The smoke sauna is the holy grail of all saunas according to many Finns. In this posting, we take a small look into this old-school Finnish sauna that has started to regain popularity and interest in recent years.

What is a smoke sauna?

The core of what separates a smoke sauna from other types of Finnish saunas is that the heating is directed to the sauna stones on top of the stove instead of the sauna building/room.

The building itself has no chimney. The smoke traverses the stove and exits the room through a small vent on the highest point of the wall. There can be one or more of these vents. The smoke creates a so-called smoke ceiling or a smoke limit inside under which the air is clear and on top, the air is filled with smoke.

Additional heating cannot be done during bathing thus the stove has to have more heat-storing stones than in a continuously heated sauna.

Typically situated in a separate building, heating the sauna is not done in a haste. Even the newest smokes saunas take at least four hours to heat but traditionally the sauna is heated for up to eight hours, the exact time depending on the size of the building/room.

When the stones are hot enough and the sauna stove’s nest is extinguished, “Häkälöyly” is thrown. Häkälöyly means throwing water on the stones with which most of the soot and small particles adhering to the surface of the stones are released into the air.

After this, the sauna is ready for sauna goers.

The long heating time, the amount of wood and the work needed to start the sauna can also be considered to make the whole bathing experience more “worthy”.

Kallio, Toini Olga 1860-1891, Museovirasto, Finland

Ancestral remedy

The smoke naturally disinfects the sauna as well as gives the sauna its characteristic odour and colour.

In Karelia, the smoke sauna is called a black sauna. This is because the internal surfaces of the sauna are dark and sooty due to the smoke.

The smoke sauna is said to be “a counterweight to the noise and exhaustion of everyday reality”. It has its own special scent and the steam is soft. It is an ancestral kind of sauna experience since this is how all saunas were once built. Chimneys were added at a later point in history.

In the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, smoke sauna was depicted as a source of strength and remedy.

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