turnings #9: A turned Jacaranda bowler hat

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 08-22-2009 10:54 AM 8682 reads 1 time favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: red oak "70's ashtray" - square edge bowl turning Part 9 of turnings series Part 10: Newfound respect for hollow-form turners »

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, 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:

half log of Jacaranda

It was about 8.5 inch × 9.5 inch:

Jacaranda log of 8.5

Jacaranda log of 9.5

And about 5.5 inches tall. I kept the pith, figuring any problems would just add details to the final hat:

Jacaranda log of about 5.5

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:

Jacaranda log being planed

Rather excitingly, the shavings through the cambial layer looked remarkably like bacon! Mmmm…. bacon.

bacon-like plane shavings of a Jacaranda log's inner bark

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:

Jacaranda hat with curled bark edges

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! ;)

Jacaranda hat

You can see a split in the brim in the following pic, which I glued back together with Super Glue.

Jacaranda hat

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).

Jacaranda bowler hat

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:

Jacaranda hat top

And finally, some shots of the inside:

Jacaranda bowler hat internals

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:

Jacaranda hat inside

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.

Jacaranda hat insides

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

14 comments so far

View Toolz's profile


1004 posts in 5083 days

#1 posted 08-22-2009 02:07 PM

Gary, that is really cool!

-- Larry "Work like a Captain but Play like a Pirate!"

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 5163 days

#2 posted 08-22-2009 02:32 PM

Gary, you obviously have been bitten by the turning bug. :)

But that is a pretty interesting hat that you have turned. It certainly is unique!!

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View patron's profile


13722 posts in 4682 days

#3 posted 08-22-2009 03:43 PM

i notice your thinking ,
is rounding out too .
here’s ” el tule ” , willow tree
in oaxaca , 33’ across .
you might make a really big hat with it ?

thats a guy walking on the left ,
this is the largest tree in the world !

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View PurpLev's profile


8653 posts in 4989 days

#4 posted 08-22-2009 04:15 PM

looks fantastic!

don’t beat yourself for not being able to flatten with a block plane – it’s not meant for flattening to begin with ;) (even a #4 is too small to be considered for flattening).

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View a1Jim's profile


118309 posts in 4918 days

#5 posted 08-22-2009 04:51 PM

View Innovator's profile


3589 posts in 4754 days

#6 posted 08-22-2009 06:51 PM

Gary it came out great, good photos.

-- Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can't, YOU ARE RIGHT!!!

View scrappy's profile


3507 posts in 4771 days

#7 posted 08-23-2009 03:45 AM

Great job Gary! I like the fact you are trying new things and pushing the limit.

One thing I noticed though, in your video, you do not use an “S Curve” tool rest for bowls. Is that by choice or is it still on the wish list? Seems like it would have come in real handy on the inside of this hat. You seemed to be haveing a little trouble getting your tool rest close enough in a couple of spots.

I had one welded up but haven’t turned anything big enough to use it yet.

Anyway…..Great job on this hat. I think it would take a pretty big lathe to turn one for an adault to use.

Keep up the interesting posts.


-- Scrap Wood's the best...the projects are smaller, and so is the mess!

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4722 days

#8 posted 08-23-2009 04:11 AM

Scrappy – It’s one of the things I’ve not yet gotten around to researching. I haven’t seen them for sale anywhere yet, and haven’t yet looked online, but yes, I was thinking I wish I had one through the whole hollowing procedure, and on several large bowls since. My rest seems to be made from iron, or an iron-like steel, and it dents and dings so easily. I’m wondering if that’s on purpose, to keep tools from receiving these marks instead, but it sure is a pain to part off a cup and end up with a 1/8” wide dig in my tool rest.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View mmh's profile


3701 posts in 5063 days

#9 posted 08-23-2009 06:03 AM

Nice blog, especially for a first time project. It makes it very tempting to start turning hats!

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2864 posts in 4933 days

#10 posted 08-25-2009 05:29 PM

Sweet Blog! Looks like your having fun.

-- Dennis Zongker

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


23344 posts in 5016 days

#11 posted 08-26-2009 08:37 AM

I knew a fellow who carved wooden hats he wore, but this is a whole new dimension is light weight wooden head wear ;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5501 days

#12 posted 08-27-2009 09:10 PM

that’s awesome.
I really enjoyed the video and the attempt to wear it—made me chuckle.

Well done.

Now, what’s next?

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4611 days

#13 posted 08-27-2009 09:49 PM

Wow…you are really getting the bug…I have always agreed with the folks that say turning is the crack of woodworking….very addictive….You seem to be having a great time….and thats what the real purpose of this stuff we do….

Cool Hat!....great idea….and you are definitely pushing your skills…..

gives me the yearning to get back and do some turning….I’ve got several blanks cooking up in my shop….just need to find some time to chuck them up and roll…..right now though Im up to my ^%$^[email protected]@ in alligators and probably should quit lolygaggin on this site and get it done….

Keep it up!!

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 5053 days

#14 posted 09-04-2009 12:00 AM

Boy do you work fast LOL! The kids and I watched your video a couple of times. They particularily liked when you tried it on. Great job.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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