Brim Flange Hat making Tool set flanges Copy of National Chicago #510 Milliners Custom Made

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 08-17-2013 01:22 AM 8200 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

These photos show a set of nine (9) Hat Making Brim Flanges that were part of a much bigger set of Flanges I built for several custom hat shops this year.

The Brim Flange is a tool that custom Hat Makers use to form the brim of a hat, moving the material to turn up, allowing a “snap brim” to form, like in a Fedora. They are also good for hats that are turned up all the way around such as a Porkpie Hat style, and many different milliner’s styled hats.

There are nearly as many different antique Brim Flange styles as there are hat styles. However, for today’s custom hat maker, finding a full set of surviving antique Brim Flanges in good shape is very hard. I can do other shapes and profiles and styles, but the National Chicago #510 was chosen to recreate since it has so many uses for the types of hats custom makers are creating today.


Project Story:

To use the Brim Flange Tool, you set it up on a Flange Stand (another posted project in my past) which raises the flange up off of the work table, and then the hat is turned upside down inside the hole.

The Crown of the hat goes down inside the Flange Stand, leaving the underside of the hat brim pointing up. The hat maker, depending on the equipment they have, will use a tool called a “Sand Bagger”, or a steam iron, or hot steam and a wooden flat iron called a Crown Iron, to iron out the wrinkles in the brim, and form it down and around the flange curve. Once the hat is removed from the Flange, the brim will turned up, and the front can be pulled down, while the back “snaps up”, or they can also snap down.

To make these flanges, I adapted an antique flange called the National Chicago #510 Flange. I was able to make them in 13 different oval sizes, 4 different oval shapes, and 10 different widths. This gives the hat maker a large variety of options and styles.

Who Killed the Hat?

I have a digital copy of the old National Chicago Hat Tool catalog, and you will probably be quite surprised what an industry was lost when men stopped in mass from wearing brimmed hats. There were several USA factorys that shut down, as well factories on every continent as the fashion trends changed.

Some attribute President John F. Kennedy for killing the brimmed hat industry since he refused to wear a hat, starting on his Inauguration Day and continuing nearly every day until he was assassinated. I’ve read a lot of theories about his killing, but none have purported that it was the hat industry. Many in the hat industry though say that JFK killed the hat.

Others attribute the death of the brimmed hat to other factors that were more practical than stylistic, or influenced by a single public figure. Styles becoming much more casual, young men wanting to rebel and be different than their fathers, and other theories. Some even attribute the automobile to killing the hat, since inside of a closed car you don’t need a hat like you did in a wagon or Model-T. Also, there is the shear fact that carrying a hat, or losing a hat, is a constant worry for us. I’ve left very expensive hats at a restauraunt, and was just sick until I returned to find it still where I left it. Things have so much changed, that rarely will we ever even find a place in a store or cafe to hang a hat these days since mean typically don’t remove their ball caps indoors these days.

Nobody can argue that men, for the most part, have gone to baseball caps in hordes, and I fear that our future will be one of significant percentages of us fighting skin cancer some day.
As the dark spots started to show up on my cheeks and ears a few years ago, I quit wearing ball caps, and will only wear a brimmed hat outdoors now, I just hope it hasn’t been a change that was too late.

A Growing Trend…..

Just as things died and some thought the hat business was gone, the past few years have seen the resurrection of the “Hat” as a fashion statement for both men and women. A few iconic movies have helped over the years, the Urban Cowboy, Indiana Jones, just to name a couple.

Sure, it’s not mainstream yet, but there is a growing list of hat making shops and hobby hat makers that are filling voids in the custom hat making market. Nobody is arguing that the glory days of the huge USA Stetson factory are going to return, but without a doubt, a change is coming.

Transforming A Business….

I spent quite a bit of my Late-Winter and Spring Time working on a large set of these flanges for a hat maker’s shop in New York City, USA. And, I’ve spent significant portions of the last three years inventing new hat tools, recreating old ones that are needed, and just filling orders as people discovered my work.

This photo shows a portion of the different flanges I did for the NYC shop, and a few other shops this summer, but I’m just getting around to posting the photos as I try to catch up before what will be a busy and interesting Fall and Winter workload, including a Charles Rohlfs’ Mahogany High Back Desk Chair which I am very excited to finish up soon.

For those that are new to seeing my work, times have changed my postings quite a bit since I joined Lumberjocks back in it’s first weeks. Back in the “good ole days”, carved custom furniture was mainly what I was asked to build.

However, the economic collapse changed the type of projects from large pieces for a handful of local families, to smaller items sold over the internet to people that email me mainly from the Lumberjocks’ listings, or buy directly in my store. I do at times miss the old days from a creative standpoint, and I do miss getting to know my customers intimately while I worked on their furniture for months at a time, but I do appreciate that I have remained in business, and maintain a long backlog of projects.

I also think that “lean times” and good for us, puts us back to what matters in life, and causes us to focus more on how grateful we are for work to do, any work, when times get tough. I started my business in 1997, but in the Fall of 2008 I thought it might be over for me. Nobody has been more surprised than I am to have been busier since the big Collapse than I was before, it’s just a different type of work these days.

I decided during the collapse that if I quit like so many shops were forced to do, all of the sacrifices of the previous 10 years would be a waste of effort. So, my single goal was to stay afloat and keep the “decou studio” brand going, regardless of what that meant I had to build to find something to sell.

Therefore, one of the huge surprises in 2008 was the coming on of the Hat Tool business. I thank God for less than a handful of hat makers that got me started and kept me going. I made my first hat tools in the summer of 2007 for Hatman Jack in Wichita, KS, and it just seemed like God and Google discovered the Lumberjocks’ postings, and it just took off. So, I spend a lot of my time on hat making tools these days, and thankfully.

Hey, thanks for reading, I know you are pulling for me,
Mark DeCou

(Note: all photos, project designs, text, and story are protected by copyright 2013 by the Author, M.A. DeCou, no unauthorized use in whole, or part is allowed without expressed written consent by the Author)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

6 comments so far

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4337 days

#1 posted 08-17-2013 01:42 AM

I remember your last post about this. Great story! Hope your journey is filled with great stuff at every turn!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Napaman's profile


5535 posts in 5571 days

#2 posted 08-17-2013 02:17 AM

so pretty!

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View Karson's profile


35300 posts in 5895 days

#3 posted 08-17-2013 04:34 AM

Mark. Some originals from the DeCou Studios.

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 [email protected]

View littlecope's profile


3157 posts in 4996 days

#4 posted 08-17-2013 10:19 AM

Great Project and interesting write-up Mark, Top-Flight Work, as always…
Thanks for sharing it and good to “see” you around again!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4798 days

#5 posted 08-17-2013 12:34 PM

im really grateful also mark that you have found a nich in so far that you have been able to make a living off of, if a woodworker can find something to keep our craft alive then i celebrate it, so many changes in the world of woodworking, im happy to see any that still have there doors open and the saw dust flying….never a doubt in your ability, always delighted to see your work… P.S. i really enjoy your writing, i think a book should come from your camp..i really do…bob

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

View Vintagetoni's profile


58 posts in 4188 days

#6 posted 08-17-2013 06:48 PM

Thank you for sharing that part of your story. So good to read of successes!

-- toni --- SW WI...working on shop setup....wish I could say diligently. "Time is a healer, a friend & a maker of dreams."

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