How to make your own steampunk Tophat
UPDATE: I have recently come up with a much more comfortable version of this style of hat, using foam as the main material. It's still cheap and easy to access while solving the fit and comfortability issues present in the cardboard version. Watch the tutorial below for more information, or buy the pattern in my shop.
Alright, here we go. The tutorial I know at least one person has been waiting for.... First the supplies
A sheet of heavyish, not corrugated cardboard. Approx 1.5 mm thick
glue gun and glue
some thinner cardboard for the plates- like a cereal box or file folder
5 minute epoxy
flat black acrylic paint
Rub n' Buff antique gold and pewter
Okay, the first thing to do is figure out what size it needs to be to fit your head, which I failed at miserably, the hat ending up too small for my head. So I guess you are on your own for that. I think the problem was that the brim fit my head nicely when flat, but as I gave it some curve while putting it on the hat, that shortened the distance from front to back, making it too tight in the front to back dimension. So, make sure the head cutout is nice and oval. As you can see there are tabs left to attach the brim to the hat cylinder.
Next I made the cylinder, again, probably better to make it a little too big rather than too small. Also, the tabs from the brim are going to fold up inside which will also make the fit smaller. I think it actually might be the best to start with the cylinder, get it right and then trace that and cut out the brim.- just thinking on the fly here :) Anyways, I didn't want the cardboard to overlap on the seam so I cut another strip of cardboard out and used hot glue on the inside of the hat, with the strip overlapping both sides.
I figured out a nice curve to give the brim some shape so the hat wouldn't end up looking like a prop from a primary school play about Abraham Lincoln. I just drew it on freehand, trying to keep both sides equal, and trying to have it one nice continuous curved shape without any flat spots.
Now, I bent up all the little tabs on the brim and fit it into the curve of the cylinder. It didn't fit exactly and I had to cut some of the tabs deeper so that it would. Hopefully you will have more luck/skill and it will fit perfectly the first time! Once it fit, I grabbed my hot glue gun and started glueing the tabs from the brim onto the cylinder. Watch out for burnt fingers.
Now for the fun part. I got some thinner cardboard from some cereal boxes and cut them into many random squares and rectangles. Just cut a big stack. Then I applied the contact cement to a portion of the hat, say maybe 1/4 of the cylinder. I then also applied the contact cement to the backs of a bunch of the cardboard cutouts. With contact cement you apply it to the separate surfaces, and then let both surfaces get dry to the touch, and then you put them together, creating an instant bond. So once both the hat and the pieces were dry to the touch ( about 5 min) I started randomly sticking the squares on. Of course wherever a new piece overlapped another piece, I would add a bit more cement where it would overlap.
It is O.K. to leave some of the original hat showing through, because it will just look like another piece of metal has covered it up. Around the seam where the brim meets the cylinder can be tricky, try to have relatively narrow strips of cardboard crossing it. For the top of the hat, I cut an oval larger than I would need and just glued it right on to the cylinder from the inside. It doesn't have to be pretty, because it is going to get completely covered anyway. I then trimmed it off from the outside with some scissors.
And cover the top as well. I didn't try to get the cardboard to curve around the edges. I just put them on flat and then went around the top with scissors again to trim them all off.
Here are the strips I am going to use to cover that gap around the top of the hat. I cut lots of little "v"s into the strip and then I used the contact cement to stick them around the top of the hat. Also I might mention that you don't have to be too careful if some of the contact cement is not covered up by paper, it all just adds to the rough old feel of the hat once it is all covered up with paint.
Now, just glue those top flaps down.
Now let's make some rivets!
Take some two part 5 minute epoxy, and mix up a little batch. Then, using a stick or something with a rounded end, dip it in the epoxy and then on the cardboard, leaving a small raised dot on the cardboard. Keep doing this until you have traced the overlapping edge of all sheets of cardboard. You will have to figure out how much is the right amount of epoxy to mix, that you can use before it sets. You will end up mixing lots of batches of epoxy by the time you are finished.
Paint it Black. I used artists acrylic paints because that was the only black paint I had, you could probably use low gloss regular acrylic interior paint as well. But I would stick with water based paints as the Rub N' Buff seems to work best over that.
The Rub N' Buff I applied using just a little on my finger and rubbing it on really lightly. You want it to highlight the rivets and the "metal plates" so you don't want to apply it so thoroughly that all the crevices get filled. To start with, to get a feel, I would dip my finger in a little Rub N' Buff and then wipe it on a piece of paper until there was hardly any on my finger. Then rub it onto the hat. This gives a feel for how little Rub N' Buff you really need.
UPDATE: I no longer use Rub ‘n Buff as my preferred metallic paint, and lately I’ve experimented with using DecoArt’s Metallic Lustre wax paste, Americana Decor Metallics, and Basics metallic paint. You can see me applying the Rub ‘n Buff on my Foam Top Hat Tutorial and using the American Decor Metallics and Basics Bronze on my Steampunk Shoulder Armor tutorial. Zip over to the 9 minute mark to see the painting technique. You can also find links to the paints I use on my project supplies page.