Introduction: Basic Hat Stretcher From Workshop Leftovers.

Picture of Basic Hat Stretcher From Workshop Leftovers.

Anyone who has seen my 'ible about hat bands will already know I have a few hats around the place & as often as not around my head too.
If you like hats you will know that the problem is that once in a while one you find you really want isn't quite the right fit, commercially bought hat stretchers do a great job but they can be pricey particularly if you cant buy one locally, quite a few I have seen are easily doubled in price when you add on shipping & if you only need it occasionally it can be an expensive choice.
You can of course take the mixing bowl or saucepan solution which involves finding a suitably sized object in the kitchen & stretching your hat on it but this path has its problems, they seldom do the job particularly well and you can also easily do more harm than good trying to stretch your hat over an object that is too big; of course there is always the problem of finding a saucepan with the same circumference as your head, you could tour the department store kitchen sections with a tape measure but it could take a while and you may get a few funny looks.
Far better to have something made for the job which will gently but firmly stretch your favourite titfer a little bit at a time & get a perfect fit.

What is a hat stretcher?
I'm guessing that these days most people won't have come across a hat stretcher so a bit of explanation may be in order.
The name is pretty self explanatory really, it's a tool for stretching hats, specifically it is for stretching the hat band area sometimes as much as two sizes, this could be for a new hat or just as likely for an older one that has contracted or shrunk through poor cleaning or storage.
A hat stretcher in it's simplest form would be a block of wood shaped to a particular size however that is only any good for one size & possibly even one style of hat so to allow for a bit of flexibility many other types have been developed over the years, some have multiple parts that spread the hat in all directions at once others can be adjusted to exactly fit the contours of your head but that seems to fall under the heading of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut to me & for the majority of us would be entirely unnecessary.

What you will need.
Part of the idea of this 'ible is to get a hat stretcher that otherwise could have cost upwards of £20.00 for nothing using workshop scraps & things you already have, so use you imagination here folks.
The following list is for your guidance it isn't carved in stone.

Materials.
Some fairly thick wood, I had some pieces of 40mm hardwood kitchen worktop given to me a few months ago which was perfect for the job, if you don't have anything suitably thick you could always layer some up to get the required thickness, around 40 to 50mm is ideal.
Two nuts, bolts & washers, diameter isn't important within reason; around 75 to 90mm long will do.
Two washers around twice the size of your bolt heads.

Tools.
A saw, what kind really depends on what you have, a band saw would be great or a good powerful scroll saw if you are cutting through thick hardwood but if all you have is a panel saw it can still be done you will just have to do small section cutaways.& trim it to shape later with a sure form, a block plane or a lot more sanding.
A power drill & a bit slightly larger than the diameter of your bolts.
A chisel, depending on what kind of bolt heads you have this may come in handy.
A sander, of failing that sandpaper a block & plenty of elbow grease.
A bench grinder, once again depending on what kind of bolt heads you have this may come in handy; if you don't have access to one a file will do the job just as well.
Glue, you can use something fancy if you like but I found a good old glue gun did the job fine.

Health & safety.
This project will involve chips of wood, sawdust sharp tools & the use of a power drill.
Some people like using lines like "I don't need goggles I'm only drilling one hole" but here's the thing, you are only ever going to be drilling one hole, band sawing one piece of wood or grinding one bit of steel the day you end up catching that bit of flying debris with your eyeball, trust me taking a few seconds to be safe is a whole less of a pain in the butt than having to learn braille.
Likewise face masks, you are only issued with one set of lungs & they perform a lot better without a coating of sawdust.
If you've got them use them if you don't then I would suggest you get them.

Step 1: Get It the Right Shape.

Picture of Get It the Right Shape.

The first job is to make a rough template.
The easy way is to take a hat you like the fit of lay a piece of paper over the bottom & trace it.
Once you have your template you will need to cut out a section around 50mm from the middle, this will leave you with two semi circular templates.
Transfer the shapes to your wood & you are ready to cut; now I'm not in your workshop & don't know what tools you have so I can't tell you how best to do this but once you have finished its time for a bit of sanding.
You should aim to get a nice smooth finish on the curved surfaces, internal hatbands & linings come all sorts of materials & you wouldn't want to tear or snag them, you should also create a small radius on the edges and corners all around for the same reason.

Step 2: Preparing the Bolts & Bringing the Two Halves Together.

Picture of Preparing the Bolts & Bringing the Two Halves Together.

Now if you have one laying around or don't mind spending a couple of pounds you could use a turnbuckle
instead of the bolts, most of the commercially made stretchers of this sort use a variation on the turnbuckle & one or two I've seen actually use a plain ordinary 80mm one you can pick up in most good sized hardware stores or anywhere you can buy sailing goods; you would have to alter the timber parts a little & probably cut away a semicircular section to sit the turnbuckle heads into but it will do a great job, if I had one around the workshop I certainly would have used it .

