HO Studley

Workbench Wednesday – #9 (2013/1890?) A Pale Imitation of H.O. Studley

By 2013 the Henry Studley Express was roaring down the rails, building steam and speed with every day.  I was  driving on long trips to visit the original collection, other examples of similar benches and vises, and compiling research apace.  I was almost at the saturation point when, on my birthday, I was contacted by a professor of furniture design who had a piano makers’ workbench that had outlived its usefulness for his work and he was considering selling it.  That made for a very fine birthday!  He had purchased the bench at a “going out of business” liquidation sale at a piano factory in the early 80s.  From what he said, he thought the factory had been there since the 1890s.  For years he had worked in designing hand-made furniture but in recent projects he was gravitating towards machine-made/manufactured furniture so his shop was transitioning to reflect these new interests.

We engaged in several rounds of correspondence as the portrait of the bench was clarified, and my interest in it grew by leaps and bounds.  Eventually we arrived at a sale price we could live with.  Three months after our first conversation I made the trek to upstate New York and picked it up.  The drive home was so filled with delight and anticipation that it seemed to take a week to get there, but in reality it was not even a particularly long day of driving.

The bench was a modular unit; take off the vises and separate the base from the top and it was a manageable move by myself using a hand truck.  In just a few minutes after arriving home it was ensconced in the barn.

Studying the disassembled bench confirmed my premise that for the most part it was a manufactured work station, probably through the catalog from an unidentified industrial supplier.  The base was a run of the mill cabinet that was cranked out for industrial and educational institutions by the tens of thousands, to be paired with a bench top of the buyer’s choice.  Did the options include vises? I do not know.  The top gives every indication of the same context, but is unmarked regarding its manufacturer.

Further, my investigation only heightened the mystery  about piano makers’ vises; this pair, like all the others I have seen, was devoid of any manufacturer’s identifying marks.  They were a pretty standard pair for this type of ensemble — a typical face vise that opens 15 inches and an end vise with an integral dog.

The bench has clearly had a lifetime of very hard use and was/is in dire need of a thorough restoration.  That remains on the menu for this winter. But then, it was on the menu for last winter, too.  At this point my goal is to install a new work surface on top of the well-worn extant one, getting the vises polished and perhaps plated (I located a nickel plating shop in Richmond, and Studley’s vises were nickel plated, so as an homage I must also, mustn’t I?) and making new bench dogs for those that are missing.  I wonder what the odds are that the new dogs will be spring-loaded ebony blocks.

For now the bench serves well for students in the classroom but after the restoration I suspect it might get moved.

Another Amazing Studley Workbench Replica

The original end vise from Studley’s bench. The rising dovetailed dog is the giveaway.

I was noodling around the interwebs recently, looking for any new images or information about piano-makers’ vises, (I am in the pattern-making phase of reproducing H.O. Studley’s vises) and came across the web site of Victoria Morozova.

Victoria is a Moscow miniaturist who was steered towards Studley by Bill Robertson, who is both a famed miniaturist himself but also a contributor to Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley.  The gallery of her work on the bench is breathtaking.  Give it a look.

PS – She also has a three-part step-by-step description of replicating (I think Jameel Abraham’s) Roubo bench.  Prepare to be blowed away, real good.

Talking Studley in Fredericksburg VA

Recently I was invited to speak about the HO Studley project to the Frederickburg (VA) Woodworker’s Guild.  My friend SteveD was my host and a grand time ensued.

While at Steve’s I got to see a bed frame he had been working on in recent weeks, and about which we had corresponded regarding the finish being used.  This bed was commissioned by the organization that is recreating George Washington’s childhood home near Fredericksburg.  Much of the recreation is based on rigorous and ongoing archaeology.  The Washington family domicile being readied for the public is all new construction, but there is solid evidence that it is a very faithful interpretation of the original.

Steve has been commissioned to create a number of beds (and perhaps other pieces?) for the site, and this bed is a stunning one.

The audience at the Guild meeting was large and enthusiastic, Steve said it was about twice normal.  And you gotta admit, the tale of Henry O. Studlew is a compelling one.  The group meets in a semi-industrial space which suited me just fine.

The audience was very attentive and engaged, asking excellent questions throughout the presentation and staying after to discuss all manner of Studley and Roubo topics.  They promised to invite me back, and I look forward to that event.

Gonna Buy Five Copies For My Mother

About eighteen months ago I contracted with Popular Woodworking magazine to write a pile of articles, and the final one of that batch was featured on the cover of the current issue.

