Orion Henderson at Horton Brasses was kind enough to work with me on a custom, blacksmith-forged hardware kit for the Dutch tool chest, which includes two strap hinges, two chest lifts and a hasp. And because this iron is so gorgeous, I asked him to reverse the barrel on the hinges so that they attach to the exterior – if you’re using handmade hardware, might as well show it off. (Bonus: no hinge mortises to cut.)
All the pieces feature a “bean” motif; it appears on the end of the long hinge leaf, in the shape of the lifts’ backplates and on the top leaf of the hasp on the underside of the lid.
The lifts come with square-head bolts (and matching washers and nuts) to fit 3/4″-thick material so that you can attach them through the sides, and safely use the lifts to actually lift the chest.
The full kit is $491.09, which is 25 percent less than were you to buy the pieces individually. (You can also pick only the hardware pieces you want, of course, though at no discount). Are there less expensive options? Of course – and I’ll give you lots of those in my forthcoming book on the Dutch tool chest. But I don’t think you’ll find a better price on blacksmith made, hand-forged hardware. And gosh does it look nice!
After these experiences at the other schools, it seems [James] Krenov’s relocation to California remained his central focus. When Krenov returned to Mendocino in 1980 for his longest engagement yet, he brought Britta, having already considered the area as a possible place to resettle and start a new life. The couple stayed in a renovated water tower in Mendocino, and used their time in the area to look for a new home. They found it just north of Fort Bragg on Forest Lane. Tina remembers her mother being thrilled at the palm tree in the front yard, an enticing embodiment of the exotic locale, far away from her native Sweden where she had lived up to that point. The Krenovs were also taken with the coastal environment – Krenov had always lived in cities and towns with an active maritime culture, and the presence of working boats in the Noyo harbor was a comfortable familiarity. During their first visits, the Krenovs began a practice of walking along the steep headlands along the coast, one they continued on a daily basis for the next 30 years.
Creighton Hoke, after returning to Richmond, Va., to pack up his tools and quit his cabinetmaking job, had moved back to Mendocino in hopes of attending the school that fall. He arrived just a few weeks after attending the workshop and was dismayed to find what he perceived to be little progress in the establishment of the school. Initially, Hoke took on a foreman position at Brian Lee’s millwork shop, hoping to use the skills he had developed as the lead in a cabinet shop in Richmond. This employment quickly fell through – Hoke was living on Lee’s land, in a tree house that had been built by Crispin Hollinshead on the rural property a few years earlier. And the workshop was, in his recollection, literally knee deep in shavings from the machines. Hoke left his position in Lee’s shop, and was looking for another opportunity, still driven by the hope that in a year’s time, he might be enrolled in the still-unrealized woodworking school under Krenov.
Under Lee’s organization and efforts, several craftspeople from the workshops and the community gathered to make a formal pitch to the College of the Redwoods administration in the fall of 1980. The administration was, by all accounts, enthusiastic about the proposition. The establishment of a woodworking school meant a boost in income for the community college system, which was paid based on student hours; a six-day intensive over nine months constituted a sizable number of credit hours. With Krenov at the helm, it would also bring national exposure to the otherwise locally focused school system. The pitch that the group made also noted that the program would be exceptionally rewarding for the local community’s craftspeople, as well. For that community, tying the program to the community college network would also drastically reduce the tuition for students – for California residents, the program would only cost $100 for the nine months.
After this proposal to the board in Fort Bragg, a second meeting was held on the main campus of the College of the Redwoods, 150 miles north in Eureka. At this second meeting, Hoke and Hollinshead, who had been central in the initial meetings, were joined by Bob Winn and Judy Brooks, members of the College of the Redwoods staff in Fort Bragg who had been on the board that heard their initial proposal. Winn and Brooks were early champions of the proposed program and central members of the community in Fort Bragg.
“The fact is that many of us were disconnected from the larger community, and had no real profile among our neighbors aside from breaking down in our pickup trucks downtown,” Hoke remembers. Winn, Michael Burns’s close friend, was an English and history teacher at the Fort Bragg campus and a persuasive voice from the school system and community in support of the school, a role he continued to play in subsequent years. Brooks, who would become a trustee in the College of the Redwoods school system, also lent her voice in support of the program, and developed a strong relationship with the woodworking program. Both advocated for the promise of the woodworking program, and all were excited to find that the administration at the college was already on board with the plan.
After this positive meeting with the administration in Eureka, the program was approved, and a part-time position to prepare and execute the plans for the school was created. Where Brian Lee had been instrumental in bringing the group together and providing the enthusiasm for the organization, the Guild took a back seat to some of the newcomers, especially Hoke and Burns, who were more driven in their specific hopes of working with Krenov. Lee would continue on as a driving force among the Guild and woodworking community, but a falling out with Krenov and disagreements with some of the newcomers led him to pull away from the school.
