Chris Schwarz's Blog

My Favorite Tool from the H.O. Studley Tool Chest

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.

35 thoughts on “My Favorite Tool from the H.O. Studley Tool Chest

  1. jonas baker

    Wow I have this exact caliper, and it is definitely my favorite caliper, not that I’m a collector. Mine is definitely not home made, as there is a makers mark in it, and I can’t remember the name but it is made in Newark, NJ. I got this at a flea market, from a guy who worked at a scrap yard, and he would rescue any items he thought were cool, and luckily for me this caliper was one such item. Very neat to hear that one is in the studley chest!

  2. Darrell S 4001

    One of the not so obvious pluses for this caliper is that it can be used as an “inside” caliper to measure the diameter of a hole or the width of a rabbet. That’s why the markings go in both directions from zero.

  3. TNWoodwright

    I keep an inexpensive set of open end wrenches around for planing to thickness. They are go-nogo and they come in 16’ths 🙂

  4. Marty

    These are rather common, aren’t they? Certainly not as ornate as Studley’s, but they can be had many places. A quick search shows that Peachtree sells one at (near the bottom of the page is the ‘manual’ version).

    I want to say that I’ve even seen them at my local big box store.

  5. corgicoupe

    Well, it looked familiar so I went back to scrounging in a small toolbox that my dad had left. Sure enough, there was the same tool. Mine is 6″ in length, made of steel, and also has no maker’s mark. It is, unfortunately, missing the locking screw, but the hole is threaded so it should not be difficult to find a replacement. Because of the increased length, the maximum measurement along the top arc is 3.75″. There are some indications that this tool too was hand made, such as minor lack of symmetry and some less-than-smooth curves. Dad would have been 100 in 3 months, but I have no way of knowing where it came from or where he got it (which seems to be true of a lot of things he left).

    Is there some way to attach a photo?

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