This article was the feature on Jim Moon’s recreation of the HO Studley tool cabinet and workbench, which was indeed masterful.

The image of that new treasure has been popping up in disparate places.  It deserves the widest possible dissemination.

A Studley-Connected Piano Maker’s Workbench


One of my not-so-secret desires about the aftermath of releasing Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley was that voids in my research could be alleviated, and that people who had more knowledge than I would contact me to push back my frontiers of ignorance. Well, I am delighted to say that it has begun! It’s just a trickle so far, but I will recount the developments as they occur.


Recently I was contacted by renowned tool maker Ray Larsen, author of the much-ought-after Toolmaking for Woodworkers (I’ve had mine since it was first published), with images and the tale of his piano-maker’s workbench, complete with two of the wheel-handled vises.

In reviewing the known history of the bench, the odds are pretty good that this bench has a Two Degree of Separation connection to Henry O. Studley himself!

Here is Ray’s fascinating account [edited lightly for clarity].

I purchased the bench in question about 25 years ago from an antiques dealer in Hingham, MA, not far from Quincy. She had gotten it when she cleaned out a house in Quincy where the bench had been stored for many years in either a cellar or a garage… The bench is in the same form as the benches in your book.


It has a heavy, hardwood top with two large hand-wheel operated vices.


This top sits on a 9-drawer base similar to the base of the Mack Gavitt bench in your book. There is no kneehole. The bench was used hard —and it shows it. It also suffered further indignities while in storage; there are one or two paint spills on the top surface and some of the moulding around the drawers is missing, as are some of the original drawer pulls. It is, however, totally original.


An interesting aspect of the bench is the fact that the top surface of its base is made up of planks taken from piano shipping crates.


These planks have several piano company addresses painted on them, including that of the Poole Piano Company where Brother Studley worked. Another unusual feature is a 4-inch-high vertical tool rack or holder mounted along the back of the top.



Have been able to track down more info on the piano bench. It was owned and used by Charles A. Ross of Quincy. I got the name from a guy (now 90 years old) who lived across the street from him many years ago. The September 16, 1922 edition of THE MUSIC TRADES provides more info, reporting that Ross was resigning as sales manager of the A. J. Jackson & Co.’s piano warerooms in Boston to establish his own warerooms in Boston under the name Charles Ross & Co. The article goes on to say: “Mr. Ross has had a thorough schooling in the piano craft. For fourteen years he was employed by local factories and after several years at the Vose and Poole companies he entered the retrial sales branch.”

Turns out Ross was a big cheese in Quincy, having spent many years in politics including a stint as Quincy’s mayor.

The time frame and context are fascinating, perhaps even downright seductive to us Studleyophiles. Given that Ross was actually in the piano making trades during the long career of Studley including his 1898-1918 tenure at Poole, and given that there is a solid connection to the Poole Piano Company, the possibility exists – and seems probable to me – that this workbench was originally owned and used by one of Henry Studley’s action mechanics at Poole.

And how cool is that?

Recycling the Exhibit Parts


When closing down the HO Studley exhibit, one of the things I had to do was remove all of the exhibit paraphernalia from the exhibit hall, including the exhibit case for the tool cabinet, but also the platforms for the workbenches.  This required me to rent a large cargo van to fit it all in for the drive back home.


I haven’t figured out what to do with the exhibit case, but the platforms are already recycled into terrific assembly tables.  Inasmuch as they were exceedingly stout well-buily 4×8′ platforms with 12″ skirts, all from cabinet-grade tulip poplar faced 3/4″ plywood, they were easily transformed into these new accouterments in the barn.


For each platform-now-table I took a single 8-foot 4×4 and cut in into four identical sections to serve as the legs.  At each corner I screwed a leg into the two converging aprons, then affixed big casters to the bottom of each leg, flipped it over, and viola, a new and lovely work table!


I moved one into my main workshop to serve as a workstation for either conservation or assembly projects, and the other is currently  against the wall in the classroom.  But since they are both on wheels, it is 100% likely that they will simply be moved from place to place depending on the needs of the moment.

It sure made me glad I am no longer bound by the 220 s.f. footprint of my former shop in the basement of the Maryland house.

Great Guy, Great Lids!

On my way home from returning Mr. Studley’s treasure back to Mister Stewart, at the invitation of Narayan Nayar, the polymath who was my photographic collaborator for Virtuoso, I ventured into the alien universe of Chicago to connect with him.  I have gathered many treasures along the path to getting to “done” with the book and exhibit, and his friendship is first among equals in this regard.

