I had intended to post this three months ago but life happened; busy schedule, lots of work, and family commitments. And all of it good.
Anyway, back in May while at Handworks 2015 I visited the exhibit of the Studley tool cabinet and workbench (top). Much like everyone else, my first encounter with the Studley cabinet was from a poster hanging up at the lumber mill where I worked. It was a reprint of a back cover feature from Fine Woodworking. Back then I just thought it was a really neat cabinet built by someone with a lot of time on their hands (and skill). Reflecting on what I thought then is kind of amusing. I remember thinking that the tools themselves were antiquated and useless–that the cabinet would be fun to own but worthless. After all I was working in a production door shop that featured the best in machinery.
It wasn’t until I had a career change and started working out of my garage that I discovered the usefulness and practicality of hand tools. But I didn’t really give the Studley cabinet much more thought. Even when it was announced that it would be on display at Handworks I wasn’t all that excited. I bought at ticked to the exhibit because this may be one of the last times the cabinet is on display and because I wanted to witness with my own two eyes what all the fuss was about.
After seeing the cabinet and having three months to reflect on what I saw, I am still a little speechless. And not because the cabinet is really that spectacular. It is still a cabinet with a bunch of tools in it. What makes me hold my tongue is the realization of what we have lost. Every little detail of Studley’s cabinet has been thought out and arranged perfectly. In all honesty, this may be the first real example something close to perfection that I have ever seen. So I wonder what went through the head of the man who built it? There is little about his life that reveals the answer (pick up the Virtuoso book and see). So I can only guess at what might have compelled Studley to build this thing. Here are my thoughts:
- He was showing off. At least this is my initial thought, but walking around the cabinet the outside is fairly plain. If the cabinet is closed it really isn’t that impressive at all. I believe, fully, that Studley was proving something to himself and no one else.
- He wasted nothing. All of the materials in the cabinet were also found in his trade as an organ/piano maker. There would have been pieces unfit for other work that fit perfectly into his cabinet. Even if I’m wrong, it reminds me to be resourceful.
- He made many of the tools or bought the best he could get his hands on. So why not make a nice place for them? But this isn’t just a “nice place” this is a palace. In a throw away world this reminds me that I don’t always have to buy something but when I do, I should buy something that will last and hold value. And as it pertains to the relationships I value the most, it only makes sense that this is the kind of attention need to make those relationships deeper.
- This thing is a tool cabinet and obviously worthy of being in a museum because it has been. It has a purpose and is also art. This is a real challenge to do the best work that I can possibly do. Even if it matters to no one else it should matter to me.
That is the kind of things I saw as I made circles around the cabinet. Life lessons that I want to pass on to my two sons. Studley’s chest is truly awe inspiring but it seems that it is the message it is sending that is more important than the thing itself.
P.S. I do apologize for the pictures. It seems that it is very difficult to capture the cabinet with a cell phone. However, the pictures in Virtuoso are amazing and well worth the price of the book.