David Priest has had a passion for woodworking since he was a child growing up in Maine. He moved to St. Augustine six years ago and owns Old Colony Woodworks, where his hobby has now become his full-time job and he never takes any day or project he works on for granted.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am originally from Maine, where I spent the first 25 years of my life and still have a couple of relatives up there.
I always had a passion for woodworking since I was a kid, and I think the creative side of me was inherited from my mother and her father “Gramp.”
As the youngest of four boys, I was sort of in the background, and watched my brothers rebuild car engines, bake wedding cakes and write poetry while I chose to tinker with wood.
I eventually got into world of entertainment, being a district manager for theaters across the Northeast, but all the while never gave up my passion for wood and would make things any chance I got, such as making furniture for the homes my wife and I lived in.
What led you to getting into woodworking full-time?
I kept it up as a hobby over the years, but then a friend of mine’s wife passed away from cancer and asked if I could make her cremation box.
I made the box for him, and the funeral director came up to me afterwards and asked if I had made the box and that I should think about doing it for a living.
So, in 2009, I left my corporate job and followed his advice.
We had bought a house in the Old Colony part of Massachusetts, south of Boston, and that’s where the name Old Colony Woodworks came from.
Six years ago, we made the move to Florida and St. Augustine, and with all it’s history as the oldest city the name Old Colony seemed to still fit, so we kept it.
Is there something you specialize in making?
I started doing a lot more than just funeral boxes, and now I do everything from charcuterie boards and picture frames to furniture and other assorted items.
The customer and the wood pretty much lead where things go, and I try to make sure they are getting what they want and are in search of.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It’s a nice distraction, because when you’re there with the wood, you have to give it your full attention, which allows you to kind of get lost in the work and forget about what else is going on in the world.
My brother was a full-time officer in the Air Force and loved woodworking as well, but he passed away from cancer and never got to experience his hobby full-time.
His words really hit me, and I never take any day of woodworking for granted.
I had a customer in Massachusetts that was emotionally upset to the point where he could barely speak over the phone because he had lost his fiancé and wanted me to create her cremation box. I remember, he wanted an owl engraved on it.
Three months later, he was able to talk, and he told me how much he appreciated the work I had done.
It’s a tremendous satisfaction to know that I can make an impact on people’s lives like that through my work.
I spent 30 years working in the corporate world and was very successful, but I never made a difference like I am now.
What are some of the challenges you encounter?
You have to take what the wood gives you, and sometimes a person may want a certain wood that is just not available anymore, so you have to improvise.
One of the things I get most passionate about is a particular type of wood called “American Chestnut,” which was the primary wood used in construction projects in America going back to the 1800s, but a virus killed all the American Chestnut trees, so that wood is not around anymore.
I have found some reclaimed wood, but that’s the only way you can fins it anymore. And if you’re someone like me and grew up with things made from American Chestnut, you came to appreciate it and miss it.
What do you love most about living on the First Coast?
My wife is a conference planner, so we’ve been pretty much all over the country, and we eventually had the chance to check out St. Augustine, the fort and everything else it had to offer.
We loved it so much we came back that December to experience Nights of Lights and we knew it was where we wanted to make our home.
We play golf and do a lot of other outdoor activities, and not having to shovel snow during the winter is very nice as well.
One of our Christmas Day traditions is waking up that morning and taking a walk across the Bridge of Lions with friends.