Making a Western hat by hand?

Discussion in 'Hats' started by Yahoody, Feb 15, 2018.

  1. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    I need to preference this thread a couple of different ways. First off, a hat for me is a tool first and foremost. It is a fashion statement 2nd. Mind you how I look in my hat is really important to me....but it is not my first priority. I won't wear a hat I don't like. But I won't wear a hat that won't do the job either.

    When you go to judge my comments think back to this as to why I do what I do.

    Using the techniques I use will get you a nice hat. And if you have the skill and the right priorities it will get you a really nice hat. My priority is durability. For that I want a time proven 100% beaver blank from Winchester. Sure I want it to look good but the cosmetics are up to what I have for patience and the skills to accomplish.

    As a tool....I want a durable hat. Not everyone will use a hat as a tool. But working with horses makes your hat a tool. A big hat keeps the rain and sun off. But it also gives a cantankerous horse a much bigger and obscured, indefinite target when they go to kick or bite you. It happens with even the "nice" horses. Same reason you wear high thick leather boots and chaps...protection from the animals and sharp objects like thorns and barbed wire among the many way to get hurt working around animals.

    A big hat or the fringe on your chaps makes the real target (you) much harder to hit.

    In a pinch, to keep from getting ran over by horses or cattle, one might pull off your hat and wave it around to make you appear much bigger physically than you actually are. It happens and you'll likely not care much about how you handle your priceless custom beaver hat beaver during the next few terrifying seconds :) Ended up tearing the sweat band out of one of my hats in just that scenario the other day. And was happy to do it compared to the other possible outcomes. That kind of use and abuse also makes you appreciate what can be done with a simple needle and some millinery thread to fix it.

    Once you know what millinery thread (waxed nylon thread) actually is.....how you look at hats and your hat world will likely change some.

    Hand sewn hats are an acquired taste. What I wanted early on was a lot of things done on a machine. Makes for a very tidy hat. And just like everyone else I have come to expect a nice hat to be tidy :)

    Turns out that after you have rotten out a sweat band's sewing or trashed a liner or two in just one summer...tidy don't mean much (to me) any more. I want durable with a silky soft feel. Dang near water proof and a hat that holds is shape, sweat or rain soaked. And a hat I can easily rebuild as needed.

    I've been playing with felt hats since grade school, trimming, rebuilding and reblocking them. Building my own hats some 50+ years later is a hobby I enjoy. But there are no secrets to building a good hat. Might be a few to building a purty hat :) Most I likely don't know or simply don't care about.

    I build just for myself and family, no more than 2 at a time. Start to finish 2 or 3 days generally. Next up is how I get started with a hat blank, the shapes and crowns I use and why, and what I use for tools (it aint much).

    Figured it is time to share. No reason not to make your own hats on occasion.

    [​IMG]
    Back in the old days when my oldest gelding was not very friendly and a bit of an outlaw :) The hat was a 25 year old 7x Bailey. I still use that hat. Guess we should talk some about Xs ?
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
  2. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    This a semi finished rough blank from Winchester. Color is black, size is a double string yellow. Dbl yellow is the largest hat body that Winchester makes. Rough shape is 5" brim by a 5.5" crown.

    [​IMG]

    Same size hat body was used to make this 5" open crown crown, 5 3/8" brim, 800grit finish hat.
    Side by side comparison. As you can see,after pulling the felt it is a shorter crown ad a bigger brim. So you have some leeway on hat sizing at the extreme end.

    [​IMG]

    Close up of the raw felt of a new and untouched hat body.

    [​IMG]

    The same felt, finished at 800 grit and not oiled. And not the best picture of an already dirty hat :)

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    I'll add these comments from another thread totally out of order because they are worth knowing up front i think.

    "Once she has cooled I'll be sewing in the sweat band tonight!
    100% beaver, 800 grit sand, 5 3/8" brim, 5" crown."

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Life is too short to wait long for a full custom hat!

    [​IMG]


    Everyone will have an opinion. Here is mind, worth what you paid for it :)

    On a new 100% beaver blank no question it is needed. Some do fire several times. I am still learning and no one I know or have talked too has all the answers. But I can tell you from my personal experience playing with felt the last 50 odd years there are very few...."master hatters" out there even if they do claim the title as a sales gimmick.

