What is the Purple Heart Project ?
Rob Cosman's Purple Heart Project Mission: Introduce physically and mentally Wounded Warriors, suffering the negative effects of combat, to the peace and joy that can be found through the therapy of traditional hand tool woodworking.
How We Accomplish the Purple Heart Project’s Mission
We accomplish our mission in two ways: 1) We provide a free lifetime membership to Rob Cosman’s Online Workshop to any Wounded Warrior suffering from the negative effects of combat, and 2) by annually providing 24 Wounded Warriors with an all-expenses paid Purple Heart Project scholarship to attend one of Rob Cosman’s Training the Hand Workshops.
A. Free lifetime membership to Rob Cosman’s Online Workshop. I produce an online workshop website where I broadcast a half-hour woodworking training episodes. It is a members-only website, but Wounded Warriors get a free lifetime membership, valued at $400 a year. Our goal is to reach Veterans who cannot come in person to our Training the Hand Workshop and thereby introduce them to the joy and peace that can be found through the therapy of woodworking. Wounded Warriors click HERE to sign up for your free lifetime membership.
B. Scholarships to Rob Cosman’s Training the Hand Workshop. I hold four “Training the Hand Workshops” a year; two in Fall and two in Spring. Each workshop is 5 days long and is held in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. There are 12 student positions available per workshop (48 per year). Six slots in each workshop are reserved for Wounded Warriors participating in Rob's Purple Heart Project (24 per year) and six slots are reserved for paying students (24 per year). Wounded Warriors selected for a scholarship to the workshop are fully funded for all transportation, lodging, meals, tuition, and receive a premium hand tool starter kit ($2000 value) to take home with them. Wounded Warriors can apply for a Purple Heart Project Scholarship to one of my workshops by filling out an application form HERE. For more detailed information on the workshops click HERE. To listen to what former Purple heart Project scholarship recipients have to say about the workshop click HERE.
Who Are We?
I am a hand tool woodworking instructor, tool designer and maker, and furniture maker. I have been involved in woodworking in some capacity since I was about 5 years old. I was professionally trained by Dale Nish at BYU’s industrial arts program. In the summer of 1987 I was the resident woodworking program assistant at the Aspen Institute and worked with many of the great woodworking craftsman of the day (Alan Peters, Sam Maloof, Taig Fried and others).
After building custom furniture for many years I became sales representative for a premier hand tool company. It was then that I realized that the folks I was selling hand tools to didn't know how to sharpen, use, or maintain them so I started holding hand tool instruction seminars. Soon the demand for my teaching seminars outpaced my hand tool sales and I launched Rob Cosman Woodworking, Inc. Today RC Woodworking Hand Tools, Inc. is a small family-owned business, located in Grand Bay, Canada.
We currently have 7 full and part time employees, most of whom are family. We are dedicated to helping folks everywhere find joy and peace through the craftsmanship of woodworking. We do this by designing, manufacturing, and selling our own brand of woodworking hand tools; teaching both hand tool and power tool woodworking through our classes, videos, and our online workshop; and encouraging everyone to seek excellence in their woodworking craftsmanship.
How did It Start?
A couple of years ago I had a chance meeting with a young U.S. Marine who was suffering from the mental and physical wounds he sustained during combat in Iraq. He told me how hand tool woodworking was the one activity that gave him some peace from the pain of his injuries. This Marine inspired me, and I was determined to try and help other Wounded Warriors suffering from the negative effects of combat.
Because of assistance from two very generous and anonymous benefactors we sponsored our first class of 7 Wounded Warriors to the November 2016 Training the Hand Workshop. The results were fantastic! Creating something from a piece of wood using only hand tools could be called quiet woodworking. There’s no dust, there’s no danger, there’s no noise. In fact, you could call it therapeutic. To a wounded veteran, sometimes that quiet and the focusing of the mind is just what he or she needs to see beyond the physical and mental pain of their day-to-day life.
One Veteran from our workshops emailed me a note of thanks, saying, “You’ve not only taught me how to work wood with hand tools, you’ve also shown me a way to work through my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Thank you for that. That is something that I could never repay you in any lifetime. My wife told me that since I’ve started using only hand tools, I’ve become more relaxed and my nightmares have been reduced. So, she sends her thanks as well.”
Shawn, is another Wounded Warrior we have sponsored to the workshop. He has struggled with PTSD issues. Through years of marital difficulties, loss of jobs, substance abuse, and anger that he couldn’t explain, he found himself looking for stress relief in all the wrong places. At the end of his Training the Hands Workshop, he told me, “Going home after this workshop, I’m just ecstatic. There’s a lot of peace in working with wood. This part chokes me up … Standing at the workbench, my brain is calm. I can focus. The pain is gone.”
