In 2000, Doug Osborne made a hat block for milliner Ann Kavanagh, who at the time could not find one in the shape she wanted. When others saw the block, they asked Doug if he could make them one, and so it was that word of mouth got Blocks By Design (as the business was then known) going. Over the next 11 years Doug established a reputation for service and quality. Doug's background includes a career in draughting and engineering. His design and planning skills contributed considerably to his ability when it came to working with timber. As he had no background in millinery, Ann was invaluable with her knowledge and expertise in the trade, being able to assist in the design of many blocks. Over the next 11 years they both became well known in Australian millinery circles, especially at trade events where they could both be consulted about hat blocks and how to use them.
In 2011 his son Darryll joined the business and, under his fathers training and guidance, took over the day to day running of Blocks By Design the following year. His background in automotive design, art and sculpture, including 14 years as a mould maker in statue manufacture, has contributed to his taking to wood shaping with skill and efficiency. He has continued the high standards set by Doug and works from a humble workshop in the middle of farmland in rural South Australia.
By 2013, continuing growth of the business meant that the original website, launched in 2008, was no longer sufficient to the demands being placed on it, and so Darryll asked his brother Garryck to take on the role of webmaster, and upgrade the site to something more in keeping with Darryll’s vision. Garryck continues to maintain the website to this day.
In 2015, in part due to a rapidly growing international clientele, a decision was made by Darryll, with Doug's approval, to change the business name to Hat Blocks Australia, to better reflect both what the products are, and where the business is based.
In 2016, Darryll’s wife, Renee took over the tasks of office work and shipping. This has enabled Darryll to devote more time to block making.
Whether you place an order by order-form, email, or telephone to Hat Blocks Australia, you are in direct contact with the people who will be making your hat blocks. Darryll has built a reputation as 'Mr can do', will never turn a challenge down, and will go above and beyond to meet your deadlines. We have an extensive catalogue of designs for you to choose from, or which can be modified to suit your needs.
Every few months, Darryll will travel to the city to purchase timber. Darryll's chosen yard has been established over 60 years and its third generation owners really know their timber. From racks and racks of carefully kiln dried imported timber, he will select planks of rough-sawn Jelutong to take home.
Each Monday, the blocks to be made that week will be mapped out, and the planks cut to size. In a matter of a day or two, hundreds of dollars of timber gets cut into small sections for gluing into blocks that will be transformed into works of art during the week.
Later in the day, you would see the pieces of timber cleaned up, dressed and glued up. Lining the walls or whatever available space there may be, rows of blocks clamped together, all dripping squeezed out glue, will be left overnight to cure. Sometimes, the blocks may need to be built up in stages of gluing over several days before they are ready to be carved.
Once the block is clamped to the carving jig, the shavings and dust flies. The block will need to be roughed out to shape, sometimes with a saw, sometimes on a sanding wheel, and sometimes with special purpose power tools. But once that is done it is down to the hands-on work. Using a mix of micro-planes, rasps, air tools and chisels, the block is refined until it is close to the finished shape. However, it is still far from finished… sure, at this time it could probably even be blocked upon, but it is not pretty. At this point, it's down to scraping and sanding, quite often using custom sanding blocks made just for that particular block.
At this stage it looks good; it is all smooth and looks finished, but it is still not quite ready to be sealed. Holding the block up to changing angles of light may reveal some line that's not quite true, or perhaps a bump that wasn't detected by hand, and which still needs to be addressed. Only after those details are corrected will the block be sealed, using 3 coats of high quality wood finish.
Once that is done, and the block is dry, it undergoes one final inspection before being carefully packed to send to its new owner. We always like to know they have arrived safe and sound, and can be devastated should they be damaged in transit.
Even so, occasionally something may be missed, and when it is, we expect to be told. We fully guarantee all of our blocks for life, both the timber and the craftsmanship.
But the best thing is receiving emails from around the world, letting us know the blocks have arrived safely, and that that our customers are pleased with them. A craftsman needs to know that his work is appreciated, loved even.
When customers send in photos of their visions that we have helped bring to life with one of our hat blocks, we are thrilled. We are often amazed to see that milliners, using the very same block, can produce such different and unique hats off them.
