"Floating Hat Tree" One-of-a-Kind Hat Organizer

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About: I'm a retired tinkerer and problem solver.

There are many solutions for organizing a closet full of hats such as this one. While hats of all sorts are stackable, selecting one still requires that you pick through the stack to find the one you want.

If you look up into the closet, you can see a ton of room up there, where only a basketball player can reach. I stand 5'6" and my wife is even shorter. Yet I thought of an easy way to utilize that space and make my hats individually more accessible.

Oddly, the idea I had was in no store and no online catalog. Nor was there anything like it in keyword searches. Did I invent something new? Maybe. I am sharing it here. Super easy to make. Just remember where you found it.

Step 1: Gather the Parts and Tools

This is basic construction. All of the parts and tools needed are in the left-hand photo. Looks like a lot, right? The right-hand photo shows the actual parts highlighted. Everything else is just tools you may or may not need.

There are other Instructables that illustrate the various ways how to cut PVC and wood dowels. No other cutting will be required. You don't even need a screwdriver!

THE PARTS (total cost is about $25)

  • (1) Schedule 40 PVC tubing -- a 3' length should be sufficient for one tree [$2.00]
  • (2) Steel Wire Extension Springs 20 Inch (sold by Miular online) [$4.00]
  • (2) Turnbuckles (the smallest I found was 5/32" x 4-3/4") [$3.00]
  • (2) 7/8" washers (may also need two additional 1/2" washers for snugger fit) [$0.50]
  • (1) 1/4" wood dowel -- a 24" length should be more than enough for one tree [$10.00]
  • (1) S-hook (small) [$0.25]
  • (1) Ceiling hook (depends on what you need for your particular ceiling) [$0.25]
  • (1) can of enamel paint (not shown) -- any color you desire [$5.00]

THE TOOLS

  • Electric drill with 1/4" bit (for drilling into PVC)
  • Hot glue gun (or any strong adhesive you have available)
  • Pliers (for bending metal)
  • A length of strong cord (must be longer than the finished tree)
  • 320-grit sandpaper
  • (optional) combination square (as an angle guide)
  • (optional) 1/2" wood dowel (as a positioning guide)

Step 2: Visualize the Final Product

Here is what the final Floating Hat Tree will look like. It will hang from the ceiling and have the ability to be pulled down (to select a hat), then returned to its original position. Note that my hat tree has four "branches", but that there is room for at least four more. Note also that the length of the tree should be a tad shorter than the length of the space it will occupy, as the weight of the hats will stretch the spring a bit.

Once you have decided where you want to hang your tree, take the measurements you need and cut the PVC to the desired length. Also, cut the 1/4" dowel to short lengths of at least 2-1/2" long. Caps only require short branches, but a larger hat like a fedora or a Stetson will need a longer branch. You can also use this tree for scarves!

Step 3: Taper the Dowels & Prep the Turnbuckles

Let us start with the small parts. The first photo shows a closeup of those: dowels and turnbuckles. I pre-cut my dowels to 2-1/2" lengths. Yours can be longer, as notes in the previous step.

You will be inserting the dowels into holes at a 45° angle. They must not protrude too far into the PVC (where the spring must move freely). Therefore, run one end of each dowel against the sandpaper at a 45° angle. Accuracy is not important. Also smooth out any rough edges at the other end of the dowel.

The turnbuckles need to fit inside the PVC. Therefore, the head of the open (hook) end needs to be squeezed together to a width of about 1/2". Use the pliers to gradually squeeze until the open end slips into the PVC. The left-hand turnbuckle in the third photo shows the correct amount of bending required.

While you are focusing on the turnbuckles, you should also unscrew the closed end of each, and add the washers as shown. Then tighten the eyelet all the way down, snug against the larger washer. These will serve as caps at both ends of the PVC.

Step 4: Drill the Holes for Branches

Mark off the approximate location for each branch of your tree. They do not need to be exact, but there is a certain beauty to symmetry. Space your pencil marks to give your hats room to hang without crowding the other hats. Let them overlap each other a bit. Go back to the visualization step and look at my finished tree for ideas.

At each mark, drill a hole straight down, then with the drill still running, gradually tilt the drill to a 45 degree angle using the combination square as a guide. This allows the side of the drill bit to dig an angled groove into the PVC. You can also use a jig to drill a clean 45° hole, if you desire. When working with plastic, it is important to use a sharp bit and a high speed drill to properly "eat into" the material.

