An Aumbry for ‘The Furniture of Necessity’

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I am finally – finally – getting my butt in gear on “The Furniture of Necessity,” building the projects for my next book.

The most recent project has been this aumbry. What’s an aumbry? If you don’t follow my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine, here’s the shorthand. An aumbry is an early case piece used to store food, books or anything of value.

You might argue that aumbries are only for holding the sacrament in a church, but you’ll have to talk to Victor Chinnery about that. (See also: Misnomers, Bible Boxes.) My interest in the aumbry stems from the fact that the form evolved into many pieces that we use today: bookcases, cupboards, armoires and the lowly kitchen cabinet.

Oh, and aumbries are dang fun to build.

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In essence, an aumbry is nailed together and features some gothic tracery on the front. The tracery is not merely decorative. It allows air to circulate inside the carcase.

The piercings were covered with cloth on the inside of the case to keep the bugs away. My guess (and the guess of others) is that the cloth would have been undyed linen, which is made from flax.

This aumbry was made from off-the-rack quartered and rift oak. The finish is boiled linseed oil, a wee bit of varnish and brown wax. The hardware is from blacksmith Peter Ross. If you are going to build one of these for yourself, you might want to drop Peter a line now to get in line for the lock, H-hinges and nails needed to build the piece.

All the hardware is secured by clenched wrought nails. It’s a fun way to install hardware (if you like driving while blindfolded).

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I haven’t installed the linen yet; I’m waiting until after a photo shoot next week. While I wait, I’ve been sketching up the drawings for the plate for this project and other plates in “The Furniture of Necessity.” The engraver is going to make these look very nice. So ignore my pixels.

The next project for “The Furniture of Necessity:” Welsh chairs. I can’t wait.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Posted in Furniture of Necessity, Projects | 5 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 25

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Friday: A Tantalizing Peek at the Studley Tool Chest

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Most of the verbiage I’ve read about the H.O. Studley tool chest has been misleading, candy-coated or just silly. I can say this because I’ve spent the last five years embedded with Don Williams, the author of our forthcoming book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley.”

Thanks to the scholarship of Don and his research assistants, we now have a clear(er) picture of Studley and the history of his chest and workbench.

For the first look at some of the real Studley story, I recommend you check out Matt Vanderlist’s blog at “Matt’s Basement Workbench” this coming Friday. Matt was kind enough to do a Skype interview with Don and Narayan Nayar, the photographer on the project.

They chatted with Matt last week while sitting in front of the chest and discussed some of the questions many woodworkers ask: Who was Studley? Why did he build the chest? And what will become of it?

Matt will publish the full 30-minute interview on his blog for free this Friday. Those who support Matt as a Patreon will also get a (very) cool segment we did on the workbench with Narayan manning the camera.

Go there on Friday!

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Virtuoso: The Toolbox of Henry O. Studley | 2 Comments

Suzanne Ellison’s ‘L’art du corbeau’

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If we planned to market “L’art du menuisier: The Book of Plates” to a second genus, it would likely be to the Corvus of the world – the crows. Not only do these birds appreciate shiny objects, but they have been observed both using and making tools (unlike some members of online forums).

Suzanne “Saucy Indexer” Ellison has been spending her free time transforming pre-press proofs of “The Book of Plates” into an art project. Here are her latest images.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Posted in Personal Favorites, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 16 Comments

Where H.O. Studley Shopped

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While a fair number of tools in the H.O. Studley chest were custom-made – most likely by Studley himself – there are a significant number of off-the-rack tools in the chest as well. Lots of Starrett stuff, Brown & Sharpe, Stanley and Buck Bros.

Based on two of the backsaws in the chest, we know that Studley bought them from Chandler & Barber, a well-known ironmonger in Boston that supplied tools for work in metal, iron, wood and leather. The company also was renowned for supplying tools for schools teaching Sloyd and the North Bennet Street school.

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In fact, there is a lot written about Chandler & Barber that our researchers have uncovered, but what we don’t have is a Chandler & Barber catalog from the early 20th century. We haven’t turned up a full catalog of the hardware company’s wares that relate to woodworking tools. We’ve got some pages and snippets, but not a full catalog.

If you have a catalog in your collection and would like to help our last bit of research for “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley,” could you please send a message to Don Williams?

(Yes, we know that Chandler & Barber didn’t manufacture the saws and that they are private label from another maker.)

In the meantime, enjoy these shots of the blade etches on two of Studley’s backsaws and a photo of the display cases at Chandler & Barber’s store on Summer Street in Boston.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. And if you have a photo of Don Williams speaking during the first Roubo Society dinner at Woodworking in America in Covington, Ky., we would love a copy!

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On the Importance of the Studley Tool Chest

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During the last five years, I’ve had more than my share of intimate contact with the famous H.O. Studley tool cabinet. And so wherever I travel I get asked this question: “What’s it like?”

So I lie.

“I hate it,” I say. And then I talk about how stressful it is to unload and load all the 245 tools from such a precious artifact without dropping them or harming the chest.

The truth is, my encounters with the chest have changed both me and my woodworking. (And I’m sure that Don Williams, the book’s author and team leader, and Narayan Nayar, the photographer, would concur.)

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The chest mocks us. It is a piece of craftsmanship and design that is virtually faultless, no matter how close you get to it. It’s an experience you don’t get from looking at the poster of the chest or a picture on a screen. It is something that is best experienced in person.

If you start with your eye about 2” from the chest you can see that the interior surfaces are exquisite. The inlay is seamless. The grain has no defects.

As you step back, you can see how each grouping of tools is organized. They are stepped and scaled in an orderly fashion, some of them looking a bit like a military formation.

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You step back again. And again. Until it is at the back of the room. At no point does it become imperfect.

We are finishing up our shooting and filming of the chest (and Studley’s workbench) this week for the forthcoming book “Virtuoso.” I promise the book will be incredible on every level we can manage. But what I also recommend that you – as a craftsman – make a pilgrimage to see the chest in person in May 2015 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Details at www.studleytoolchestexhibit.com/.

It will humble you, as it has me. And it will inspire you to be a better woodworker or toolmaker. The only reason not to go is if you are already a better woodworker than H.O. Studley.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized, Virtuoso: The Toolbox of Henry O. Studley | 21 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 24

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