In today’s fast-paced high-tech society with both parents or in many cases, single parents working hard to raise a family, some values and morals are sometimes hard pressed to remain intact let alone be ingrained. In this case for our Father’s day story, woodworking continues to be one of the adhesives to keep this family joinery together. You may know this guy from The Woodworking Shows or dovetail classes at our Woodcraft stores nationwide.
You may even know how he begins each of his classes with a photo and explanation of his family and ends each class with a subsequent dovetail assembly souvenir always autographed by a motto that he lives by, “Family First”. He is none other than “Your Hand Tool Coach”, Rob Cosman. The renowned Canadian woodworking expert’s heritage and routine includes carpentry, furnituremaking, teaching, proper health code, church community, family and most importantly… his religious beliefs that dovetail his family together.
When I asked Rob why he autographs his work with “Family First” and what it means to him, he responded, “You work in life to sustain your family, they are the center focus. If they are not your center focus, then you have to ask yourself why are you doing it? But you also have to put things in perspective when it comes to your work.” “Like your job, love your wife” is another life-practiced phrase Rob shares, picked up by the story about salesman Del Griffith (played by John Candy) from Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin. The lesson shared in this movie and by Rob here is to see that all it takes is self-confidence and a love for yourself and family to succeed.
Rob’s childhood foundation allows him the confidence to be a great husband and father today, based on what some would call, “old-fashioned” beliefs practiced in his family lifestyle. Rob had this to say about his upbringing, “My grandparents on my father’s side were very religious people. They were contacted by missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when my father was 11. They were some of the first people to be baptized in this part of New Brunswick in Canada. My mother became a member before she married my father. Both my wife and I are involved in the church where Kim organizes the women’s Relief Society and I correlate Missionary memberships.
“Woodworking, the fascination never left me, it’s in the blood!…Rob Cosman
Growing up I was most influenced by my father, he was well respected in our community, worked hard, lived his religion and growing up as “Glen’s boy” was a big advantage that I learned to live up to. My father was a shop teacher turned carpenter who took me to his jobsite at an early age. I could entertain myself with hammer and nails. The fascination never left me; it’s in the blood.
My grandfather and great-grandfather on my mother’s side were carpenters, but I am the first furnituremaker, although my father built a lot of furniture in shop class.” Rob continued, “We had a lot of young missionaries pass through our church, I always admired what they did and what dad stood for. There is a lot to be said for the quote, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”!
After my high school graduation, I enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to learn from the late Dale Nish who just passed in May 2013. Dale was a professor and renowned woodturner and author. While I was earning a bachelor of science degree in industrial technology/furniture design, Dale took an interest in me and offered me a scholarship and a job as his assistant. Through my association with Dale, I met and worked with many top woodworkers, including Alan Peters, who helped me perfect my hand-cut dovetails. Alan was an inspiring craftsman, teaching me there was only one way to do the job, the right way with no excuses. He taught craftsmanship as a balance between speed and precision.” Here is a brief look at a treasured meeting with Alan and Rob,
“Today, I continue to draw inspiration from people like the prophet, Joseph Smith who as a young boy, stood firm in his testimony of what he witnessed even though it eventually cost him his life.” Similar to his inspirational drive, Rob’s health rituals also come from his religion. He stated, “In our religion we have a health code we live by that includes what to eat and what not to eat, harmful habits and substances to avoid. Resting from work, and recreation on Sundays, respecting our physical bodies by keeping fit. I have been a big believer in supplementing with vitamins and minerals and have done that for more than twenty years. We are what we eat.”
Married in 1985, Rob and his wife Kim raise their family of 10 children. Rob insists that communication and working together allows his family to respect values that have long been forgotten. Rob said, “We don’t sit around the TV (which has been without reception since 1991) and let society dictate through the tube a morality that is unacceptable to the growth of my family. TV, video games and cell phones are a direct distraction between parents and siblings. Each of my kids have followed the path of working in my families bake shop just as I learned early on, ethics of work, money, customer relationships, chores, helping around the house and other positive life experiences. He jokingly stated that other than woodworking shows and videos, sitting in front of the screen wasting valuable time is strictly prohibited!” In addition, Rob said, “You can’t home-school with a TV on in the house.” All ten children were and still continue to be home-schooled by Kim with the assistance from her daughter Erika, while Rob teaches woodworking and manufactures products that are sold at Woodcraft.
“Woodcraft’s interest in providing both educational resources for woodworkers of all levels and expertise in hand-tool design and use led us to Rob Cosman, who provides consultation for the WoodRiver® line of hand tools and teaches classes at many Woodcraft stores,” President Jody Garrett said. “It is great to see that Rob’s son is sharing in his father’s woodworking.”
