So Aren’t You Inconsistent on Tool Chests?

This week I have been taking a fair amount of flinged poo – both private poo and public poo – about my involvement with Don Williams’s forthcoming book “Virtuoso: The Toolbox of Henry O. Studley.”

The flinged feces goes something like this: As the author of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” which argues for a simple and flexible chest, aren’t you a hypocrite for getting the masses excited about a chest that espouses an opposite viewpoint?

The Studley toolchest is an icon of our craft for several reasons. It is the Farrah Fawcett poster-child for the wall-hanging tool chest set. It is a socially productive application of obsessive behavior. It is, on one level, tool pornography. And it is a touchstone to a different kind of tool chest that was made by patternmakers.

If Studley and I were to sit down and have a beverage, I think we would agree on some things and disagree on others. He and I see eye-to-eye on the fact that you should have a limited set of quality tools – the best you can afford. We agree that all these tools should be in a chest that is easily accessible from the bench. And we would agree that making your own tools – or modifying stock tools – is good practice.

Where we seem to disagree is on the way we achieve these goals. Studley fitted every tool into a single-purpose slot. Studley put every tool in its place. And with great gothic style. I prefer the flexible school – I want my tools to be “free range,” for lack of a better expression.

Perhaps our personality differences could be summed up like this: When growing up, Studley probably preferred that his peas and gravy remained separate. Me, I like a melange of peas, gravy, bread crusts, cranberry jelly and bits of bird flesh in every fork-full.

But despite these small differences, I actually feel a kinship with the man. I’m not a mason. I’m not a piano-maker. I am not as nimble (more on this later). But we both like sharp tools that are made well and feel good in the hand.

And who doesn’t?

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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34 Responses to So Aren’t You Inconsistent on Tool Chests?

  1. badger says:

    Let them complain (it’s the internet after all). Your book was about your adventure. It’s up to them to have their own! Not slavishly follow your advice.

    I read your book a few time, and I’m making a chest to suit my own needs, but pulling from your books advise where it fits.

    It’s a great book, and I’m glad you wrote it. Does that mean I’ll make an exact copy of your tool chest, and fill with exactly the same tools? Nope. Doesn’t suit my needs, but it does stir my imagination on how I want to house my tools, and what i want to fill it with.

    – Badger

  2. millcrek says:

    I have long felt the everyone has a woodworking personality and must find a way of working that matches it. Some are photo realists and some are abstract expressionists, the trick is to know who you are and be comfortable with working within your comfort zone.

  3. Tom Knighton says:

    I’ve recommended The Anarchist Tool Chest over on LumberJocks a few times now, but not because I necessarily agree with your design of your tool chest. I plan on mine being quite a bit different than yours…because it’s mine. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what you built, or what Duncan Phyfe or Benjamin Seaton built, or what H.O. Studley built. Each craftsman has to decide for themselves what they are going to build. Studley built a monster as far as fine detail went. You opted for simplicity. Most folks settle somewhere in between, but so what? It’s not like you said people had to build it your way or else they sucked.

    Let the complainers complain. They’re going to anyways. The truth of the matter is that the H.O. Studley chest is the most iconic toolbox in all of woodworking, and you would be doing a disservice to woodworking if you failed to get involved in a project because it’s the tool chest of a man with a very different view than yours.

  4. joshslopsema says:

    Some things should be celebrated just for having shown up in the world. The more rigid our views the less joy we may find in our chosen craft, the less chance of rare and beautiful things showing up in our world.

  5. John Hippe says:

    Take a stand, state a position, advocate for anything and people will fling poo…Personally, I see nothing inconsistent in admiring beauty and craftsmanship in any form even when it is not your own personsonal style. Studley’s tool chest is amazing and I have enjoyed reading more about it. It is not a style or form I would choose for myself because I prefer simpler lines and more flexible function. Still I appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of Studley’s tool chest. It is simply stunning. Thank you for sharing its beauty with us.

  6. Ron Harper says:

    It is also quite possible that Studley’s work was more predictable than yours, thus influencing his storage of tools??

    • Justin Tyson says:

      I think you have an excellent point. I am an under-funded hobbyist woodworker. As such, my assortment of tools is constantly changing, as I purchase old tools to fix up, upgrade old tools with new ones, sell off duplicate or under-used tools that I have acquired, etc. Building a toolchest like Studley’s would be a fool’s errand at this point. Schwarz’s chest offers far more flexibility for an ever-changing collection, but Studley’s provided order and stability for a man whose tools likely did not measurably change for years at a time.

  7. Igor Samuk says:

    Aspirational examples of craftsmanship are how we evolve our ideas and skills. I think it is important to be able to explore examples like Mr. Studley’s and read about it from someone(s) who can write informatively and with some “anarchistic” humor…

  8. Steve says:

    “Me, I like a melange of peas, gravy, bread crusts, cranberry jelly and bits of bird flesh in every fork-full.”