Step 5: Add the Branches to the Tree

For each branch hole, you should have a corresponding branch (1/4" dowel). Each branch should have one end sanded to an angle.

Using the hot glue gun, coat the edges of the hole and the angled end of the dowel. Insert the dowel into the hole just until it comes through the thickness of the plastic. The angle of the dowel end should be nearly flush with the inside of the hole.

You do not want the dowel protruding in too far or it will interfere with the movement of the spring. On the other hand, if you don't push it in far enough, the branch may eventually weaken with use. If you make a mistake, use a blow dryer set at low heat to melt the glue and re-seat the dowel.

Note in the second photo that I push a 1/2" dowel (optional "tool") into the tubing when I insert my branches. The large dowel will keep the hole open enough for the spring to be unblocked. I keep rotating that large dowel so that if hot glue runs onto it, it won't get stuck in one place. This is an optional measure to keep you from pushing in your branches too far. You can simply use care and look down the end of the tubing while pushing in the branches.

Once a branch is in place, generously apply glue around the base of it. Any excess glue can be trimmed with a blade after drying, or left as is to give the look of a welded joint after it is painted over.

Step 6: Insert the Extension Spring Assembly

The 20" spring is more than likely several inches shorter than your tree. So you will need to attach a cord to one end of the spring. Make a tight knot, so that it does not come loose and snap the spring back. (Harmless, but scary.)

Thread the cord through one end of the tree. It doesn't matter which end, as the spring assembly will be symmetrical. When the cord comes out the opposite end, continue pulling so that the spring follows the cord into the tree.

Before the trailing end of the spring disappears into the tree, attach one of the turnbuckles to that end. The turnbuckle is an end cap and will act as a stop when the spring is pulled through the tree.

Continue to pull the cord through the opposite end. You will feel the spring tense a bit. Keep pulling until you see the leading end of the spring. Then hook the second turnbuckle to that end of the spring and untie the cord.

Allow the spring to pull back into the shaft of the tree. You should have trapped the spring inside the tree, stretched between the two ends of it. The mechanical part of your floating hat tree is done!

Step 7: Paint Your Tree

Use several coats of enamel to paint your tree. I used a bright red, but you can pick any color you like. There should be enough coats to form a nice shell when dry. All of the excess glue will take on the look of metal welds.

You can paint your tree before or after installing the spring mechanism. Notice the second photo. I installed the spring after painting, so the end caps are their original zinc color, which I prefer.

Step 8: Mount the Floating Hat Tree

Find a sturdy ceiling member from which to hang your ceiling hook. There will not be a lot of weight on the tree, except if you pull down too hard or too far and really tense the spring. Generally, that should not happen if you are just pulling down far enough to reach your hats. Still, just hanging a ceiling hook from wall board or stucco is just plain silly.

Attach the ceiling hook to the ceiling, then attach the protruding eyelet of the top turnbuckle to the ceiling hook. If the ceiling hook is a closed eyelet, then attach the "S"-hook -- which is open on both ends -- in between them.

Your Floating Hat Tree is ready to use. Gather an assortment of your hats and pull down on the hat tree. The spring should stretch, giving you access to the branches of the tree. Hang your hats on the branches. (Notice that you can rotate the tree for easy access to each hat.)

When done, raise the tree back up into place. Do not just let go of it, as it will spring back up fast, stop short at the ceiling, and probably send your hats flying. Raised gently, the spring should recompress and the Floating Hat Rack will be levitated above your shelf for when you need it next time.

Step 9: Tweak the Design

Here are some things you can do to customize or improve the design:

  • If you are still too short to reach the tree, add a pull cord to the bottom eyelet. You can make it plain or fancy.Just be sure to make a knot that will not slip out over time.
  • You need not make the tree branches symmetrical, nor need they be at strict 45° angles. After all, real trees grow in all sorts of directions. Just make sure that your end-product is practical.
  • If your tree sags too low when not in use, exposing too much of the spring at the top, you can cut a length off of the spring, and then bend up a couple of rounds of the coil to use as the new loop end. The spring will be a bit tenser, allowing it to spring all the way back up to the upper end cap.
  • Make an extra tree for your long scarves and hang it in a prominent spot of your home. It makes a festive decoration, like a hanging plant.

P.S.:
I would be interested to know if anybody has ever seen one of these before. If not, then the Floating Hat Rack is hereby in the Public Domain. Enjoy!

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