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 | 3 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 | 17 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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My Final Visit to Studley’s Chest (And Your First One)

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In about 90 minutes I leave the real world to enter the shadowy territory of H.O. Studley. His tool cabinet and workbench are under the kind curation of a man who wishes to remain anonymous. And so we turn off all the location services on our smart devices.

During this final visit, we will shoot a video about the chest, including a time-lapse film of us unloading it. And we will finish all the extra still photos we need for Don Williams’ forthcoming book, “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley.”

Don is almost finished with his manuscript. I have read his first draft, and Don has uncovered a lot of information on Studley himself and the interesting journey of the chest from Quincy, Mass., to the wall of a collector’s Batcave.

The photos, by Narayan Nayar, are of museum quality.

The book will be released in March 2015, just in time for the (perhaps final) public exhibit of the chest and workbench that coincides with the Handworks event in the Amana Colonies, May 15-16, 2015. Don’t miss Handworks. Seriously. You will kick yourself if you do. Nothing else embodies the ideas of hand-tool woodworking that we hold dear at Lost Art Press. It’s not a commercial thing. There are no guys selling router bits. No Sham-wows. Just lots of people who love handwork having a good time. Admission is free.

The Studley exhibit will be held at the Masonic lodge in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The exhibit is being funded entirely out of Don Williams’ pocket with some volunteer help. There is no corporate or museum money behind him. This is, frankly, a huge risk on Don’s part.

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When Don visited here recently I asked him about the exhibit and if he would cancel it if he didn’t sell enough tickets. He replied, “No.” After I asked the obvious follow-up, “Why?” here’s the answer I received.

“Because it has to be done. This might be the only chance for people to ever see these objects. And,” he added, ”I said that I would do it.”

If you are thinking about attending or just want to support this kind of quixotic endeavor, buy your tickets at http://www.studleytoolchestexhibit.com/. Tickets are only $25.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Virtuoso: The Toolbox of Henry O. Studley | 8 Comments