Emerson Pringle – Fine Woodworker

Emerson Pringle makes beautiful wood cheeseboards and cutting boards, and he’ll design and build you a custom harvest table to put them on, too. The County boy who went to Toronto to be an audio engineer came back home a carpenter. Now he focuses on fine woodworking and one-of-a-kind furniture.

“I went to school for sound engineering and did that for six years before my wife and I decided we were ready to start a family and chose to move back to Prince Edward County. I didn’t think I’d find audio work here, so I took a course in carpentry, kind of like high school wood-shop used to be, so when we moved here I was able to work  in construction, framing houses and stuff while we got settled. I got tired of framing houses after a year. I wanted to woodworking, so I quit. Right away I got a commission from friends to make furniture, and that went well, and I began making small pieces to give away as gifts. People really liked my cutting boards so I made more to sell at craft shows and markets and they really took off. I guess it fits with the culinary scene here. Small things like cheeseboards are now half of my business, the other half is custom woodworking, furniture like tables and counter-tops, mantels, bar tops, shelves. It’s all custom designed with the client, so it never gets old for me.

I grew up in The County and lived in Picton most of my life before going away to school in Toronto. We’ve been back six years, and the funny thing is I’m using my audio engineering skills again, doing sound engineering for The Regent Theatre. I was a volunteer there and worked on a recent production of the Rocky Horror Show where I got to know Phil Dowling who does lighting and technical management for the Regent. When the sound man retired, they offered me a paid position and I work with a few of us younger guys now, including Caleb Hutton,  also a County boy, and Chris Sampson who grew up here but lives in Pickering now. He comes down when we need him.

Knowing people is what makes everything possible here, but then it’s easy to get to know people. More importantly, if you talk to people about your plans they are so ready to help . We were particularly lucky, because we told a friend we wanted to move back here, and they knew someone who had just got a place ready for long term rental. We looked at buying, but honestly we’re happy renting this place down in Waupoos. I have a woodworking shop in the garage which is just big enough. These days I divide my time between the Regent and my own custom work and teaching at the Studio Barn. I’m there at least once a month teaching Introductory Woodworking, which is about nine hours of instruction. I show students around the workshop, how to safely operate the machines and handtools and power tools. The course’s goal is to prepare them so they can go in and work at the Studio Barn on their own. We do two projects: a little phone holder and a laminated cutting board. I’ve done three courses since Spring 2018, and we also do a Fun Workshop which is just two hours but we build a little something and learn skills and safety at the same time. We make a live  edge cutting board which people love and also a floater picture frame for canvases. I’ve got lots of ideas that are fun and quick.

I’ve always had limited space for my woodworking, and I’ve always made it work, but having access to the Studio Barn is great. They have equipment I don’t have, special sanders for doing curves and a big band saw. It’s a great resource for both hobbyists and professionals.

WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR WORK

My materials. I use almost 100% solid wood, I specialize in solid wood panel projects. No plywood or particle board unless it’s really needed for a project. I source wood as local as possible. When people ask for exotic lumber I say no, because we’ve got great wood right here in Ontario, there’s no need for exotics. I can get excellent wood in The County. Trevor Miller is a dairy farmer who sells lumber, and I’ve started sawing and drying my own lumber. My uncle has a small band saw mill and last year I built a solar kiln on my grandparents’ property. It’s like a big greenhouse with solar powered fans to dry the air and the lumber. Again, I’m lucky. It’s like the family farm.

FANCY OR PLAIN?

Some of my butcher blocks are more decorative than others. I get inspired by other boards I see and by the wood I find. What I want most is for my boards to be functional – to be used, and some are just solid and plain. For end grain boards I’ll use plain end grain maple and dress it up with a walnut border for that bit of artistic flair to make it special. But then there’s my end grain mosaic with maple, walnut and cherry mixed together in random pieces that is really interesting to look at.

WHERE TO FIND EMERSON’S WORK

I’ve been selling through Zest Kitchen Shop for six years. Since that time, I’ve expanded distribution to the Local Store in West Lake and Kokito in Bloomfield, the Merchants Mill in Consecon, Fifth Town Cheese sells some of my boards. Waupoos Winery use my boards for serving and sell them, too. Agrarian Market has my stuff. I’m at the Wellington Farmers Market every Saturday. I used to travel to do other markets and shows but Wellington works best for me. No need to go to Toronto, because Toronto comes here and the market is half an hour drive for me. It’s getting so popular and so big. I’m lucky I got my spot the second year it was running and I’ve been there ever since. It’s not so easy to get in now. There are just two of us doing boards and the organizers won’t encourage others, two is enough.

FUTURE

There’s definitely demand for my work. I see my business growing, but I have options. I can do more cuttings boards, a lot more wholesale. I could go heavy into counter-tops and mantels because the home business here is booming. But I really enjoy making custom furniture. I love to work directly with the customer. If they want a special dining table, we work right through the process together, looking at pictures of what they like, exchanging ideas. I make a 3D CAD sketch with different options. I give them price options and if it’s a go I get to work building it. I deliver a really custom, handmade piece at the end. It’s what I enjoy best, so that’s probably the way I’ll go. I’ve had employees in the past, and it worked for a while, but I am quite particular and I actually prefer doing most things myself. For the scale I am at, it doesn’t make sense to have a full time employee. Right now I’ll stay small, working in my garage on one thing at a time and enjoying what I do. I received some funding from PELA CFDC to purchase equipment for my startup. A small business that supports me. I have thought about the kind of life I want and tons of admin and paperwork is not part of that!

ADVICE FOR OTHERS

I really wasn’t sure what we were getting into when we moved. I gave up my audio engineering work because I didn’t think the market was here. But here I am six years later doing sound engineering again in rural Ontario. There are a lot of creative things going on here, and I believe the more people you get to know and the more involved you get, the more opportunities open up. If you know what’s happening, you’ll know what’s needed and have an idea whether your business might have a market here. A lot of my customers are from the city, but they really want to buy local. They want to use local tradespeople. They want to buy County-made products. I’m a realist, and that is real. That is what’s happening here.

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