Chris Schwarz's Blog

Getting Too Close to the Studley Tool Chest

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Photographer Narayan Nayar shot me a look of disdain – perhaps the first time I’ve ever been on the receiving end of that particular facial contortion.

“I just can’t believe you guys are being such babies,” he said.

Narayan was right. Don Williams and I were balking at what seemed a simple request: Move H.O. Studley’s workbench into the middle of the room. Then lift Studley’s tool cabinet off the wall and place it onto the benchtop.

Truth is, I was terrified of every verb and noun in that sentence. After three years of documenting the chest and its contents for a forthcoming book, I was (almost) comfortable touching it. Heck, I could even turn my back on it occasionally.

But moving it? Putting it on the workbench? And then moving it around for all manner of photographs? Nope. Neither my brain nor my hands were willing.

Lucky for you, Narayan won the day. And 10 minutes later I was on the hinge end of Studley’s chest and lifting it off its wall cleats. Don and I were surprised at how lightweight the unloaded chest was.

Lucky for me, Don is a woodworker and furniture conservator. I loathe moving furniture with the help of non-woodworkers. They bump every wall and door jamb between the origin and the destination. When I move furniture or lumber with a fellow woodworker, it’s more like a dance that we both have practiced. We don’t have to talk much to communicate complex motions to get an object to its destination unscathed.

Within minutes, the tool cabinet was sitting on the bench. We reloaded it with its contents. And we were all struck with the beauty of the new juxtaposition.

That rush of endorphins lasted for two days – until we had to put the cabinet back on the wall.

— Christopher Schwarz

11 thoughts on “Getting Too Close to the Studley Tool Chest

  1. frozen1

    The crudeness of the cleat system on the back is not in keeping with the fine workmanship of the cabinet. I would expect to see a french cleat or other more refined mounting system. This makes me question whether this was an addon or replacement by a later owner. Is there any evidence it was original?

    The picture of the corner shows two layers making the face of the door. Is the outer layer just a decorative overlay? Is the inner layer there to reinforce the torsional weakness of the face frame joint?

    I understand it takes two men and three boys grunting in unison to move the loaded cabinet. What are the unloaded and loaded weights?

    The kneehole design of the bench base looks like it was intended for sitting to do fine detail work. True?

    Thanks
    Dan

  2. sawdustdave

    I appreciate the beauty of the chest and bench. But I cannot imagine using them. But then, they are from a different time and set of “norms”. My own bench is nice, but not beautiful. My chests hold their tools – and not nearly as tightly packed as is this one! But then, again, I have space, and my tools don’t travel.

    I do find this an amazing chest, though! I cannot imagine getting to the shop and having that waiting for me.

  3. Jonathan Szczepanski

    Please tell me you are going to photograph the back, because it doesn’t look that nice. Finally evidence that if I can’t see it, I don’t need to make it pretty. Also, I was surprised at the dovetail orientation. I thought the tails would have been on the sides, not the top and bottom.

  4. robert

    It’s a tool box. And a workbench. Very pretty, but treating them like they are Icons?

    These items were meant to be used to create other, beautiful things, in the hands of skilled craftsman. I, like many woodworkers, hope that my tools will continue to be used long after I am gone, and not set on some shelf, mantle or under glass.

      1. McDara

        Not to mention, the bloody thing IS an Icon. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve stared at the poster and computer screen wall paper I would say it’s the woodworking equivalent of the Mona Lisa. Tell me of another single piece as famous. If I had to guess I would say the first of the seven figures is not a 1.

    1. tsstahl

      I’m as practical as they come. I don’t scoff at anything with a useful life left in it.

      However, the Studley ensemble is definitely a case of the whole being much more than the sum of the parts.

      I would be honored to have my tools treated in a such a manner. I’ll be proud indeed if I live to see a future generation actually use my tools. :)

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