Assuming you don't have a turnbuckle around or just don't want to use one as I said earlier you may find a grinder or file useful at this point, that really depends on what sort of bolts you have, I used 80mm long 6mm bolts with round heads, not because they were fantastically well suited to the job but because I could make them suitable & they were already available having been left over from another project.
Round heads would be difficult to stop rotating when the nuts are turned so it was time for a visit to the grinder, if you don't have one then a file or hacksaw will do the job perfectly well, as you can see in the rather poorly taken picture the aim is to end up with a roughly rectangular head.
A couple of minutes with a small bit & a power drill followed by some careful trimming with a chisel & finally a little vary gentle "persuasion" with a light hammer (be sure to protect the threads) found the heads neatly located in the wood, you don't need to be too tidy about this as it will be covered over in a few minutes.
Once your bolts are in place it's time to bring the two larger washers into play, a little glue around the hole & drop the washers into place around the threads, it's important to note at this stage you DO NOT want the threads to be rigidly fixed into place, you need to a little side to side movement, its the job of the slot you just cut to keep the heads from turning & the washers to stop them falling out aside from that they can move about all you like.
Next job is to drill two holes for the threads to go into on the second half of your stretcher, I should point out it is far easier to mark out all this with both parts in a vice together to ensure everything locates properly, your holes need to be a little larger than your thread diameter in my case I went for 6.5mm, you need the holes to be deep enough to allow the two halves to come together close enough to fit easily into the smallest hat size you are likely to want to use it on.
Spin the nuts down the threads with the washers on the OUTSIDE this helps to reduce friction against the wood when turning the nuts, you could of course glue the washers around the holes if you want to.
Slip the threads into you new holes & you are ready to go.

Step 3: The Finished Article.

Picture of The Finished Article.

You are now ready to resize your hats.
Methods vary a little here depending on what your hat is made of but for the most part you will want to wet or at least moisten you fabric in the area you want to stretch.
Insert your stretcher into your hat so it sits flush with the bottom & turn the nuts a little at a time to spread the two halves apart. The important thing to remember is DONT OVERDO IT! you can always stretch it a little more but it's a lot harder to make it smaller.

I have a couple of hats I want to resize a little so when I get a chance I'll follow up this 'ible with one about reshaping & stretching.

One little tip before I go, if you do overdo it a bit cotton sash cord is your friend, simply cut an appropriate length & slip it into the inside band of your hat, if it's a little tight then remove some of the threads from the middle of the cord flatten it down & try again until its right, sometimes you may only need to go around half of the band to get the right fit.
I prefer to use sash cord as being cotton it's absorbent & seldom if ever comes out, some people use strips of felt but I have always found this unnecessarily fiddly & they never seem to stay in place.

I hope you find this 'ible useful, it would be nice to know that at least one hat in the world (aside from my own) was to be given a new lease of life because of it.

Comments

MelanieJ17 (author)2016-04-12

is the wood stretcher safe for straw hats?

Nostalgic Guy (author)MelanieJ172016-04-17

Good question, I'm afraid there is no simple answer to it though.

A lot depends on the type of straw used the way it has been woven and the materials used for the band.

Loose open weaves are really sized more by the band so I've usually made a new band and stitched that in as a replacement to the original one, tight weaves won't usually work that way so stretching is often the best solution; paper straw is pretty much a non starter as it really doesn't fair too well when wet or even too damp; even good quality straw hats often are not too forgiving to excessive moisture either so although you would have to dampen the area you want to stretch it's important not to get it too wet as soggy straw misshapes easily, not damp enough however can mean you tear the fibres rather than stretching them so finding that sweet spot can take a while, again depending on the straw used repeated wetting can make the fibres become brittle so getting it right with as few attempts as possible is important, I've found dampening with hot water and a small sponge works better than steaming as you have more control over the level of moisture you are adding and it is easier to keep it where you need it, I'd suggest you also make sure the dampened area is at least an inch wider than the band so you don't tear the dry fibres at the edge of the stretcher, also be aware that straw can shrink a little as it dries so it may be best to stretch it a little larger than you need (not too much though) and slacken the stretcher screws a turn or so every hour as it dries again to prevent tearing. A friend of mine has used a solution of warm water and hair conditioner with some success, apparently it helps the fibres to stretch but recover better from the drying process, I've not had occasion to try it myself but I can understand the thinking behind it; this also works well with pure wool by the way, my ex once shrunk a hand made Aran wool sweater of mine so small I couldn't even get into it, a good soaking in conditioner and a day on a shaper rescued a really expensive sweater.

It isn't hard to stretch straw hats it just requires a little more vigilance and care than wool felt, be gentle, don't try to take it too far and don't forget if it does come up a little large at first it will almost certainly shrink down again eventually as straw often does, be sure that it is dampened all around so there are no areas that could tear and check regularly as you open the stretcher out that none of the weave is being pulled too much. don't forget to make sure the band isn't going to be damaged too so be sure that if the band is fabric or leather you dampen it too and if it is vinyl it is warmed before stretching, a hair dryer works well for this.

I hope this helps a little.

Bubbler (author)2013-12-20

I lost a few hats to shrinkage, so I made a few of these some years back. Mine are different inasmuch as I used a single turnbuckle for mine. I found a box full of those in a recycle shop. They had rings on each end, so I countersunk them into the wood and filled it with epoxy. I reckon mine have held up for 12 years or more, Like yours, they are as good as store bought. Yours may be more stable having two screw points. These are good things to have if you get an expensive hat.

Nostalgic Guy (author)Bubbler2013-12-20

I'm glad to hear it, I expect this one to last a good long while my last one was made from blocks of wood from an old pallet & lasted about ten years.
I would have used a turnbuckle if I had one in the workshop but part of the point was to make it for as close to nothing as I could, most of my 'ibles involve reuse & salvage in some way; it's not about the financial cost but about reducing waste & keeping things out of landfill.
As you said using two adds stability, I wanted to avoid any tendency toward twisting particularly when using on canvas hats which I have found will invariably shrink down to a much tighter fit as they dry compared to wool felt for example.

Penolopy Bulnick (author)2013-12-16

Nicely done :)

Thanks, it's a simple tool really but not something you come across everywhere or use too often so I thought a virtually free one was a good idea.

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