As a new Texan, my first(ish) order of business was to secure a custom-made, felt cowboy hat. As TTAG’s Testing & Reviews Editor, that custom cowboy hat was going to conceal a firearm. This isn’t exactly a normal request, and even Nate Funmaker of Nathaniel’s Custom Hats in Georgetown, Texas, hadn’t fielded it before. Despite making the hats for movies such as Wild Wild West and recreating hats seen in other movies and TV shows for customers who took a shine to them, Nate hadn’t yet attempted a holster hat.
I know, I was shocked, too! Well…not really. In fact, I wasn’t sure Nate or anyone else would or even could do it. And I wasn’t looking for an art piece; this hat would be worn. Much to our surprise (“our” being RF and me, as Robert already owned two Nathaniel’s Custom Hats hats and practically demanded that I visit Nate’s shop as soon as I hit Texas soil), Nate jumped at the challenge. We could see the gears turning immediately, and Nate kicked off a brainstorming session. He’s clearly extremely passionate about hat making and was excited at the challenge and novelty of doing something so far outside of the box and, I fully admit, a bit ridiculous and silly.
A custom-made hat is just that. It’s built and sized exactly for the wearer’s head. The first step, then, is to measure the wearer’s head. For this task, Nate uses the Paris-made, 1895 vintage head sizer seen above.
Spring-loaded fingers adjust to the shape and size of one’s head, moving sharp little metal spikes on top.
A piece of paper is then pressed onto those spikes, creating a head shape map.
This map then acts as the key for the middle of one of Nate’s antique hat fitters. With the dozens of fingers set in their correct places, the hat can now be molded exactly to the customer’s head.
The end result is a hat that fits like a key. Especially if you have a slightly lopsided, lumpy melon like I found I do from looking at Nate’s map. I’ve worn brimmed hats for a long time, but this is my first custom hat. While I’d always need the help of a mirror to tell if my hat was on straight before, that isn’t the case here at all. This hat fits my head ONE way. And perfectly.
Another interesting note is the even pressure all the way around my head. This distinction was immediately apparent as compared to my hats of past. Nate’s hat fits snug enough that I don’t worry about it leaving my dome even in pretty stiff wind, but it doesn’t feel snug. There are zero pressure points.
In the video above, which was live-streamed on TTAG’s Facebook page, Nate walked me through the process of creating a custom hat from a blank. I’d highly recommend watching it. If you’re into “making ’em like they used to” and steam-spitting, antique machinery, it’ll be right up your alley.
I’ll include some photos and brief descriptions of parts of the process below, but the details are in the video.
It all starts out with a blank. These are felted rabbit, rabbit/beaver, or beaver fur. Basically, take the animal pelt, shear off the fur, and felt it dang tight into a sheet large enough to form a hat. The best, nicest hat you can possibly make is 100% beaver felt. It’s extremely durable even when thin and lightweight, repels water and stains very well, and will hold up to literally decades of all-day-every-day outdoors use.
Nate makes hats in all three tiers, whether all-rabbit, 50/50, or all-beaver. His blanks usually arrive looking more like the one above, with a generic head shape already blocked into the thick felt, which he’ll later sand down to the desired thickness.
Blocking a hat means grabbing a wood block of the approximate size and shape of the crown you’ll be making. Some of Nate’s hat blocks are 80+ years old. With the block chosen, the hat blank goes into the blocking machine seen at bottom right in the photo above.
This machine — yes, it’s really old — stretches the brim of the hat as copious clouds of steam are forced up through it. Incidentally, this is where the term “mad as a hatter” comes from, as mercury was used in the making of felt for hats and inhaling mercury-laden steam has its downsides. Anyway, the block goes in the center and can be pressed down by hand or with the help of the lever system on top.
After it’s blocked, the very rough, initial shape of the crown and brim will be set via a handful of different iron setups, including an auto-rotating, spring-loaded job that’s pretty cool.
The brim will also be cut, via various means depending on desired shape, to the correct width. I kept mine nice and wide, as l wanted a functional hat for the Texas sun. It’s mobile shade. At this point the felt has also been sanded down to the chosen thickness (or thinness, as it were) depending on material, hat style, intended use, etc.
