JW Custom Hats, SLC Utah

Discussion in 'Hats' started by Yahoody, Sep 3, 2020.

  1. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    IMG_2222 (2).JPG

    For most regular folk JW Custom Hats is likely unknown outside Utah and the Great Basin. For anyone in the Western hat industry professionally its been the "secret" stash for years. Pretty much anything a professional hat shop needs, Jim aka JW and now Raymond (the new owner since JW's passing), have made, are making or found or knew where to find and then passed on to other hatters.

    https://www.jwrhats.com/history/

    IMG_2236.JPG

    JW and his crew set up over 40 different hat makers as far away as Texas with at least four hatters there and 3 more in Kentucky. I know four personally, a lot closer to home, in Utah, Nevada and Idaho. All done in the last 30+ years and he kept right at until his death in Nov. 2017. A few of those shop owners have in turn taught other hat makers that are now in business. JW was a "force multiplier" in the Industry. It is no wonder Winchester can't keep up with the demand today of good felt bodies!

    IMG_2224.JPG

    IMG_2226.JPG

    IMG_2227.JPG

    A recent conversation here on the forum about the current quality of beaver felt got me hankering to rebuild some of my older beaver felt hats. I simply didn't believe that the current beaver felts aren't the match for any beaver felt in the past. I have personal experience going back to 1950s wearing and rebuilding my own hats to make that claim. My past experiences and the conversations today just reinforced my opinion. But more on that later as to why.

    Back to JW's. My wife wanted to buy me a new hat for my birthday. I'd typically just build a new hat if I wanted one. But having a store bought hat is a treat for me if it is from the right maker. But that maker needs to start with the largest hat blank available and it has to be 100% beaver.

    Turned out my choice in makers didn't have the right size blank for the hat style I wanted. So I started calling around. Seems no one did. Or at least no one who I thought had the skills to build a good hat and wasn't trying to pay the monthly mortgage with the sell of just one hat!

    I had talked with JW previous a few times and Ray at least one or twice about the hatter's tools I might need when I was thinking about building more hats than I do.

    I've got plenty to do with out another full time job and plenty of hats so the idea of becoming just another "professional" didn't have a huge appeal.

    Still, a new hat always has some appeal to me.

    Poking around the Internet I saw this video and I decided to change hat makers ast least short term ) As any hat guy obviously would, I was geeking out to have the run of a real hat shop. And not have to use my wife's kitchen counter again, where I typically build my own hats.

    https://www.jwrhats.com/make-your-own-hat/

    Dang it! No big beaver blanks at JW's either. Back ordered by Winchester till Nov is the word I get. So for a day or two I just gave up on the idea of a "new" hat.

    Still most guys can't ignore a day with tools right? The video got me thinking what hats am I not wearing? And how would I rebuild them? I use my hats pretty hard. White ones harder or at least they show the wear more than the darker ones. I had two 100% beaver blanks that were dirty, needed new sweats from bleeding through, re-blocking and eventually re-shaping.

    I thought, heck, if you don't ask, they can't say, no. An they can't say yes either. So a couple of days later I called JW's back and asked if I could bring a few beat up old hats down and have me "help" rebuild them for the "build your own hat" price.

    The Boss (Ray) and my wife said yes. Only down side was I needed to be there 24 hrs later @ 10am. SLC Utah is a 367 mile one way drive for me.

    That night I stripped the old sweats and the liners. Cleaned up the stitching, and grabbed my own hat block and stuck in a hat box. Next morning I did the chores, moved the wheel lines in the pastures and hit the I84 right at the height of evening freeway traffic near Boise. I got a some sleep in a cheap SLC hotel :)

    10am
    Below Ray is inspecting the two of the hat bodies I want to rebuild and writing up the work order. Both bodies are 5 years old and hats I stopped wearing last Spring intending to rebuild them this winter.

    IMG_2229.JPG

    The rebuilds come next.....
     
  2. RBH

    RBH Bartender

    Great photos! Look forward to more.
    Good luck on your hat!
     
