While we always like to talk about state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities using robots and so on, there’s something to be said for days of the old-fashioned kind of handmade manufacturing craftsmanship. And there’s no better example of that than the Studley Tool Chest, which is an icon for people into woodworking.
Henry O. Studley was born in 1839 in Lowell, Mass., and, after fighting in the Civil War, worked for the Poole Piano Company of Quincy, Mass. Back in the day, it was typical for a craftsman to make his own tools and tool chest. Not only did it ensure that he had all the tools he needed, and that they fit his hands properly, but its design and craftsmanship acted as a “resume” of sorts.
And Studley’s tool chest was quite the thing. Built between 1890 and 1920, it hangs on the wall and measures just 39 inches by 19 1/2 inches and is 9 1/2 inches deep. Nonetheless, it contains more than 300 tools, many of them handmade out of precious woods and other materials – likely scraps from piano building – all of which fit carefully into individualized spaces in the tool chest, up to three layers deep. It is so elaborate that it takes 43 minutes, at least, just to put all the tools away in it. It is also beautifully decorated, including a number of symbols specific to the Masons, the fraternal order of which Studley was a member.
The Studley Tool Chest has been featured in a number of publications and television shows, such as Fine Woodworking, Popular Woodworking, and New Yankee Workshop. A poster of it produced by Fine Woodworking has sold more than 20,000 copies. In the 1980s, it was loaned to the Smithsonian, where it was restored in a 245-hour process, before it was sold to a private collector. It is also the subject of a forthcoming book, Virtuoso: the Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley, by Don Williams, who has blogged numerous times about the Studley Tool Chest during his work on the book.
A year from now, in May, 2015, the Studley Tool Chest is scheduled to be exhibited for three days in Iowa. This will give people the opportunity to see genuine craftsmanship and get a better idea of what early manufacturing was really all about.
Steve Leavitt, GM of U.S. Cloud Solutions for Exact