Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley

Note: Price includes free shipping to the U.S. and Canada. Download an excerpt from this book here.

By Donald C. Williams; Photographs by Narayan Nayar

In a space of just 10” x 39” x 19-1/2”, H.O. Studley managed to arrange – with perfection – more than 250 of his tools into a dovetailed mahogany cabinet that has captivated tens of thousands of woodworkers since it was first unveiled in 1988 on the back cover of Fine Woodworking with a single shocking photograph.

After a brief stay at the Smithsonian, the cabinet was sold to a private collector and hasn’t been seen by the public for well over a decade. Studley’s workbench has never been on public view.

For the last four years, Donald Williams and a team of supporting characters have been researching, documenting and photographing both the cabinet and Studley’s equally amazing workbench to create “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.”

This book is the first in-depth examination of one of the most beautiful woodworking tool chests ever constructed and presents the first-ever biography of Studley (1838-1925), a piano and organ builder in Quincy, Mass. In this book, Williams uses original research to answer the questions that flash through the minds of everyone who views the cabinet:

How did he build it?

How does it work?

And why would anyone construct such a monument to his tools?

In this book you will find measurements, details and photographs of all the tools in the cabinet. Every swinging frame, hinged panel and nook of this three-dimensional, multi-layered sculpture has been analyzed so you can understand how it folds in on itself like a giant piece of mahogany origami.

You will meet the man himself, H.O. Studley, and get a glimpse into the trade of high-end organ and piano makers in 19th- and 20th-century New England.

But most of all, you will see the cabinet in a way that only a handful of privileged people ever have. And you will realize that the magazine photograph that electrified the woodworking world in 1988 only scratches the surface of the cabinet’s complete magnificence.

“Virtuoso” is produced and printed in the United States. The interior paper is an #80 coated matte paper. The signatures are sewn, affixed with a cloth tape and glued to the cover boards to create a strong hinge. The cloth-covered boards are wrapped in a #100 super-matte dust jacket. 216 pages.

A companion documentary on the tool cabinet is available in our store here.

About the Author

Don Williams says his love of learning was probably fostered by the fact that his father was going through seminary when he was a child. Don grew up in a household without television. Instead, his family listened to classical music and read.

“But much to my parents’ dismay, I veered off into jazz as my primary interest, so they were pretty much convinced in my teenage years that they had picked up the wrong kid in the hospital,” he says.

Don maintains a love of jazz.

Jazz can loosely be defined as a combination of polyphony, syncopation and improvisation — simultaneous but independent melodic lines playing at the same time with unexpected and off-beat rhythms achieved extemporaneously. For Williams, jazz is not only what he listens to, still to this day, but serves as an outline for how he lives his life.

A self-proclaimed conservator, educator, scholar and all-around inquisitive guy, Don was a curious child who delved deep into varying topics – some unexpected – and from a young age, found connections.

Read more about Don Williams in this full profile.