Friday, April 27, 2012

Henry Studley Toolbox, Work Of Genius

Keeping your tools organized is absolute zen. I cannot walk in my shop and not know where every tool is or what cabinet section within which it is located. Now is our tidiness on the level of Henry Studley? I think not, but the design of his toolbox and the contents within it speak of the precision to the instruments which he built. Just from the tool locations and setup it is easy to imagine how well his piano's were put together. 

We have spoken multiple times on how we are losing craftsmen and the art of having a trade and it is a sad state in our mind. Whatever hobby or craft that you have to which you find an affinity, push it to another level. Whether it be leather craft, welding, mechanic or even a musician, take it to another level and just keep pushing. The more things become just a commodity, lets challenge that reality and help to turn the tide.

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Custom toolbox created by piano builder Henry Studley
The history of H.O. Studley and his tool chest
Massachusetts piano maker Henry Studley built his magnificent tool chest over the course of a 30-year career at the Poole Piano Company. The chest lived on the wall near his workbench, and he worked on it regularly, making changes and adding new tools as he acquired them. Using ebony, mother-of-pearl, ivory, rosewood, and mahogany -- all materials used in the manufacture of pianos -- he refined the chest to the point that now, more than 80 years after his death, it remains in a class of its own.

Packing more tools per square foot than seems physically possible, piano maker Henry Studley's unrivaled tool chest also manages to be beautiful in the process. The chest stands as perhaps the most exquisite example of 19th-century tool-chest craftsmanship.

Considering how many tools it holds, the famous chest is really quite small; when closed, it is just 9 in. deep, 39 in. high, and just more than 18 in. wide. Yet it houses so many tools -- some 300 -- so densely packed that three strong men strain to lift it.

For every tool, Studley fashioned a holder to keep it in place and to showcase it. Miniature wrenches, handmade saws, and some still unidentified piano-making tools each have intricate inlaid holders. Tiny clasps rotate out of the way so a tool can be removed. In places the clearances are so tight that the tools nearly touch. The chest, which hangs on ledgers secured to a wall, folds closed like a book. And as the chest is closed, tools protruding from the left side nestle into spaces between tools on the right side. Amazingly, despite being so densely packed, the tools are all easily accessible.

Custom calipers by H.O. Studley
Studley was well into his 80s when he retired from the piano company. Before he died in 1925, Studley gave the tool chest to a friend. That man's grandson, Peter Hardwick, loaned the chest to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. in the late 1980s and later sold it to a private collector in the Midwest. That owner again sold the tool chest to another private collector, where it now resides.

Almost lost among the tools but no longer obscure to history, the name of the maker, H. O. Studley, and his Massachusetts hometown of Quincy are engraved on small plates just above his brace. Scraps of ebony, ivory, rosewood, and mother-of-pearl left over from his work as a piano maker gave Studley raw material for his tool chest and many of the tools it contains.

Henry Studley's custom toolbox with all the tools taken out