In July 1988, the back cover of Fine Woodworking magazine featured an awe-inspiring object: the vintage 19th-century tool chest of master carpenter and free & accepted mason H.O. Studley. If the workmanship in the tool chest is any indication of the maker's talent, then the craftsmanship of Studley must have been a wonder to behold. The chest created quite a stir among our readers, and when we later created a poster of the chest, it quickly sold out. The poster was reprinted in 2011 and can currently be bought in our store.

Poster back by popular demand
Fine Woodworking has reissued the poster with an updated image of the tool chest, which shows off some recent repairs to the inlay and replacement vintage tools added to the tool chest by its current owner.

Download wallpaper for your desktop
You can also enjoy the H.O. Studley tool chest on your computer desktop with our free downloadable desktop wallpaper. To set the image as the backdrop on your computer screen, find out the resolution of your monitor under display settings.

Windows: Click on the appropriate image size to open it in a new window. When the image has finished loading, right-click on the image and select "set as wallpaper" or "set as background."

Mac: Click on the appropriate image size to open it in a new window. When the image has finished loading, click the image and choose "download image to disk." From the Appearance Control Panel set it as a desktop picture.

 

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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.

H.O. Studley's Tool Chest

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.

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.

H.O. Studley's Tool Chest  H.O. Studley's Tool Chest

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.


Lon Schleining contributed to this article with an excerpt from his book Treasure Chests: The Legacy of Extraordinary Boxes.

Photos: Randy O'Rourke