Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reason #1 Why You Should Come To Handworks 2015


After working for the better part of the last two months on my own case for sharp tools, I have a completely different view of Studley's chest. The man was an animal. I don't mean a lion, or a tiger, or even a Tasmanian devil of woodworking. He was a mythological woodworking beast. If Studley was Greek, and ancient, he would be Daedalus, or a Cockatrice. Or both. A god of skillful craftsmanship that can kill you with a look.

I saw Studley's chest and bench. And I lived.

As I worked the lid of my case for sharp tools, I tasted, albeit briefly, of Studley's obsession with perfection, both in design and execution. Although not built in the same style, or using the same materials, I constantly was called back to the gothic arches, the flawlessly inlaid pearl, the crisp fair chamfers, the silver retaining levers, the subtle fluting of ebony spheres. And I realized that no one, to my knowledge, has reached the level of Studley's tool chest in over a century since Studley's passing. If you're out there, and have somehow completely squashed your ego, let us know. Both about your work, and your incredible self-control.

I've made difficult projects before. Three-dimensional stuff with inlay, incredibly fine fretwork in bone and ivory, geometric parquetry, chicken ala king. But something about this chest lid gave me a new found respect and admiration for Studley. His chest isn't simply an incredible piece of woodworking. Its a look into the human mind. A glimpse of the creative energy that has its origins in something beyond this world, beyond science, beyond a lump of fat between our ears, beyond our capacity for explanation.

I realized that the Studley chest isn't about woodworking. It isn't about Henry Studley. It's not even about the tools. It's about us. People. About the incredible capabilities that lie deep within us, that we're only just slightly aware of. Studley's chest is a germ of creativity that sprouted into something that we can all participate in.

If you want to harvest a seed from Studley's garden, I suggest you do everything humanly possible to get yourself to Cedar Rapids on the weekend of May 16, where the Studley tool chest and workbench will be on display, likely for the last time in all our lives.


  1. Excellent post. The Studley chest is an inspiration to a lot of woodworkers. It motivates me to examine the level and quality of my own work. The dividers pictured in the post looks like the work of Seth Gould.?? He does pretty inccredisble work too.

  2. The most inspiring and thought provoking post I've had the pleasure to read in quite some time! Even better, I only just realized the almost cryptic, double meaning of the title. Here I thought you were just building "a case" in the legal sense, for having sharp tools, but lo and behold, the pictures are retreating and I can feast on the literal meaning of the title! Well done Jameel, as usual.

    1. I was obviously referring to your other posts that tie into this one. My mistake.

  3. Couldn't agree more, Jameel. The chest is a symbol for what we as a species are capable of.

  4. I believe everyone remembers where they were when they first saw the Studley tool box on the back of Fine Woodworking. And most of the time, whenever someone starts to talks about the "Tool Box" it begins with a story about the back cover of Fine Woodworking and the effect it had on them. And everyone's story is about the same, how they stopped whatever they were doing and focused on the picture and the box. Anyone, ANYONE who works with wood and their hands will be/was mesmerized by this picture, and usually their first thought will/would be WOW or a cuss word or two. And now years later, the "Box" still has the power to Wow people.
    I traveled to Iowa to see this tool chest in person. I had was something I just had to do. And all I could do was stare. And wonder. It was everything I thought it would be and more. The new pictures are way cool, but in 3D the box is alive and has a power onto itself. This box has so many unanswered questions. My wife who, likes to humor me, looked at it and say, "Wow, that's pretty cool, I'm glad I got to see it." Another person in the crowd said, "My son bought me my ticket, I didn't realize what a big deal it was gonna be." Yes, it is a big deal. Studley set a bar, he set it very high, and even now after all these years, he's saying to all of us, "This is what I can do, what can you do?"


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