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Narayan may or may not share my ambivalence towards fashion in general, but we absolutely possess an appreciation for fine hats.  I’m not sure of the genesis of this proclivity for him, but for me it was growing up in Minnesota, where a hat kept your brains from freezing, followed by adolescence and early adulthood in Florida, where a hat kept your brains from frying.

The topic of hats came up periodically during our hundreds of hours working together with the Studley collection, time that was simultaneously exhilarating and bone-numbingly tedious.  He noticed my hand-made beaver-fur-felt Borsalino, I noticed his hand made Optimo (although I did not know the brand, only that it was one fine looking lid.)


So we met up at Optimo’s hat making shop in southern Chicago.  To hat aficionados, it was like Handworks was to toolaholics.  I arrived a bit before Narayan, and wandered about the showroom in a near-stupor at the hat exquisiteness all around me.  These were indeed the finest hats I had ever encountered.  And thanks to Narayan’s beneficence I would soon be getting one myself.


By the time he arrived a few minutes later I had narrowed down the selection to two hats, one a fedora, the other a Panama.  In the end I simply could not choose, so he bought one for me and I bought the other for myself.  A week later they both arrived at my doorstep.


One of these will likely be on my corpse’s head as it is fed into the incinerator before my ashes get scattered on the mountain behind the barn.  That’s a proposition that is decades off.


After we left Optimo’s we supped on some of the famous Chicago style pizza, reminiscing on our project, then parted as we each headed for home.  His drive was a few minutes, mine was fifteen hours.  When parting, Narayan handed me one final gift that in the end allowed the exhibit to be a break-even proposition, demonstrating once again his generous spirit manifest in his time, talents, and treasures.

Great lids, great guy.  I look forward to the next time our paths cross, and hope that somehow a project evolves that allows us to work together again.

HO Studley’s Tool Cabinet Goes Home, and So Do I

At the conclusion of the exhibit, you got to go straight home, but I did not.  Remaining was the arduous task of examining the artifact components, packing archivally for the trip home, and re-installing the collection back at its home.  Then I got to drive the two days back to the Fortress of Solitude.


Fortunately for me a sizable cohort of Heroes remained behind for the day of deinstallation, even a second day for loading the crates onto the fine arts transport truck.


The routine of an exhibit de-installation pretty much the reverse of the installation.


You might think it would go more quickly, but conscientiousness argues the opposite.


For  valued treasures, you have to be just as careful disassembling them as you were in assembling them.


Once again, the collection was loaded and secured onto a dedicated “high security” fine arts transport vehicle.  When I say “dedicated” I mean that there was noting else on the truck for either leg of the trip.  When I say “high security” you can conclude about that what you want.  That type of service is not cavalier, but it is required at this level of the world of artifacts.  The insurance underwriters won’t cover it otherwise.



Hours later the collection arrived back at its home, and was unloaded and the crates were rolled into the gallery and left for my ministrations as the transport pulled away.  The only thing I wanted accomplished on that day was getting the crates opened and empty, and the cabinet hung on the wall.  With that accomplished, along with placing the bench top on the base, the work for the day was finished.





The next morning brought about the installation of the cabinet’s contents.  Well, that’s what happened after I spend part of an hour taking one last round of detailed photographs for my own amusement.  I intend to integrate many of this detail vocabulary into my mahogany traveling tool case.  Stay tuned on that one, as this coming autumn will hopefully bring me time to noodle that exercise.

Each box was emptied and the contents arranged to allow for an inspection, then piece by piece the cabinet contents were placed in their proper location.  Because of my recent familiarity with the collection, it actually took only a little more than an hour to load the tools.


On previous visits to the collection, given that they were many months apart, the pace was considerably slower as I had to remind myself each time where things went.  Not so this time.  Having unloaded and loaded it three times in the previous six days, it went quickly and without a hitch.  At noon the final piece was put in its place, and as a nod to my own interest in the mallet as the favorite tool, it was the last thing to go home.  Another half hour of clean-up and closing the crates, and I was heading back for home.

Heroes and Hired Guns – Part 1

The Heroes

Two groups of talented people helped make the Studley Exhibit a reality.  In the next blog post I will talk about The Hired Guns, those skilled artists and artisans I hired to complete specific tasks.  But for now I’m concentrating on The Heroes, those folks who actually donated their efforts to the cause.

The docent group picture just before the opening reception.  Photo courtesy of Narayan Nayar.

