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

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

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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 has 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 & Photographer

Donald C. Williams recently retired as senior furniture conservator after almost three decades with the Smithsonian Institution where he worked on some of the most interesting artifacts in our nation’s public and private collections. Today he works from his mountainside Virginia homestead where he engages in private conservation, continues his study of historic finishing and woodworking practices, teaches and produces a line of finishing products.

Narayan Nayar is a Chicago-area designer, photographer, woodworker and food enthusiast.