Project Tutorials


Hackberry Hat Finished

I want to start by saying I would probably never had though of making a wearable wooden hat on my own. Johannes Michelsen 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 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 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 use a light run through the headstock 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.

Side Ground Bowl Gouge

I use a 5/8" bowl gouge as the main tool for turning a hat. It is side ground using the Oneway wolverine-grinding jig.

Batty bowl gouge grind

After seeing Stuart Batty turn, I now grind my small 1/4" through 1/2" bowl gouges with a grind similar to a spindle gouge profile with a secondary bevel. The bevel angle is less than 90 degrees so it will reach into tighter areas than 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.

Seating spur center in blank

The blanks I start with for a hat are 18" to 20" in diameter and about 10" thick. Being fresh cut, they are very heavy. I start between centers so I can adjust the blank for grain orientation and to eliminate any defects I find before I turn a tenon to fit in the chuck. Since I do not want the blank ending up coming off the lathe at this early stage, I drive the four-prong spur center into the blank for a more secure seat.

Cleared Bark Area

While I am chain sawing the blank to a rough round shape I go ahead and cut away some of the bark parallel to the sawn side. This is where the tailstock will seat. I remove bark where my tailstock center will be to get down to a harder area of the blank for a better grip.

If the bark were loose, I would go ahead and remove it before starting the lathe to avoid it flying off.

Hat Blank Between Centers

I start the turning of all hats (actually everything like bowls, hollow forms, etc.) between centers on the lathe. This allows me freedom to manipulate the blank by changing the spur or tailstock center location to achieve the desired grain orientation, which is very important in this project.

Make sure the blank has a clear path to rotate before starting the lathe. Adjust the tool rest and rotate the blank by hand first.

Center Line of Blank Marked

This picture shows a line drawn to indicate the centerline of the heart through the blank with the spur center seated on the line. I can now make adjustments on the tailstock side if needed for better grain orientation.

Starting to Turn

Its time to start roughing out the blank. I am using a 3/4" bowl gouge with the flute facing my body and cutting in a pulling motion toward me. I start the roughing at about 300 to 400 rpm. As the roughing proceeds, the speed is increased. 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.

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