Maillard Conformateur Formillon Restoration Padded Carrying Case Hat Making Tool Head Measuring

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 07-04-2012 12:47 AM 8239 views 1 time favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Project Story: Restoration of an antique Maillard Conformateur, Formillon and Plot Board, and building of a Matching Padded Carrying Case.

I have been asked to restore several of these antique tools in several different versions and models and spread out over several years of manufacturing, and a couple of different brand names. Still, little is known about the companies that made them, where they disappeared to, where the factory that made them went, etc. So far, those of us that look for data about them, are pretty much in the dark about the entire history of the company and tools they designed. There is a theory going around that an Italian company was subcontracted by the Maillard-Paris company to build them, but there isn’t any proof yet. The Patent documents show it was invented by Maillard in Paris, who also made many other industrial and medical types of items. Either way, the French, or Italians have a long history of making incredibly detailed and complicated items, so it could be either one of them.

What is interesting to me, an engineering-trained child born long after the industrial revolution developed replaceable parts, and factory workers, is that each of these machines are a little different, and the parts on them are a little different. At first this was shocking to me, and caught me by surprise. But, now I just appreciate the craft-hands that made each little part and assembled them together to make the machines.

For instance, today we’d have a robot in some foreign country where people are still willing to work for nothing-much, build each of the wooden fingers so that they were all exactly the same, replaceable, and inexpensive, using the cheapest materials that could possibly work. Not so with the Maillards, they are decorated with mother of pearl washers under the screws, and many of the parts of made with African Ebony wood. What is not ebony is a wood that has been ebonized black. Some of them are finished wood, while others have a thin layer of leather covering the main parts, like what you see on a piece of antique luggage or briefcase. As many as I’ve done, you’d think I’d see duplicates, but so far not so much.

On these antiques, I often have to modify every finger to fit its position exactly, making no two fingers the same. I rigged up 16 different little jigs to help me make each of the fingers in an efficient and tediously accurate way. But, after the finished part is built, it has to be hand altered to fit each location just perfectly. It’s tedious yes, but I can’t just ship out parts for others to install since they wouldn’t fit, without the adjustments made to each one. Recently I shipped some replacement fingers to a guy in Eastern Europe who did his own installation and as far as I know, they fit well enough for him to be happy, another success for the globalization and internet to connect us all together.

I don’t have an exact date of when the tool was built, but I estimate it in the 1850-1900 range, most likely closer to the later part of that period. A couple of years back, one of these tools I restored had a paper label on it with hand lettering saying it was displayed in a World Fair’s in 1850. There is no telling who put the label on it, or if there even was one of these units displayed at a World’s Fair, or in that year. Just a piece of data I discovered once.

Some of these machines are made with 60 fingers, while others have 46 fingers. The oldest ones seem to be the most intricate, the most with expensive ebony wood and mother-of-pearl decoration, and German Silver or Silver hardware. From what I can discover, the newest ones are simpler, materials were switched to cheaper wood that was ebonized, and the silver hardware was switched to plated brass, or just bare brass.

Each of these restoration projects has it’s own challenges and problems, and this one was no exception. But, now that it is all restored, working, polished and waxed and calibrated, the set is ready for use by a custom hat maker now. This particular set was purchased through eBay out of Argentina and shipped to me for the necessary work to make it functional and accurate in measuring heads.

The padded case has taken more head scratching and design work than I had imagined it would take, as the goal was to safely hold the Maillard tool set, while being carried onto an airplane and put in the overhead compartment. When not on a flight, the padded box is to work as a storage and protection box for the very valuable equipment on the inside. I did a bit of research to figure out what size of a box would fit in an overhead compartment. Since every airline has a different standard, I went with the smallest so that it would fit on all the others. And, like so many of my decisions, I didn’t realize at the time that selecting the smallest size would be such a challenge to fit all of the tools in the box with enough padding to protect it, and stay within the designated dimensions. But, I did it, and I’m glad it’s finished.

I can assure you that I when I dreamed up my business plan to be a full time woodworker and leave my engineering/sales job, I never expected to know about, nor restore such a tool. But, one thing led to another, and then another, and then a few dozen or so additional steps, etc. and here I am. After doing quite a few of these Conformateur Restorations, it’s amazing how much I’ve learned in the process. I suppose it’s possible that I’ve restored more of them than any guy in history has done, and isn’t that something to put on my tombstone?

The Conformateur, is a French Designed and patented tool by the company Maillard, and used to measure the head size and shape of a person, so that a custom made hat can be built by a hat maker. The Maillard folks were really something special in their ability to design such an interesting tool. The downside is that they are so fragile, and most haven’t survived 100-150 years of use and neglect without a lot of damage. They really are a marvel to look at and use, and the process of restoring and calibrating them is time consuming, but rewarding. I’m a history buff, so I enjoy bringing back to working life, old scientific and industrial equipment such as the old Conformateur, and mating Formillon. I don’t know where all of this will lead me, it’s all part of that mysterious journey we all call “the crafting Life”.