“Almost everyone – maybe everyone, in fact – would have gone right on doing whatever it was they were already doing, had it not been for the original, organizing energy of Brian Lee,” Hoke remembers. “There wouldn’t have been a Guild, or the workshops with Krenov. No ad in Fine Woodworking for me to see and respond to.”
Hoke took the part-time job with the college to set up the program, eager to find meaningful employment after his mismatch with Lee’s commercial business, and moved into an office at the Fort Bragg campus of the College of the Redwoods. A small piece of property was purchased at the eastern edge of town, behind the local school district’s bus barn, and construction of the facilities was underway by the end of 1980. During the next several months, Hoke worked with the school’s construction supervisors to design the school’s workshop, a daunting task that included everything from ordering materials, specifying the layout of the windows for the best natural light and ordering the machinery.
Gary Church, a member of the Guild, was contracted to build the tool cabinets, made in the same manner as Krenov’s own tool cabinet in the workshop in Bromma. One of Krenov’s students from his first stint at RIT, Hunter Kariher, was contracted to build the 22 workbenches; it’s interesting to note that Kariher also built the workbenches for Wendell Castle’s workshop school a few years earlier. The benches were built in the same European style that Krenov himself used and were shipped from Kariher’s Rochester workshop to Fort Bragg that summer.
By his own account, Hoke was driven by the dream of attending the school, but the task laid before him was far from simple. Krenov, over the phone, was a demanding presence, and threatened Hoke that he may not make the planned resettlement if the school wasn’t properly equipped. Krenov’s demands were informed by the ill-fated arrangements he had encountered at his prior engagements with RIT and BU, where he had found the facilities inadequate or the demands on him as a teacher either unfair or ill-informed. His exacting requirements were likely motivated by a hope that this last engagement would be a good fit.
That Christmas, Hoke and Burns worked together to lay out the building plan on graph paper on the kitchen table of Burns’s family’s home. Burns, whose experience in the trades and homebuilding, complemented Hoke’s now-nuanced understanding of Krenov’s expectations, and in the course of a day, the layout was finalized. Hoke worked closely with Larry Kavanaugh, the school’s director, to put these plans into place, and the two of them ordered the machinery and supplies for the program, specifying everything from window shades to lumber racks to the particular style of fluted dowel Krenov preferred. Kavanaugh, who became a close friend and advocate of Krenov’s in subsequent years, worked closely with Hoke through the process, and the purchase lists for equipment and materials show that the school was sparing little expense in equipping the workshop.
Hoke was also tasked with outlining a curriculum for the program – while the basic understanding among those involved was to simply follow Krenov’s lead, the administration required a detailed plan for the 1,728 credit hours that constituted the nine-month program. Here again, Hoke interpolated from Krenov’s books, and consulted with their author over the phone form a structured plan for the year.
This process was a daunting one for Hoke, and over the course of the year a tradition developed that continued into the school’s weekly rituals. Michael Burns, who was helping Hoke develop the program and work with Krenov to build out the home he had bought the prior summer, arrived at his office to pull him away for therapeutic drinks outside a local liquor store. The beverage of choice was Carlsberg Elephants, a malt-liquor from the Danish brewery, and the “Elephants” meetings continued as a ritual on Friday evenings. The meetings began as a small group of the school’s community, who circled up their cars outside the Sprouse-Reitz variety store downtown. In later years, the meetings moved to the “North O’ Town” industrial park, where a small satellite shop was set up by the school’s faculty and students, and by the late 1980s, it finally relocated to the school, becoming a weekly get-together for the students and the extended community of alumni, supporters and family members growing in the area. After its informal beginnings in the parking lot, Krenov began attending the gatherings with Britta, and it was especially Britta’s constant presence that students remember. During the next several decades, Britta would only miss a handful of “Elephants.”
It is rare that a book review makes me even chuckle, but a new post by furniture designer/maker James Watriss about Nancy Hiller’s “Kitchen Think” made me laugh aloud (and not just the introduction, in which he worries “if the world really needs a blond-haired white guy praising a woman for writing about woodworking”). Along with making me laugh, he teases out much of what I love about this book:
“There’s a strong emphasis on design, because that’s as important, or more, than simply doing a good job of executing that design,” he writes. “If the end product flows in an uninterrupted way, the skill involved shouldn’t need to stand out, because the goal is to make something the homeowner can live and cook and relax and eat in comfortably. It’s not a Goddard high-boy, you don’t need to masticate in awe.”
Of the kitchen designs themselves, he writes, “Each has very individual character, none of the layouts look remotely similar, some are modern, some are vintage, but they all look comfortable, workable, and… like home. I don’t have a good way to put a finger on what makes that happen. Clearly Nancy Hiller does.”
