This summer I purchased a large collection of hat blocks from a factory in Pennsylvania. In the collection was a number of hat blocks that I determined would more useful if redesigned or revised, so in early December 2009 I traveled to Seattle to work with Brian and Sam, two expert woodworkers, to alter 22 hat blocks.
Early in my career I would never have considered altering a hat block. I considered it sacrilegious, but over the years I’ve become more pragmatic. If a block isn’t useful it is either changed or passed on to someone who does consider it useful.
Brian and Sam are boatwrights and, while expert woodworkers were unfamiliar with hat blocks and their uses. I blocked several felt hats to show the functions of hat blocks. Then we set to discussion of the new design lines and shape changes I wanted. Brian and Sam were very enthusiastic and quick on the concepts and we rapidly developed a collaborative working relationship. I taped or drew the new brim profiles and string line placements directly on the blocks, and as Brian and Sam carved, gouged, sawed and sanded I was available to make on the spot decisions to refine changes to the blocks.
Nine of the blocks I intended to change were deep bowl-shaped bretons and not useful for my needs in designing for a contemporary millinery market.
Below are 3 photos of Block 265 in its original form.
Block 265 was a symmetrical bowl-shaped breton which I decided to change by keeping the full height at the front of the hat block and carving a new design line with an angled shorter profile and a narrow brim at the back of the hat.
The 4th photo is upside down to give better understanding to the new asymmetrical changes to the block.
The same changes on Block 2205
and the changes to Block 2205
The changes to Block 2658 are more dramatic and make it much more versatile. I decided have Sam cut away the bowl curve of the brim, changing the profile to an angled straight plane, and tapering down and narrowing the back of the brim. This brim will now create both an upturned brim as it was originally designed for as well as a down turned brim.