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How does one safely heat rocks for a sweat lodge/sauna with propane?


Community Member

Since I was a child I have participated in sweat lodge/kiva ceremonies but I recently ran into some problems when I tried to build one on a friend's property. My friend was unconcerned but the neighbours flipped out at the first sign of smoke. Traditionally a fire is built to heat the rocks. hot rocks are then carried into the lodge where water+herbs is poured over them to create steam inside the lodge. Even tho' the location is as safe as possible (near a cave & waterfall a few feet from a stream) the neighbours don't understand so I must find an alternative means of heating. I could place a double burner (propane) on cinderblocks to heat the rocks but I am concerned about the amount of time and gas it would take to do this with a normal regulator valve. It seems to me I should be able to heat rocks within 20 minutes if I used a large propane tank and could somehow safely remove the valve. Any suggestions?
Thank you all for your excellent responses. I'll try to address them as I can.
Mr. TwoCrows: Thanks. "Settling" holds different meaning for me.
First, while I honor and respect your tradition, I should say I am not a "twinkie" looking for claims to blood or religion. My blood is my own as is my belief and my intention. I have no interest in "pet-agree" 😉 either. I am equally proud of my 'Indian' and Scandinavian heritage which both "sweat". FYI...'Kiva' 'sauna' and 'sweatlodge' were intended as search tags.
Yes. I asked permission at the site & had it from the landowner. Neighbors in the mountains have their own reasons (IYKWIM) for not wanting the fire department called in by another neighbor concerned about smoke. This is not my issue, alone.
I realize I have not had a 'proper' fire ceremony. Considering my mixed heritage and lack of resources out in CA, would you recommend anything better?
As mentioned, I've participated in many sweats (Chickamauga, Tewa, Ohlone and Karuk). I wish this to be a more regular part of my life & no, steam won't do 🙂
Thanks for the good advice. 🙂 I should mention I am a former student of geology. I do have some experience with rocks but also with those used in both sweats and saunas. (rocks with water in them can explode) It is just that traditionally, I have not built one alone (apart from the hole-in-the-ground type) and we have always had a full day ceremony with fire.
I understand both the spiritual and health benefits to having a sweat but I cannot always travel to locations where they are regularly held.
I only did this once and I had a fire for about 4 hours. Many neighbours walk through paths in the forest although the property actually belongs to a friend of mine who owns 3 ridges up there. It was the concern of just one who seemed more concerned about disturbance by fire officials than by anything but obviously the people living nearby in the mountains are concerned about their homes and potential wildfires. Hadn't thought of inviting, as this was personal but perhap
InJoy 🙂 Thanks. Nice name, too.
I know, I was wondering about that but just not sure how to get around this. I'd definitely prefer a fire but I don't want problems either.
Propane seemed the best option. Guess I need to think some more.

5 Answers
Community Member

all you need is to get a outdoor gas burn used for camping and put it on the ground and put 2 blocks on either side and put a grill grate over them and put your rocks on that to heat them up id put the burner on med or low at first if ya do it to high it might crack the rocks from the high temp or you could justbuy an out door camping stove that has the controls on it and just put them on that and that way you can clse the lid and they may heat faster and you wouldnt use as much gas

Community Member

Cruise yard sales for a used barBQ or hibachi, and make sure you're not using a type of rock that can explode if you get it too hot.
What's with your neighbors, anyway? Are you making excessive smoke? Are you restricted by city ordinance or neighborhood association rules? Is there a forest fire danger emergency measure in effect? Are you doing this on private land that doesn't belong to you? Did you neglect to invite the neighbors into the sweat lodge with you? I just wonder if they are being busy bodies, and is it any of their business.

Community Member

sounds like a nice location!!
perhaps there is a fireplace near by? wood could be burned in it and then hot coals (which produce little or no smoke) could be transferred to a fire pit to then heat rocks in.
for whatever reason the thought of using a fuel like propane that includes refined petroleum to heat holders of the ancient knowledge of the Earth doesn't seem appropriate
as propane is highly flammable, removing a valve on a large propane tank and attempting to safely ignite the gas probably is more risky than it is worth.

Community Member

DID you get permission to build this KIVA?
and were did you get your fire from?
IF you've done this since childhood you SHOULD know the rules.
I'd say this is THEIR (lookin up) way of stopping you from doing something wrong. There are NO short cuts, if your willing to settle for artificial heat, just go to a gym that has a steam room.

Community Member

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