8.22.2016

Carpenter's Tool Chest.

A Studley Tool Chest* - a work of art!

My great grandfather was a carpenter.  I don't think he ever had a tool chest as grand as this one.  But he did have one.  I saw the remnants of it in my grandparents' main street home's upstairs.  By the time I went exploring up there, it was becoming like an abandoned building, except that the rest of the house was still quite alive.  But upstairs, there were just cast iron head and foot boards, frames, and open springs (as they did such things from the early 1900s or before), the odd small stand, wall pegs that clothes once hung on, and lots and lots of dusty hardwood floors.

In the top, open landing, right at the head of the stairs, there was a small rocking chair, and a closet of sorts - the only one there was in the whole upstairs - and in that closet were boxes of...books.  It was like finding a treasure chest to a little girl like me who had discovered the joy of reading.  I found out later that those books had belonged to my grandfather, who had been an avid reader all his life, although he didn't always have the time to read.  Those books he had bought and especially cherished had been saved in those boxes. He was a man of letters, although in his actual life he led a much more humble existence.

In the middle bedroom, there was an old chest.  There wasn't anything in it when I looked, except that I discovered a tray of sorts that could be removed so that you could access a good portion of the bottom of the chest.  I learned later that that was where my great grandfather's tool boxes, including the one with the carrying handle, were kept.  I'm not sure why there was a chest like this entirely for packing up tools, but now after all of these years, my theory is that this is what William Fitzgerald - father of my grandmother, father-in-law of my intellectual grandfather - had used to ship his livelihood in when he moved from P.E.I., Canada to St. Vincent, Minnesota, ahead of his bride Elizabeth Clow, in 1881.

I only have three tools of my great grandfather's that once were in the toolbox and the chest - a drawing knife, a small hand awl, and a combination square/mitre/ruler/level.  All of them show signs of much use over many years, long ago.  The wood handles on each one are polished with the sheen of hand oil, of being gripped and used, over and over.  The drawing knife's blade has been hand-sharpened to a perfect edge many times over, so that it is partially worn down, yet quite usable.  The hand awl's gnarled tip is still sharp, and is the best tool I've ever used to start a hole in wood, drywall, or plaster. I remember seeing an old lovely hand plane amongst my Dad's tools, that was part of my great grandfather's originally, that Dad used when he needed one.  I have an awful feeling it was part of my parents' 1998 auction when they broke up housekeeping.  Oh, how I wish I could go back and buy several things that day! Ah, well, I am thankful for what I do have.
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* - O. Studley (1838-1925) was an organ and piano maker, carpenter, and mason who worked for the Smith Organ Co., and later for the Poole Piano Company of Quincy, Massachusetts. Born in 1838 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Studley is best known for creating the so-called Studley Tool Chest, a wall hanging tool chest which cunningly holds some 300 tools in a space that takes up about 40 inches by 20 inches of wall space when closed.