The Studley Tool Chest
Some years ago I was in a craft store when I saw a framed print of a superb cabinet makers tool chest. I didn't have the opportunity to find out anything about the print at the time.
I decided I wanted a copy of the print and tried searching on the internet but that produced nothing. I also checked local print shops. None of them had the print. Finally, I asked in a usenet discussion group for woodworkers. They were very helpful and told me that the toolchest had been made by an American cabinet maker called H O Studley. They also told me where I could get a copy of the print.
H O Studley was a master craftsman who worked as a machinist, organ and piano maker in Boston. Sometime between 1890 and 1920 he made a tool chest which is reckoned to be the finest of its type ever made and is occasionally exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington.
The tool chest is 39” long, 19.5” wide and 9.5” deep and was designed to hang on a wall and open like a book when in use. Studley not only made the chest but some of the almost 300 tools within it. Each tool has its own placeholder and the design and execution are so fine that, when the two halves are closed, the tools fit together with hardly any clearances. The design must have required hundreds of hours of planning.
Studley used premium materials, including mahogany, rosewood, ebony, ivory and mother of pearl. He was a Mason and the chest contains numerous symbols that are significant to Masons.
Some of the tools were purchased but others were made by Studley, including rosewood, brass and ebony marking gauges.
Soon after Studley finished the chest woodworking machines started to supplant hand tool craftsmanship and there would have been no reason for anyone but a hobbyist to have such a collection of tools.
Studley's wife predeceased him and the couple had no children. The chest was bequeathed to an attorney who was the grandfather of the present owner. It is still in private ownership, though sometimes on loan to the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian Museum spent 245 hour on restoring the chest before it was exhibited. This page shows the repairs that were made and the tools replaced.
Taunton Press published a very informative four page article about the tool chest in the May 1993 [issue 100] edition of Fine Woodworking. They also published a print of the chest and I have a framed copy in my study.
Both the print and the May 1993 edition of Fine Woodworking were out of stock for a while. The print is now back in stock and can be obtained from here.
Taunton has some back issues of Fine Woodworking here but the May 1993 issue appears to be unavailable. A scan of the article can be found here.
Recently I found this YouTube video about the tool chest. This shows it to be even more intricate that can be seen from the print. For example, I had not realised that the tools were stored in layers.
The tool chest is a magnificent instance of a level of craftsmanship that I suspect no longer exists.