Hat Block Resource

Understanding Hat Blocks

Revising and Altering Hat Blocks

with 7 comments

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

Block 2658

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.

Written by Wayne Wichern

January 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm

7 Responses

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  1. It’s great that you managed to ‘recycle’ these blocks and even better that you had some very enthousiastic people to help you! thanks for dropping by my blog, encouraging to know that people are willing to share a little bit of their knowledge, I had never come across your blog before.

    kind regards, lucy


    February 7, 2010 at 3:20 pm

  2. Wow, i’m so excited to have come across your blog. I’ve been thinking about doing this exact thing to a couple of (old, unfashionable) brim blocks i own, and it’s good to see that you and the boatwrights have made the reshaping idea work so effectively.


    February 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm

  3. Mr. Wichern–
    I am so glad I ran across your pages: I am always thrilled to find good millinery links. I can’t wait to show my costuming friends, as well as my Accessories Design classmates!
    Thank you for taking the time to share your skills and knowledge!


    March 6, 2010 at 6:01 am

  4. Thank you for this wonderful post. I agree that we must be pragmatic and if necessary modify blocks to give them a second life. The information you share is detailed and very useful.
    Thanks again,

  5. You have a very inspiring blog, Wayne. The photographs and article detailing your upcycling collaboration are informative. The hats in your design portfolio are lovely and that photo of your own noggin among the hat blocks is great!

    jennifer hawkins hock

    January 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm

  6. Are you selling any of these blocks?


    May 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm

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