The docent group picture just before the opening reception. From left to right: Bill Robillard, John Hurn, Sharon Que, RickB, Jan Bohn, Sean Thomas, Randy Bohn, Don Williams, Derek Olsen, Mike Mavodones.  Not pictured: MikeM1.  Photo courtesy of Narayan Nayar.

Notwithstanding the substantial – and some have said excessive –  admission ticket price for the HO Studley exhibit, the event was at best a “break even” undertaking (it did not make it there, but I guess that’s why they call it “risk capital”) and could not have come together successfully without a cadre of dedicated volunteer supporters and collaborators.

Yes, The Heroes of the affair were those friends old and new who pitched in and contributed their time, talents, and treasure on your and my behalf to bring HO Studley to you.  They gave of themselves most generously, contributing their skills, labors and presence at their own expense to serve as docents  and willing hands for the myriad tasks that required conscientious completion.  They took vacation, footed their own travel and other expenses, and diligently prepared in advance to provide the patrons with the best possible experience at the exhibit.

As I said earlier the Studley Exhibit was like the tectonic plates of my life colliding, bringing together friends from the museum conservation world, commercial furniture finishing and restoration, and the newer world of Schwarzland.  I’d like you to meet them.


RickB during the installation of the exhibit.


I first met RickB when I was doing some guest instructing at the late and much lamented Woodfinishing Program of the Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) just south of St. Paul MN.  Rick is perhaps the best natural talent in woodfinishing I have ever met, which irritates me to no end, and he works in the Twin Cities.  He drove down to work as part of both the installation and docent crews.  And in the past, he spent a couple weekends helping me build The Barn.


Randy Bohn is a long time acquaintance from Minnesota I first met when I was guest teaching at DCTC. He’s had a long and storied career in antiquities and furniture restoration, and we have become better acquainted only in recent years. JanB is Randy’s wife, and she comes from the business side of the world as she administers a couple of professional organizations.  I met her for the first time last year, and she is an unmitigated delight to be around.  When I needed a couple of extra docent volunteers late in the game, Jan and Randy jumped right in with enthusiasm and elan.

John Hurn is a small businessman operating his own furniture restoration practice near St. Louis.  We met through the on-line discussions and in-person events of the Professional Refinisher’s Group and my forays to teach at the National Woodfinishing Institute in Minnesota.  He has been a faithful friend and contributor to my projects in the past, and it was a delight to once again have him on board.


John Hurn admiring the case as intently as did the patrons.


MikeM1 is a long time friend and historic upholstery collaborator, and a driving force behind the Professional Refinisher’s Group on-line forum to which I belong (and you should too!).  Mike decided to go “full Hal Holbrook” on us (Holbrook’s portrayal of Mark Twain is one of Mike’s favorites) and came to the exhibit as Henry O. Studley himself, regaling the audiences with yarns about the times and fashions of Studley.


Mike or Henry?


The success of Mike’s portrayal is clearly evident in this image below, where two dozen exhibit patrons are spellbound by him, while only three are looking at the actual cabinet!


Note the crowd size as Mike spins Studleyesque yarns.


Mike Mavodones was first drawn into the Orbit of Studley when he sent me photos of his odd wheel-handled vise.  I visited him in Maine and photographed the vise, which eventually was included in the pages of Virtuoso and then loaned it to be included in the exhibit.


Mike Mavodones alongside his very unusual wheel handled vise. Read about it in Virtuoso.

In addition, he volunteered to serve as a docent, and no one in the hall brought greater appreciation and passion than did Mike.


Sometimes Mike wound up holding the plexi panel for almost a half hour while I waxed ecstatic about the tool cabinet and contents.


Mike was usually the one to assist me in the removing of the plexiglass front for the “open vitrine” sessions.  He made his drive from Maine really count.   Though a new found friend, Mike was a tremendous contributor to the exhibit as installer, interpreter docent, and de-installer.


Derek Olsen, perhaps better known to many of you as the “Old Wolf” of the Old Wolf Workshop blog, which is how we met through correspondence relating to his always instructive and inspiring posts.  In recent years we have become personal friends, and Derek was on-hand in Cedar Rapids to do anything that needed doing before, during , and after the entire event.  He was there when the transport arrived with the collection, and he was there to load it up for return to its home.  Throughout the exhibit Derek was my “go to” guy.


Even after almost five decades of caring for precious historical artifacts RickP couldn’t help but be seduced by the tool cabinet.


RickP is one of my oldest friends, we having first met when he attended workshops I hosted at the Smithsonian three decades ago.  A successful fine and decorative arts conservator in northwest Arkansas(!), Rick and I share a passion for history and preserving the artifacts remaining from the past.  Rick only had one day to participate in Cedar Rapids, but he drove one day coming and and one day returning home in order to contribute to the installation of the exhibit.


