The Siren Song of H.O. Studley’s Vises

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In the afternoon following the presentation based on my upcoming book, “Virtuoso: The Tool Chest of H.O. Studley” during the HandWorks extravaganza at the Amana Colonies in Iowa, I received many compliments on the talk along with the occasional, “Why did the other guys get all the good stuff?”

Huh?

Sure, I assigned Chris and Narayan the onerous task of providing the tool porn peep show accompanied by silent heavy breathing, but I got to present my burgeoning research on the life history of Studley as best we know it, recount the progress of the project to date beginning with that fateful phone call four years ago from the present owner, and explore one of the great mysteries surrounding the whole toolaholic soap opera.

What’s the deal with those vises?

I must not be the only one interested as the Saturday afternoon at HandWorks found a non-stop stream of attendees examining closely the vise loaned to me for the project by woodworker Tim Cottle.

I have become so enamored of Studley’s bench and vises that I often find myself seduced by their Siren Song. In laying the foundation for ongoing book research, I have been gathering information on the 11 known vises of similar design and function. In one correspondence exchange, an owner indicated a willingness to part with his. He had purchased a bench with two Studley-esque vises at a defunct piano factory auction in 1985. That purchase had provided a robust platform for his furniture design and construction endeavors for almost three decades, and now he was trying to reduce his footprint. In the end he agreed for me to become the next steward of this treasure, and on my way home from Amana I picked it up. He noted it being a bittersweet day, sad at parting with a beloved tool, but excited at finding the perfect new home for it. As we parted he said something like, “There isn’t anyone who should have it more than you.” I am truly honored.

Having spent the intervening week with Jameel and Father John Abraham, much of the time ogling tool pictures on each others’ laptops, my brain was in hyperdrive about the vises as I drove last Monday from Canton, Ohio, to Rochester, N.Y., to Monterey, Va., wearily pulling into the driveway after more than 16 hours on the road. I slept well that night, but I dreamed of heavy iron.

I fully intend to combine the best features of each of these 11 vises into a near-perfect new prototype; each one (or each pair) has unique features that impart wondrous utility. Will my new version be good enough to replace my Emmert K1s in my heart? Who knows. But the potential is spectacular.

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I will continue to chronicle the firing-on-all-cylinders research for my Studley book and the pedal-to-the-metal progress of the Roubo volumes here at the Lost Art Press blog (I signed off on the final galleys of Roubo on Marquetry on Saturday morning), while this new part of the adventure will be addressed over at donsbarn.com. At the moment I am even contemplating the acquisition of some mahogany slabs for a new workbench as a new home for these new (to me) vises, but that might seem a pathetic desperate measure to emulate the insane brilliance of the Studley Ensemble.

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But isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

— Don Williams

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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8 Responses to The Siren Song of H.O. Studley’s Vises

  1. Bob Jones says:

    That is some serious hardware. I think a fancy new bench would be perfectly appropriate. Be sure to include some inlay :)

  2. Go for it Don! Build a fancy new bench or three for those baby’s.

  3. englishmaninseattle says:

    I’m working out ways to change three pipe clamps into vise gear for a portable bench, then I see this!
    You know, looking at these, that a bit of work and 3 in 1 oil would send the wheels on these vises spinning so beautifully, you’d spend all the day just spinning them one way, then the other for the sheer joy of it. Works of art!

  4. Ham Salad says:

    They look wonderful. Just don’t lock up not building anything because of the vises. I’m sure they will be happy anywhere.

  5. tsstahl says:

    Due to many damaged implements, I am not a fan of metal vice hardware.

    Oh, you meant VISE hardware. Carry on, then. :)

    Seriously, many chipped chisels have soured me on metal vises. I’m happy to learn otherwise (and I’m not quitting my day job).

  6. bdormer says:

    Is it just me? Does anyone else think Benchcrafted should perhaps make a reproduction of the Studley vise?

  7. gburbank says:

    Hey, don, I am still curious. Is Rich’s vice equipped with the sliding dog/wagon vice ? is that (formerly) his inverted on the bench on the right? I’ll keep you posted on any other leads…

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