reach is expanding, thanks in part to the Internet.
Spartan Sauna Heaters of Eveleth, Kuuma Stoves of Tower and Sisu Sauna of Britt often race to catch up with orders.
Scott Heikkinen is a third-generation sauna stove manufacturer, working in the same shop where his father, Jack, and grandfather, Ted, once labored. The shop on the outskirts of Eveleth was a barn on his great-grandfather’s Sparta farmstead.
Scott Heikkinen worked more than a decade as a miner but joined his father full time in the family stove-building business when LTV shut down about five years ago.
If you hadn’t guessed by his name, Heikkinen is Finnish, and saunas have always been a part of his life. For the Heikkinens, building saunas was always about more than earning a living.
For many years, the Heikkinen family built and sold entire custom sauna units.
The Heikkinens refocused on the sauna’s heart — a quality stove.
The design of Spartan stoves has evolved, but Heikkinen said, "We still make them pretty close to the way Grandpa did."
Daryl Lamppa’s business in Tower appropriately draws its name from the Finnish word for hot — kuuma.
Like Heikkinen, Lamppa is a third-generation stove builder. Kuuma Furnaces and Stoves traces its origins to the early 1900s, when Daryl’s grandfather, Richard Lamppa, applied his welding skills to turn 30-gallon oil drums into sturdy sauna stoves for the legions of fellow Finns who settled on the Iron Range. Richard Lamppa honed his welding skills working in shipyards and later at Erie Mining Co.
Daryl joined his father in the stove business 20 years ago and made it his full-time job after they struck upon an improved design for wood furnaces and sauna stoves that produced a hotter, cleaner burn.
George Rule, owner of Sisu Sauna in Britt has built custom saunas for 27 years.
For many years, Rule built saunas in his spare time. But 11 years ago when he quit his job as a supervisor for Potlatch, Rule made sauna-building his career.
Although Rule had made many different types of saunas, he was intrigued by the idea of making one in the shape of a barrel.
For Rule, the breakthrough came when he struck upon the idea of building the barrel around forms, like a boat. He figures that first barrel sauna probably took him 300 hours to build. Now he can turn one out in 26 to 34 hours.