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The Studley Tool Cabinet

An Obsession

I recently went on my honeymoon, and to occupy my woodworking brain while a few thousand kays from my tools I took two books with me: Honest Labour, and Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of HO Studley.

I didn’t read a single word of Honest Labour. To say the Studley Tool Cabinet captured my imagination is a savage understatement. I pored over this book obsessively, at every spare moment, just trying to fathom the depth of skill required to conceive of, and execute, this obscene piece of functional art.

And, of course, the wheels started turning about making my own Studley Cabinet. Especially when I reflected on this monstrosity: a ‘prototype’ (unfinished) that I’ve been looking at ever since I got sick of rummaging around in a chest every time I needed something.

Clearly something needs to be done.

‘Just get it done’.

The usual advice from other woodworkers is that a professional has no time to waste on extravagant shop fixtures: just get it done, and get to work. I get it. I don’t have time to waste on extravagant shop fixtures.

But tool chests of old, while usually innocuous on the outside, were fabulously over the top on the inside:

These elaborate and intricately designed chest interiors served as a portfolio to a shop master: this journeyman has some skill, and something to prove it. So investing the time and effort into elaborate marquetry was not a waste, as it led directly to employment.

But wall hung tool cabinets, for some reason, seem to have escaped this sort of treatment. Most examples I’ve found – both modern and old – are best described as… utilitarian.

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