Getting Too Close to the Studley Tool Chest - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Getting Too Close to the Studley Tool Chest

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs


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

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Showing 11 comments
  • 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?


  • larry7293

    Seven figures. Seriously???

  • 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.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      All of the tools in the cabinet show evidence of use. Some of them were heavily used.

      Draw your own conclusions….

  • 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.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      We explored and photographed the back extensively — including the traverse plane marks and the crack through the solid back piece.

  • 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.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      And would you pay the seven-figure bill if you dropped them?

      • 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.

    • 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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