Makin' Hoods

Article and photography by Dave Perfetti

Chad Cyrus at his work station. Note the arrangement of his equipment and supplies.

 

With all the choices in hood makers today, there are still those who want to make their own.

Personally, I have no desire to make my own hoods, tie my own flies, or reload myown ammo. I have enough hobbies already, but being a curious person, I'd still like to know how it's done just in case I change my mind. So let's start with hood making. Mr. Chad Cyrus is going to explain the finer points in the art of hood making.

Chad is 24 years old, lives in Dillon Montana, and has been attending college for biology and industrial technology. Chad is also a falconer and assists Dan Konkel and Pete Widener with their breeding projects during the summer season.

 

Note the large selection of blocks. The plastic containers

contain dye and are clearly marked for convenience.

 

Of the three types of hoods, the Dutch hood is the most difficult to make, that's because they're blocked. The Indian and Arab style hoods are comfortable and fit well, but don't stand up to the use that blocked Dutch hoods offer. The most important quality of any hood is a good fit. Second is that it doesn't slip off, and third it doesn't leave the bird with sores or touch his eyes. Dutch hoods are the easiest to use because they hold there shape well during hooding. Indian hoods are comfortable and easy to make, but don't last long and can be ugly. A good pattern for an Indian hood is the H.J. Slijper's "canon" found in North American Falconry & Hunting Hawks. Arab style hoods are comfortable and have a pleated closure that doesn't crimp feathers. They're usually made of poor quality leather, don't last, and quite often slip off.

We will discuss the making of a Dutch hood. Let's first start with choosing leather. Hood quality leather is difficult to find. You'll need very high quality hides of uniform thickness, grain, and color. Look for 2oz - 4oz leather, 3oz is best, hand pick the hides, the grain side should be flawless and very tight. Chad uses calf-skin and kangaroo. Calf-skin is used for the eye panels as well as a lizard-skin because it holds up well. If kangaroo is used for the eye panels, it has to be laminated because it's not as durable as calf-skin. Kangaroo or calf skin is used for the braces, top knot, and piping.

Some of the other items you'll need are:
1. Leather shears
2. Acrylic cutting board
3. Rotary hole punch
4. X-acto knife
5. Stitch marker (6-7 stitches per inch)
6. Curved sewing awl
7. Blunted cross-stitch needles
8. Dental floss or twisted nylon thread (waxed)
9. Leather dye and finish varnish (shoe polish and leather balm are sometimes used)
10. Appropriate sized block and pattern
11. Spray bottle
12. Leather glue (Barge contact cement)
13. Wooden dowel for burnishing
14. Hair dryer
15. Metal ruler

We will discuss these items in greater detail, but most of them can be found in a Tandy leather shop or catalog. The Leather Factory Inc. also has a catalog which can be ordered at (818)813-1570.

The steps to making a Dutch hood are as follows:
1. Cutting out your leather pattern
2. Dye the pieces
3. Awling the stitch holes
4. Sewing the eye panels
5. Blocking
6. Cutting and trimming
7. Cutting the beak aperture
8. Installing top knot and piping
9. Installing the braces
10. Final fitting and trimming to your bird
 
Some of the most common problems with making hoods are:
1. Getting a proper sized block
2. Getting a pattern to properly fit your block
3. Cutting the hood off the block after blocking
4. Adjusting the hood to fit your bird

Already dyed, these are the seven basic pieces for making a hood.

Now that you have the necessary equipment and leather, cut out your pattern as precisely as possible. Then dye your leather pieces. With the dyeing and cutting complete, it's time to start the process of sewing the hood. Sewing is done with the pieces inside out. You must awl out the holes at an interval of 6 stitches per inch. The leather awl is pushed through the edge of the leather as illustrated. This is a simple procedure and needs to be done carefully. After all the holes are awled, it's time to start sewing.

 

Chad demonstrates the use of the stitch marker. It marks the leather 6 to 7 times per inch.

