How a Travelling Tool Chest Fostered Community

Anne Briggs

I recently spotted the Instagram account of Seattle based woodworker Anne Briggs. I noted her 26,000 followers and became curious. After poking around her blog I discovered Anne is someone who is passionate about woodworking and good ol’ fashioned life preservation skills. In her blog she writes about purchasing a small farm with her husband, raising animals and developing various skills to support a self-sustainable life.

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Anne with her animals on her farm.

As I read Anne’s posts I found myself particularly interested in her project the Community Tool Chest (CTC). The CTC is a collection of fine hand tools used in woodworking that had been donated by well known and lesser known tool companies. I decided to call her to find out more. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how a modest vision to access tools and create a woodworking community subsequently joined several communities, generated employment, exposed unknown tool brands, and served as a much needed resource for woodworkers.

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Anne studio and a lovely scene of a bench full of shavings.

I was curious about the genesis of the CTC and Anne was quick to inform me that, “Relationships are the focus of and the anchor to all major decisions” in her life. As a child her missionary family lived in many places around world. In order to feel at home in her community, Anne learned to develop meaningful relationships with the local kids and in doing so anchored herself in her new communities.

As an adult developing relationships and finding her own niche in any community have become second nature.

Anne’s introduction to woodworking was from her grandfather. Like many others people who experienced the Depression of the 1930s Anne’s grandfather gained the skills and patience to reuse and recycle everything. Anne recalls how he remarkably accumulated and threw out only one black garbage bag of trash a year an admirable trait Anne now recognizes largely contributes to her drive towards a sustainable and green life.

Hand carved spoon.

Hand carved spoon.

Anne admits those years in her grandfather’s woodshop were more about the quality time and less about the woodworking. Many years after her grandfather passed she found herself back in a woodshop enjoying ayear-long weekend mentorship from a talented and prolific woodworker. This was when she became aware that she had a deep passion for woodworking.

During her mentorship Anne was exposed to and developed an appreciation for fine hand tools. However, the cost for such tools was a barrier for Anne and prevented her from outfitting her tool cabinet in a fashion she longed for… and she knew she was not alone. With the awareness of the disconnect between apprentice woodworkers and quality tools she began her crusade to help woodworkers who might not otherwise be able to afford great tools or get an opportunity to use them. And so, the idea for the CTC was born. CTC is the accumulation of a desire to gain access to fine hand tools, to form relationships with tool companies, and to be a part of the woodworking community.

By this time Anne had created an Instagram account to showcase her woodworking and built up an impressive and devout tribe of followers. She sent out a call to her followers and tool companies for tool donations. The idea was to host giveaways on Instagram for woodworkers to have a chance to win fine tools whose costs they may not otherwise be able to justify. The tool companies responded favourably and many of which were companies with lesser known brands eager for exposure.

Anne made an interesting promise to the tool companies. She said she would travel to woodworking shows and give live demos with the tools to further promote the companies and their products and all on her own dollar. What Anne calls her “big break” occurred when one particular woodworker helped her gain entry to her first Woodworking in America Conference in 2014.

Anne continued to walk me through the evolution of the project. She said, “It began with putting a face and a personal story behind several small, boutique toolmakers who, at the time I was starting the project, were mostly fairly unknown”. Her experience on the road proved to be beneficial in unexpected ways “I got to travel with the chest for a year” she explains,” and put those tools into the hands of many aspiring hand tool woodworkers around the country who had never heard of those toolmakers. My own community expanded and I learned a whole lot about the woodworking industry and about woodwork in general in the process”.

The community tool chest.

The community tool chest.

What I love about Anne’s proposition to travel with the tools is that she was not a very experienced woodworker, yet she had the confidence and saw the opportunity and went for something she believed in.

Through shows and her popular Instagram account Anne had become known in the woodworking community. Soon writing opportunities arose giving her a greater voice. Anne said, “Because I was an absolute beginner, I wrote from an absolute beginner’s perspective and it was through this process of teaching even the most basic skills that I learned a whole lot about woodworking.” This perspective was encouraging to young woodworkers.

Anne further explains that as her career and life path changed, the CTC also had to change. She took a position with Lie-Nielsen to demonstrate their products at shows. Clearly this meant she could no longer take the CTC to shows. As well, once she andher husband bought their farm and had the responsibility of animals she needed to be closer to home. She then accepted a position as Wood Studio Manager at Pratt Fine Arts Centre.

Eager to find a new role for this traveling chest of fine tools, Anne had to look no further than to Pratt. Anne explains, “Pratt is a non-profit so people who want to donate tools to the CTC can get tax write offs and know that the tools are going to a great cause, the preservation of the wonderful craft of hand tool woodwork through the sharing of knowledge”.

A tool cabinet Anne handcrafted.

A tool cabinet Anne handcrafted.

The CTC has been received well by the students at Pratt and Anne says with great fondness, “Though I have benefitted from the relationships, experiences, and knowledge gained through the curation of the CTC, I am just its steward and I’m glad to see the tools being out and used on a far more regular basis at Pratt than they ever could have been in my sporadic self-funded travels to various woodworking shows.”

I truly enjoyed talking with Anne and I hope you found her story inspiring. Perhaps it has even planted a seed for your own passion project?

You can connect to Anne Briggs via www.anneofalltrades.com, @anneofalltrades on Instagram, or email her at briggs.anne@gmail.com

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