Girls Who Build is a series of profiles of women who build…like girls. Yes, that’s right. Girls are powerful and so are these women, especially when it comes to creating beautiful and useful pieces from wood, metal, and more. These girls are kicking butt in an historically male-dominated industry, and we cannot get enough! Here we find out how they got started and how you can, too.
We chatted with Anne Briggs (Anne of All Trades) via a Zoom meeting, which she took from her workshop. With one of her earliest projects proudly displayed in the background (a hanging tool cabinet), Anne told us how she got started, the project that makes her the proudest, and what’s next for Anne of All Trades.
“It was magical.” That’s how Anne described her inspiration. Her late grandfather, “a true child of the Great Depression,” was the ultimate DIYer, and his four-car garage-turned-workspace was her childhood dream place. After he passed away when she was 12, she vowed to someday, somehow recreate that magic.
It wasn’t until she graduated from college that she got back into DIY projects. She fulfilled a dream she and her grandfather shared—restoring a car. She went with a 1965 Mustang coupe.
While she no longer has the canary yellow Mustang, she revealed that she recently bought the dream truck she and her grandfather always talked about. Restoring it is on her shortlist of upcoming projects.
2012: Her First Tools
Getting a Workshop
While the Mustang refurb was a success, she hit pause on DIY and in 2009 moved to Taipei to focus on her Chinese language studies. But after two years, she joined her best friend Adam in Seattle in 2011, and a year later, they were married and happily living together in a house with a garage. After years of living in a Taiwanese high-rise, she finally had the perfect space to recreate her grandfather’s magical workshop, and she got right to work.
But without any tools, she turned to Craigslist. She found a broken table saw, taught herself to fix it, and resold it for twice what she paid. “It was not a money-making venture,” she said. “Usually not more than $20 or 30. It was… a way to ‘trade up’ to the tools I needed.” She ultimately was able to finance the tools she needed for her very first project: a bed, which she said was “a true comedy of errors.”
Anne continued to prowl Craigslist for broken tools to flip and finance her projects, with the added benefit of learning exactly how these tools work. She was a fast learner, and though she took pictures as she worked, it wasn’t until her third project—a workbench—that she started really documenting her process. “That workbench was one of the first things I posted about on Instagram, and was also one of my first blog posts,” said Anne.
2013: Social Media and Her First Big Break
Soon she began using Instagram and realized the social benefits. Thanks to Instagram, Anne went from feeling socially isolated as a Seattle newbie with a quirky hobby to developing a virtual community spanning the US.
As her connections grew, many of her virtual friends became real-life friends. An Insta invitation nabbed her a spot at the Woodworking in America conference in Cincinnati in 2013, where she met the person who launched her entire platform. Impressed by her blogging and photography skills, the owner of Lee Valley Tools offered her space in his company newsletter to share her projects. “I think [the first one] was about cutting dovetails,” she said. “From there, everything snowballed.”
This new side project gave her access to an entire audience she wouldn’t have reached otherwise.
2015: Woodworking Classes
If there ever was proof that you can learn—and arguably, begin to master—most things before having set foot in an actual or virtual classroom, this is it: In 2015, before she’d ever actually taken a woodworking class, Anne was offered the opportunity to run a Seattle-based woodworking school, Pratt. Anne spent two years working alongside her dream staff and learned invaluable woodworking skills, including how to make her own tools.
It was also while working at Pratt that Anne and her husband bought a farm 12 miles outside Seattle and began farming.
2017: Women Supporting Women and Starting a YouTube Channel
That woodworking show drastically changed her life in another way: She met woodworking guru and YouTuber April Wilkerson, who remains one of Anne’s best friends. It was April who eventually encouraged her to start a YouTube channel with the sole goal of turning her hobby into her career.
Though Anne was extremely well-versed in YouTube—she referenced a lot of videos for her earliest DIY projects—she hadn’t considered starting her own channel. But with the advice and guidance from April, she launched it and October 2017, posted her first video, “How to Make and Hang an Axe Handle.” A collection of videos all focused on woodworking followed.
January 2018: Going Full Time on YouTube
She left her position at Pratt at the end of 2017, and on Jan. 1, 2018, went full time on YouTube. Through 12-minute videos, Anne was able to reach thousands of people from all over the world who were as eager to learn these disappearing life skills as she had always been.
October 2018: Moving to Nashville
One of the common threads of Anne’s backstory is that she’s a YES girl. In October 2018, she accepted and invitation to Nashville for a Windsor chair course with Greg Pennington. It was on this trip that she fell in love with the city.
With the freedom of location through her virtual career and the allure of endless walnut and white oak in the area, Anne and her husband re-located to Nashville. They bought another farm near their closest friends, who they met, of course, through her burgeoning online community.
2021: Anne of All Trades Today
Today, Anne of All Trades has nearly 200K YouTube subscribers. Her biggest goal, she says, is “to fill the void of what’s missing online.” For example, after recently delivering goat babies, she couldn’t find much online to prepare her for the process. She knew this meant she had to make the video—and that’s how she’s approached her channel from the start.
(This is Anne’s favorite video, and another great example of a time she decided to just give something new a try and bring her audience along.)
Her Next Big Project and Hard Lessons Learned
She’s got a big project underway: a woodworking school that she originally planned to open in 2020. Like most of us, she had a much different path in mind before the pandemic hit. With the help of her friend Josh Nava, Anne envisioned recreating a school inspired by her time at Pratt.
“There’s a special kind of community in woodworking,” she said. “You sit together, working hard and focused, with the sound of power tools in the background.”
Unfortunately, their first attempt at jumpstarting the school ended in slight disaster. The pandemic, finances, and heavy rains created a literal perfect storm, and they were forced to hit pause. Anne took to YouTube to share a video of her own pandemic pitfalls, and it was at this point that her community stepped up.
Embracing Vulnerability and Building Community
After learning about her situation, a YouTube friend surprised her with a GoFundMe, raising $38,390 to get a roof on the building–which they did, “and was the Christmas miracle we all needed,” she said.
Other friends helped her set up Zoom classes to raise additional funds, and with the help of Josh, they sold online spoon-making classes, where students took a $25 knife and a $1 block of wood. These virtual students joined together online, created something beautiful with their hands, and helped finance a dream.
This experience taught Anne to embrace vulnerability, build a community, and not be afraid to lean on that community. Their fundraising continues, and they are still working hard to reach their goal of $200K to complete the school.
Since she started her blog, she’s seen a slow demographic shift to include more young women. But while today it’s slightly more common to meet other women in the woodworking community, there’s a long way to go.
If Anne has one bit of advice for aspiring woodworkers, it’s that it’s not too late to build a virtual community. She said she’s constantly asked about starting a YouTube channel, and she tells everyone, “It’s not too late.” New people are joining the platform every single day, and with an established woodworking community, it’s easy to jump right in. Best of all, in the woodworking world, everyone inspires and encourages one another.
“Community over competition,” she said with a smile.
Anne’s favorite YouTube channels that helped her get started: