Chris Schwarz's Blog

Learning to Speak ‘Studley’

Today we inched our way through the process of documenting the tools in the H.O. Studley chest with high-resolution, for-publication photographs. It is grueling work that’s done in the dark, punctuated by blinding flashes and always coated in the fear of dropping one of the tools to the floor below.

All told, there are more than 80 tool groupings to document. And each grouping needs at least a dozen photos. Tools that Studley made or modified require even more photos and measurements so that we can map out the shapes that his hands like to create.

After handling every tool it’s obvious that Mr. Studley liked:

• 1/16″ beads on his ebony handles.
• Flats on tools that tended to roll on the bench.
• Three decorative incised lines on the bulbous area of the handle.
• Grecian coves and ovolos (as opposed to Roman ones).

In fact, his language is so distinct as it’s repeated on every element of his chest and tools that it’s obvious when you stumble on a tool or repair that was made by someone who did not speak fluent “Studley.” There is a screwdriver in the chest that is obviously a later addition made by someone who thought (wrongly) that he could turn.

As Don Williams and Narayan Nayar and I became more attuned to these details, we began to revise our own assessments from our visit last year. We now doubt that he modified his (very rare) Humphrey shave. Yeah, it looks a little off. But it doesn’t look like his work.

Still, we have a lot of work ahead in the coming days and reserve the right to change our minds. After two days of work, we’ve only completely documented about 20 percent of the tools (and this current effort builds on last year’s work).

So when will this book be ready? Probably two years from now. Will it be worth it? We think so.

The goal is to explain every tool and every detail of this chest. But more than that, Williams has been researching the maker. Eighteen months ago he enlisted the help of a senior Mason to explore that avenue. Plus there are military records, the Quincy, Mass., historical society, birth records and news clippings.

Add those to what we are learning of the tools, and I think that we’ll have a good portrait of Mr. Studley, who truly was a virtuoso.

— Christopher Schwarz


Up tomorrow: We’ll finish documenting the individual tools. The resolution on the photographs is jaw-dropping. Example: In a photo of the Studley’s thickness caliper we can see tiny shavings that are wedged into the inscribed lines on the tool’s scale. It goes beyond what the naked eye can see. Williams is working on a video tour of the entire chest and completing the book’s outline. Me? I’m in charge of coffee and moving stuff.

You may also be interested in “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz.

11 thoughts on “Learning to Speak ‘Studley’

  1. chopnhack

    Chris, did you ever think that woodworking would take you down the path of an archaeologist? Very exciting and interesting work for hand tool aficionados everywhere. I for one think that what is being done would be equivalent to induction into the hall of fame for woodworkers and Studley would be astonished that his tool box has garnered such fame and study.

  2. John Vernier

    I say take your time and get it right. Meanwhile, the photos you have been posting are unlike anything most of us have ever seen. They will certainly hold my attention. Now, if you think you have begun to identify Studley’s working fingerprints, do you think there is any chance of tracking down a piano or organ case as a comparison? No doubt such objects were a group effort and certainly anonymous, but just on the off chance, it would be instructive to see what Studley’s day-job work was like.

  3. ArmedWithABanjo

    Hi Chris,
    What’s the chance of getting a nice high resolution photo out soon so that I can make a nice A3 print and hang it in my office while I wait for the Book to be completed?
    I’m happy to pay for it, maybe you could offer it up on the LAP website.
    Thanks, Stephen Halliday (UK)

  4. Jim McCoy

    A number of years ago I bought a poster of that tool chest and I was amazed and in awe. It still amazes me whenever I look at it. Now I am really looking forward to the book. I’m ready to be amazed again.

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