  3. Great thread idea @Yahoody ! Are these samples of brims and crowns available or are they for possible use in a western duplex hat (felt and straw)? Hopefully this is not the start of some sort of super-stingy western fad. :eek:

    [​IMG]
     
    deadlyhandsome and Frunobulax like this.
  4. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Bob, couple of ways to use those crowns and brims. Mix and match, put them together for your own felt hat design or as combos hats of straw and felt. One of the reasons I made the drive after seeing them used in the video I posted above. My 2nd thought was my or my what a waste of some nice felt :)
     
  5. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    5,599
    Location:
    vancouver, canada
    I saw a video of another western shop using this same method. It is brilliant way to try a multitude of crowns and brims to find the one that suits you. They multiple crown styles/sizes and multiple brims. The video showed a woman selecting a hat.....it was like the buying of shoes....there were hat bodies everywhere.
     
    deadlyhandsome likes this.
  6. Love this thread and the photos. Not wanting to restart an argument, but what vintage felt are you comparing to the current Winchester? You mentioned some 1950s felt, but as a point of reference I’m curious what hat/felt quality you’re using as a comparison. I believe you previously mentioned something about 10X.

    Have you tried any of FEPSAs beaver hat bodies? I know that some of the volume hat makers have access to them
     
  7. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Victor has been making hats for at least 15 years. Trained by? Who else, JW. He was also one of the guys that traveled with JW to set of other hatters. I thought I was handy around felt. Victor opened my eyes to what is really "handy" is.

    Has to close to 11am as we get started here.

    Victor steaming getting ready to re-blocked the first felt.
    IMG_2232.JPG

    Re-blocked and ready to go into the brim iron. Basically a huge double sided iron if you haven't seen one. Makes for a very sharp crown to brim edge. Something I aspire to at home but always come up lacking on compared to using the right hatter's tools. IMG_2239.JPG
    While I am watching (I'd already given up "helping" as it seemed silly after watching Victor for 2 minutes) and Victor is working on my felts, Maricela is cutting new sweats to fit for me. I had her make me 4 with a perfect, hand measured and checked fit. Two for the hats and 2 more for hats at home.

    IMG_2241.JPG

    I turn around and Victor is doing a little pouncing on my beat up and dirty felts. The shop has a complete work shop attached and several other very skilled gentlemen making all the hatter's tools required plus their own line of hat blocks. Actually making the hats (and they make a lot of them) is a small party of the business was my impression.

    Th hats weren't cleaned as they didn't need it. Worn some sure. I learned that lesson a long time ago with good leather soled boots. If you want it to last, rebuild it properly prior to having hole worn completely through the sole :) Buy 2 pair and rotate them. Rebuild when you need to. Same with hats. Buy two good ones and rotate them. Rebuild as needed.

    IMG_2246.JPG
    IMG_2247 (2).JPG

    One felt was finished and Victor was working on the 2nd. Maricela was now sewing one of the sweats she had just made into the first hat. Speedy pair indeed. No wasted effort there.

    Sweat is marked JW Custom Hats and 100X which Maricela stamped on from gold foil as I watched.

    Then she was busy adding my choice of ribbons. I wanted an old school and matching on both hats. You can see the first hat in the foreground. It is the open crown off white. Done :)

    IMG_2252 (2).JPG
    IMG_2254 (2).JPG

    Choice of liners was next. I went white for these. Once the liner is in Maricela checks every hat for the proper fit. I was thinking the hats were looking perfect :)

    IMG_2256 (2).JPG

    Almost done. A pencil curl and brims shaping is up next. It is right around 12 noon by now. We are into this less than 2 hours for 2 hats. Takes me almost an hour just just to hand sew two sweats in correctly!

