My nine year old son recently wrote a story about Bill, and one of his sentences reads, "Bill and my dad talked about tools a lot." And usually after a visit with Bill, my wife would complain that all the talk about axes was a little tedious for her.
It's true; Bill and I did talk about tools an awful lot, we never tired of it.
This blog entry is a glimpse into one area of those conversations.
Bill had a particularly keen interest in what he called "Nomadic tools".
He made a distinction between them and "Bench" tools.
Bench tools, such as a smoothing plane or a chisel, are ones which require the use of a bench or a vise.
Examples of some Nomadic tools would be the axe, adze or knife.
The most obvious thing about a nomadic tool is that it is portable and doesn't require the use of a wood shop.
Nomadic peoples work(ed) wood with simple tools, using their bodies or another prop as the "bench".
These journeys and his encounters with the people there kept his interest in simplicity and nomadic tools very fresh.
I think the simplicity and elegance of it really appealed to him.
He often experimented with a single tool in order to see how many different ways he could use it and how many different things he could make with it.
His practical examinations of nomadic techniques gave him a deeper insight into alternative ways of working with wood, which was a huge source of inspiration for his own aesthetic and design.
A scorp which Bill found while traveling in Sweden.
He was cutting the back slats of the chair with his straight knife (the knife he always carried in his front pocket).
I offered him a spoke shave and a block plane, thinking he might find them more efficient.
But he declined, saying, "No thanks. Using Bench tools ties me to that work bench and I'd rather not be tied to a bench."
I've built my house almost entirely with hand tools, and I've occasionally been teased about choosing to use hand tools over power tools. (People seem to feel impatient when I cut a beam with a handsaw).
But there was Bill, choosing to use his knife over a Bench tool, and I appreciated his reasons for it.
For example, he made only round, rather shallow bowls (more like plates) because they were easier to make with the Nomadic process and tools he used.
This past fall, he shaped one using only a compass plane, which I had helped him make by modifying an antique wooden block plane to have a slightly rounded sole.
Using this plane, he said it took him a couple of hours to shape the hollow of the bowl.
He was really excited to have carved the whole inside of the bowl with just the one tool.
A hook knife with toggle.
He would hold the toggle in one hand and the other hand could steer the handle of the knife.
If he secured his bowl blank, he found that he could use both hands to pull the toggled hook knife, giving him a great deal more leverage to remove wood.
This was another technique where he could shape the inside and much of the outside of a bowl with a single, very simple tool.
I have noticed that many people interested in making things for themselves are put off by the task and high cost of organizing tools and a workshop.
Bill reasoned that more people could be encouraged to do handwork if they were introduced to a Nomadic style of woodworking, for the simplicity of Nomadic tools offers an ideal format for anyone with limited space and money for tools.
I still wrestle with giving up some of my expectations around working quickly and efficiently; often things would be easier and quicker with a bench and/or power tool.
Many of our modern and traditional woodworking techniques have been passed down from production woodworkers, so they usually require the bench and often electricity.
But using Nomadic techniques isn't so much about getting it done quickly, instead it's a search for simplicity where the usual priority of efficiency must take a back seat.
I have found an abundance of creativity when I restrict myself to a Nomadic style, which more than compensates me for the extra time and effort spent.
Bill had a collection of chisels, block planes and spokeshaves in his workshop at Dickinson's Reach, but they were always rusty and dull when I reached to use one.
When I asked him about them he told me he just wasn't interested in using them anymore.
His knife, though, was always sharp, and always in that front pocket.
He used it daily.
Here's Bill, using his knife to work on the chair back slats in 2011.