Rob has shared his woodworking passion with his first four children, Erika (26), Karissa (24), Rex (22) and most recently with his 19 year old son, Jake. Like his father, Jake showed an early interest in his father’s craft, planing and sanding boards at his own little bench when he was about five. During the last 2 years Rob and Jake have traveled Canada, coast to coast together where Jake has helped dad out at woodworking shows, picking up some hand-tool skills along the way. At the 2012 Woodworking in America Woodcraft booth, Rob and Jake demonstrated Rob’s hand-cut signature dovetail joint. Jake is the first of Rob’s children who has taken a serious interest in woodworking. Rob stated “Who better to spend your time with than your family. Being able to work with them in the woodshop strengthens their bond with you.” Rob has always been an involved father, taking the time to be active in and giving all of his children a well rounded education that also involves activities in LaCrosse, basketball, karate, ice hockey, soccer, horse riding lessons, and piano lessons. Some days, Rob will break up his work routine with a family excursion on the fishing boat and head back to the shop for a late night of woodworking. Rob stated, “Integrating myself with the kids in all that I do, be it work or activities, strengthens our bond while teaching and training them to make their own decisions and be aware of everything they do. Hopefully they can stand on their own after being taught that wrong decisions bring consequences they will have to live with, while good decisions will shower blessings to enjoy.”
The Custom Workbench
Recently (left to right below) Jake; Rob’s shop assistant, Dave; Rob, and Rob’s son-in-law, Chris “Frick” Wetmore built this custom workbench. Frick was more involved on the social media side of things doing site management, videography and editing. According to Rob, the need for a bench arose when he realized most of his online students were working on the end of their table saw or worse yet, a shop mate! Rob said, “I have a friend/customer that had been asking me to make him a super-duper bench so what better time! I use to make and sell benches but the selling price missed the actual cost by a few miles! I really enjoy making benches so I would entertain making another one. I bought back a bench I made 12 years ago and recently upgraded it and re-sold it. Point is, the market may be ready for a few custom benches. The hardware available has been a real downer so the chance to redesign and have a better mouse trap made was a big motivator. I ended up having new hardware made for the two benches in my shop plus the one I recently refurbished and sold, made a huge improvement. I think this latest bench is a bit over the top, I would not want to be the one to make the first “ding” in it!”
(see Rob’s workbench video below)
The bench is made from Mahogany and Hard Maple; all the horizontal Maple surfaces are veneered with ¼” thick Birdseye. The base is actually Spanish Cedar, looks like Mahogany and a lot less expensive. It even has a sharpening station!
The bench dogs have “T”shaped slots cut in them and “T” shaped pieces held in place with two springs from ball point pens. This provides enough tension to hold the dog in place over a greater range of heights. Works very nice.
Rob designed a better knuckle for connecting the threaded rod to the movable vise. It allows some horizontal movement to account for pieces that don’t have parallel sides however there is no vertical slop.
Over the top! Nah! Dovetail corners, Mahogany ramp, a tool tray, stretcher wedge…
Adjustable hinged height block features a 3″ lift. Rob said, “The older you get the harder it is to bend over. Using a plane it is advantageous to lean over the plane and use your body weight, especially when cutting dovetails. It is better done at a higher, more comfortable stance. You want the bench low for hand planing and high for cutting dovetails. Young folks can adapt, older folks don’t want to! For the finish, I applied several coats of thinned Tung oil on the top and sprayed the rest with lacquer. I did not want the excessively slippery surface lacquer leaves on the top, also wanted a surface that was easy to repair/refresh.”
Here is a brand new video, just YouTube posted at the time of this blog posting, by Rob on the build of this fine workbench…
Online Workshop Involves Both Cosmans
In 2011, Rob launched an online hand-tool workshop that was followed the next year by a second hand/power tool workshop, both projects aimed at reducing Rob’s need for travel away from home allowing him to spend more time with his family. Jake has been the cameraman for both workshops, as well as doubling as the featured apprentice, working through the hand skills as the student for his dad, the instructor. “I film five days a week. We try to keep the price really low so people can participate,” Rob said. “I have an online forum. If someone asks a really good question, Jake goes in and films the answer. My son-in-law downloads the videos to the website. We try to make the experience as if the person is standing right there. The audience likes our casual approach, we don’t cut anything and we work through the mistakes.” Here is more about Rob’s online workshop program:
Today Rob sees woodworking as an enjoyable hobby, but a difficult career. He speaks from experience. A college graduate, he launched a 12-year career as a custom furnituremaker trying to support a growing family. “I did all sorts of things to make it work. I sold graduation rings. I insulated basements.” In 1999, it became clear to Rob that he could never charge enough to make the income he needed. “I realized that the only people who would appreciate my work were the people who wanted to learn how to do it.”
In 2000, the opportunity to import a line of tools and sell them in Canada led Rob to produce instructional DVDs. “I recognized as I was selling these tools that many of these people had no experience in how to use them,” Rob said, “I started making DVDs to help them learn how to use the tools. As a result of the DVDs, I began to receive invitations to teach. I now have the perfect scenario.
Teaching is challenging and fun, and I am getting paid to pursue my hobby, which is building furniture.” Rob also continues to add to his line of premium hand tools. When asked what prompted him to design and make tools, he said: “Guilt! I was demonstrating to the audience with tools I had either modified or made. A lot of what I do is made easier because of these tools. As students recognized this, the demand for my tools became apparent. I could not find anyone willing to build them so I decided I would have to do it myself.”
In conclusion, it is an honor to know and learn from Rob in both woodworking and his views on life in general. Look for Rob at most Woodcraft shows and stores near you! You’ll be glad you did.
Thanks Rob, we appreciate all you do!