The “Hatman” of Manchester Center, VT, turns wood into wearable fashion.



Be it maple, madrone, cherry or oak, Johannes Michelsen has wood on his mind, literally. Since creating his first hat in 1990, the “Hatman” has been perfecting his technique of turning hats out of green wood and shaping them to fit his clients’ heads.



“Years ago, when I was getting into wood turning, there was a lot of talk about turning green wood,” Michelsen says.



He knew that after turning, green wood will dry into an oval shape due to the shrinkage across the grain.



“I thought ovals are just as good as round,” he adds. “Then I started thinking of what I could do with that, and that’s where the idea for the hat came from.”



From start to finish each hat takes about a week to complete. Michelsen begins by cutting a rough blank with his chainsaw. He then uses a bandsaw to round off the blanks before putting them on the lathe.



The turning takes three to four hours, he says. He uses lights and a self-designed rechuck to monitor the thickness of the wood while it is on the lathe, taking advantage of the wood’s translucence when it is thin. According to Michelsen, when he first started making hats he made them 3/32-in.-thick, but now he gets the wood down to 3/64-in.-thick. Using a curvex ruler, Michelsen gets the shape and size of his client’s head. To come up with the final hat dimensions, he adds space for shrinkage and the thickness of the sides once the hat is completed.



“With the wet wood you have to keep things moving along, because if you stop anywhere it will dry and crack when you’re not paying attention,” he explains.



After turning, the wood is given its initial sanding and a light coating of oil. When the wood is taken off the lathe it is set in a bending jig to dry and get its shape.



“This is the point where it becomes a hat,” Michelsen remarks.



The stand uses hand-tightened clamps to press in the sides of the hat to give it its shape, while rubber bands shape the brim. The drying takes between four and six days. During that time, the drying process is assisted by light bulbs focused on the hat.



The hat is finished with hand sanding and a brush coat of lacquer. The final product weighs only four to five ounces.



“It starts with a big, nasty chainsaw, and it finishes with 1,000-grit sandpaper,” Michelsen says.



To create the hats, Michelsen uses mostly maple because of the variety of species available. However, he is not opposed to using a variety of woods, experimenting with the different properties that each has.



“Maple is a big one because there are so many different kinds of maple I can use,” he says. “Oak may be one of the best benders out there, and madrone burl is probably the best for making dramatic hats because madrone is highly reactive.



“I try to keep my wood sourcing as local as possible,” he adds. “The less transportation that’s involved, the less possible fuel that’s used, the better.”



In addition to selling the hats, Michelsen has an instructional video and conducts three-day workshops. For more information on wood hats, the Hatman and his workshops, visit www.woodhat.com.

The Hatman sports a range rider-style hat made from maple. He has traveled around the world to conduct workshops on creating turned wood hats.

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