Anne Briggs enjoys using hand tools, including this plane she inherited from her grandfather. He introduced her to woodworking at age 3 and taught her the basics before passing away when she was 12. Here she is flattening the plane’s sole as part of the restoration process.
“For me, woodwork has always been motivated far more by relationships than by finished projects. I’ve found the best way to get to know people deeply is by joining them doing something they truly love,” Anne Briggs, also known as Anne of All Trades, explained. “I came to love woodworking because my grandpa loved it, and I started hanging out with him in his woodshop. He taught me to hold a hammer when I was three.”
As an adult, Anne reawakened her love for woodworking and other handcrafts through relationships with people. “I love to learn, especially alongside other folks who are passionate about working with their hands, and even more so when we can collaborate on a project together,” she said.
The daughter of full-time missionaries from Montana, Anne said that before she moved to Seattle, Washington, from Taipei, Taiwan, in 2011, she had always lived in such a way that her possessions needed to fit in two checked bags on an airplane, because she never really knew when she would move again or where to.
At that point in her life, Anne was recent university graduate with a degree in international business who was fluent enough in the Chinese language to teach it. Her vision for the future: to become a business tycoon, traveling in Asia and making a lot of money.
All that changed after she moved to Seattle and married her best friend, Adam. They bought a farm and she opted out of her high tech job in front of a computer screen to follow a totally different career path and lifestyle built around woodworking and other handcrafts, along with growing food organically and raising animals.
Today, visitors to her website – anneofalltrades.com – are greeted with this message: “It’s my mission to inspire and empower you to learn skills that make you a resource to your family and community. You don’t have to wait until you have the right skills, the right tools, or even enough time. By working with what’s in front of you – and taking a few chances – you can build a simple life that you love. This site is a chronicle of me doing just that. I’m happy to share this journey with you.”
From Taiwan to Seattle – Life Changing Move
“My move to Seattle was the first time in my life I’d had space that was actually my own to start setting up a more ‘permanent’ shop, one that resembled my grandfather’s shop in lots of ways. It had a little bit of everything to tackle every kind of project that came my way.”
The Seattle move also afforded Anne free time and a little disposable income, things she had never had because: “I'd been working and going to school full time or working multiple jobs when I wasn’t in school to make ends meet since I was 13 years old.”
It also provided her with a home with space to begin collecting tools and building furniture. Anne started buying tools, checking out library books and videos about woodworking, attending local woodworking club meetings, and searching social media for other local residents with similar interests – gradually building a community of makers for collaboration, inspiration and support.
Three years into her self-taught woodworking career, she was asked by Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle to manage their woodworking program. Anne had never taken a woodworking course at this point, but she had some guidance and help on a few projects from friends, neighbors and online resources. Her brother-in-law introduced her to hand tool woodworking, and the writings of Christopher Schwarz and collaboration with her 90-year-old neighbor Frank helped her do a lot of early woodworking and problem-solving.
Feeling a bit underqualified as a hobbyist woodworker, Anne soon realized that her approach to a hobby – research, practice, and perfecting things in ways she has seen few others do – had actually equipped her with some “woodworking chops,” despite her lack of formal training.
“My unique position at Pratt gave me the opportunity to curate the kind of education program I wished I had the resources to take and to share it with an audience interested in taking it,” Anne said. “Hiring some really awesome teachers, working with them to curate really interesting and engaging class content, and helping share it with the right audience really turned the woodworking program around at Pratt. After working there three years, I was able to hand over a program I was really proud of when I was ready to move on and do my own thing.”
Anne took advantage of her time at Pratt to build her own woodworking skills by staying after work to take classes from her hand-picked instructors. She especially is thankful that Steve Dando and Tom Henscheid for helping her to become a better woodworker and to learn how to teach woodworking to others.
“I think I like teaching woodworking even more than I like building furniture in my own shop,” Anne said.
Anne has been playing the mandolin since she was 13 and always wanted to build one of her own. She finally did in August 2019 and documented it in a blog and video.
Anne is using a shavehorse to make a hay rake in Greg Pennington’s shop, where he offers Windsor Chair classes and other instruction.
Professional Woodworking – Anne Briggs Style
Although woodworking is Anne’s primary means of income, she is quick to note hers is not a traditional woodworking career.