    Nice to have the right tools and the skills! And I have two "new" hats!
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2020
  8. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    It is a "discussion", it's not an argument. Have some patience :) I'll get there eventually.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2020
    dkstott and deadlyhandsome like this.
  9. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    I took three hats to SLC. Two to rebuild and another one I had built but never liked the brim shape much. What I wanted on that hat was a pencil curl. I thought it was time to see how a professional does it. I've done a few by hand both pencil curls (which is what I prefer) and the bigger kettle curls. Never been totally satisfied with the results doing it by hand.

    This is the first 100% beaver hat I built by hand while it was still just a few days old. DSC04506 (3).JPG

    But they don't stay new for long. 2 months later.

    DSC04825 (3).JPG

    2 years later...I had added a pencil curl to stiffen the brim and direct the water off the hat.

    bear7.jpg

    and 3 years later

    bear9.jpg

    Dailey wear for 3 years. Nice hat but nothing lasts for ever. So I wanted to take care of it.

    At the start of the next rebuild.
    [​IMG]


    And the same hat, as "new" again! Crown is a little lower. Sweat is tight as a tick. Brim has not been cut. It has shrunk a bit from use and ironing. Nice to have it flat again and shaped exactly how I like my hats. Obviously not a new hat but one that has been worn and well taken care of. Really fun for me to have an old friend back!

    IMG_2269 (2).JPG

    IMG_2273 (3).JPG
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2020
  10. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    The next hat? Obviously I like a pretty basic hat. This one is a little different but not much. Kinda reminds me of a "proper" open road if I was doing the design. This body is 4 years old. Again, not new, but new again to me!

    “Perfection is achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    This one also reminds me of Tom Selleck in Monte Walsh. Look around 1:12 :)



    IMG_2261 (2).JPG

    IMG_2263 (2).JPG

    IMG_2266 (2).JPG

    IMG_2275.JPG
     
  11. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Old habits die hard. I really liked how that "first" hat turned out in the end and I wore it a lot. When I built this hat I was looking for a duplicate. Just couldn't get it to turn out the way I really wanted. Frankly, it was a little frustrating. I had hoped I was missing some thing about doing a pencil curl that would make my life easier. I hadn't. Victor pretty much cleared that up for me. What would have taken me hours to get a so-so job done Victor did in 10 minutes! This was a new hat I built last year, but seldom wore. I'll use it more now. I like it a lot. And my wife's favorite of the three I took to SLC. IMG_2276 (2).JPG

    IMG_2277 (2).JPG

    IMG_2283 (2).JPG

    IMG_2280 (2).JPG


    Before the pencil curl was even dry I was back in the car and on the drive home. Time? 12:30. Two hours all in. Well worth the trip. "New" hats and some tips from Victor and Maricela on how to make a better hat next time.

    A big thanks to Ray, Victor, Maricela and of course JW.
     
  12. suitedcboy

    suitedcboy One Too Many

    On the felt question: I have handled a lot of felts over the course of 45 or so years of wearing and buying hats once I was paying attention. Inconsistency has been the rule. Resistol (now Stetson by association) has their own hat body plant in Longview TX and their 100X and 20X hats rise and fall in quality over the course of 37 years since I got my first black gold and cattle baron hats from that manufacturer. I think discussions here bear out the same with fedoras with some exceptions. The conversation about age making a hat better hasn't been true either as I have bought a few of the 20x black gold hats and occasionally one of those will stand way above any I bought or handled over the preceding years. The people and the bunnies and the beavers aren't consistent would be my reasoning on the situation. I have been curious as to who supplied Bailey 100% beaver hat bodies. Their hats were always my most durable and colorfast of the factory hats. I have 3 Butch Dorer hats and they seem to be the same felt. (Not making any comps to Dorer's premium 100% beaver hats, I have not been around one of those).
     
    deadlyhandsome likes this.
  13. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Couple of thoughts on hat quality. Only thing I feel qualified to speak on is Western hats. Not an "Open Road" and not a Fedora. I have no interest in using the same felt in a Western hat as typically gets used in a Fedora. Hat would be of no use to me. Xs haven't meant anything in the past other than sales hype for decades. Worse yet now. I've have had any number of hats, as has the family. All sorts of X counts and quality. Only thing I am comfortable comparing is 100% beaver felt to 100% beaver.

