TURNED HAT

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fter years of turning bowls and vases in my spare time, I started to search for a different sort of project, and hit on the idea of turning head wear. Being busy with life, I didn’t seize upon the idea immediately but instead treated it as a joke, putting bowls and vases on my head and calling them hats. Then late in 1990 my wife and I were invited to a wedding with a country and western theme, and we were asked to dress accordingly. This was the catalyst I needed. I figured that if I didn’t do “The Hat’’ for this occasion I probably never would. I chose a piece of black cher­ry and turned a diameter large enough to fit the front-to-back measurement of my head. This first effort lacked the grace of the hats I turn today, but was well received despite its lack of true hat form.

My own head, being fairly round as averages go—6s/ by 8 inches—was quite easy to replicate in my first attempts at bending freshly turned hats. Yet as I became famil­iar with more heads I encountered more ovalness, some as much as 2’/: inches out of round. Studing the type and degree of distortion from various woods and the dif­ferent orientation of the bowls in the log led me to the idea that I could turn the hats green, conceivably using shrinkage and natural distortion to achieve a better fit. It turned out this was not enough, and around hat number 501 decided to use force to encourage more shape. This was done with 18-inch-long wood springs and thread­ed rods clamped to the sides of the hat.

To get a custom fit I measure the head with a lead-filled “Curvex” ruler, and trans­fer the shape to paper. Measuring front to back and side to side, I came up with an average for the hat size. To this 1 add a sufficient amount to compensate for shrink­age, and then turned the resulting diameter. I form the hat from a native northern hardwood—maple, ash, butternut, walnut, or yellow birch—down to a final thick­ness of about %: inches, slightly thicker at the edge of the brim and the band for strength, and thinner everywhere else for bendability and lightness. The bands are done by pressing a thin piece of exotic wood against the hat as it spins. Ebony gives black; rosewood, red; padauk, burnt orange; and so on. I clamp the hat for several days to attain the two major dimensions. Once dry in its custom-fitted shape, it is sanded and sprayed with 12-15 coats of acrylic lacquer for durability and weatherability.

The appeal of wood hats is apparently broad. I have customers across the coun­try and in Europe. They range from a cotton farmer in Louisiana who likes to wear her derby on crop inspection trips to Hollywood personalities, and of course turned wood collectors everywhere. The future for turned hats looks bright indeed.

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