PARKERSBURG, W. VA - Renowned Canadian hand-tool expert Rob Cosman’s heritage includes carpentry, furnituremaking and teaching. Now he is sharing his woodworking passion with his son, Jake.
“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’s father was a shop teacher turned carpenter who took his son to the jobsite at an early age. “I could entertain myself with hammer and nails. The fascination never left me; it is in the blood,” he said. “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.”
After high school graduation, Rob enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to learn from Dale Nish, a professor and renowned woodturner and author. (Nish passed away Saturday, May 25.) While he was earning a bachelor of science degree in industrial technology/furniture design, Nish took an interest in Rob and offered him a scholarship and a job as his assistant. Through his association with Nish, Rob met and worked with many top woodworkers, including Alan Peters, who helped him perfect his hand-cut dovetails.
Like his father, Jake Cosman showed an early interest in his father’s craft – planing and sanding boards at his own little bench when he was about five. Much later he began traveling with this father to help 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 the hand-cut dovetail joint, the elder Cosman’s signature joint.
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. 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 does downloads to the website. We try to make the experience like the person is standing right there. The audience likes our casual approach – we don’t cut anything – we work through the mistakes.”
Jake is the first of Rob’s children who has taken a serious interest in woodworking. What does Jake enjoy about working with his dad? “The experience I get out of this without putting anything into it. I learn things almost subconsciously. Yes. I do enjoy woodworking.” Rob’s comment: “Who better to spend your time with than your family. Being able work with them strengthens their relationship with you.”
Whether Jake, now a high school graduate, will follow in his father’s woodworking footsteps remains to be seen. “I have many options, but I have narrowed it down to a few. It will definitely be in a trade,” he said. But first, Jake has a commitment to fulfill. “I leave at the end of May to serve for two years at the Utica, New York, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Mission. I will be going door to door sharing my religion.”
What does Rob think about Jake as a career woodworker? “My only concern is that with the industry shrinking as it is there are fewer and fewer woodworkers every year. This is a time limited opportunity.”
Today Rob sees woodworking as an enjoyable hobby but a difficult career. He speaks from experience. A college graduate and married, he launched a 12-year career as a custom furnituremaker trying to support a growing family that eventually included 10 children. “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.”
From Tool Demos to DVDs to Teaching
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.”
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