    The reason I say it is needed on a 100% beaver blank is good felt once blocked and pounced is supper soft with little body. I fire to improve the hand and stiffen the hat. Firing them will also shrink the hat some in every direction...some times more than you would like on size, shape or brim width. Lighting the felt on fire re-aligns the fur fibers from pouncing. No question it makes a stronger hat. That is the reason I do it. The results are notable. Some guys do it a couple of times to burn off the fuzz and get a better/smoother finish pouncing. I've done it both ways. Both work. Not convinced it adds anything good to the finish as a burn will make a super soft body rather hard in hand and so you start over on the pounce to get soft again. Some say you should never fire a hat more than once. I'd disagree on that because no burn and the resulting heat is exactly the same. I've fired a hat that never got hot enough and had to do it again. But never fired one that left an burnt unusable body either. Although I do suspect it could happen. Some hat bodies will get a lot worse if fired some will take a couple of efforts to get them right. I fired my most recent hat 3 for sure (may be 4) times. But I was going for something special. Clean up, with a vaccum, and different brushes and pouncing again as needed is mandatory. I like a velvety smooth finish so I go to 800grit paper. Some go to 600 or 1000. I build my own hats to work as tools in outdoors. They need to do everything from keep the sun off me to literally keeping a horse off me and everything in between. I can water my horse with one of my hats if I need to because they have the "body" to hold their shape and are pretty water tight from firing and the extra time I take pouncing the hat. Notthat I would use a good hat a water bucket but nice to know I could. Obviously using the best beaver hat body you can get to start with is the foundation of anything you build that you want to have lasting value.

    I have no clue how a rabbit hair or blended fur/hair hat body would react to being fired. But I'd guess it won't get the same results you get from 100% beaver. I have fired beaver hats that were a decade old when rebuilding them. Same results as new beaver...adds stiffness and body while not effecting the finish much. I would caution you however...the effort to get a silver belly clean compared to a black hat after firing them can be substantial. A really strong vaccum really helps there. But ya gotta love the smell of a freshly fired hat :)

    Hi Bowen. And thanks so much for the welcome. Glad you are enjoying the posts! I sure do like my hats (and everyone else's as well!) so it is really fun for me to talk hats and show pictures with such a great community. I learn new things every day here.

    I tried to explain most of what I know/think/think i know, of firing hats, 5 posts back (#3751). But yes it does stiffen a beaver blank up substantially. Which is the main reason I do it. Some folks claim it helps get a better quality final finish as well. I have used it for both but think honestly more elbow grease and a finer grit sand paper will get you a better finish than firing ever will. I'm not much of a Fedora guy or anything but 100% beaver for material. So no clue what others do. But I don't think I'd want to fire a really nice 100% beaver Fedora. I like them super soft and "crushable". Firing a hat pretty much "kills" the felt short term. You don't want to be folding up any of my hats as you'd wreck them by breaking the felt. It takes a healthy amount of steam (some times water again, as I wet block) and patience to just form the brim and crown on a correctly fired hat . I've also dry blocked similar hats. It is a faster way to built by hand, but I've never been happy with the quality or end result long term. "Cheap, Fast, or High Quality: Pick Any Two." Relates to hats as I know them just like it does to most hand crafted items. Stay frosty my friend :)


    This is the hat I was working on and fired last night. Put it to work today.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
  4. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    OK, so what the heck do you really need to build a custom hat?

    Not trying to be a smart ass...but first off you'll need a hat body. You can start with an old hat if you want to be conservative. Or...and it would be my suggestion is start with a 100% beaver blank up front. Even thought you'll likely not be totally satisfied with your first hat...a good beaver blank is a lot easier to work with and get great results first time around is my experience. I'll get to the details on how to get that new beaver blank shortly.

    Because prior to order you felt you'll need a few things.

    You'll want a wooden hat block in your "size" and in a shape you can live with. They are not cheap. Remember the saying...."Cheap, Fast, or High Quality: Pick Any Two", because it starts here.

    Hat blocks are expensive, last several life times if taken care of. They are difficult to buy, easy to sell. I figure a "cheap" custom western hat in 100% beaver is $500 plus $20/$50 shipping. You can start adding up what you'll need for tools and materials starting here.

    Hat blocks? Found used on ebay or new on the Internet. I have one. It is a custom made 5.5" # 52. I measure a 23 3/8" long, long oval and I own a round 24" block, 5.5" tall. I like a tight hat and the 24" block works/fits fine for me. Plan on $100 to $200 for your block. Better yet borrow a friends :)

    Good source here...for new blocks in 4 or 5 western styles.
    http://hatblocksaustralia.com.au/open-crowns

    More to come.
     
