Tower company is running hot with American-made steel

TOWER – “Kuuma” in Finnish means “hot.”

And that pretty much describes the market for the solidly-built wood-fired sauna stoves and furnaces built at Lamppa Manufacturing in Tower.

The company, which uses American made mild and stainless steel, has grown in both size and reputation since Richard and his son Herbert Lamppa started turning old barrels into sauna stoves in the 1930s.

Today, Lamppa Manufacturing ships their high-efficiency sauna stoves and furnaces all over the country. Talk to someone who has built a new sauna— or rehabilitated an older sauna—on the Range, and you’ll likely hear the phrase “we put in a Kuuma.” And the company has overcome recent supply chain challenges to stabilize its business of making what they tout as the most efficient sauna stove and wood-fired furnace on the market today.

Their new manufacturing facility, built in 2020 on the south end of Tower, is several times larger than the old Tower Dairy, which they had been operating out of for decades. Generations of Lamppas had been building ever-more-efficient stoves and furnaces for decades.

Welder Todd Peterson puts some finishing touches on a sauna stove, built with American-made steel.

Welder Todd Peterson puts some finishing touches on a sauna stove, built with American-made steel.

And in all that time, one thing hasn’t changed, said Garrett Lamppa, a fourth-generation Lamppa to work with the company and the current chief executive officer.

The company builds their stoves to last, and to withstand the intense heat generated by their highly efficient stoves. And they build them with American made steel processed by local and regional manufacturers.

“We want the highest-quality materials,” Garrett Lamppa said. “For steel, the highest quality we have found is American-made.”

Lamppa Manufacturing General Manager Dale Horihan explains the difference. When a company orders American-made steel, “there are no inclusions, or impurities,” he said. A lot of steel is made by melting scrap, he said, and it’s important that the new sheet of mild steel not have any stray bits of aluminum, stainless steel, or even unmelted taconite in it, Horihan said. Mild steel is steel with a low carbon content.

If the company orders a certain thickness or length of American-made steel, they can be certain the product will meet their specifications, Horihan said.

“The steel comes in oiled, the dimensions are correct, the thickness is correct, it’s not short a quarter of an inch, and it’s all a consistent thickness,” he said.

It would probably be cheaper to use foreign-made steel, Lamppa said, but to be honest, he isn’t even sure because he never checks the price. Supporting local and regional businesses—including the Iron Range taconite mines—is one of the company’s core beliefs, he said.

“We focus on purchasing locally as much as we can,” Lamppa said. “We want to keep our community strong over here. To save a few dollars on some steel—it’s not worth it in the long run.”

Lamppa Manufacturing works with Louis Industries in Paynesville, Jacklin Steel in Traverse City, Mich., Range Steel in Hibbing and Bemidji Steel.

The 9,000 square-foot Lamppa Manufacturing building is owned by the city of Tower and leased by the company. Lamppa Manufacturing originally planned to lease just half the building, but quickly realized they needed the entire space to ramp up stove and furnace production.

Garrett Lamppa’s office shares a wall with the manufacturing half of the building, and most days he hears the repeated “clunk, clunk” sound of sheet metal trimmings dropping from a shear as an employee begins to assemble another stove.

A tour of the manufacturing floor reveals piles of birch logs stacked here and there. The wood is used to test the stoves. Walls are lined with shelves holding pre-cut mild steel, ready to be assembled and welded together. Finishing welders like Lee Skager and Todd Peterson are sending showers of sparks up in separate welding bays, and finished sauna stoves get coats of black paint in the self-contained painting room.

Employees work four 10-hour shifts per week, a schedule that has helped attract and keep quality workers on the job during a time of local labor shortages, Lamppa said. The company has trained many of their employees on the job.

The shipping area is lined with boxes that are being shipped, indeed, all over the country. Boxes are labeled with addresses in California, Washington, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Georgia, Ohio, New York, and Virginia, while another part of the manufacturing floor is covered with pallets of stoves that are waiting for locals to pick them up.

Until recent years, about 75 percent of Kuuma stoves were sold locally, and the remaining 25 percent were shipped, Lamppa said. Today, that’s exactly the opposite. Garrett Lamppa invested in the company’s website, building it slowly and “organically,” he said, to capture people searching for quality stoves from around the country. Now, when searching for furnaces and sauna stoves through Google, Kuumas pop up right near the top of the list. It took 10 years to work their way to the top of the list, Lamppa said.

Lamppa Manufacturing’s customer base is willing to pay the extra money for a well-built product using American steel, Garrett Lamppa said. “If they are buying from us, they are looking for a quality product.”

Janna Goerdt lives and runs a farm near Embarrass. When she isn’t working on the farm, mothering her twin boys, or writing, she likes to prowl the new non-fiction shelf at the Virginia Public Library. She can be reached at janna@htfnews.us.

 

Kuuma stoves by Lamppa Manufacturing