    You sick, sick man.

    I am occasionally taken aback when I find out that a lot of people completely miss the point of something like the Anarchist’s Tool Chest. Then I read the news or look at what’s popular and then I remember which universe I’m actually living in.

  9. Jeremy says:

    Studley’s tool chest is crazy awesome. Every tool has a place, and there is no place for a tool that is not used. He made piano’s, so he had very specialized tool’s that are not going to be in very many other tool chests. In ATC, you state that these are tools that you use… for what you do. I fail to see how someone cannot draw the connection from Studley to ATC. Beside… people that fling poo, generally have poo on their hands. And my grandpappy always used to say, “Jeremy, never listen to someone with poo on their hands.”

    Ok, I made the last part up, but I think you understand.

  10. Dan says:

    All great comments. I love both the book and the posts of the last week and will be excited to see the book. It might be interesting the learn when in Studley’s career he built the chest. My guess is only after he had several years of experience in knowing which tools and processed he used all the time. After 30+ years, I have never settled into one pattern or approach. I am still learning and love the exposure and fresh ideas you bring to the craft.

  11. Having been actively seeking out hand tool information for almost 6 years now, and being someone who isn’t shy about asking questions, as well as questioning answers, I have come to believe that there isn’t any species of wood out there that is quite as unbending as the average dedicated woodworker’s mind.

  12. Rocky Seppi says:

    Very good point, I admired Studley’s tool chest as well but it is definitely over the top! A work of art for those that appreciate the work involved in it but not practical for most of us! Besides, I like my peas, cranberry sauce, gravy potatoes and bird flesh mixed too!

  13. Alex Moseley says:

    The poo-flinging is unfortunate. You have done something courageous: staked out an authentic path for yourself, one that does not rely on socially-defined measures of success. Such acts of courage and vision will always bring out the worst in those who lack such courage in their own lives.

  14. David Kirtley says:

    I think it is comparing apples to oranges. There are several things going on with the Studley toolchest. One is that it is not just a place to store tools. It is a combination calling card and resume. You would walk into the shop and see that craftsmanship and would feel comfortable having him work on your piano. It also includes specialist tools that a woodworker would not commonly need.

    If you look past the specialist tools, there really isn’t that much excess in the tool set. In the context of a career’s collection of tools, it isn’t many at all. It is just the density and presentation that makes the statement. You could almost fit three of them in Chris’s toolbox. The brace and bits are almost 1/4 of it. Another 1/4 for the planes and one for the chisel set and saws. The rest come down to precision measuring equipment.

  15. Lee Gibson says:

    Oh no! You didn’t follow the RULES of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest!

    Wait, what’s the first word of the title of the book?

    Haters gonna hate. I like your book. I like Studley’s work. Anybody who doesn’t get it isn’t going to get it.

  16. DonP says:

    I think some people mistake intellectual curiosity for preference. I could sit for hours while say Charles Bender talks about period furniture – but I wouldn’t allow a stick of it in my house. I’m curious about what makes Adam Cherubini tick and where DID he get them shoes bit ill stay with my NBs .

    And further more I hate peas!

  17. Iain White says:

    I see nothing wrong in advocating a simple chest like the ATC whilst at the same time admiring Studeley’s chest for its style and amazing technical brilliance. Plus as a publisher, I think you have to serve the wider audience, and not just the members of ‘club Anarchy’.

  18. damien says:

    Knowing that Studley was a former organ builder, is his tool chest not just routine fitting row upon row of instruments in a tight space. Had he been a bagpipe maker, the result would have been different, possibly a melange. What’s more exceptional is his career switch to piano making. This forced him to realign his tool set in a short time and probably triggered the build of a new chest while having the necessary experience to do it right.

  19. Mike Greene says:

    An observation I have of Studley’s tool chest is that it makes total sense for a man who worked in a shop with other workers. As a professional finish carpenter/cabinet maker who often works around others, I can see many advantages of a chest like his. People like to borrow tools, but his tool chest screams “do not screw with anything in here”. Also, it would be easy for him to tell if something was missing. Also, he did what most woodworkers/carpenters do – he built it out of what was readilly available ( read: FREE). In his case that just turned out to be ebony, mother of pearl etc. It probably would have cost Studley more if he had built it out of white pine because he would have had to buy it!

  20. Kim A Howarter says:

    Interesting, you say that poo is being thrown but none of it appears to be in the comments posted previous to mine. Please continue to expose all sides of the woodworking processes and topics. Even if you wouldn’t necessarily do it for yourself, as there might just be someone out there that you influence to do something magnificant for all of us to enjoy!

    I enjoyed reading The Anarchist’s Tool Chest (several times for some parts) and will most likely enjoy reading about Studley’s Tool Chest. Now off to find the next tool on the books list!