  5. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Two things most will already have is a tea kettle and a nice steam iron. Fancy new steam irons are pretty slick! I borrow my wife's.

    You'll also need a puller downer and a pusher downer (hammer downer).
    [​IMG]

    Handy little fellows that are easy enough to make yourself out of pine. Tolliker is nice but not required. But you will need blocking ties.

    No one gives this stuff away, but this is a screaming deal i think. But no puller downer. I do like Judith's Pusher downer better than the more expensive and polished look. They actually work better with less effort in my experience.

    https://www.judithm.com/products/headblock-kit
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
  6. Cornshucker77

    Cornshucker77 Call Me a Cab

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    Northeast Nebraska, USA
    I am looking forward to the tutorial Yahoody. Nice hat and a nice Appy. :)
     
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  7. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Great Basin

    Thanks Scott! Was hoping you'd jump on a new Boss of the Plains from this :)
    regards,
    Ya
     
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  8. Cornshucker77

    Cornshucker77 Call Me a Cab

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    I have been thinking about giving it a try. Making a Boss of the Plains. Maybe after seeing your tutorial I will. :)
     
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  9. AbbaDatDeHat

    AbbaDatDeHat I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    5,817
    Greetings All:
    Yahoody, you know you’re liable to makes us all hat makers if you keep posting up all these delicious post!! Thanks
    Keep em flying!
    Be well. Bowen
     
  10. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Thank you. I thought about it some. I had a hard time getting started myself. I've worked my entire life with my hands. And found few "masters' at their craft. And none of them ever called themselves a "master". Hats are like most things, easy enough to get something useable if you are willing to put some effort in. Work at it a bit and get some practice and you might be surprised at what you can make yourself.

    While I am thinking about it...and if you like black hats, hard not to try an Amish hat to use as a blank body.

    [​IMG]

    More here....
    http://philippi-collection.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/anabaptist-headcoverings-of-plain-people.html

    But the Amish Flying cloud hats can be had cheap and are exceptionally durable hats (even on my scale of durability). Likely more Amish hats, on real cowboys in the Great Basin area than any other hat brand. That really surprised me first time around when I went looking. But having used a few the last year I understand the choice now. Also a good body to practice sewing in sweat bands, adding a hat band or trimming liners for.

    New Amish hat here... with a 30 minute hand shape job using steam from a tea pot.

    [​IMG]

    and here...not every black hat there but some of them.

    [​IMG]


    Scott and I talked about this a sentence or two prior. But if anyone is having a hard time getting a beaver blank we could do a group order. Sure would cut down on the shipping costs. I'd bet we could do a group order on millinery tools and supplies as well. You are on your own for a steam iron :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
  11. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
  12. Redshoes51

    Redshoes51 One of the Regulars

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Mississippi Delta
    What an incredible image... what a great looking hat and gentleman...

    This hat is on my "Covet" List!!!!

    ~shoes~
     
  13. deadlyhandsome

    deadlyhandsome I'll Lock Up

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  14. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Great Basin
  15. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    I/we kinda got distracted and ran off the rails for a bit. All about the excitement of making a new hat so it is understandable.

    Like any job it is much easier to work efficiently with the right tools. But like any job given enough time and imagination you can still get the job done without having every proper tool and using make shift items to get the job done.

    Examples? A runner downer and a puller downer can be expensive. Nothing special about the store bought versions. I paid right at $50 for a puller down from DeCou. It is nice but the last hat I built i used a small, straight sided, oblong block of wood with sanded edges. Cost was nothing as I cut it out of a pine garden stake from Lowe's. I had used a proper puller downer prior so I knew what was required of the tool. Simple piece of clean wood will get the job done. Runner downer? Same story. You'll need both tools but where you source them is up to you. Hat blocks? Have yet to find a replacement for a proper hat bock. Although I suspect with some imagination and effort one might find the proper shape and size in a well stocked kitchen or certainly in any good kitchen store. For myself how about a 5" deep by 24" flat bottom bowl? Or a 4" deep flat bottom and add a dome to it and you have a nice open crown. Just saying don't let the price of the "hatters tools" get in your way. You can bet J.B. Stetson didn't as a kid making hats in the California gold fields.

    One of the most expensive items that will make you hat have a professional appearance when finished is a hat jack. It is the tool that you use to cut the brim on a rough blank after shaping the crown and pouncing. Professional hat jacks are expensive, and adjustable. But even a hat jack can be made. The least expensive to make won't be adjustable but if you know the size brim you want it won't matter. I'm waiting for a hat jack that will cut up to 7" But I made one for a 5 3/8" in a hour or so. My caution would be if you don't know what a hat jack it and how to use one....if first find out what is required on both ends of the jack.