Anne tried doing woodworking full time in 2014, but the non-creative demands of doing business nearly ruined her love for the craft permanently. After a brief stint doing client work, Anne went back to work full time outside woodworking for a while and developed a strategy to leave the corporate world with a much more solid plan than she originally had. She returned to woodworking full time in January 2018.
“The majority of my income comes from teaching, writing about, and making educational content about woodworking, gardening and farming. I travel the country teaching classes and speaking at conferences, I do a lot of freelance writing and photography, I create and sell online courses, design and sell digital plans for projects, do product testing and reviews, and build things on spec instead of directly for clients, so I still preserve the creative aspect of things and only build things I’m actually genuinely interested in building, and then I’ll occasionally offer those up for sale.”
Anne’s blog, “Anne of All Trades,” was nominated and won the Best Hand Tool Blog category in the 2018 Woodworkers Guild of America Awards competition.
Anne has taught at Port Townsend School of Woodworking, Pratt Fine Arts Center, and for lots of club demos and one-day classes all over the United States. She co-taught with Ashley Harwood at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, and what she considers the biggest honor – teaching at Chris Schwarz’s Lost Art Press Storefront.
She has made videos for many companies, including Popular Woodworking and Lee Valley.
Another Move – to Nashville, Tennessee
Anne and husband Adam announced their move from Seattle to Nashville with a sneak peek at their new farm.
About a year and a half into her growing full-time woodworking career, Anne and her husband Adam began planning another major move – from Seattle to Nashville, Tennessee – where sunshine was more plentiful, temperatures warmer, and real estate prices low enough to allow them to purchase a much larger farm. Also, Adam had a good job opportunity and Anne had close friends in the area.
On January 1, 2020, the couple moved halfway across the US with their Nigerian Dwarf goats (3 became 6 when one had three babies), two donkeys, two rabbits, one cat, and one dog. Anne raises the goats for their milk and to make butter, yogurt, cheese, soap and lots of other stuff. A month after they moved, Anne added a dairy cow and her calf, two sheep, two livestock guardian dogs, and 50 chickens. She plans to get another 100 (at least) chickens, a few more sheep, and beef cattle in August.
“I've always loved animals,” Anne said. “I was bullied a lot as a kid and I learned early on that as unkind as people can be, animals love unconditionally. However, as much as I love the animals, every animal I have has to have a ‘job,’ either it’s trained as a working animal or its ultimate purpose is to produce something tangible for the farm, be it milk, meat, eggs, protection from predators, pulling farm implements, that kind of thing.”
In this February 2020 video Anne explains how to “Build a Goat Stand” using a pallet, scraps and a simple toolkit. Stands are used for milking other goat-related tasks.
Pandemic conditions led Anne to follow a friend's suggestion and make cages for her fast growing tomatoes from available bamboo, using a Japanese Lashing Technique. A June 2020 video provides instructions.
Anne is also continuing her gardening. “Aside from a few dry goods and occasional treats, almost 100% of our food is either grown here or sourced from our neighbors. It was the same in Seattle, though I had a much better established garden and pantry there, so there was definitely an adjustment period when we first moved here. Thankfully a lot of our neighbors here are farmers, so I’ve been able to buy or trade for most everything we’ve needed, which has been especially great during this pandemic.”
A New Shop Beginning
Anne and Adam are pretty much settled into life on their Nashville farm, with exception of a shop for Anne. Currently, Anne is working in a makeshift hand tool shop in one corner of her office and a blacksmith/mechanic shop in part of the garage, so she can still forge woodworking tools and fix her car, tractor and other items while a new shop is being built. Her power tools are in storage.
Doing an “Anne for Scale” photo, Anne stands beside one of the 6" x 12" x 28" posts that were set in early July 2020 for Anne’s brand-new shop on her Tennessee farm.
“Thankfully, one of the neat things about our new property is that there wasn’t any existing infrastructure save for the barn, so I get my blank slate and will get to build things to best fit me, rather than trying to retrofit,” Anne explained. The other big difference is that this new shop isn’t intended just as space for Anne. “I intend to use it to teach and host all kinds of classes, from woodworking to blacksmithing to regenerative farming to mechanical repair,” she explained.
“We broke ground for it in January, but it got massively delayed by weather and then progress ground to a halt during the pandemic,” Anne said. “I was initially planning to hire a crew to help, but because my financial situation changed so much as a result of the pandemic, I am now going to have to build a lot more of it myself, so it’s going to be a MUCH longer project than I’d originally intended.”
