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Business Booms For Wooden Hat Maker
Years ago, when Chris Ramsey's grandfather called him "Knothead," he couldn't have known that he had come up with the perfect name for Ramsey's one-of-a-kind business - making wooden hats.
    Imagine a cowboy hat made out of walnut, a baseball cap made out of cherry, or a top hat made from ash. If you can imagine it, the Somerset, Ky., carver can make it.
    "Wood hats aren't a new invention," Ramsey says. "These things have been documented since the 1700's." But the thinness of the wood - less than 1/8 in. - sets his work apart and has attracted the attention of entertainment celebrities, NASCAR racers, and even former President George W. Bush, who owns five of Ramsey's hats.
    Ramsey owned a successful fiber optics business when he started turning wood bowls as a hobby. When a planter he made looked suspiciously like a bowler hat, he started experimenting with hat making. About 100 hats later he heard about a wood hat craftsman and took a two-day course from him.
    "I use a light bulb as a caliper," he says, explaining that the bulb inside the hat allows him to carve the outside until it's translucent. "The trick is to keep the thinness of the wood consistent so it will bend evenly." His 40-hour hat-making process includes cutting, turning, heating, cooling, and then sanding and applying the finish.
    By 1999 he was selling enough of his creations to sell his old business and turn to hats and bowls full-time.
    "I wasn't ready for the explosion after I went to the White House in July 2003," Ramsey says. He has sold hats to collectors and "wearers" all over the world including Japan, Italy, China, and Australia.
    Styles run the gamut from four styles of cowboy hats and outback hats to derbies and 22-in. women's garden hats.
    "I've even made a Civil War hat or two," Ramsey says, adding that he's always up to a new challenge. He gets most of his wood free, saving it from being burned or thrown away. He uses green hardwood, which dries similar to the weight of regular hats.
    "I love wormy maple, cherry, walnut, white oak, red oak - any fresh cut hardwood I like," says Ramsey.
    While many customers display Ramsey's hats as art, others wear them regularly or for special occasions. Sprayed with 20 coats of a tough catalyzed lacquer, they're waterproof and only need to be wiped with a damp cloth to clean and maintain.
    Ramsey's hats sell for $700 or more, with an additional cost for carved logos and designs. His website includes photos of his step-by-step process, and Ramsey is working on a how-to DVD of the process.
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Knot-Head, Chris Ramsey, 212 Ohio Street, Somerset, Ky. 42501 (ph 606 677-2466; artis@knot-head.com; www.knot-head. com).

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2009 - Volume #33, Issue #2