Monday of last week, some 12 days ago, I was talking with a coworker who was wearing a small fedora. I commented that I should try to turn him a hat on my lathe. He thought it was a fun idea, and I mentioned I’d seen full-size, wearable cowboy hats online turned from green wood to very thin, then bent in jigs to hold them in proper shape with curled brims and dented-in top until dry, at which point they could be worn. The site was Johannes Michelsen’s woodhat.com, and his gallery is quite impressive.
Well, that night, I just couldn’t let it rest. On the drive home it was all I could think about. I grabbed the largest half-log of that Jacaranda I cut up (it’s the one leaning hardest to the left in the last pic of that post), chucked it up, and had at it.
Here’s the log half:
It was about 8.5 inch × 9.5 inch:
And about 5.5 inches tall. I kept the pith, figuring any problems would just add details to the final hat:
I had actually measured my coworker’s hat with a tape measure, but forgot all the dimensions before I started on this :)
I had a little fun with my block plane flattening out the top of the log. This was totally unnecessary, and not the best way to do this. I was just playing, and proving to myself I’m still terrible with block planes. I could not plane it level for the life of me:
Rather excitingly, the shavings through the cambial layer looked remarkably like bacon! Mmmm…. bacon.
Now to switch to an edited-together video of the processes. I used a technique I spied in a hat-turning video a month or two back on YouTube, wherein a man with an audience (turning show, IIRC) turned the lights off in the little auditorium or classroom, and shined a light on the side of the turning, finishing up the piece by color. The thinner, the brighter the light coming through. It worked pretty well. The wood got deep red at first, then lighter and lighter as it thinned. The only bad thing was having no light on my tool, and working on the opposite side from the rear gooseneck light. I couldn’t tell where I’d be putting the tool down in the dark, and so I kept thinning some sections too much, unintentionally.
There were bark edges on opposite sides of the brim which stuck straight out in plane with the brim when I finished, but by the morning they had curled up dramatically:
Unfortunately, the hat wasn’t thin enough to curl anything. I was originally going for the cowboy hat, but realized it was getting small, and hoping to still fit it on my head, opted for the much large bowler shape, with its smaller brim. It was still far too small, as the video shows. Apparently a 12” lathe is not enough to make a hat for my head, unless I don’t turn a brim on it. You know what that means. Time to price bigger lathes! ;)
You can see a split in the brim in the following pic, which I glued back together with Super Glue.
I also glued my fingers together, and coated my index finger tip entirely in the stuff. I found through trial-and-error that SC Johnson Paste Wax seems to break it up pretty well. I just stuck my finger in the tub, then kneaded it all around, and it started to break off in chunks. It took about 3 dunkings, and some effort, but it all came off in a few minutes, as opposed to not coming off at all without the paste wax. That’s one to grow on. (they also sell a super glue remover, if you have better foresight than I).
The top is a bit rough still. I figured if I cared enough later, I’d run my ROS over it to round it over and get rid of the tool marks:
And finally, some shots of the inside:
You can see some super glue I also smeared around the bark areas to glue them back on, as they were coming off, peeling away at the joint between sapwood and cambium:
A few tool marks inside, and there’s a weird thing I’ve noticed Jacaranda does, which you can see in this shot especially – the top of the hat (middle of the pic here here) inside is kind of reddish. The area nearer the brim in the background (top of the pic here) is more yellow. There’s a kind of streaky division between these colors at the left edge, like the torn end of a splintery log. I’m not really sure yet what it is exactly, though it seems tied to location in the log, and how the cut was made across the grain. That’s about where I’m transitioning from cutting across the end grain to along the face grain, perhaps at about 45° through the grain. It’s evident in the previous image on the opposite side inside the hat, too, and I’ve noticed it in large bowls and other things I’ve turned. It adds a bit to the unprofessional look, and I’m wondering if something like my new Spindlemasters, or the Sandmaster (thanks again, mom!) can diminish or remove it. It’s not tearout. It’s smooth. Maybe it’s some kind of micro-tearout.
I also gave the hat to a girl at the office whose head is considerably smaller than mine. It still didn’t fit. Maybe I’ll just have to make bowlers for younger gentlemen for now, say in the 6-8 year old range :)
Things I learned this time through, outside of the above notes:
1) it’s a lot of work to hog out that much material – took about 2 hours I guess.
2) it’s hard to turn things consistently very thin, but we all knew that.
3) my lathe doesn’t like turning heavy, wet logs out by its full capacity – not enough torque.
As for the last one, it was a little bit of a surprise, but I should have seen it coming. My little Sherline 4400 CNC mini mill has a really hard time out at the edge of its meager 3” radius, and the machining bed on which tools and tool rests ride really gets in the way of a full 3” radius. It’s closer to 2”, and still, a piece of cylindrical Eucalyptus chucked in there will slow to a stop if you don’t take absurdly light cuts, in the few 1/1000” range. The Jet is like this for things above about 9”-10”, especially when they’re sopping wet. I had to turn down at around 500-800RPM, or the lathe would shake the entire table it was clamped to violently. It wasn’t until near the end that I could get up to around 1000-1200RPM, and even then I leaned a leg into the table to support it. And worst of all, during this turning, and a fat bowl turning I did, I actually slowed the lathe to a stop while making nice shavings with my 1/2” bowl gouge. Before I’d hogged much away, I was slowing it a stop often! Something to remember if you’re thinking about lathes. They seem to have some trouble out at their limits. The motors seem designed to just barely make it out to their full range.
-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator