Turning a Wooden Hat

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					                            Turning a Wooden Hat
                                                By Larry Hancock

I want to start by saying I probably never would have thought of making a wearable wooden hat on my own. Johannes Mi-
chelsen is the first turner, to my knowledge, to turn such a hat and introduced it to the public. I personally have never seen him
demonstrate but I have read articles he wrote and have seen a video of him turning. This along with the help from fellow turners
that have seen him demonstrate in person enabled me to turn my first hat. I would someday like to meet him in person and watch
him demonstrate in person. Please visit his site (woodhat.com) to learn more about his hats, process and video.

The first step in turning a hat is to select your wood. It needs to be a fresh piece with no cracks or checks and preferably a light
colored wood so the light shines through easily while turning. You want to select the blank from a straight and clear area of the
trunk without any limbs or visible defects. You do not want to start your first hat with a piece of wood that will cause undue
problems while turning or shaping. I use sycamore mainly because it is easy to get in large diameters here and makes a good-
looking hat, it will also shape oval easily. I used hackberry for this hat and it worked very well.

This is a crossgrain oriented turning; the grain of the blank is oriented perpendicular to the axis of the lathe. We are taking
advantage of the woods natural tendency to shrink in width to help shape the hat oval so grain alignment and orientation is
important. Make the cut from the log section parallel to the pith, avoiding any cracks radiating from it. The brim side of the hat
is located toward the center of the log and the crown is on the bark side.

There are no special tools or light setups actually needed to complete this project. Johannes uses a light run through the head-
stock spindle of the lathe to turn the top but I have never found this necessary and lathes like the Poolewood have no access
through the headstock for this so I will show you the way I reverse turn the top to finished thickness. The only tool required
for this turning is a bowl gouge. A simple frame for holding and shaping the hat once turned, that you can make yourself, is the
only special piece needed.

                               Tutorial by Larry Hancock • Photos and Text by Larry Hancock
                                              Distributed by Craft Supplies USA
                                                         April 2006

                  I use a 5/8” bowl gouge as the main                                    Its time to start roughing out the blank.
                  tool for turning a hat. It is side ground                              I am using a 3/4” bowl gouge with the
                  using the Oneway wolverine-grinding                                    flute facing my body and cutting in a
                  jig.                                                                   pulling motion toward me. I start the
                                                                                         roughing at about 300 to 400 rpm. As
                                                                                         the roughing proceeds, the speed is in-
                                                                                         creased. Variable speed drives are very
                                                                                         nice for their ability to fine tune speed
                                                                                         to minimize vibration. This lathe has a
                                                                                         three-step pulley system and I have it
                                                               on the slowest pulley to maximize torque.
                  After seeing Stuart Batty turn, I now
                  grind my small 1/4” through 1/2” bowl                                  The blank roughly coned shaped now
                  gouges with a grind similar to a spindle                               with the crown of the hat at the tailstock
                  gouge profile with a secondary bevel.                                  end of the lathe. I have aligned the grain
                  The bevel angle is less than 90 degrees                                as I want it and checked for any defects
                  so it will reach into tighter areas than                               in the wood I can see at this stage.
                  the gouge above. I use this gouge to
                  turn the tenon to fit the chuck and to
                  make the inside cuts up to the brim.

                  Being fresh cut, they are very heavy.                                  You can see a crack in the edge of this
                  I start between centers so I can adjust                                blank and a small knot that I will need
                  the blank for grain orientation and to                                 to remove so it will not be in the finished
                  eliminate any defects I find before I                                  piece. This can wait until after reversing
                  turn a tenon to fit in the chuck. Since I                              the blank in the chuck.
                  do not want the blank ending up com-
                  ing off the lathe at this early stage, I
                  drive the four-prong spur center into
                  the blank for a more secure seat.

                                                                                         Now that I am satisfied with the blank
                  While I am chain sawing the blank to a                                 orientation, I can turn a tenon to mount
                  rough round shape I go ahead and cut                                   the blank in the chuck and start shaping
                  away some of the bark parallel to the                                  the exterior of the hat.
                  sawn side. This is where the tailstock                                 I do not try to turn the finished profile
                  will seat. I remove bark where my tail-                                of the hat until the blank is in the chuck.
                  stock center will be to get down to a                                  Some run out usually occurs when re-
                  harder area of the blank for a better                                  versed, so I save the finish turning until
                  grip.                                                                  then. Uniform thickness throughout this
                  If the bark were loose, I would go ahead                               turning is important so true up the blank
                  and remove it before starting the lathe      after reversing.
                  to avoid it flying off.                      This blank is not close to the finished shape but I wanted to men-
                                                               tion it at this point because many turners expect the blank to run
                  I start the turning of all hats (actually    perfectly when reversed. I expect some truing of the blank will be
                  everything like bowls, hollow forms,         needed after reversing so I save finish cuts and sanding until then.
                  etc.) between centers on the lathe. This
                  allows me freedom to manipulate the                                    The blank reversed and the tenon se-
                  blank by changing the spur or tailstock                                cured in the chuck. A faceplate with
                  center location to achieve the desired                                 screws will work in place of the chuck.
                  grain orientation, which is very impor-                                Just remember the depth the screws go in
                  tant in this project.                                                  so they do not end up through the top of
                  Make sure the blank has a clear path                                   the finished hat.
                  to rotate before starting the lathe. Ad-
                  just the tool rest and rotate the blank
by hand first.

                 This picture shows a line drawn to indi-
                 cate the centerline of the heart through                                The blank mounted in the chuck and the
                 the blank with the spur center seated on                                tailstock is supporting the outboard end.
                 the line. I can now make adjustments                                    The wood grain could break in line with
                 on the tailstock side if needed for better                              the chuck jaws since this is cross grain
                 grain orientation.                                                      oriented. It is always best to keep the
                                                                                         tailstock in contact until it is necessary
                                                                                         to move it out of the way for hollowing
                                                                                         just as a precaution.

If you want your hat to actually fit the dimensions of your head                                      A view from the back of the gouge. The
so you can wear it you need to have those dimensions ready now,                                       shavings come off the cutting edge as
actually when the blank was selected.                                                                 long tight spirals or long and straight de-
You measure the diameter of your head from front to back with                                         pending on the area of the cutting edge
some type of caliper and from side to side in line where a hat                                        used and exact angle of the edge to the
would sit on your head. For example, my head measures 8” front                                        lathe axis.
to back in diameter and 6” side to side. Take these two dimensions,
add them together and get the average, for me it is 7”. Now you
need to add 3/4” to this to get the outside diameter the hat should
measure at the hatband. The extra 3/4” is for 1/2” wood shrinkage
and a 1/4” for the thickness at the band area, 1/8” doubled. The
thickness of the hat throughout is 5/64” to 3/32”. I turn one for                                     View of the difference between the sur-
myself that is 7 3/4” diameter measured at the outside of the band.                                   faces to the left using a vertical gouge
Different woods will have different shrinkage so you will have to                                     oriented cut and one to right using a more
experiment some with what you use to get it exactly right. You can                                    horizontal roughing bowl gouge cut.
also turn the hat slightly oversize and add a sweatband with pad-
ding to make a better fit.
A flexible curve ruler can also be used to measure around your
head. This will give you a template of the exact shape of your
head to go by while shaping the hat in the frame later. You can find
flexible rulers in the drafting section of most art and office supply
stores.                                                                                               A close-up of the woods surface. There
                          Shaping the profile. The side ground                                        is no room for sanding out any kind of
                          gouge held nearly horizontal can remove                                     defect later when the hat is thin so make
                          wood quickly. If the lathe has enough                                       sure that the surface is without any
                          torque the gouge will remove shavings                                       chipped, uneven or torn areas now be-
                          as wide as the sharpened side is long.                                      fore proceeding to turn to the final thick-
                          This does not give the best finish cut on                                   ness.
                          the wood but is a fast way to get down
                          to where we want to start the finishing
                                                                                                      The outside profile of the hat sized to the
                          The gouge held with the flute facing the                                    right diameter and the surface clean cut.
                          direction of cut. Rotate the gouge flute                                    The hat has a brim 3 1/2” wide and is
                          back enough to allow the bottom cutting                                     almost 14 1/2” in diameter. You can see
                          edge to lead the cut.                                                       I taper from small at the crown to larger
                                                                                                      diameter at the band. If the sides are
                                                                                                      straight, the sides above the band will
                                                                                                      bulge out wider than the band when it
                                                                                                      dries. The brim is sloped down from the
                                                                                                      band and reverse turned back up slightly
                                                                           on the outer edge to give a good shape to the brim.
                                                                           Sand the topside of the brim now while it is thick and running true.
                           When taking heavy cuts the gouge needs          The grain will raise some later and need hand sanding but this cuts
                           to be controlled with a firm grip. An           down on the amount of sanding needed later.
                           overhand grip pressing the tool down on
                           the tool rest and the other hand holding                                   Start at the outer edge to thin the brim to
                           the tool firmly against the side makes it                                  final thickness. I am using a pulling cut
                           manageable.                                                                from the center to the edge. The gouge is
                                                                                                      roughly at a 45-degree angle to the lathe
                                                                                                      axis. The flute facing in the direction of
                                                                                                      the cut.
                                                                                                      Control the cut by placing the heel of the
                                                                                                      hand on the tool rest and flexing the fin-
                           One of the gouge techniques I use                                          gers to pull the gouge into the cut. A slip
                           for finishing cuts is to have the                                          made now could shatter the thin area of
                           length of the gouge nearly vertical                                        the brim.
                           and the bevel rubbing. It is like tak-
                           ing a skew cut along the blank. The                                        The first inch of the brim is 3/32” thick.
                           shavings come off the gouge straight                                       The light shining through the wood acts
                           down because of the alignment of the                                       as a visual thickness gauge while turn-
                           flute. The cutting edge here is ground                                     ing.
                           very acute so there is very little resis-
                           tance, and the wood cuts cleanly. The
                           edge profile of the gouge is slightly
convex and like using a radius edged skew.

                          Continue turning the brim to final thick-                              Use a thin strip of rosewood or ebony
                          ness in small steps until the brim is all                              held with the narrow edge vertical rub-
                          a uniform thickness. Make sure that the                                bing against the wood to shade the band.
                          wood has no tear out or uneven thickness                               A lathe speed between 1200 RPM and
                          before moving to another step. There is                                1800 RPM will work to burnish. The
                          no coming back to correct defective ar-                                brim will be pretty dry and warped now
                          eas so fix them as you go. With the wood                               so a real high speed with it unsupported
                          this thin, it will loose moisture fast and                             might break it. Small surface checks
                          begin to warp. Even if soaked with water                               may appear in the endgrain areas be-
                          again it will loose the moisture quickly                               cause of the heat generate. Do not worry
as it spins.                                                            too much about this; the checks close back up as the wood has a
Turn a couple of steps and sand that area. Check the wood surface       chance to dry.
and then continue turning. When the wood is dry, it may reveal                                   The band burnished and the inside hol-
some defects that are not visible while wet.                                                     lowed to thickness where you can see
Expect to sharpen the gouge often when making this cut. The sharp                                the glow of light. Now hollowing can be
edge is presented at 90-degrees to the wood’s spinning surface.                                  finished.
This wears away the edge faster than a cut where the bevel rubs
the wood.
                          The brim turned to final thickness. You
                          can see the differences in the light shin-
                          ing through the lighter wood and the
                          dark spalted wood. This can make it
                          harder to get a true sense of thickness us-
                          ing the light as a gauge alone. Measure                             Now we can proceed with removing the
                          with calipers to make sure the thickness                            rest of the interior. I have my lathe rota-
                          is consistent.                                                      tion reversed so I can turn without lean-
                                                                                              ing over the bed and I have the light out
                                                                                              of the way on the backside of the lathe.
                                                                                              This is not necessary- just more com-
                        I start hollowing on the inside with the                              fortable. You could always stand on the
                        lathe rotation reversed. I can cut down                               backside of the lathe and do your cutting
                        the side without having to lean over the                              if your lathe does not reverse, accom-
                        lathe bed this way and keep the gouge                                 plishing the same thing I am doing. I am
                        handle close to my body for control. I          using my bowl gouge with the spindle gouge grind on the inside
                        can put the light behind the hat now to         here.
                        see the hollowing progress. I use a One-
                        way chuck and it has set screws that lock                                 The interior is finished but I have a dark
                        down on the spindle to prevent unscrew-                                   ring at the top and it is not the wood. I
                        ing it. I am using a side ground gouge to                                 usually cut a relief of about 1/4” wide
remove the bulk of the wood.                                                                      and 1/2” deep between the chuck jaws
                                                                                                  and the top of the hat once I have hol-
                           The hat turned to final thickness past the                             lowed a ways in so I can see the light
                           hatband area; we can now burnish the                                   and know when I have reached the top. I
                           band. You can use an air compressor to                                 neglected to cut that relief this time and
                           blow moisture out now. Make sure the                                   almost turned through the top of the hat.
                           band has a finished surface before the                                 Here you can see that thin ring I was talk-
                           burnishing starts.                           ing about. It happens to all of us at one time or another, if you take
                           The light will shine through the hat dif-    chances and do not do everything perfect you will turn through the
                           ferently from the brim to the crown. The     bottom of a bowl or the top of a hat. If it were easy, though it would
                           brim is flat grain and the light does not    take the challenge out of it and not be near as great a feeling on
                           shine through it as easy. In addition, at    those rare occasions when everything does work out just right.
this stage it will be drier and not allow the light to penetrate as
well. The crown of the hat is endgrain (like looking into the end of                               I work with a lot of green wood and
a straw) and lets the light pass through easily. This means that you                               this is my standard method for revers-
have to keep turning until the glow of the light is much brighter                                  ing to turn away the wood that was in
than it was on the brim. Measure the crown thickness until it is                                   the chuck. It works just as well for re-
right and then use the glow through that area as a guide to pro-                                   versing the hat. You do not have to make
ceed.                                                                                              a light that goes through the headstock
                                                                                                   spindle; many lathes do not have through
                            Sand the exterior of the hat around the                                bored spindles anyway. Using the meth-
                            band now. This also helps to dry the sur-                              od above with a spindle turned round to
                            face in preparation for burnishing.                                    about 1 1/4” diameter and a piece of non
                                                                        slip padding I can turn any hollow form, natural edge bowl or other
                                                                        warped or uneven surfaced turning without any trouble. Clamping
                                                                        force from the tailstock holds the hat in place. I still have the center
                                                                        mark from my original between center setting before I mounted
                                                                        the blank in the chuck so it is easy to recenter when reversed.

                          The hat crown compressed between the                                      I have turned the last of the waste wood
                          wood on one side and the cup of the tail-                                 down and parted through leaving a small
                          stock center on the other side. With this                                 area to sand. Since the hat is held by
                          method, the wood I am actually cutting                                    compression, it will stop turning once
                          is supported and not the band area where                                  the pressure is relieved. I also have a re-
                          no work is going on. With a thicker proj-                                 mote stop button that I can position close
                          ect like the foot of a bowl, this would not                               to my hip. That leaves my hands free to
                          be much of a concern.                                                     hold the hat with one hand, the tool in
                                                                                                    the other and stop the lathe with my hip
                                                                                                    just before parting completely through,
                                                                         the lathe will coast to a stop as I finish the cut. Since the grain of
                          You can see the ring of light near the         the wood and the cut are in the same direction, it is easy to part
                          edge of the tenon where I nearly turned        through.
                          through. The lathe speed needs to be
                          slow to finish the turning because of a lot
                          of unsupported wood spinning around.
                          If I had used a waste block to press the                                   The shaping frame. I made this frame for
                          hat on at the brim side, the wood at the                                   shaping hats after seeing a video segment
                          crown would not be supported and the                                       of Johannes Michelsen at an American
                          pressure of cutting could break the top                                    Association of Woodturners symposium.
                          out.                                                                       It is best to let the hat set for about 12
                                                                                                     hours after turning so the wood can loose
                           There is plenty of room around the small                                  most all it’s moisture before trying to
                           spindle for a light to shine inside the                                   bend the brim. After I heard about this,
                           hat.                                          I have not had any brims crack as I did when taking the hat right
                                                                         from the lathe to the frame. You can also use a light set over the hat
                                                                         to dry it quicker and the heat seems to help it bend easier also. Do
                                                                         not hurry the shaping. This is where I have broken hat brims trying
                                                                         to force the shape too quick. As the hat dries it, will shrink and you
                                                                         can slowly tighten the clamp and adjust the rubber bands. Leave
                                                                         the hat in the frame for 2 to 4 days to let the hat develop a memory
                                                                         and stay bent when removed from the frame.
                           I could also jam chuck the hat on a waste                               There is a square of wood at the bottom
                           block and finish the turning by listen-                                 and four upright pieces with two concave
                           ing to the sound of the wood as it thins.                               shaped clamp faces at the top. Two piec-
                           The hat can be removed from the waste                                   es on the sides with holes drilled through
                           block, checked for thickness and then                                   for the thread and wing nuts to apply
                           pressed back on to turn away more if                                    clamping pressure. Wrap rubber bands
                           needed. One of the problems of pressing                                 over the brim and down to the frame to
                           a thin wet wood onto a dry wood waste                                   control shape.
                           block is trying to remove it. Turn the
                           waste block small enough in diameter to
                           put some masking tape on. Now you do                                     Side view of the hat and the arrangement
not have the transfer of moisture and it will be easier to remove. If                               of the rubber bands. You can see the hat
you use this method, still be careful removing the hat.                                             is already turning down at the front and
                                                                                                    the back. I have sheepskin seatbelt cov-
                           I am using a pulling cut to slowly turn                                  ers on the sidepieces to prevent scratch-
                           the wood to final thickness. Since the                                   ing or marring the wood surface when
                           top is crown shaped the cut is with the                                  clamping.

                                                                                                    Top view of the hat with rubber bands
                                                                                                    stretched over it.

                           All that is left now is to turn the last of
                           the waste off the crown. Turning the re-
                           mainder away and parting through or
                           cutting through with a handsaw are two
                           options for this. Both options will get
                           the same result. You just need to decide
                           what you are most comfortable doing.
                                                                                                    It never hurts to have a model for your
                                                                                                    hats that lives under the same roof.


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