H.O. Studley, Empty and Awesome

While examining Henry O. Studley’s toolbox, the most impressive moment was when all the tools had been removed and set aside. At that moment, I understood Studley as a joiner, not just a somewhat obsessive tool collector.

The box alone is a remarkable piece of work. Studley’s attention to detail extended to every surface that could be seen or touched. Don Williams – the author of the forthcoming book “Virtuoso” – and I spent a long morning measuring the major components of the chest. And as my hands passed over the woodwork, I felt I finally knew the man.

The visible screws were clocked; the others were not. Layout lines from his gauge and knife were clearly visible on many joints. His dovetails had a dramatic sweep – easily 14°. The inside components of the box were neatly dovetailed at key points.

But most of all, his design – his vision – was consistent. As I was calling out the details of the toolbox’s construction I began to understand Studley’s work patterns. Here are some preliminary insights I have cobbled together.

• The man loved coves. Many of his shopmade tools have tiny small coves at key transition points. All his gauges, for example, have small 1/16” x 1/16” coves on the ends of their beams. His mallet had this same cove in brass on the head. And on and on.

• He liked square ovolos. Many of the transitions on the chest are marked by square ovolos – a curve with two small fillets. This is the transition he would use between major elements of the toolbox.

• Small coves and fillets filled in the gaps. In many areas, Studley used ebony coves with small fillets to fill in the inside corners of his design.

• Surprisingly few ogees. The chest has a fair number of ogee shapes, but many of these are hidden to the casual eye. The cubbyholes for the planes had lots of ogees, but you can’t see these until every tool is removed.

• Gothic, gothic, gothic. Many of the curves and shapes have a gothic flavor. That’s pretty unusual in wood (it’s much more typical in stone). All his chamfers on his gothic arches are perfection. Absolute perfection.

• No plane tracks anywhere. I looked for them.

You can see a slideshow of the details of the toolbox without tools here on Flickr.

After poring over the toolbox with a tape measure and calipers, I am firmly convinced that Studley was not just notable for his collection of tools. He was a craftsman worth remembering, documenting and celebrating – which is exactly what we are doing with “Virtuoso: The Toolbox of Henry O. Studley.”

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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19 Responses to H.O. Studley, Empty and Awesome

  1. ben says:

    Just incredible. Effing brilliant.

  2. Tim Henriksen says:

    Empty, the carcass reminds me of an old pipe organ. Thanks for sharing your discoveries. This not only builds excitement for the upcoming book but allows us to share in your initial reactions through the blog.

    • Brian Z says:

      Tim, I definitely see what you are referring to when you say it looks like an old pipe organ but I also see other elements that remind me of many different parts of a cathedral. The columns, the gothic curves, small areas that look like balconies, and the look of the pipe organ. Its obvious that this man prayed and worked at the alter of wood. I never thought about a piano is a cabinet but it is and now I have had my eyes opened to them as such. I don’t think I have ever had this level of anticipation for a book.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Very Cool! Are the inlays ivory of mother of pearl??

  4. Burbidge says:

    It’s very nice to see the case empty.
    Two questions: All the tools went back in ok…nothing left over that had you scratching your collective heads (akin to that small container of nuts and bolts after a car rebuild)? And, don’t you think these teasers, however fantastic, are rather cruel, especially considering you’ve got at least enought twleve months of teasing before publication?!

  5. John Cashman says:

    I never really thought about Studley as a collector of tools. They are nice tools, professional tools, but for the most part are what you would expect for a skilled craftsman of those years. For me it was always about the chest. The layout! I could not imagine fitting so much into so small a space. I just always assumed the joinery would have to be top notch, but before this, most of the obvious details were the ivory and/or mother of pearl inlay. Now we get to see more of the exciting details.

    Please, please make this a great book, with lots of color and closeups. I would not bat an eye at spending extra for the best you can turn out.

    • Alex Moseley says:

      Agreed, “Virtuoso” has all the promise of a once-in-a-lifetime book. We should be buying up every LAP volume we can in the mean time as an investment in this effort.

  6. Mike Siemsen says:

    I had always assumed the the tools in the masonic symbol were actual tools that he used and were removable(the dividers and small square). Since you left them in this must not be the case. Or is there more stuff behind there? Have you looked for a secret compartment yet?

    • Jeff Burks says:

      The ebony panel with the masonic symbol has a pair of hinge knuckles visible on its bottom edge. The panel appears to be a door that folds down like a draw bridge.

  7. tirane93 says:

    please oh please tell me you’re going to put out some kind of hirez collection of these photos for us mere mortals to purchase so we may gawk and drool over them.

  8. DerekL says:

    So, now that you’ve got the chest fully exposed, you’ll be working on a cutlist? 🙂 🙂

  9. Jeff Burks says:

    I wonder why the latch plate for the combination lock has been removed in this photo set?

  10. Chris,
    you MUST find an easy button for the many of us to click who want to let our spouses know: “BUY ME THIS FOR A GIFT” and have a notification sent to them as soon as it becomes available. If I tell her now, she’ll both forget, and not know when it is released. While we’re at it, a Lost Art Wishlist (a la amazon)?

    Also, as difficult as this may be for the author given the virtuosity (is that a word, properly used?) premise used in the title, I’d love to see included in the pages a look at the “errors” Studley made (that you can find), and what his fixes were, if any.

    • Gene says:

      If LAP can’t do a wish list, you can actually leverage your Amazon wish list for that purpose. They have a “wish list extension” for each type of browser. Just install it, and you can add almost anything, from any vendor, to your wish list. Even though LAP doesn’t sell through Amazon, it’s a good way to keep track of those things you want to remember.

      • Alex Moseley says:

        Just as Gene says, I’ve used Amazon’s Universal Wish List to let LOML know about LAP books. In the comments, I’ve added “Buy direct from the publisher to support his work!”

  11. David Cockey says:

    The overall look reminds me of the architectural woodwork I’ve seen inside some circa 1885 to 1905 or so churches, public buildings and a few houses. Perhaps that was where Studley got some of the design inspiration.

  12. Jonas Jensen says:

    That is such a beautiful piece of work.
    I am looking so much forward to the book. Imagine a book that you will enjoy paging through on a rainy autumn day while sitting in front of the fireplace with a nice brandy..

    I got to think of, is there any information regarding if Studley had all the tools before he started the chest, or if it was a continuous project, much like most of us do (I suppose)?
    Brgds Jonas

  13. dave ball says:

    Thank you to you, Don, and Narayan for chronicling this for the rest of us. I remember sitting with you, John, and Don at the Oaken Barrel, and Don talking about the owner contacting him, great story.

    BTW – Hope you didn’t end up with any ‘extra’ parts. I can see Don scratching his beard and saying, ‘Now let me see where the ()&%)#&% does this thing go’…..

  14. Alex Moseley says:

    Google Reader has me taking a second look at this photo this morning. It suddenly struck me: what an unusual vantage point for the subject. It put me in mind of a teenage boy catching a glimpse up the skirt of the mysterious, complex, and of course, more mature woman whose very presence leaves him flustered and exhilirated.

    Not that I’m projecting or anything. Just… admiring.

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