Nate has basic molds for most of his popular hat shapes, and various steam presses to help shape and set the hat as close as possible to its final design.
But it ain’t custom until it’s done by hand. Standing over a steam vent, Nate slowly softens and hand shapes every facet of the hat until it’s just right. He steams it and fits it to the hat fitter that’s adjusted to your noggin.
The hat is lined with fabric internally then a leather sweat band, made by a guy back east who makes nothing but leather sweat bands for hats, is sewn in on a vintage Singer machine modified to hold and rotate a hat while following the crown-to-brim junction. My sweat band sports Nate’s logo embossed in gold. Most of his hats will also have “Custom Made For [insert your name here]” in gold lettering, but I went without that touch.
A hat band is added on the outside as well, at the base of the crown. Some bands are leather, some are horse hair, some beaded, some with customer-provided jewels, charms, or other small items of personal significance. Nate’s wife, Kerrie, owns the hat band domain, affixing them to the hats and creating custom ones. She also does the embossing and most of the by-hand and machine stitching.
When all is said and done, Nate and Kerrie have put about 15 hours of labor into your custom hat. Which explains his six-month-ish wait list. Not unlike waiting on ATF approval for an NFA item, actually. Except with Nathaniel’s Custom Hats you can pay a portion up front and the rest on delivery.
Of course, as with most things labor-intensive and custom-made, it ain’t cheap. Though you might be surprised to learn how expensive the raw materials are when you’re using the highest quality possible animal felt, and Nate’s prices give you a good idea of that cost. For a 100% rabbit hat, you’re looking at $495. For a 50/50 rabbit/beaver blend like mine, you’re up to $695. For a 100% beaver fur hat, you’re into it for $895.
If you’re weird enough to want a revolver molded into your hat, add a couple hundred bucks to the tab. Yep, spend $500 to $1,000+ and wait half a year for delivery and we could be talking about silencers instead of hats. Either one should last a lifetime and can be oh-so-worth-it.
So . . . photos!
December 8th update: we woke up to snow! Yes, in Austin.
This shape — the standard, non-gun-holding model is seen immediately above — is a design of Nate’s that he calls the “Lizard Head.” It’s a modified rancher with some additional “mule kicks” in it that give it more interest and a casual style. I gravitated towards it because it looked good even with my normal attire of t-shirt, jeans, and colorful sunglasses. Also, my head is fairly large so most hats end up with lots of plain real estate up front that makes them look bulky. That front dent made a huge difference by breaking up the flatness.
And, of course, the shape and style allowed room for the NAA Mini Revolver. Nate molded the hat so the side scallops sit on top of my head and the revolver is high enough that it doesn’t touch or just barely touches me.
Once the hat was molded to fit the Mini Revolver and the liner was sewn in, Kerrie added two elastic straps to secure the gun. I think a 100% beaver hat could be made thin enough to actually click the gun into like a Kydex holster. In fact, the thickness of many of Nate’s hats is comparable to a Kydex holster and the material, once all set up like this, is almost as stiff. But the elastic band route maintains the use of a nice hat liner and it’s simple and functional.
Yes, I can now simultaneously carry a Mini Revolver both openly and concealed in two very unique ways. I prefer the hat, though NAA’s belt buckle options are fun.
And if it isn’t obvious, this is mostly for fun. I have no thoughts of using this setup for self-defense purposes; it isn’t a paranoia thing as suggested by some Facebook and Instagram commenters. I don’t view it as a backup gun — though NAA’s Mini Revolver is reliable, well-made, and even accurate — and certainly not as a primary EDC. Though it does find itself loaded and ready and on my head quite often.
I suppose if I had to grab it in an emergency, I’d just rip it right out. The elastic straps are sewn through the felt, but with only a few stitches at each end they’d pop with a firm tug.
But, again, it’s mostly about fun and novelty and “because I can.” Because Texas. Because TTAG. My piece of Nate’s handiwork always generates a great reaction when I show people what’s hiding inside. In fact . . .
