I wear western/ cowboy hats, like a number of us here do. Today I had the opportunity to go see Mr. Moore at Buckaroo Hatters in Covington, TN and take a few photos during the process. I've purchased hats from Mr. Moore before, and he's my go-to guy when I need one. He keeps a stock of hats they've made, but if you want something specific (most of their customers do) then you figure out the color, shape, sizing, etc and place the order, then there's a wait while the hat is made. They're a very busy shop. I had a very unique opportunity today due to some special circumstances to see and take a few photos of my hat in progress. This is far from a "how to" or even step by step breakdown of the process, but literally just some photos I managed to take amongst everything else we were doing.
The hats start out as furfelt bodies in various colors from a supplier. All the custom hat makers use the same supplier, there's only one. Located in Winchester, TN too. Due to the special circumstances I mentioned above, I didn't get the opportunity to take a picture of the rough body.
The body is fitted with the correct size block, then placed in a special press to set the break between the crown and the brim. See above, no pictures of that either. Once the hat comes out of the initial press, it has a full size (of the correct size) hat block placed in it and then it gets pulled. Hat pulling machines are very rare. Even when they were new technology, they were very expensive so not many were sold. As a result, there are almost no used ones available and nobody currently produces one. It's estimated that there are fewer than 20 custom hat makers with hat pulling machines. Most places have to do it by hand, which means steaming the hat to soften it and physically pulling the hat down on the sizing block. It's very difficult work, and the hat always ends up just a little misshapen because human hands gripping in various place are far less consistent than a machine.
This is a hat pulling machine.
This is my hat body being pulled. The first photo doesn't show the wooden form in the hat, but it is inserted and then the machine applies hot steam to the hat body as it's pressed. You can see some forms in the background.
This is the pulled hat, with the wooden form inside. The string around the hat helps to hold it onto the form through the next steps of the process.
While it's hard to see in the photo, the hat body at this point is very fuzzy. It has to be physically sanded. In the following photo, Rocky is sanding the crown of the hat. The hat and wooden form inside rotate on a machine built into the workbench, and the arm he's pressing against it is a sanding block. That's followed by various stages of handheld sandpaper while the hat spins on the machine.
This is the sanded crown. If you look closely you can see a difference between the crown and the brim.
The brim has to be sanded as well, but that requires a different tool to do. In this photo, the flat surfaces you see sandwiching the hat brim have sandpaper attached to them and are moving back and forth as Mr. Moore rotates the hat between them.
At this point the hat is ready to start being shaped. The brim is uneven and wavy, it gets trimmed down to whatever size the customer wants. I didn't get a picture of that. Once the brim is cut down to size, the hat has a sweatband sewn in and is ready to be creased. There are multiple ways to do that, including wooden forms or old fashioned hands on forming. In this photo you can see Rocky putting the finishing touches on the crease by hand. There's a form inside the hat. There are tons of crease options, for this hat I went with a "cattleman's crease", the "normal" hat crease. If you poke around on the Buckaroo website you'll see a whole slew of different things that can be done.
Once the crease is shaped appropriately, the brim is shaped. The shapes, measurements, etc are all up to the customer, one of the joys of having a custom hat made. You don't have to fit what the factory cranks out, they make the hat to fit what you want. All of the shaping on the hat is done by using steam to heat and soften the it, in this picture you can see Rocky applying steam to the brim to work on it.
When the hat is finally shaped and formed, the liner is installed inside the hat body.
The final, finishing touch on the hat is the band. There are more hat band options than we could fit on GTT, for now I went with a low- key option.
The finished product.
This hat is meant to be an everyday work hat. For that reason, I went with a wider brim in the front to block more of the sunlight. After wearing it for a bit, I believe I'll make a few changes to it; I may turn the front down a bit more and bring the sides up some. With a quality hat, modifications are pretty simple with steam- out of a tea pot on the stove. The Stetsons/ Resistols/ etc that you find in tack and feed stores aren't the same quality of material, they're a wool felt instead of fur felt and won't hold up to multiple shapings, or hard wear. While they may look similar side by side, a few rides in the rain will have a tack store hat losing color and falling apart, where a real fur felt hat will be sopping wet but otherwise fine. Ask me how I know.
In any case, that's a basic walkthrough of how a hat is made. I'd never seen the entire process before today, and really had a great time.