In an older posting, I have included more history on these tools, and more about how they are used, and if you are interested in learning more, you can click here to see another restored Conformateur

If you found this project posting while doing some google research of your own, I have more photos posted here
I know that it may seem odd in the era of free youtube videos for just about anything you want to find out about, to read that I’ll only share the finished photos for history’s sake, but I will not do free appraisal work, nor will I tell you for free how to restore and calibrate your own Conformateur & Formillon, nor will I provide you with the details of how the tools are used to make an accurate head measurement. Some things aren’t free. Sorry to be such a mean-sounding guy, I’m not really, I just can’t afford to help for free all of those people that contact me about these rare and expensive tools.

Thanks for looking,
Mark DeCou

(Note: project story, photos, and design are protected by copyright 2012 by the Author, M.A. DeCou, and no unauthorized use in total, or part is allowed without expressed written permission.)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

15 comments so far

View Karson's profile


35145 posts in 4598 days

#1 posted 07-04-2012 01:13 AM

Mark: Another great restoration. I glad to see that the custom hat makers have found you as a valued resource.

Great job.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia †

View Karson's profile


35145 posts in 4598 days

#2 posted 07-04-2012 01:30 AM

Mark: You might want to jump in on this discussion on Linkedin

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia †

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3500 days

#3 posted 07-04-2012 02:08 AM

ok mark you might want to get in on this one, right now im not sure if this takes jet fuel or if it burns pure alcohol…does is have anything to do with NHRA RACING…....i have no idea what it is or what it does… this from back to the future….does is have anything to do with a flux capacitor .are you related to marty mcfly…if so it would answer a lot…....or does emmett brown have anything to do with this….....

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Woodwrecker's profile


4200 posts in 3773 days

#4 posted 07-04-2012 03:21 AM

“flux capacitor”..good one Grizz.

Mark your stuff is always amazing.
It’s nice to see the hat industry has such an expert talent.

View cathyb's profile


837 posts in 3441 days

#5 posted 07-04-2012 05:45 AM

Wow! Very impressive. When my son was young, we used to travel to the Mainland and tour museums and spend money at antique stores. In those stores, there were so many gadgets and pieces that were eye opening and thrilling to see. This reminds me of something that would have caught my eye. It is very interesting. Thanks so much for sharing…......

-- cathyb, Hawaii,

View HalDougherty's profile


1820 posts in 3434 days

#6 posted 07-04-2012 12:34 PM


That’s an amazing looking contraption! I’d like to see some photos of the item before you started restoration. I bet the difference is equally amazing.

-- Hal, Tennessee

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2890 days

#7 posted 07-04-2012 12:37 PM

I don’t understand how it works…but I sure understand what a complicated project this was. Really nice.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3282 days

#8 posted 07-04-2012 02:12 PM

Anyone that would expect any master craftsman to provide free training of schooling would have to be a few
cards short of a full deck. Thank you for sharing for projects with us, while I will never use one, I can under-
stand the reasoning behind them.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View DocSavage45's profile


8715 posts in 3040 days

#9 posted 07-04-2012 04:21 PM

Thanks for the journey. amazing where we start and end up? Never thought I’d be in the middle of farmlands. LOL!


-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View DocSavage45's profile


8715 posts in 3040 days

#10 posted 07-04-2012 04:21 PM

Happy fourth!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View jeepturner's profile


939 posts in 2990 days

#11 posted 07-04-2012 04:25 PM

Thanks for the post and the history lesson.

I don’t think you sound mean. For what it’s worth, I fully understand.

-- Mel,

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2658 posts in 3724 days

#12 posted 07-04-2012 04:41 PM

Your skill and art are truely extraordinary! WOW!

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View Oldtool's profile


2736 posts in 2388 days

#13 posted 07-04-2012 10:09 PM

Amazing restoration work. I viewed the link you provide for another posting of a conformateur, and that one looks like the “before” version, based on the condition of the metal parts. The detail work must be tedious, but rewarding.
I first viewed this in the same manner as Grizzman, but I assumed it was used by the Marquis De Sade in his activities.
Great work, thanks for showing, and I agree with the Arts and Mysteries aspects of the posting.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View Roger's profile


20952 posts in 3001 days

#14 posted 07-05-2012 11:38 AM

I also appreciate the history lesson. A super build on the box. I thought this was a “back to the future” contraption.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View scrollingmom's profile


1189 posts in 2661 days

#15 posted 07-11-2012 01:52 AM

Looks great. You always do a great job. I enjoyed looking and learning, thankyou.

-- Kelly, Allen,KS

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