    Resistol 20X Black Golds have a well known and terrible reputation since new and bleeding all over a bunch of NFR owners in the rain one year. No clue how the quality is now. No interest in buying one or a $2000 100% beaver hat.

    When folks want to start comparing just how good felt is, I gotta ask, "what kind of hat you talking?" "What kind of felt and how much beaver?" "Have you ever hand built a hat from a blank?" "Have you stripped, resized and blocked then totally rebuilt an old hat?" "You worked felt much?"

    As an example JW Hats has always marked their 100% Winchester hat blanks as 30X. Makes no sense to me. We have 2 (wife and I) out standing 30 year oold Bailey 7X hats here. I have reshaped mine a couple of times. A well known hatter rebuilt my wife's a 6 years ago. He thought it was 100% beaver. 'Cuz those particular Bailey bodies (I had 4 originally) work like 100% beaver. But ya gotta work, block and form a few dozen beaver hats, build them from scratch by hand before you know what 100% beaver hats work like. Everyone gets an opinion :) That is obviously mine.

    One thing I have said a few times in the past. I don't typically use 1000 grit sand paper. I will be using it again. Old well used felt verses new felt? I have see a big difference in the hand of an old hat compared to when the same body was new. The hat was generally better for it if it had been taken care of. Last couple of hats I knew the entire life story, and then got to work on, were dang near 50 years old.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2020
    dkstott and deadlyhandsome like this.

  14. I think it all depends on what you’re after. It’s not necessarily a matter of good and not as good. Just using Stetson: the “best” or at least most expensive western felt from 70+ years ago is very different from what you get from Winchester today. I’m not taking about dress felt in a hat with western styling, I’m comparing full-on beaver western hats.

    Winchester has said they don’t make felt like that vintage stuff. I don’t even know if there is much of a market for felt with the properties of vintage western felt. Those of us here on The Lounge who want felt like the Clear Beaver etc. of yesteryear don’t represent the majority of the hat buying public. Western and dress felt has drastically changed over the last 60 years and it’s not likely to ever come back. Modern beaver felt is good stuff and it might make the perfect hat for a certain use or customer, but it’s very different from vintage western felt. The new stuff might be more durable or make certain types of hats as good or better than the vintage stuff, but a Stetson 7X Clear Beaver hat From the 1940s or earlier is totally different from anything anyone can make from modern Winchester felt. The felt from a 1950s Stetson Western weight One-Hundred Just has properties that modern Winchester can not duplicate. It’s not to say that Winchester is inferior (that’s a personal preference issue), but there is no denying that they are different.

    FEPSA is widely used in the western hat world, but few makers reveal the source of their components. In dress weight FEPSA offers felt with qualities that cannot be duplicated using Winchester’s felt. I’m curious if FEPSA western felt can get closer to the properties of vintage felt, but FEPSA doesn’t make it easy for small shops and hobbyists to get their products.
     
  15. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    "might make the perfect hat for a certain use or customer, but it’s very different from vintage western felt."

    Ya, a few folks here keep saying that based on some old hat they found on ebay :) Key there is "old hat". I simply am not buying into the notion. I suspect few here have seen, let alone worn the same hat for 50 years. Or had access to a hat that was bought new 70 years ago. I'd be willing to bet old JB's felts weren't all that great compared to modern felt either.

    Old hats, be it 5 years of hard use or 70 years in the closet are gonna feel different and the felt will work differently. One thing for sure then or now consistent they are not.

    Have to wonder if some modern hatters simply used the "felt aint good enough" as an excuse to make a subpar hat or not take the extra steps to get you that 1950s wind flopper some might want. All of it, just takes time.
    Might just be were those special, exotic, "super fine, special select, 1000X" beaver blanks really come from....the extra time to do it right for the guy willing to pay for that 1000grit finish.

