It’s expected from an excellent woodworker to have a decent toolbox. And yet, none has ever crafted something as unique and unusual as the Studley Tool Chest. This magnificent invention has the size of 20 x 40 inches when it’s closed. Meanwhile, it sports itself at 40 x 40 inches when open. And, within the mahogany rosewood, mother-of-pearl, and ebony box are 300 tools!
The Studley Tool Chest has an interestingly long history. At one point, it has even been displayed in the Smithsonian. It came into being through the hands of H.O. Studley, a carpenter, mason, and piano maker.
Studley was born in 1853 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the infantry in 1861 and then held in Texas as a prisoner of war. Between 1890 and 1920, Studley crafted the tool chest. It was clearly a work of genius.
The carpenter designed the chest to hold his own tools, plus several 19th-century hand tools. He diligently worked out the system such that it would contain everything despite the small space. Eventually, the Studley Tool Chest had hidden compartments and flip-up trays. Plus, it also had multiple layers, hiding stuff excellently, and working together like pieces in a puzzle. Each of the tools has its own unique place, and you could hear a clicking sound when you push it into the chest.
Indeed, it’s a fantastic work of art. Full of detail and refined with an ivory and mother-of-pearl inlay, the Studley Tool Chest testifies to its inventor’s career as a piano man. This piece weighs 72 lbs when it’s empty and 156 lbs when it’s open. Moving it takes a team!
Studley was able to pass the chest to a friend before his death in 1925. The friend’s grandson, Pete Hardwick, took care of the chest and later loaned it in the late 1980s to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. Still then, a private collector bought it for an undisclosed price.
Now, if you imagine how only one tool in the set had an appraisal rate of $700 back in 1993, you could say Hardwick really had a lot of gains. Occasionally at present, the new owner lends the chest to the National Museum of American History.
For those in the woodworking community, the Studley Tool Chest has become legendary. It was even published at Fine Woodworking — right on the cover. Based in Massachusetts, the publication once posted a limited edition poster of it. Needless to say, it immediately sold out. Indeed, after so many years being out of print, the Studley Tool Chest poster is again available for sale.
The Studley Tool Chest has undergone changes throughout the years. Its tools have been restored and rearranged for repair.
Still, it’s a toolbox like no other. In fact, even the New Yankee Workshop has featured this woodworking masterpiece.