Canoe BuildingBy NIKKI ROWELL,
It has been said that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. Jon Carter, owner of Pearl River Door Company, finds this to be true.
His passion for woodworking was ignited as a child. “My granddad was a wood working hobbyist,” Carter said. “He had his shop in the backyard, so I would go out and pick up the scrap wood, and I would make something.”
The North Jackson native recalls one of his first creations: a model airplane he made for his first-grade teacher.
“She took me to the library and got me a book on it,” he said.
“I checked that book out probably 10 times that year. (Woodworking has) always been something that I did. As I got older, the more I got into it.”
While Carter’s business has garnered much success over the years, what really brought him social media fame among his friends was his latest project: a 17-foot canoe.
It all started when Carter was selecting a profile photo for his Facebook page.
He scrolled through his phone’s photo gallery and selected a photo he took of a canoe that he has been working on for some time.
His wife shared the photo, and the responses began rolling in.
“I was doing a job for a contractor in town,” Carter said. “He was pressed for time, so he brought all this wood in for a project. He needed it the next day, so we stayed all night and got it done.”
The project left a lot of small strips of wood behind.
“They hung around for weeks while I tried to think of something to do with them,” Carter said. “I didn’t want to throw it away.
“One day it just popped into my head that I could make a canoe. Just on a whim.”
Carter began watching videos and reading all he could on the subject.
“Just whatever I could get my hands on,” he said. “I sat down and came up with a design. I took a couple of different boats that I saw and combined what I liked about each one of them and made my own and went to work.
“I don’t think there’s any original boat design out there now since there’s so many,” Carter added. “So I just took some different designs and combined what I liked about them.”
While this is his first experience with designing and building a boat, he plans to make another.
“It’s very enjoyable,” he said.
Carter and his son have big plans for the canoe once it is complete.
“I’m gonna build this thing, gonna take my son, we’re gonna jump in it and we’re gonna hit Pearl River, and when we reach the Gulf we will call my wife to pick us up,” Carter said. “She’s (going to) fight me all the way on that one, but I’m bound and determined that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Carter said every piece of this project is a byproduct of something from his door shop.
The majority of the wood is fir, with mahogany and poplar accents.
“It’s just stuff that I didn’t want to throw away,” he said.
The canoe has been in the works for about six months.
“I’ve just been piddling,” Carter said. “I probably haven’t spent a full weekends’ worth of work on it altogether. It gets really busy, and I get distracted. But if there’s a really hard day at the office, I’ll get away and just spend some time working on it. It’s almost therapeutic.”
The hull is almost complete.
“I just have to scrape and sand it,” Carter said. “The outer hole and inner hole will be fiber glass and epoxy coat to give it strength and make it waterproof.”
Carter said he is going to try his hand at creating his own seats.
“I’ve been trying to teach myself that,” he said. “And, of course, it will not be complete without a set of paddles.”
“I’m always challenging myself, really, to see what I can make out of scraps,” he added.
Carter followed his love of wood-working to Mississippi State University, along with his high school sweetheart, now wife.
While attending the university, Carter got a job working at a cabinet shop when he was a freshman.
“I was missing it, and I didn’t have a shop at my house,” he said. “I learned a tremendous amount that year. I ended up working there the entire time I went to state.”
He graduated from MSU with a degree in landscape architecture. He told his wife when they moved back to North Jackson that he would need a shop.
“We ended up finding a house with a shop in the backyard, and I was able to keep making furniture for people,” he said.
The couple returned to the area because he said it has always felt like home for them.
“There really wasn’t anywhere else that we wanted to go,” he said.
While he loved the field he earned his degree in, he returned to his passion: woodworking.
“I love doing it, but I always had a passion for woodworking,” Carter said. “Even when I was practicing, I would work on a piece of furniture. Then by mistake, someone was complaining about the door they got. So, I told him I could build him one. One thing led to another and years later I’m making doors for all of these builders.”
He told his boss at the time, “I’ve created a monster, and now I have to go tend to it.”
Carter began his business in 2003 and has not looked back.
“There have been ups and downs, but I don’t dread going to work every day,” he said.
The business began with him just making custom entry doors.
“Over the years, we have evolved,” he said. “Now I’ve got basically three companies I run out of the same place. We have a builder grade line of doors, cabinet doors, custom doors. We do a lot of custom doors. We’ve gotten into full architectural millwork. Rafter tails, gable vents, shutters, hand rails. The whole nine yards when it comes to architectural millwork.
“It ... grew bigger than I ever expected,” Carter said.
Eventually, he realized that Jackson is not the only market for these custom products. And now Pearl River Door Company is shipping its wares all across the country.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to where we are now,” he said.
Much of his time is spent working with his customers and making them understand exactly what they are getting.
“I started this because I love the wood working and making things with my hands,” he said. “Now I try to sell to customers by educating them on the product. I spend a lot of time talking with customers and working with vendors to create different products.”
The company has anywhere from 10 to 20 jobs going at any given time.
“We try not to release too many to the shop floor to make it too confusing,” he said. “It’s a full-time job keeping it straight and getting everything out on time. We’re always quoting jobs and chasing down work. First in, first out is how we like to keep it.”
Carter’s work carries over into his home. He built the dining room table where his family shares meals; the coffee table and sofa tables that they use when spending time together in the living room; and the bedroom furniture where they rest at night.
He built this furniture not only for his love of woodworking, but to create quality pieces that have meaning to them for his family to create new memories around each day.
“It has meaning to it. It’s quality,” he said. “It wasn’t just pressed together in some factory.”
Carter remembers moving into his first home with his wife and acquiring furniture.
“We didn’t have a desk, so I went to Home Depot and bought a bunch of 2X8s and made one.”
The desk now is right at home in Carter’s office.
Much of what Carter builds is made from reclaimed wood.
“That’s our niche is reclaimed wood,” he said. “We will take old beams and make doors out of them.”
Eventually a photo of one of his reclaimed pine wood doors made it onto Pinterest.
“We get calls just about every week for that same door,” Carter said.
Carter has made everything from trinket boxes with logos or monograms on the front to switch plate covers to make use of scrap wood.
“I always try to take something I’m going to throw away (and make it) in to something new,” he said.