Any good woodworker has a decent toolbox, but no one has ever created something as special as the Studley Tool Chest. This beauty is 20×40 inches when closed (40×40 inches when open) and contains 300 tools within its carefully crafted mahogany rosewood, ebony, and mother-of-pearl case. As interesting as the piece itself is, it has a long history, which at one point saw it displayed in the Smithsonian.
The tool chest was created by mason, carpenter, and piano maker H.O. Studley. Born in 1838 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Studley enlisted in the Massachusetts infantry in 1861 and was held as a prisoner of war in Texas. While working as an organ and piano maker, sometime between 1890 and 1920, Studley devised his ingenious chest.
Designed to hold his own tools, as well as a collection of 19th-century hand tools, Studley worked diligently to craft an ingenious system that would pack everything into the relatively small space. Flip up trays, hidden compartments, and multiple layers conceal everything perfectly, like a well put together jig-saw puzzle. Each tool has its proper space, even clicking when pushed into place.
A work of art itself, the Studley Tool Chest is full of detail, with mother-of-pearl and ivory inlay that speaks to his career as a piano man. The mammoth piece weights 72 lbs when empty and 156 lbs when open, meaning a full squad is needed to move it.
Before dying in 1925, Studley passed this prize possession to a friend. Pete Hardwick, the friend’s grandson, held on to the chest and loaned it to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History in the late 1980s. It was later purchased by a private collector for an undisclosed sum, but if you imagine that just one tool in the set was appraised at $700 in 1993, it surely paid off for Hardwick. The current owner still occasionally lends it to the National Museum of American History.
The chest has become legendary in the woodworking community after being published on the cover of Fine Woodworking. The Massachusetts-based publication even printed a limited edition poster of the Studley Tool Chest, which promptly sold out. After many years out of print, the poster is again available for sale.