Living with Technology: The man in the wooden hat
Over the weekend, I attended the fifth annual World Maker Faire New York at the New York Hall of Science. Close to 90,000 people attended and it was, yet again, a weekend of inspiration and creativity.
Lots of robots, 3D printers, stuffed animals, kits to make, books to read, people to meet and generally craziness and fun all around.
After spending two days at the event, one person and project stood out. And he wasn’t even in any of the booths or big displays.
His name is Carl Stoner from Cobbleskill, N.Y. He’s the man in the wooden hat.
As I was walking around, I saw this man wearing a wide-brimmed, Stetson-like hat that looked like it was made out of wood. But it doesn’t make any sense to make a hat out of wood.
I stopped and asked him if his hat is made out of wood, which he said it is.
Then the question arose: How do you make a hat out of wood? He told me.
It starts with a single piece of wood from a tree which he puts in a lathe.
I stopped him there. But there are lots of curves in your hat, such as where your head goes. It’s oval, not round. How do you make an oval on a lathe?
He said that’s part of the fun.
Wood shrinks in different ratios based on the cut of the wood. By knowing the amount a hat will shrink in each direction, if you know the size of a head opening you want, you turn the hat in the proper larger size and let it shrink to the size you want!
He then explained that the wide brim is turned flat, but while the wood is freshly turned, he puts some large rubber bands around it to gently curve them upwards.
While the hat is drying, if one brim is turning up faster or slower than the other, you simply adjust the rubber band tension.
Then I asked about how he makes it so thin — it’s only about 3 mm thick. While it’s on the lathe, he puts a light bulb on one side and then turns the hat based on how much light shines through the wood. Obviously, the thinner the wood, the more light will pass through it.
Carl said that the entire project has to be completed in one day, otherwise it will warp and crack.
To me, this was the epitome of creativeness. He took an everyday object (a hat) and made one out of something completely impractical (wood). He had to think through the project carefully, know how to work with materials (wood), machinery (lathes), mathematics (shrinkage ratios), talents (turning really thin pieces of wood) and yet come up with an incredibly beautiful result.
Thank you for the inspiration, Carl.
Mark Mathias, a 35-year information technology executive, is a resident of Westport. His columns can be read at http://blog.mathias.org online. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.