    Everyone has an opinion based on their own experience. You are welcome to yours :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2020
    dkstott, Boomerang and deadlyhandsome like this.

  16. I’ve seen/owned a few hundred vintage hats. I don’t compare to some collectors, but I have a good sample size to base my opinions. Even the little we know about the now vintage when they were new shows it’s different from modern felt. The video of Roy Rogers creasing a BIG western shows that felt of that time is different from felt of today. The movies made in the 1930s to 1950s show what felt was like back at that time. It is different. I’ve asked for custom hatters to duplicate this vintage felt; no one can do it because the hat bodies now available from Winchester are just different. It’s not that the passing of 70+ years has made them different, they were different from modern felt from the start. This isn’t a dig on modern Winchester felt; It’s good stuff, but you can’t make the same hat with it as was made by the great hat companies 70+ years ago. There’s a reason so many of us chase vintage hats.

    “I suspect few here have seen, let alone worn the same hat for 50 years. Or had access to a hat that was bought new 70 years ago.“.

    That is demonstrably untrue. Many of us have access to (own) hats that were bought new 70 years ago. Maybe you meant something other than what you wrote?
     
    Rmccamey likes this.
  17. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    I get that you aren't bashing Winchester. Just don't agree with your conclusions. That is OK. We don't have to agree. I've already pointed out why I think we disagree several times.

    Fact is none of us know how a new hat, shaped, felt in hand or creased in the '20s or '30s. So we are all just guessing at this point and thinking we "know".

    I like these :) Don't want one but I like them!

    rodeo1.jpg
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2020
  18. jlee562

    jlee562 I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    4,490
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    By the mid sixties, to quote a post from Matt Deckard's Instagram, even Stetson was a "flailing" company with declining quality and that generally correlates with a range of observations here.

    I do think there's a point to be made about pre-war, mercury processed felts. These are just different felts than modern. It's a fair point to say that most of these hats are not NOS condition in the present day, and yes, felt does "deaden" over time, these are valid rebuttals. But, neither are really dispositive to argue that modern felts are as good as, or superior to, vintage felts. I am just speaking to the handful of pre-war dress westerns I've handled.
     
    dkstott, deadlyhandsome and Yahoody like this.
  19. Yahoody

    Yahoody Practically Family

    Messages:
    743
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Naw...hell no :cool: Most every hat got bought new prior to the Internet or Goodwill (1902). If you (or many of you) have hats you are still wearing or even own that you personally bought new 70 years ago, and you're running a computer today good on ya. I try to respect my elders . :rolleyes:
     
    dkstott and deadlyhandsome like this.

  20. I like them too. They look pretty soft and not stiff. :)

    Some truly fine gentleman who happen to also be accomplished hatters and some longtime members here, have said that no amount of effort or special tools or skills or time can convert a modern Winchester hat body into the equivalent of vintage felt. I don’t think it was laziness or any other less noble motivation that led them to say it; some of these people I know personally and do not question their integrity. Additionally, no hatter, at least not a single one that I’m aware of or whose work has shown up here on The Lounge, has been able to recreate the vintage properties using modern Winchester hat bodies. I have/had custom western hats made by JW, Montechristi of New Mexico, Buch Dorer, Rand, Art Fawcett, Northwest Hats, The Phoenix Hat Co., The Last Best Westeven cowboy hats, O’Farrells, Shudde Bros., Peters Bros., The Rocky Mountain Hat Co., Greeley Hat Works, Az-Tex, and probably a few others. Some great and some not so great...and an occasional stinker, but nothing to compare to vintage. And it’s not just the passing of time. The hats made in the mid 1960s and later aren’t getting any better as years go by. The felt being made has changed.

    I honestly don’t recall anyone else here who holds the opinion that the felt today is the same as the felt from 70+ years ago, or can be made to have the same properties. We all have opinions, and I understand that no amount of discussion will result in a guaranteed convergence of thought. I’m just having a hard time seeing where your opinion comes from. I hope it’s seen as respectful discussion and not personal.
     
    Rmccamey likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.