My late colleague and dear friend Melvin J. Wachowiak, Jr. once remarked that anything made more elegantly than necessary for its usefulness was Art. By that assessment, with which I agree, the Studley tool cabinet is unrestrained Art. There are a multitude of visual and physical moments in the cabinet that did not need to be there. Their presence is either to aesthetically enhance the whole, or to demonstrate the maker’s virtuosity at his craft and his delight in it.
The Inlays To a modern woodworker the tool cabinet might seem opulent, even garish, but in the late-Victorian world of organ and piano building, the exuberance made sense. The material vocabulary is what you would expect for a palette of inlays on a piano-maker’s toolbox: ivory, ebony and mother-of-pearl. The inlay techniques Studley used on the cabinet were straightforward and exacting. For the round, button-like inlays he likely used a drill bit to excavate the pockets. The inlays vary in size, but most are in the range of 1/4″ in diameter plus or minus, with a few in the 1/8″-diameter range.
Almost all of the 136 ivory inlays are buttons or roundels.
The 217 mother-of-pearl inlays are more evenly divided between buttons and roundels, and pieces of other shapes (alas, I did not conduct a count on that distribution). The shaped pieces were “made to fit,” but there is no way to identify which came first, the void or the infill.
Typically intarsia (a technique by which pieces are literally “inset” into a background) is accomplished by first creating the decorative element, then creating a void to fit that element by scribing the outline of the element on the background and excavating a void. My microscopic examination of the inlays was cursory and inconclusive, but
I did not see any tool marks on the background surfaces.
Regardless of their material or shape, on all but a few of the inlays there are no irregularities until extreme magnification is employed.
The opulence of using ivory buttons, inscribed with inked numbers to mark the progression of tool sizes (for example, the graduations of the drill bits) is awe-inspiring.
There is place for every drill bit in the graduated set, and an engraved ivory button for each drill bit. Also take note of the subtle but elegant treatment of the bottoms of the spacers between each Gothic arch; the curved double-chamfer is found in numerous locations throughout the cabinet, almost never glaringly obvious.
Concurrently, the mother-of-pearl elements used as mere decoration impart an intense luminescence to the cabinet, especially as the light or the viewing position changes.
The Sculpted Details The strictly sculptural elements of the cabinet, by which I mean those that are rendered and presented to the viewer in three dimensions, number literally in the hundreds. Because it is not possible to rank them in importance or even prominence, I will cluster them into four major areas.
First are the roundels, turned button-like elements scattered throughout the cabinet, never haphazard and always enhancing adjacent elements. There are many different sizes of roundels, ranging from about 3/8″ to 1-1/2″ in diameter. Most, but not all, of the roundels are festooned with round mother-of-pearl inlays at their tips, about which I will speak more in a bit. Each of the roughly two dozen roundels is turned from solid ebony.
Closely related to the roundels are the drawer pulls and stopper buttons at the ends of the metal tubes containing tools. I include these 17 examples here because, like the roundels, they are small, turned ebony elements.
Second are the shaped decorative elements, which are further subdivided into those that are 1) functionally similar to the roundels in that they are applied to the background, or 2) movable tabs or catches used to restrain tools. Most of these from either category are further enhanced by mother-of-pearl inlays and reflect the element outline as a whole.
Of the first group, numbering roughly 90, many serve to frame a space but others are demarcations between tools belonging to a graduated set, such as the chisels and drill bits. The second group consists of about 50 ebony tabs.
The third type of sculptural enhancements are carved elements serving as stand-alone sculptures in their own right. The most prominent of these is the drop pendant that tops the arch above the niche containing the Stanley No. 1 plane. The detail on this element is breathtaking, all the more so when you consider its scale; it is roughly the size of a dime. There are only a dozen or so of these examples in the case, but they are spectacular and attention-grabbing.
The final widespread instance of sculptural exercises in the cabinet includes the arches and their buttresses, most notably around the set of four awls above the Masonic symbol, along with those around the chisels and the two sets of drill bits, which are in the upper right portion of the cabinet on the second and third layers. The arch-and-buttress vignette framing the awls takes its place proudly among the most beautifully designed and crafted artworks I have ever seen.
Quantifying precisely the inventory of these decorative details is nearly impossible (is it a series of a dozen arches, or is it a single element of an ascending set of arches?) and frankly not especially useful. But because you asked, I number the total of individual decorative elements to be in excess of 500.
Perhaps the most gifted craftsman I know recently replicated a single inlaid mother-of-pearl and ebony element from Studley’s cabinet and found it to be a vexing and time-consuming effort. If we fixate on the Herculean labors of Studley we might become obsessed with the mechanistic minutiae of envisioning and fabricating hundreds of stylistic touches, each consuming some quantity of a superb craftsman’s time.
Instead I ask you to think of them – and the case itself – as a unified cornucopia in which the whole is infinitely more affecting than a summation of the magnificent individual components.