    Another thought on a group buy for felt is a hat jack we could all rent and pass around.

    So back to the tools required.

    hat block in your size
    puller downer
    pusher downer
    blocking ties (hat strings to tie off the hat block)
    shown on a hat being blocked and pounced below..
    [​IMG]
    steam iron (and several tea towels to put the hat on and cover the brim when ironing)
    a tea kettle for steam (and a stove to fire it up)
    flat surface to pounce (sand) on
    source of hot water (I use the kitchen sink) if you want to wet block
    sweat band ( I have used several kinds and actually like the undyed natural leather bands the best, available off ebay one at a time or in multiples)
    [​IMG]



    hat liners to keep the inside of your hat clean
    hat band of your choice
    and lastly, a hat body of your color choice and fur content/type.

    I've only used 100% beaver from Winchester Hat Corp. in TN to built a hat but rebuilt many more in almost any combo of fur/felt imaginable. I can tell you good 100% beaver is easy to work with. If you are wanting to build a hat for the first time it is easy to totally strip a hat body you like (for color, hat head size and hat crown/brim size) and start there.

    I called this morning to clarify Winchester's sales policy. They only sell to "hat makers", sadly not individuals. I wouldn't let that deter you from calling and asking though. Not my intention when I started this thread. But after a couple of years trying to buy my own "one off" hat body from hat makers that had built for me prior I understand a hobbiest's frustration. Anyone really wanting a 100% beaver hat body can send me private message.
     
  16. redlinerobert

    redlinerobert One of the Regulars

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    Central coast, CA
    Yahoody,

    Those are some amazing photos! Thanks for the link.
     
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  17. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Great Basin
    Haven't quit ya here. Just waiting for a new hat body to arrive. Photo essay building that hat to finish up.
     
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  18. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    New beaver blank is here. Dbl string yellow, Winchester 100% beaver body. 5" brim and a 5.5" crown. We'll see what additional felt I can pull on the brim (hoping to get close to 5.5") and will shoot for a 5" oven crown.

    Color is a classic "natural" beaver.

    [​IMG]
    You can see the sizing threads on the bottom left hand, dbl yellow strings, which is the largest hat body Winchester makes. "Dbl yellow" is an appropriate size for the 5+" brim, 5" crown hat I'll be making in a long oval 7 3/8.

    [​IMG]
     
  19. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
    Great Basin
    I will be wet blocking this crown. Which will then require at least 24 hrs, better yet 48 hrs to dry.
    Once the crown formed with warm water, tamp dried with paper towels as much as possible but still wet I will start pouncing the brim with the hat block still in the hat.

    Tools on hand this morning:
    sink with hot water
    tea kettle
    steam iron
    hat block
    puller downer
    pusher downer
    blocking ties (hat strings to tie off the hat block)
    sanding blocks (not required but speeds up the pouncing process)
    sand paper :
    220
    320
    400
    600
    800

    I use the 320/400 the most. 800 is an exceptional finish but you can go higher for grit and get and even smoother finished hat. All the expensive commercial custom beaver western hats I own stopped at 600 grit.

    Like anything where the finish work requires sanding, your patience and sanding skills will define the quality of your finished hat. Take the time it requires to get it right.
     
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  20. Yahoody

    Yahoody A-List Customer

    Messages:
    477
    Location:
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    Stopped by Lowes this morning and picked up some fix'ins :) Sanding blocks really speed up the time you'll spend pouncing...as will a electric hand sander :) Blocks likely give a more consistent finish as well. Dry blocking the crown eliminates (and I am convinced stresses the felt a lot more) the drying time. Easy to built a dry blocked hat beginning to end in a short day's work. Most time spent for me on a dry blocked hat is sewing in the sweat band. Wet blocking I spend the majority of time working on the hat split evenly between pouncing and forming the crown. I also find for myself wet blocking slows things down knowing I will spend parts of tow or even three days building a hat. Slowing down the build time, for me, gives a higher quality hat in the end. Wet formed crown is up next!

    [​IMG]

    30 seconds with that new big sanding block already gave me a couple of piles of beaver fur loose on the brim. I like it! Hard not to get ahead of yourself if you like making hats :)

    Snowy and cold this morning so good day to build a hat!

    [​IMG]
     

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