It takes a long time – months, really – to recover your senses after spending time with the tool chest of H.O. Studley.
During our first visit with the chest in 2011, we spent about an hour taking random shots of the thing, as if it might just disappear from the wall at any second. As a result of that first photography session with the chest, we filled up several hard drives with data – both stills, text and video.
But it wasn’t near enough.
This week, Don Williams, Narayan Nayar and I are at an undisclosed location in the Northern Hemisphere to spend three of four more days photographing and documenting the incredible chest of Mr. Studley.
This year, we managed to get our equipment set up quickly. We reviewed our notes from the last visit. And we made a plan while eating cheeseburgers. This blog entry is not about that plan.
Instead, it is about what has been germinating in my head during the 12 months I’ve spent away from the chest, occasionally digging through my photos and notes. I’ve tried to make a personal inventory of the questions I would like to answer this week as I handle every object in this iconic chest.
At the top of the list: Why is the chest arranged the way it is? The organization could be organic, deliberate or deliberately organic. The placement of the tools has mystified me to no end. Why would you put all of your chisels at the back of the chest? Removing a single chisel is akin to parallel parking an 18-wheeler in Manhattan.
Why are all the drill bits and augers (and there are dozens of them) packed behind layers of other tools? And on an on.
During our investigation this evening, Williams made an interesting observation: Many of the tools used for setting out were in the first layer of tools. Here are the setting out tools in the front layer of the chest:
• Five marking, cutting and mortise gauges.
• Three dividers.
• Three calipers.
• Combination square.
• Double square.
• Two rules.
• One scratch awl.
• One thickness gauge.
• Two folding rules.
Another question: Can I learn anything from the edges of the cutting tools and gauges? I plan to spend several hours looking at the business end of the chisels, the planes, the gauges and anything else that cuts wood.
There’s only one sharpening stone in the chest, but I have doubts that it was the only sharpening implement Studley used.
And my last goal: Making sure that every single bit of anything in that chest is inventoried, layer by layer. It’s a tall order. But I might not get another crack at it. So off to bed for me.
— Christopher Schwarz
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