Making woodworking tools doesn’t interest me as much as making furniture, but my recent encounter with Henry O. Studley’s tool chest has me eyeing the metals section of the McMaster-Carr web site.
The tool that turned my head is small and simple, but boy do I have a crush on it.
It’s a locking thickness caliper that looks to be made of brass or brass-plated steel. Studley had it mounted in the top left section of the right shell of his chest. It was in the front layer of tools and easy to remove, so I suppose it was used frequently.
I’ve never seen a caliper such as this, and I wonder if he made it himself. There are no maker’s marks on it. If you’ve seen this tool before, let me know. (Maybe we can get it printed on the side of a milk carton. “Have you seen this tool?”)
What I really like about this caliper is that it is ideally suited for handplaning, especially thicknessing boards. You can set the caliper to the finished thickness you require and lock the caliper to that setting. Then you can test your board with the caliper as you work. It works much like a mullet when checking thicknesses of raised panels, but this mullet is adjustable.
The rounded tips of the caliper are one of its nice features. I’ve tried using locking dial calipers to check my thickness as I work and they are difficult to use like this because of the shape of the jaws. Try it, and I think you’ll agree.
Studley’s caliper is made of two plates of .060”-thick metal (probably brass). Its overall length is 3”; its maximum width is 1-11/16”. The locking nut on the back has a 7/16” diameter. The scale at the top of the caliper opens to 1-3/4”.
When I first looked at the chest, my eye was drawn to the infilled mallet in the top right of the cabinet. That one is similar to mallets that I own, but Studley’s mallet (naturally) has a lot more class and detail.
But after examining every one of the tools in his chest, cataloging each one for Don Williams’s forthcoming book on Studley and putting all the tools back in place, it is the caliper that sticks in my memory as the one I wish I could have stuck in my pocket (it’s shameful, I know).
Forgive me Studley, for I have sinned.
— Christopher Schwarz
If you are interested in making your own tools and appliances for handwork, then I highly recommend Jim Tolpin’s book “The New Traditional Woodworker.” This book is a great lesson in using the tools to make the objects that make your tools work even better – a straightedge, winding sticks, try square and so on.