There is nothing worse than a floppy cowboy hat. Steaming a cowboy hat will stiffen it for a short time, but just a short time. What I want is to steam my cowboy hats, shape them and never have to do it again, but when you spend $35 for a hat or buy one at Bi-Mart for $19.99 you can count on re-steaming on a regular basis to bring back the stiffness. I’ve tried spray starch and some formula that I got off the internet which included corn starch, but nothing really works for long and I’m back to steaming and shaping my hats again.
When I was a kid my brothers and I wore cowboy hats. Usually they were hand-me-downs from my dad or what he’d picked up at a second hand store. And usually they were too big and out of shape when we got them. To adjust for the too big size, my dad would roll up a sheet of newspaper and tuck it in behind the sweat band, adding more or less paper until it fit our tiny heads. One time, my mom sewed the crown together so the hat wouldn’t slip down over my ears.
My dad would always steam them and shape our new/used hats to our desired style and to stiffen them again, but kids are tough on hats and we would be begging him to re-steam them again for us. He too got tired of steaming and shaping hats, so using his vast ingenuity, he decided to wax our hats. I can still remember him melting the wax on the stove and painting it onto my white cow hat. When the wax cooled it was stiff as a board and as waterproof a ducks’ back! I also remember that it looked like it had a layer of wax on it, but that was okay because it was a white hat and the wax is white.
I have a brown cowboy hat that I wear around the farm when it’s cold and rainy. It keeps my head warm and the rain off my spectacles. But it does get beat up and out of shape fairly quickly. I don’t really care how it looks as long as it works, but I do reshape it occasionally. I also have a black cowboy hat that I wear at work when it’s cold and raining. It gets tossed around in the truck and before long it needs to be re-stiffened, re-shaped and occasionally, waterproofed. In the back of my mind, I kept remembering my dad waxing my hat and how nice and stiff it was, so I decided to give it a try.
The first thing I needed was some paraffin wax. You would think it would be easy enough to buy paraffin wax, but unless it’s canning season, it can be hard to come by. I finally settled on a white, unscented candle. I chose unscented because scented candles put out too much soot when they burn, and I didn’t want my hats to smell like a flower.
I thought I’d melt the candle with the old griddle that I have in my shop for heating things, but that was too slow, so I fired up my Harbor Freight heat gun, which melted the candle much faster. With the wax melted, I used a small paint brush to paint the wax onto the underside of the brim and the inside of the crown. I painted the inside and underside because if there was a waxy residue, it would be less noticeable on the inside/underside. There was a waxy residue when I got done, because the felt didn’t absorb much of the wax. Now this is where my dad stopped, he just painted the hot wax on and let the hat felt absorb as much as it would, which is fine on a kid’s white hat, because who cares how a kids hat looks, right? Well, as I mentioned, my hats are brown and black and I’m not a kid. So, to get the wax to melt into the felt I used my heat gun and heated the wax on the hat. To my delight and surprise, the wax melted and was absorbed into the felt almost completely. What didn’t absorb, I brushed with a stiff bristle brush, removing what wax I could, and then heated the wax again until it was all absorbed into the hat.
When the hat cooled, it was stiff and waterproof. The process worked so well that I also waxed my black hat. I’ve been wearing my hats for about a week now and I am very pleased. I may have put a little too much wax on the inside of the crown of the black hat because there is a slight white waxy residue. However, no one but me knows it’s there and I don’t care. Would I recommend that you wax your $200 Stetson? No! But if you have an old hat that just won’t hold its form anymore and you are going to toss it, give waxing a try and it just might become your favorite kick-around- in- hat.
Anyway…for what it’s worth.