And so, to all of our loyal customers, and our new ones too, we would like to say,
The team at Hat Blocks Australia
People are drawn to hat blocks for different reasons. Some love to collect them, put them on display and appreciate the old craft -indeed, a once almost extinct trade- of hat block making. They may scour auction sites for vintage blocks, while others are happy to have a brand new block take pride of place on the mantle.
Some even use them. They stick pins in them, tacks, nails and even staples. They wet them, steam them and bang them about. For the Milliner, and those who are learning the craft, they are tools to be used. They love their blocks, admire the craftsmanship and beauty of line and curves, but at the end of the day they see a finished hat when they look at the hat block.
But used for either purpose, the hat block has some sort of magnetism. The wood, the smell, the history and perhaps above all, the shape, just calls to some people. Perhaps our hat blocks are calling you.
Do you realise that you influence your block maker? Of course you do! Many of the shapes that you see on this website are the direct result of requests from milliners around the world. Others are old favourites that at times have had a reworking because someone asked for a variation. It is that input that you have that makes block making so interesting. Imagine only being able to make the same few hats over and over again…
So, while you may want some of the standard blocks, don't be afraid to ask for custom work. One of the most satisfying parts of making a hat block is getting to understand what you picture in your mind and turning it into a 3 dimensional reality.
And then, the hat block maker influences you… always looking to create something new, some exciting new shape or recreation from days of old that you may love enough to make a hat from. It is truly thrilling to create a new shape and have someone want it.
This is a very good question when you have several block makers to choose from. You will no doubt find quality workmanship and many good designs wherever you may look or live. For that reason you may well ask what makes Hat Blocks Australia different enough for me to choose them for my next hat block?
What makes Hat Blocks Australia a good choice?
- Free design and drafting work - You will not be charged for this service and if you wish, all drawings of your custom design are yours, should you wish to have them.
- Your unique designs are safe. - We will not reproduce them, or put them on the internet, if you have an exclusivity agreement in place. If this interests you, please contact us to discuss the details. For more information about exclusivity, please read this article.
- The most competitive prices in the world - We endeavour to be the most affordable direct to the public professional block makers in the world. When you convert Australian dollars to your currency, often our blocks will cost less.
- We use one of the most easy to pin timbers in the world - Each plank of timber is carefully selected from kiln dried imported renewable timber. Say goodbye to bent blocking pins.
- You will not be charged extra for rush jobs - Sometimes things just go wrong, or you get a 'must do' rush order and you need a block 'yesterday'…
- Customer service - Real service, you deal only with the block maker and you will be treated as the single most important client we have, because you are. No matter if you are a student or a professional Milliner.
- Lifetime warranty – Yes, lifetime. We hope you have our blocks long enough to pass them down to your children. Every block you buy from us, you will only buy once. If it fails 10 years down the road, it will be repaired free of charge.
- Constant release of new designs - Every year we release up to 40 new designs for evaluation, and many end up in the catalogue.
- We are proud to be Australian - Not only are the products designed in Australia, they are made in Australia as well. And we are proud to be sending our high quality hat blocks all over the world.
- Blocks refined for free - Even if your block was perfectly executed to your design, at times they just need tweaking further once you try to bring your vision to reality. In that case, you can post the block back, and other than the return postage cost, the block will be further worked to make sure it is 100% right as your tool for the hat you envision.
Why buy hat blocks from Australia?
Australia is way over the other side of the world if you are in North America or Europe. Seems such a long way away!
Maybe this was the case just 60 years ago, but not any more. With parcels being shipped across the globe by air, the time to get a parcel from Australia can be as little as 3 to 10 days, depending on the destination country.
So what are the considerations? International shipping costs and the price of the hat blocks themselves.
Lets look into these two factors a bit closer:
Price of the blocks:
Australian Dollars (no tax)
16'' Cartwheel Brim
Rebecca Share block set
The above chart is a sample of our blocks and the converted cost into American Dollars and British Pounds. These conversions were current at 5 Jan 2017 and do fluctuate, but are sufficient to illustrate the conversion at this time. (International customers do not pay our GST (Goods and Services Tax) of 10%)
Shipping = FREE!
You are invited to compare the prices of hat blocks available in your own countries to see if you can save by shopping in Australia…. we are confident that you can!