Searching for Studley-esque Vises in New England 2013

I have just completed a whirlwind trek around the alien planet called Gnu Ongland or something like that, in a quest to gather more information about the life and tools of Henry O. Studley as I get myself primed for completing the manuscript for VIRTUOSO, my book about Studley’s tool cabinet, his tools, and his workbench.  As you may know, I have become what some folks would call “obsessed” with the style of workbench vise found on Studley’s bench.  I am not obsessed, I am merely hyper-interested.

My first in-person encounter with this style of vise – I now know is referred to as a “piano-maker’s wheel handled vise” — was when I entered into the presence of the Studley ensemble for the first time three autumns ago.  Admittedly I knew little about this tool form, and have been trying to resolve that shortcoming in the intervening years.  Since then I have learned of almost twenty examples of this vise, many of which have a provenance founded in the piano-maker’s trade.  For the rest, I simply do not know of the history for the vises.

This trip was primarily to examine and photograph a half dozen of these vises, the genesis of which is, at this point, mostly unknown.  An earlier trip last winter was for the same purpose.  One of the truly intriguing elements of this quest is that these vises are all “of a type” yet no two are identical to each other.  None have any maker’s marks, although a few have some inventory (?) numbers stamped on them.

There are clearly two general types of wheel-handled piano vises; end vises and face vises.  While they appear alike on the surface, they are different underneath.  With each one slightly different than all the others, a number of questions arise.  Who made them, and why are they similar yet unique in more than incidental ways?

It is clear that these were a well-known type, of similar form, yet they were made by numerous different patternmakers, foundries and machine shops.

Over the coming series of blog posts I will be recounting the examples of the vises I have found thus far, in part to “think out loud” about them, in part to get out the word that I would like to learn more and learn of additional examples and histories.

Stay tuned.