  21. Eric Bennett says:

    The Studley box is such an icon. I remember seeing it on the back of Fine Woodworking what? 25 or 30 years ago. To learn more about it has been a real thrill.
    The lesson I’d take from any tool storage is to have any tool within a step or two from the work. Mine have been spread over six rooms on three floors – great for exercise, but lousy for productivity. ATC was inspiration to consolidate. Pictures to come.

  22. James Ryan says:

    This is too funny! I just don’t understand the issue – and it is probable the reason I don’t understand politics. I wrote a long mail on this subject in support – in the end all I decided to post was – last time i checked no one forces anybody to buy your books – tell them just don’t buy them.  Commenting on blogs (anonymously or other) is just way to easy – everybody should be forced to Stop, Think and be Positive before commenting.  Oh yes, THANK YOU and I will be buying the book.

  23. Charlie says:

    ti’s funny, I just seeing these people poised and ready to refute any and all Schwarzian views.
    I think they might need an adult beverage with a side of get a life, holding on too tight
    makes my hand hurt,personally, so I don’t do it…just sayin’
    Thanks for all you do Chris!
    Cheers

  24. Ron Harper says:

    Are you really getting mean spirited feedback?? That is sad. May be some subliminal Schwarz envy surfacing here. You have figured out a way to make the craft part of your everyday life, and had the fortitude to make it work. Others would like to do that but are afraid of the commitment. Keep up the good work. Are your books available on Nook?

  25. Matt says:

    Reminds me of a story.
    “He who would please all will lose his donkey and be laughed at for his pains.”

    http://www.archive.org/stream/johnploughmanspi00spur#page/32/mode/2up

  26. flwoodrat says:

    Why must one be sorted/classified/filed away into one small box and not be allowed to venture into other realms? Observed change makes the place keeper uncomfortable by causing him or her to re-view and re-evaluate the spheres of influence the place keeper has set upon his subject. Really, it can be uncomfortable to discover that which you thought was cast in stone was really made of a more malleable substance. I see no harm and feel no angst in enjoying the unique and baroque beauty of the Studley chest and the elegant simplicity of the ATC.

  27. Bob Schneider says:

    It seems like the Anarchist’s Tool Chest is about clearing the shop so the woodworker can then create and build, as opposed to continually acquiring tools for his shop. Granted, the bulk of the book was about what tools are left but I think Studley and Schwartz are showing us that we need to define what our (read anarchist’s) tools are and then go and build. It ain’t about Schwartz’s or Studley’s tools, it’s about our tools. Anarchist’s TC is one man’s path to clearing his way through a shop filled with tools that distract him. Studley came up with a different formula. I can’t wait to see what CS builds and creates in his cleaner, leaner and more thoughtful world. Shoot, I can’t wait to see what I am going to build once I get all those tools out of the way.

  28. Ron Harper says:

    One of the great benefits of the internet is that it opens the conversation to lots of people. Unfortunately many of those folks should be listening and NOT speaking. We have folks making lots of posts on various woodworking boards who have never built anything more adventurous than a butt jointed bread box. I guess I really wouldn’t change that…. but it would be nice to have to show some credentials before pontificating. Chris… keep up the good work and continue to cause us to think.

  29. Colin says:

    I love that vise. Does it fit intot he chest? If so, where?

    • lostartpress says:

      Yup. It fits. It is in the top left corner of the cabinet, behind a wall of tools. The base of the vise mounts to the inside of the cabinet. Here are my notes on the vise. It’s tiny.

      Dimensions:
      3-13/16” wide
      closed 5-1/2” deep
      3-1/8” high
      opening for jaw 2”

      Features:
      Rear jaw swivels
      Entire setting swivels
      Japan finish
      Stamped No. 70 in the bottom of the upper left way
      Base mahogany
      Rear swiveling jaw is marked Pat. Mar. 17. 68
      The nut on the unit swivel says Pat. Feby. 6th .77
      Brass screws holding it to the base
      Small square anvil on the butt
      Much of un Japanned surface is an as-cast surface.
      Prentiss Vise N.Y. on movable jaw.

      • Publius Secundus says:

        What do you make of the fact that Studley included a Stanley No. 1, which is tiny and generally viewed as impractical for real work by adult humans? Pianos after all; not pistol cases.

      • Swanz says:

        Publius said, “What do you make of the fact that Studley included a Stanley No. 1, which is tiny and generally viewed as impractical for real work by adult humans? Pianos after all; not pistol cases.”

        There are a lot of small parts in a piano.

  30. Swanz says:

    I see no conflict between atc and studley. A basic set of essential tools made easily accessible to the user. Studly was a prodigy and could probably build his elaborate toolbox in the same time it take most of us to build the ATC. All things are relative. Apples and oranges.

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