Fixin Yer Leather Hat


Staff member
Having created this new restoration section on the forum, I decided to transfer this post from where it was originally.
In order to fix collapsed leather shells you have to rehydrate the leather ie put moisture back into the leather to soften it. Once this is done, one has to block the shell top back into its original place then let it dry. There are 2 ways to hydrate. First method: Frequently, we find shell tops which have sunk out of position due to the weight of the spike fitting. Wet a cloth with water, turn your haube upside down and pull the liner up out of the shell so you do not get it wet. Place the wet cloth into the top of the shell and allow it to sit for an hour. It may take more than an hour to soften up the leather on some helmets. Check frequently as you do not want to add too much moisture. Too "wet" can lead to finish flaking off. The leather is ready when you can push it back into place easily with your fingers. The Second method of hydration is more suited to putting moisture into an entire helmet. For example an OR's helme that has sides collapsed so that it looks like a deflated football. Place a plastic grocery bag into the shell to protect the liner and fold the sides of the bag out over the sides of the shell. Put a ball of wet newspaper into the bag. Place helmet into a larger plastic bag and seal it up so moisture can not escape. The water in the news paper evapourates into the air within the larger bag. The helmet is then hydrated and soft enough to block back into proper original shape. After one day of hydration check the helme for softness. You MUST keep checking daily because if the shell gets too wet the finish will flake off. You can also ruin the liner. This method demands CARE and CAUTION! I KNOW CAUSE I SCREWED UP THE FINISH ON AN OFFICER SHELL RECENTLY AND GOT INTO A WORLD OF HURT!!

BLOCKING: Place a plastic grocery bag over a styrofoam head form. This is done so the styrofoam will not stick to the liner. Pull the helme down until the collapsed top is pushed back into position. I use quilters "T" shaped pins to pin an officer shell to the head. Scales are off so I can access the 2 side holes in the officer shell. For an OR helme you can tie elastic around the M91 side posts placing it around the base of the head form. This exerts enough pressure to keep the top in position. Allow to dry for 2 days at least and it will be blocked into proper shape.
You can use this head form method to block a helme whose sides have collapsed as well.
Most leather helme parts can be put back into shape by hydrating and then blocking. For example, repro OR's chin straps. We all know how crappy they look where the strap bulges out around the M91 post fittings. Solution: Wet the strap with water pull it tight around the back of the skull on your plastic covered head form. Pin it to the form using the holes in the end fittings. Allow to dry for a couple of days. The strap will now be tight to the end fittings and have a nice curved shape that fits well against the shell of your helmet.


I wonder if you could please post tips on how to get the best consistency shellack. what ink to use to colour the shellack flakes, what mix ratios for shellack and thinner etc.

I need to fill in a hole on my Baden Artillery Haube that was recently purchased and discussed in another section. I have sanded back the bad touch up / recoat done in the past and now need to take the next step of filling in cracks, holes and chips.


PM me on this issue Steve and I will gladly help you out. I am of 2 minds on this as I and other restorers who have put in the time and experimentation try to earn some income from this process. That being said, I am posting examples of pieces sent to me for restoration and what I do to put them right. There are many instructions/hints and advice contained in those posts.
Good day Brian,

I have two questions with regard to restoration and refinishing! That is if you don't mind me picking your brain? The dome of my Pickelhaube has fallen slightly. You mentioned in your articles posted on the forum that just a wet rag placed on inside of the dome would work. When you say wet I'm assuming moist, not dripping, and to check it every hour or so. I guess my first question for concern is - it doesn't mark the leather on the inside?

Second question is about grit on sanding? Would you start with say a 400 grit and move to say a 800 or 1000 grit? The lacquer on the visors is a bit on the rough side and I'd like to finish it for a move uniform look. I notice throughout posts on the forum the use of shellac or lacquer? Was not shellac the first coat applied in the initial manufacturing and subsequent coats of lacquer applied? I guess my confusion is one person says shellac and the other says lacquer. As you know they are not the same!

Best Regards

Thanks Joe,

So sand like you're not sanding? I was going to start with fine grit say a 600 and use it very slowly if you will. Going so slow it will be consider slow motion! Check after say two or three strokes always remembering your advice Joe!

The helmet didn't have a reinforcement plate, well I have two of them? After applying moisture I was thinking of using them, one inside the other outside with plastic between each and helmet body. Using the screws and nuts and running them through the two plates and apply mild pressure to reform the dome? Any thoughts on this idea?


Mark I was making a joke about Brian's brain. I really don't know anything about restoration. I would wait for Brian to give you some advice. Sorry I was confusing but still welcome to forum.
Thats ok Joe, you probably due have a viable point with the chunks coming off. I might envision that happening as some of the soldiers were a little crude in their application of lacquer! Away way will wait for Brian's input.


