DULUTH, Minn. -- On a frosty winter morning, wood smoke wafted from the workshop outside Geoff Vukelich's home north of Duluth, just up the road from the Rice Lake dam.
What seems odd, however, is that he has a wood stove at all. Vukelich has such a love affair with wood that it's hard to see him parting with any piece to burn.
"Yes, I have saved pieces (of firewood) over the years that talked to me," he admitted.
Vukelich, 37, grew up here on the family homestead, and still lives next door to his parents with his wife, Katie, and two rescue dogs, Brie and Milo.
For his day job, he's a supervisor in the City of Duluth's Street Maintenance Department. But he's been building his own fishing rods, landing nets, canoe paddles, snowshoes and other outdoor gear for two decades. About 10 years ago he started selling some of his handmade gear. Gradually that business has grown, all by word of mouth, all custom work.
He calls it Dam Goods and Gear. You might call it functional art.
"I'm kind of at a disadvantage because people want to see examples of my work and I really don't have any. I build them one at a time, specifically for each customer, and then they're out the door," Vukelich said, conceding that "it's not a very good business model to never have any stock on hand for people to look at or buy."
But it's a model that Vukelich is sticking with. It's more of a life philosophy.
"My definition of true custom work is that the customer is part of the build from the start," he said. He wants to know how and where you fish, what you fish for and what makes you happy on the water.
"I realize that not everyone is willing to be that involved (when buying outdoor gear). It's a niche of a niche," he said of his business. "Our goal is that it's more than a paddle, more than a rod. It sounds pie-in-the-sky, but it's what I do."