The SteamHat Project WIP

This was kind of a departure from my normal steampunk direction..

I’d never built anything meant to be worn before. But Halloween was on it’s way and I had a grand vision of a costume in my head. A steampunk airship pirate! ARRRRRrrr!  The costume in my head is far more involved than just a hat, and I knew it would probably take me a few years to get all the pieces together, but you have to start somewhere, right? Might as well start at the top..

I began with a victorian top hat from the village hat shop, a cool online store that sells all sorts of neat hats. My head is rather large (7 1/2 hat size) and I wanted to be able to wear a bandanna on my head under this thing so I bought the 7 5/8 size hat. After seeing how big it was on my head when I got it in the mail, I probably should have just ordered the correct size, but eh.. it was too late to send it back and get another in time to finish this project before Halloween, so I just forged on.

I removed the satin band from around the hat and wrapped a strip of paper around the hat so I could get the correct curvature and shape for the copper band. After a lot of fussing about, measuring, trimming, etc.. I had a paper shape that fit snugly around the hat, and conformed to the slight rise around the brim from front to back. I traced this shape onto my copper sheet and cut it out with my trusty tin-snips.

After hammering flat and filing down the edges to smooth them out a bit, I began shaping the copper band into  a circle. When I had it to the correct shape I built a clasp out of some more copper sheet that would let me snug the band to the hat with a couple 1/4-20 brass bolts. I soldered this clasp to the ends of the band, and had a small victory jig since I had managed to NOT burn the hat or myself with the blow torch!

Once that phase was finished it was time to build the little portholes that I wanted to rim the hat. I decided on 6 of them, but in hindsight I should have stuck with just two in front considering the tight timeframe I had to put this thing together. I wound up having to skimp a bit on details just to get the thing done, and I hate doing that.

For the portholes I applied the same principle as I did for the hat band, I used paper that I shaped into a 2″ pipe and taped together. I then went about the fussy business of finding the right curvature so that the back edge of the tube would follow the multiple contours of the hat band.. what a pain, but it worked. I laid the template out on my copper sheet, traced it and trimmed out 6 of these porthole shapes.

I formed the flat pieces into tubes, and soldered an overlap at the bottom, then soldered them to the hat band. At this point I should have pre-drilled holes in the band for the LED’s, but I wasn’t thinking and moved straight to filling my portholes with gears.

I’d bought a box of 12 little battery powered flickering tea lights online for about a 18 bucks. I figured I’d ruin a few in the process, and I was right.. out of the 12 original lights, I wound up with just 6 that worked. Between trying to solder directly to the PC board and frying the IC, and wrestling these assemblies into place, I killed 6 of them. I was getting a bit nervous there at the end that I was going to have to scrap the lights altogether. But.. perseverance and patience paid off and I was able to attach a LED to the backside of each gear assembly inside the portholes. I ran the wires through the band and wired them all together on the backside.

As I said, I should have planned better and made better accommodations for the lights, as I had quite a time trying to drill the holes from the back side of the assembled band. Oh well.. next time I’ll know better.

I soldered the 2″ lenses in place and ran the wires through a small hole in the hat to a 2x AA battery pack glued to the inside top. I added a small switch to the circuit, and voila! Flickery Steampunk Top Hat! It really does look like there’s a small fire inside the hat.. all the LED’s flicker at different intervals, so it looks like a flame dancing about in there.. I got lucky for sure on much of this project. I was hurried and there are a great many things I’d rather have done differently, but all in all I’m pretty happy with this one. I think at some point in the future I’ll do another variation on this and really take my time and do it right.

I’ll post finished pix in the next post.


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