 

Awling the holes has to be done precisely, only through the top edge of the leather.

 

Note the needles entry and exit points.

 

Here, ready to be sewn, are the top and side panels. Note they

are inside out, the holes have been awled.

 

Sewing styles vary; Chad uses a cross-stitch. Use nylon waxed thread. Sew the leather damp, not wet and not dry. Use the spray bottle to moisten your leather so the holes don't pull out when you tighten the stitch. The better quality the leather, the less the problem of the holes ripping out. Sewing is done with one long piece of thread and two needles, one at each end. Start at the front lower portions of the eye panel, inside out. Use a cross-stitch and pull tight each stitch as you go. Do one side then the other, using the spray bottle as you go. The blunted needle will follow your awled holes and won't make there own holes. When you start and finish the line, go straight through a couple of stitches and tie and glue the loose end. After sewing, completely soak the hood in warm water. Then turn the hood right side out and start the blocking process.

Chad shows us the cross stitch method. Sew the hood inside

out and moisten the leather frequently. Tighten each stitch as you

go. After one side is complete start the other, beginning at the

front and working your way back.

 

Traditionally, blocks are carved of wood, but you can make them from plaster, bondo, or a product called hydrastone, this compound is found in taxidermy supply shops or catalogs. If you don't buy a block, you will have to make your own. It's considered unethical to make a cast from a hood maker's hood since that would be stealing that person's work. A hood maker's blocks are his prized personal possessions and are essentially his signature to the hoods good fit. Blocks can be purchased from Mr. Jack Stoddart. He can be reached at 1505 47th Ave, Greeley CO 80634, (970)330-2354.

Burnishing the hood with a wooden dowel is done on the block

with the hood wet. Use a hair dryer to speed the process. With

the hood still on the block, cutting and trimming is the next step.

 

Form the hood on the block and use the wooden dowel to shape the eye panels. Dowel and burnish the entire hood on the block until dry (use the hair dryer to speed the process). Next trim the hood on the block after drying. Cut the slit in the back so the edges properly meet. Trim the bottom edge off neatly. Then cut the beak opening, be sure to bevel the edges out. The beak opening is the easiest place to adjust the fit of the hood. (Be sure to wet the beak aperture when fitting your bird. This forms the leather properly to the cere. Trim away any leather that rubs your bird's cere excessively.)

Next is to cut the hood from the block and sew and glue the piping around the bottom edge of the hood. Some hood makers sew on this piping in the same manner as the eye panels. This not only is very durable, but looks aesthetically pleasing. Another way to attach the piping is to sew the edge all the way around then fold it over to the inside of the hood and glue it down. This is the most popular way to attach the piping.

Now it's time for the top knot. Normally, this is one or several Turk's knots on top of each other. Plumes and yarn are also applied as functional decorations to hoods. To braid a Turk's knot, they are done in 3,4 or 8 strands. To learn this knot, it's suggested you pick up the book Leather Braiding by Grant.

Next is to install the braces. They are nothing more than a pair of jesses that are weaved into the slit in the back of the hood. A good place to learn this procedure is in the book Falconry and Hawking by Philip Glasier. With the braces installed you are ready for final fitting to your bird.

A good Dutch hood should last you 3 to 4 years with reasonable care. After rebracing , reblocking, and finishing, 5 to 8 years. So treat your hoods well, don't crush them or leave them in the rain. Store the hood with the braces open. Try spraying your hoods with Fiebing's Saddle-lac after each season. Chad offers free rebracing of his hoods and will reblock and finish them also.

Well, hopefully this will get you started hood making. If it sounds a little complicated, you just have to pull up the phone and call one of many fine hood makers in the world and order one. But if you can't wait, have at it and do it yourself. For those who are interested, there is also a video out on how to make hoods by Ron Rawlins of Boise, Idaho. Chad Cyrus is now living in Alaska and can be reached at (907)442-4384. Good luck, good hawking and good hood making.

A good fitting hood in use.

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