What Woodworking Has Taught Me About Advertising.

July 26, 2018

I’ve always admired people who were passionate about a hobby. When asked, I would always list travel and photography as my hobbies, but as my career evolved they began to feel more like obligations. At the time, I was traveling more than 100 days a year to implement environmental branding packages at major events for the NFL and NCAA. And nearly every one of those days required me to take photos to scope out future projects. I realized that when I did have free time to pursue my interests, I tended to avoid anything that required a plane ticket or a camera.


So, I decided to seek out a new hobby. The criteria were simple:

  1. Something that I would find challenging and fulfilling.
  2. Something that would allow me to help others.
  3. And most importantly, something that had nothing to do with advertising.

I explored a variety of options, but kept being drawn to woodworking. It required creativity, offered endless opportunities to learn and resulted in projects that were timeless. In this digital era of marketing, the lifespan of an ad may be less than a day. A clever headline that may have been the centerpiece of a year-long traditional ad campaign, now may be obsolete in a moment with modern dynamic optimization. Woodworking felt like the exact opposite. If you take the time to carefully craft a piece, it could last for generations.


I honestly thought it would be easy since woodworking was in my DNA. My grandfather was a natural, one of those men who rarely spoke (a trait I didn’t inherit), but could build anything. He built his own house, made furniture and often gave his creations as gifts to friends and family. My personal favorite has to be the toy box he made for my second birthday. It’s a simple design, but one that has stood up to more than 40 years of use. That pine box housed my prized possessions, served as the foundation of many a pillow fort and still bears some of my earliest illustrations.


After countless hours of researching tools and techniques, I purchased some basic tools (a circular saw, drill and router) and built some storage and work surfaces for my garage in preparation for my first “real” woodworking project. In honor of my grandfather, I set out to build a toy box for a dear friend’s first child.


I was confident that I had learned enough from watching videos and researching online forums to knock this project out of the park. So, I found and modified some online plans, picked up some lumber and set to work. I figured it would take a weekend to complete and cost around $150 (nearly half of that was for some fancy soft-close hinges). That proved to be an optimistic estimate.


It turns out that even simple projects can be very challenging. It wasn’t like I was trying to cut dovetail joints by hand, I was struggling to cut a panel with four 90˚ corners. So, I did more research and found more tools and techniques to solve each unique challenge that came up during the project.


Fast-forward six weeks, an additional $2,000 in tools and supplies, and I finally had a finished toy box. It was far from heirloom quality, but I learned a lot and my friend seemed thrilled with the result.



After the toy box, I started tackling more complex projects that required more tools and more problem solving. Which is where some similarities to advertising started to emerge.

For example:

  1. The success of a project depends upon a quality plan.
  2. Overcomplicating something doesn’t make it better.
  3. There will be unforeseen challenges in the middle of a project.
  4. Blending the wisdom of the past with disruptive innovation yields great results.
  5. There are multiple ways of doing everything, don’t assume your way is the best way.
  6. You will want to swear and throw things in the middle of a project, but you shouldn’t.
  7. Chasing perfection can get in the way of excellence.


Everyone has heard the saying, Measure Twice. Cut Once. But during my research into tools and techniques, I also came across, I cut it three times and it’s still too short! I love that expression. So often, we end up trying to force revisions into an existing ad concept and find that it still comes up short of expectations. Sometimes, you simply need to start over. Take a fresh look at the goals and requirements of a project and accept that your first plan didn’t work. The end result will often be better than what you set out to build in the first place.


Like advertising, woodworking boils down to solving problems. Wood never stops expanding and contracting. The preferences of the marketplace never stop evolving. But when you understand the structure and requirements of the problem, you can set out to deliver a delightful solution. You need the right tools for the job, the ability to adapt to changing conditions and a keen eye for detail. Ultimately, your best work comes when you push yourself beyond your comfort zone and try something new.

Noah Sarff
Noah Sarff
Executive Creative Director

I’m fascinated with the way people engage with brands. As a modern storyteller, I find needles in haystacks and then thread those needles with strategy to craft stories. Like a needlepoint pillow on Etsy, the resulting content delights audiences and drives sales for our clients.