Anne said she lost about 40% of her income due to the pandemic, obviously with all classes and public events being cancelled, which in turn definitely affected the budget she had set aside to build her shop. She also noted that even if she could afford it, having a building crew out to work alongside while she was in full quarantine was out of the question.
However, she had already purchased the materials, so she found a couple guys she knows are also taking the quarantine seriously to help get the posts set and the roof on now so she can at least get the rest of the materials under cover. After that, she said she will reassess her financial situation.
Husband and wife duo Adam of No Trades and Anne of All Trades shared the spotlight on a June 27, 2020, Virtual Maker Fair livestream segment on YouTube. Anne carved a butter paddle while Adam read questions from those listening and the couple provided answers. Watch the session on YouTube.
Best Project to Learn Woodworking
“I think everyone interested in woodworking should learn to carve spoons. There are so many lessons there – learning about grain direction, the importance of sharp tools, learning how to exploit grain strength, think and design in 3-D, tool safety, proper lumber selection, observing what happens when/how wood dries ... the list goes on and on.”
Anne’s Advice for Beginning Woodworkers:
“Instead of buying more tools, use that money to take a class. Even if it’s not the best class material or the best teacher, if you go into the class determined to learn something, you will, and the knowledge, experience, and community building you will gain through the taking of that class will make you a far more discerning customer when you do go to buy your next tool or start your next project. You will save a whole lot more money and learn a whole lot faster that way too.”
Anne also advocates getting into woodworking now if you are interested. “Don’t wait ‘until’ you have land, money, time, tools, a perfect workshop, any of it. If you want to get into woodwork, carve spoons into a bucket while you watch TV. Build things at your kitchen table. I worked out of my laundry room for three years with a handful of tools. Some of the best furniture I’ve made came out of there.”
Thoughts about Women and Woodworking
“The world needs more female woodworkers. We have a different eye for design and a different way of approaching a lot of problems that are unique. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t make opportunities for myself to get started sooner. It’s definitely not a ticket to easy street, but if you’ve got an eye for design, the skillset to execute those ideas, and the ability to market your work, there’s plenty of room at the proverbial table right now.
“There's been a huge reawakening in the love of well crafted, real furniture, so the customer base is definitely there. You’ve just got to put in the hard work and learn to tell the right story about the stuff you’re making.”
“I get an insane amount of ‘helpful’ advice that can often be perceived as belittling, but I think the majority of it comes from a well-intentioned (if not very poorly informed/executed) place. People tend to assume I don’t know what I’m doing because I’m a young woman. But it generally doesn’t take much to shift their perspective, because, for the most part, their assumptions come from the fact that they’ve not likely seen many young women doing what I do.
“But, on the flip side of that, I'm really thankful for the audience and voice I have, because there’s something incredibly powerful about seeing people that look like you doing the things you’ve always wanted to do and being told I have been ‘that’ person by a lot of folks has made any negativity I’ve faced more than worth it.”
Anne’s “yes” to attending the Woodworking in America show in 2014 opened up several successive opportunities, beginning with an invitation to write about the event for Furniture and Cabinetmaking Magazine.
Just Say “Yes”!
“Just say ‘yes’ is the most important thing my mom taught me,” Anne wrote in a July 17, 2015, blog post that describes some opportunities Anne discovered by just saying ‘yes.’ The beginning of the post explains more about her mother’s “just say yes” attitude.
“My mom and dad have devoted their lives to helping others. I had the incredible privilege of being raised by these two full-time missionaries. There was rarely ‘extra’ money floating around in our family, and yet we were afforded opportunities to do all kinds of things because my mother had an amazing knack for finding adventure and simply saying ‘yes.’
“We were able to travel the world from diapers to high school graduation. We got to sail on yachts, surf several oceans, go on chartered fishing excursions, backpack in some of the most beautiful places on the planet, stay in yurts, ride camels, parasail in the Gobe desert – the list goes on and on and on.
“My mom could always find the coolest opportunities in the weirdest places, and relationship, not money, has been the currency that has defined her rich life.”
An Amazing Journey
Thanks, Anne Briggs, for sharing your amazing life’s journey with our Woodcraft audience and for use of the photos included here.