Bill Boyne contacted me a little more than a year ago, and asked me to build him a handrail. Bill learned of me through my best friend Nate, who was his mechanic at the time. Bill had a large piece of redwood that he had been saving for years (at least 10, if I remember correctly) for the purpose of building a handrail, but had been slow getting around to it. I came to learn that Bill was a builder himself, but was now advanced in age and did not feel up to the task of handling this enormous piece of redwood.
Bill spent about 30 minutes with me working out the shape of the handrail, drawing on a small piece of cardboard for me to take with me. A few days later we spoke on the phone and he asked me if I ever used walnut (I do), and mentioned that he had some he'd like to give me, which I could hardly believe. I crafted the handrail and delivered it a week or two later. He looked at it and approved, but wanted to make some modifications to get it ready for installation. And so we spent about two hours working together in his garage, crafting a second piece that would attach to the rail and to the wall. I watched with amazement as he masterfully manipulated his table saw, running his fingers dreadfully close to the blade. I took comfort figuring that, if he still had all of his fingers after all these years using a table saw like that, then I'll probably be OK too.
During those two hours I learned many of Bill's stories, including how he went from teaching high school in Compton to living his retirement on the Peninsula of Long Beach (in a word, laundromats). He also told me a story that has really shaped my thinking in business and wood working. He said that he once built a table for a gal, and wanted to use a highly figured slab of wood with a large knot in the middle. He thought she might not like it, but he loved it, so he proceeded anyway. He delivered it just in time for a party, and she immediately showed her displeasure, saying that she would not accept the table with that large knot. Bill told her to just leave it out for the party with the knot exposed and see what her guests had to say about it. The next day she called and apologized, and said that she'd never received so many compliments on a piece of furniture.
Bill gave me a large stockpile of solid walnut that day, and told me that there was more where that came from. Apparently it had been sitting in a storage unit, left over from his days of carpentry. He also mentioned that he had some wood working magazines that he would like to give me. I also got to know Bill's wife Sally this day, and experienced a great warmth that filled their home. I was completely overwhelmed by the kindness they showered on me.
I spoke to Bill one more time after this. I called him to see if he was done with staining and finishing the rail (something he wanted to do himself) and if he was ready for me to help him install it. He had already gotten a neighbor to help him install it, but told me that it really looked great and that he was very happy with it, and that I needed to come see it. It was shortly after this that I heard from Nate that Bill had passed away. I was deeply saddened, but also deeply grateful for the time I had been able to spend with him.
A few weeks later I got a call from Sally. She was beginning to go through some of Bill's things, and she had an enormous stack of woodworking magazines that Bill had set aside for me. Apparently, he had begun to go through them, photocopying the articles that he thought he might want to reference again so that he could pass the magazines on to me. I went over and met Sally to receive the magazines, and couldn't believe what a cache it was, and even more so the fact that Bill had so thoughtfully set them aside for me like that. Many months went by and, on a few occasions, I found my mind wandering to Bill and those great two hours we spent together, and remembering what a tremendous gift that stockpile of walnut was. I had used it for a number of projects, and had very little left. "There's more where that came from" was a phrase I heard in my thoughts once or twice. Then, this December, I descended one day into the basement (where my wood shop is) and noticed from a distance something highly unusual. I saw as I approached that next to my shop's door lay an enormous amount of walnut, delivered from Sally to Nate to my shop, with a Christmas card from Sally, signed from Bill. It was incredibly moving and a huge lift to my spirits at a time when I really needed it.
I never thought a handrail could be such an incredible project.