Sharon admiring one of the turn-of-the-century wheel handled vises on the replica bench.


Sharon Que is a renowned violin artisan in Michigan, engaged mostly in restoring violins at the very highest levels as you would expect from a member of the American Federation of Violin and Bowmakers, the nation’s premier organization of that field.  She is also a gifted sculptor and active contributor to the Refinisher’s Group.  We first met when she wrote to ask about shellac.  How can you not find that appealing? It turned out that she was literally on her way through Cedar Rapids at the exact right time to be part of the installation crew and spend a day as docent.  Her skills and good cheer make her welcome at anyplace I am.


Bill Robillard “walking through” the cabinet history and contents with the guests at the opening reception for the Handworks toolmakers.


Bill Robillard is also a dear friend of many years whom I first met through the Refinisher’s Group and my times at DCTC.  A former electrical/robotics engineer, he has twice come to The Barn to help me work on the power system there.  Now semi-retired (yeah, he “retired” like I did!) with a furniture preservation practice in Green Bay WI, Bill has helped the entire Studley franchise in innumerable ways, and drove down from Green Bay to be on the installation and docent crews.


Sean Thomas is a physician from the Orbit of Schwarz.  We met first at Handworks 2013, when my compewder threw a tantrum just before the Studley presentation there, and whether by sweet promises or dire threats, Sean got the stupid machine to behave itself.  Sean was another volunteer enthusiastic to be part of the history-making experience of bringing Studley to the public, and was part of the project every step of the way.  His new friendship is one of the treasures I have collected along the path to this project’s completion.

There are no doubt other Heroes who should be profiled here — my collaborators at LAP, researchers JohnC and ElizabethC, to name a few — but I wanted to put, er, a face on the faces you saw alongside me in Cedar Rapids.

Without them it would not have happened.  Thank you all.  Your accounts in the First Bank of Don are brimming.

Here iare some more photos from the Gallery of Heroes



Mike, Sharon, and RickB installing a quarter ton of vises on the replica bench top.


RickP getting the crate with the tool cabinet ready for removing and installing Studley’s masterpiece.


Mike, Sharon, and RickB assembling the replica workbench top’s exhibit stand


Friends old and new enjoying a moment of quiet fellowship during a lull in the proceedings.


Mike and RickB readying themselves for the wave of Studley fanatics.


Derek and Mike laughing about something just before the doors opened for the first session on Friday morning.


The HO Studley Exhibit Closes With Gusto


While it seemed to me that the final afternoon of the exhibit The Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench was about four years after it opened at the Scottish Rite Temple, it was in fact only four days after installation.  Jameel Abraham’s snapshot of me in the final hours of the show pretty much says it all.

I knew beforehand that Sunday afternoon would be slow; it was after the rush of Handworks so the overall energy level wold be low, plus the tickets for Sunday afternoon just weren’t selling in advance.  Going into the weekend, the final three viewing sessions for the exhibit totaled around thirty tickets, as opposed to the 150 visitor slots for those hours.

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By lunch time my energy was flagging a smidge, and when I learned that virtually none of the remaining late afternoon tickets had sold at Handworks, I made the executive decision to reward the hearty survivors with the chance of a lifetime.  I announced to the audiences and docents that beginning with the 3PM session, anyone who came in could stay until the very end when we kicked everyone out at 6PM.

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This decision re-energized me for some reason, and I charged into the home stretch with renewed vigor.  Yes, I was too weary to stand and speak for the whole afternoon, but I could certainly sit and speak at length and many of the patrons came and sat with me as we spoke.

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In addition, the “open vitrine” segments got longer and the descriptions and demonstrations more elaborate as we were not facing deadlines of the coming group at the top of next hour.  My soliloquys on the cabinet, tools and the tales of HenryO became more “Don-like” as I am wont to take my time in unfolding the narrative under the best of times.  And for this afternoon, there was no deadline as the audience and docents knew I wasn’t restricted by time.


The final “open vitrine” session beginning about 5PM was a thing to behold, as I took the time to guide the two dozen remaining stalwarts through the entire tool cabinet contents, showing each tool, opening each compartment including drawers, and removing many of the tools and inner racks for their viewing pleasure.  We kept this up until just before 6PM, when we reassembled the case and vitrine, and wished all the visitors farewell.

Then, all the docents and I went out to dinner.  On me.

And it was over.