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Primitive sauna

After returning from the islet, we decided to go take a look for a possible location to experiment with a primitive sauna. There is a small garden pond in the upper corner of my yard, and next to the pond there are sandy banks which tend to grow a thicket of young trees. One year we cleared most of the thicket, since I've been dreaming about turning the sandy banks into a some sort of garden with apple trees, berry bushes, decorative flowers and a lean-to shelter. Well, we examined the terrain around the pond and found a perfect place for a primitive sauna. Instead of just planning and talking we felt like giving it a try.

My son levelled a small roundish area for the stove. His girlfriend removed some of the small trees which had started to regrow. We placed stones and rocks to form a primitive sauna stove - basically three wall sections, and then stones leaning onto each other to make kind of a ceiling. Since the bigger stones go first, all remaining holes are piled with smaller and smaller rocks and stones. The idea is to burn fire in the fireplace, so that the flames seek their way through the heap of stones and rocks. Burning fire for several hours will make the stove hot.

This was the first time we experimented with a sauna stove all built from natural stones - no cement to hold stones together, no metal pieces for additional support. But, just carefully placing stones so that they support each other, the whole stove got assembled rather quickly. We started a fire under the stove, and were pleased to see smoke seeping through - it works! While the fire was burning, I cut down slender tree trunks for a quick make-shift support structure. Without that much planning we tied the pieces together to form a simple structure which we estimated would be enough to hold a plastic tarp.

We used an old door to construct a simple sauna bench, on the slope above the stove. The bench should be about the level of the top of the stove, as all the heat and steam will be above that level, too. Just to make it more comfortable, we covered the bench with old mats.

As you might know, one of the finnish sauna traditions is to beat yourself with a bunch of birch branches. I mean, it has to be soft young branches with a lot of leaves - after being soaked in water that kind of vihta is actually a rather pleasant way to soothe tense muscles. So, we made two vihtas, and put each into a bucket of water. After nearly three hours we let the fire go out, hoping that the stove is hot enough. We covered the supporting structure with plastic tarps. While one sleeve of tarp was still wide open, my son poured two scoops of water onto the stove - that cleans most of the ash from the stove, and any remaining carbon monoxide goes out too. After that we sealed the last section of tarp-wall, and went into our very first primitive sauna.

As soon as we got inside the sauna we were happy to feel it work surprisingly well. Even with just a thin tarp as ceiling and walls, a lot of heat was trapped indoors. My son poured several scoops of water onto the stove, filling the sauna with hot steam. That made us sweat in a sweet, relaxing way. Like, in this kind of sauna the steam isn't burning hot, but more like soothingly mellow. And all the moisture in the air makes it easy to breathe, clearing your nose, bronchus and lungs. We went swimming in the pond, came back to beat ourselves with birch vihtas, and had some more löyly. A lot of löyly, a lot of steam. Until the stove started to cool down.

Probably one of the best experiments we have ever tried, and one of the most fun and refreshing mid-summer sauna experiences!

Heating up the primitive sauna stove
Heating up the primitive sauna stove
My son watching the fire burning
My son watching the fire burning
A make-shift support structure
A make-shift support structure
All set and ready for a primitive sauna bath
All set and ready for a primitive sauna bath
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