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Finding Minnesota: Alex Comb’s Handcrafted Canoes

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
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DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) – Summertime will bring the annual flood of vacationers onto Minnesota’s many lakes and rivers. And for many of them it will mean peaceful paddling in a canoe or kayak – or maybe a gentle ride in a rowboat.

That’s where Duluth resident Alex Comb comes in.

For the past 33 years, he’s been giving customers what they’re looking for in handcrafted, wooden boats, canoes and kayaks.

Comb’s life when he realized he wasn’t meant for city life.

“And I was driving on I-94 and looked down at my knuckles and they were white,” he said.

So he headed north and traded traffic for the peace and tranquility of the North Shore.

“I was just around boats all my life,” he said.

Comb hung up his shingle – the Stewart River Boatworks. Thirty-three years later, his wood strip canoes, kayaks and rowboats are among the finest afloat.

“I think we have to credit the native Americans for inventing a craft that’s very sophisticated and yet very simple, elegant,” he said.

Each strip of planking is ripped from white cedar boards. Then, piece by piece, carefully riveted to the ribs, forming the craft’s hull. It’s slow, tedious work, but he’d have it no other way.

“I think it was in college that I just thought I’d like to do both,” Comb said. “I like to build wooden, boats because I like woodworking and I like canoeing.”

Other canoes and kayaks might be lighter, but it’s the natural beauty of wood that make these boats so popular. All of Comb’s business is strictly word of mouth.

He sells is boats all over the world.

“I sell plans to Europe a lot,” Comb said. “Then they’re bugging me about materials. Where do I get white cedar? Not there probably!”

Over the years Comb has designed some 30 custom-built Stewart River Boats. But he says his latest solo canoe is one he might want to keep around for his own paddling enjoyment.

To see more of Comb’s work, head over to his business’ website.

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