Hi Mark: Sorry for making you wait for a response here. I am talking about a wet paper towel scrunched into a ball and placed on the area (depression) you want to fix. So...not moist, wet almost dripping.The leather has to be wet and flexible so you can push it back into place The water will leave a stain on the leather. I have used distilled water but this still leaves a mark. I have no solution to the staining. It is not hugely visible anyway and could be chalked up to sweat from normal wearing. Regarding shellac vs lacquer, I have never heard of the first and second layer concept ie: both sh and lac being used. I use shellac not lacquer for the whole process when I am refinishing.

Using the support discs sounds good but will not work, you need pressure from below to actually force the leather back into proper position. You have to use a styrofoam head form and elastics. The correct process is described above in my first post.

One last thing, some times you have to target a specific area on the shell which is pushed in but not on the top. In this case make up a pad of folded plastic bag/s wrapped in duct tape. Next pin this pad to the head form then, arrange the shell so the area you want to fix is forced down onto the pad which pushes the depressed area back into position. Sounds simple, but its not, there is a lot of elementary physics involved in applying pressure to a specific area and once again you are going to use long elastic bands. Good luck with your project and feel free to ask any further questions.
Forgot about the sanding question, my favourite is a 120 grit medium grade made by a company called Norton. You do not need to use any different grits of sand paper to smooth things out. What you do need is Shellac thinner and some cotton balls plus you need to keep that brown shellac dust produced by the sanding in place on the shell. You wet your cotton ball with thinner and then apply to the sanded area. The thinner melts the shellac dust, fills in the scratches and you get a nice smooth result. Here is a pic of an officer shell I am working on:

This is the helmet from the Prussian Infantry Officer #1 posting in this restoration section. You can see how the dust settles into cracks and depressions in the shellac. Next all that dust will be melted/smoothed back on the shell using cotton ball and thinner.
Sanding visors....same process BUT you must support the visor with your fingers and hold it tight to the shell. You can not just sand the visor without supporting it as the action of sanding could tear/break your 100 yr old cotton threads/stitches. On the shell, you can sand pretty vigorously but you have to be careful with the visors. You will note also that in the pic I am NOT holding the helmet by the rear visor, my fingers are underneath in the shell and holding it. NEVER treat a helmet like your base ball cap and pick it up by the visor/s!

Once final sanding has been done and you have smoothed out with thinner for the last time allow to dry for 24 hrs. Next lightly sand the entire helmet with 0000 steel wool (the finest made) then apply coats of black shoe polish. This has to be done in order to fill in any light scratches and above all to put a uniform finish on the entire helmet. If I have done nothing to the visors of a helmet I would generally apply no polish but if one part of the shell has been redone, you have to polish the whole shell. For example, the shell of the UR 14 tschapka restoration was polished but the front visor was left alone. The tschapka visor was in perfect condition and the polishing of the shell matched it. This is the only way I know of to hide/blend in the refinished areas. This is the last part of the process and has been done on every single project shown here in this restoration section.
PS: The steel wool is used to lightly scour the shellac in order to give the polish some grip.
Thanks Brian,

Great information and gives me a lot to digest! My question about shellac and lacquer was about what I thought. I asked my wife's father about the difference between the two and he felt at lacquer would be to hard to deal with as it dries so fast. Oh, he was in the paint and wallpaper business for upwards of 50 years so he had a good idea. Now I'll take my time and reread your posts about twenty times and go about this like I'm in slow motion. The helmet is in very go condition so I'm weighing the pros and cons of going forward? I'm thinking about posting some pictures of the Pickelhaube and get your advice? That would be do you think it is worth the nerve racking experience of proceeding? Again thanks so much for the tremendous information!

Best Regards

You are welcome Mark. I do know that the shellac was sprayed on, they did have spraying equipment back then. Send pics to my email [email protected] . Sometimes it is best just to leave things alone, there are collectors out there that believe these pieces should not be touched but left as they are after 100 years. Obviously, I have a different opinion but as a collector, you own it and you control it's fate at this point in time. I do not believe in doing too much restoration..loose visors, missing finish ok but a few ripples in the finish of a visor?? Who cares?
Brian I will take a few pictures with and without furniture for your review. I think you'll come to the conclusion that restoration of the dome will be unnecessary? Will send pictures shortly


Is this the sandpaper you prefer?
Norton 02619 Premium Aluminum-Oxide Sandpaper 120 Grit" onclick=";return false;
Yes, that is exactly what I use for the initial sanding. It does leave lines but I finish off with 000 steel wool. Then polish.