I wore it to The Gun Collective‘s panel discussion at this year’s NRA Annual Meetings in Atlanta. The video above is cued to an hour and four minutes in when I answered what my favorite gun is. I had already answered the question, actually, but decided to add one more: my NAA Mini. And to show it off inside my cowboy hat, just where it had been that whole hour with the audience none the wiser. I think the cheers and applause say it all. I do love showing off this little trick up my sleeve.
As obvious as it may seem now, looking at photos of the hat from above while knowing there’s a revolver inside it, nobody has ever guessed the secret or questioned the hat’s shape on any level. Partially it’s because I’m six-feet tall, so it’s impossible to get a straight-on view of the vaguely revolver-shaped bulge on top. Heck, even for the above-and-behind view above you’d have to be tall among NBA players or standing while I’m sitting. And it’s still vague enough (and carrying a gun in one’s hat is absurd enough) that nobody would guess “gun.”
From white to black and every shade and color in between (my hat is “Sahara” color) Nate has you covered. Styles, too. Whether it’s a Fedora or a Gambler (as seen on my kindergartner above) or the Lizard Head or others, or something of your own creation, it’s all possible. That, of course, is one of the great things about custom-made.
But not as great as a hat that fits your head like a glove. If you know what I mean. Custom head wear from Nathaniel’s will fit you and only you, with perfectly even pressure around your entire head and dead-nuts alignment. Unless you want it to fit cocked to the side, because Nate can do that, too.
Specifications: Nathaniel’s Custom Hats revolver holster hat
Revolver Fit: NAA Mini Revolver .22 LR with 1-1/8″ barrel (NAA’s .22 Short model would also work, but Nate would need to borrow one to mold off of)
Material: Rabbit felt, beaver felt, or 50/50 blend (which is what I have)
Colors: Tons of options available. My hat is “Sahara.”
Styles: Many “stock” styles available and custom designs are a regular occurrence
Lead Time: typical delivery times range from five months to nine months
Cost: $495 for rabbit, $695 for 50/50, $895 for beaver. That’s normal hats. Add approximately $200 to $300 for custom work like turning a hat into a molded-in holster hat, depending on details.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
It’s a custom hat. If you don’t like its style it’s your own darn fault. I chose the hat type, the color, the width of the brim, the amount of curvature on the sides, front, and back, the simple leather braid band and its color, how it sits on my head (whether it touches inside the crown or not, how close it gets to my ears, how level it sits, etc.), and which firearm to mold it around and exactly how that gun would sit. It’s five stars because it’s exactly what I spec’d out.
Quality * * * *
With less knowledge I’d give it five stars, but I know my 50/50 rabbit/beaver blend isn’t quite as good as 100% beaver. It’ll still last my lifetime, but pure beaver felt can be thinner and lighter for a given strength, and is more resistant to daily stuff like water and schmutz. Still, good beaver costs good money.
Concealment * * * * *
It “prints” a little on the outside, what with the vague gun-shaped silhouette, but nobody can see it or put together what it actually is. Hats don’t get frisked. I mean, who carries a gun in a hat? That’s insane. It’s as concealed as it is fun to show off.
Fit * * * * *
Perfect. Like it was made just for my head.
Overall * * * *
This hat is one of the most beautifully- and flawlessly-made things I’ve owned. A Nathaniel’s Custom Hats hat doesn’t come cheap, though, and most of the time I love how I had a revolver molded into mine but every now and then I long for a standard model. Well, as standard as a completely custom hat gets, that is. Basically, these are five-star hats through-and-through, but they’re priced out of reach for many. Priced fairly, mind you, considering the cost of materials and the ~15 hours of labor, but a $500+ hat is still hard to wrap my head around.
Side note: It’s apparently a major faux pas, especially in the South (or so I’m told), to wear a felt hat during the summer months. So, after April’s NRA show I had to pick up a straw hat. Nate doesn’t make straw hats, but he does carry a couple brands that he likes. I picked an inexpensive one off the shelf and, in just a few minutes, Nate had hit it with some steam to add a permanent Lizard Head style dent in the front and relaxed the upward curves of the brim. Excellent.