Along the way I found Retired U.S. Army Colonel Luther Shealy and he is an integral part of the Purple Heart Project now. After retiring in 2012, Luther pursued his long-delayed desire to learn woodworking. After taking one of my dovetail classes at his local Woodcraft store in Seattle he attended my Training the Hand Workshop as a paying customer. That was the first course we sponsored Veterans to and Luther helped me with the military connection in a way that I know nothing about. The Vets really admire him and respect him. Since then we have partnered together and expanded the Purple Heart Project into what it is today.
How Does It Work?
Engaging the hand and mind in a creative manner like hand tool woodwork seems to offer a type of therapy for many folks. My evidence is all from individual accounts of the civilians and Veterans I have personally taught.
I am not a doctor nor a therapist; I am a woodworker. Like most other woodworkers, I know that hand tool woodworking is relaxing. For years I have watched company executives come to my week-long Training the Hand Workshop course begin to de-stress and relax as they got away from work and focused on making something from wood with their hands. By the end of the week they were different people.
If you work with wood or any other medium you know how enjoyable it is to follow a project from inception to completion. However, you may not have realized that you were helping to improve your mental health. Multiple studies have confirmed what craftsmen have known for years, creating with your hands is good for your health, mental well-being and interaction with those around you. Essentially, creativity helps to fend off negative emotions and even depression by allowing you to exercise your unique creative abilities through what is commonly known as "Art Therapy".
Just think about the extensive attention to detail that goes into making something, you are not only creating something new from scratch, you are performing every step. You must plan it, measure it, cut out your pieces, prepare the wood, and put them together. This engages multiple aspects as well as disciplines within your mental cognitive and challenges one to think outside the box and push themselves into new areas of thinking and creativity. As a result, people feel a great sense of accomplishment when they finish a project; that accomplishment helps push away negative feelings and emotions. This is what Art Therapy is all about “creating a sense of positive thinking in our lives”.
By the way this stuff is not new. After World War II the U.S. Army used woodworking as a therapy for Veterans. This is a picture of Veterans engaged in woodworking as therapy with nurses in the background.
How Do We Pay for It?
This is a challenge. We fund the Wounded Warriors airfare, ground transportation, hotel, meals, tuition, and supply them with a premium kit of tools to take home after the workshop. Unfortunately, we no longer have an anonymous benefactor, nor do we have any large corporate sponsorship; what we do have is lots of small donations by individuals and business owners that keeps the Purple Heart Project alive. But we always need help.
We get a lot of help from individual Woodcraft Store owners who typically sponsor a Wounded Warriors tool kit. I donate 10% of all the saw sells from RobCosman.com to the Purple Heart Project. Several local Niagara Falls businesses have stepped up and provide the Veterans reduced costs for meals and lodging.
Most importantly woodworkers everywhere can help by donating to the Purple Heart Project by clicking HERE. 100% of donations goes to funding Wounded Warriors to the Training the Hand workshop – we take no administrative fees.
Additionally, 50% of each Training the Hand Workshop class is made up of paying students. The tuition of these students helps offset the costs of the sponsored Veterans. But these civilians get way more than they bargained for – they get to meet and bond with real Heros, make some friends for life, and join a brotherhood that few non-military ever experience. Go to RobCosman.com to listen to what past paying students have to say about their Training the Hand Workshop experience.
What Do Others Say About the Purple Heart Project?
Click HERE to access several media articles about the Purple Heart Project and learn more about the Wounded Warriors we sponsor and listen to what past Purple Heart Project Scholarship recipients have to say about their Training the Hand Workshop Experience.
With studies showing that nearly 20 Veterans end their lives daily, it is time we the people did more than just thank a Veteran for their service and started helping these Heroes! Unfortunately, there is no shortage of Wounded Warriors in need, so we have made it our mission to introduce Wounded Warriors to the peace and joy found through the therapy of hand tool woodworking.
Whether you are a Veteran or a civilian, handtool woodworking has tremendous therapeutic value. Changes in our secondary education system decades ago means very few people under the age of 40 have had any exposure to manual skills like woodworking, metalwork, or machine shop in school. So, to find the peace and joy that woodworking offers they must be taught the skills that previous generations learned from their fathers. This is what we do. Through our Online Workshops and Training the Hand Workshops we are out the save the world – join us!
- Rob Cosman