This entry is in response to a question posted in the comments of 8 Essential Hat Blocks for a New Milliner. The question was:
"Which reliable steamer can I use [for hat-making]?"
The good news is, you don't have to spend a lot of money to get a steamer for your studio. If millinery is a hobby or you aren't blocking daily, then choose a basic steam generator that fits your needs and budget.
Here are 8 common options. I have used all of these, either in a class or in my own studio. The list is in order of cost (low to high), with pros and cons, and includes images and links for reference.
It should go without saying, but please be careful around steam and avoid injury.
1. Kettle on the Stove
Everyone has one of these, right? Super simple and you can have a cup of tea to caffeinate your millinery endeavors.
Example: Stainless Steel Tea Kettle
Price: < $20
➕ Large reservoir 2 L, Inexpensive, Common household item
➖ Rests on stovetop/move hat block above steam flow; low PSI
2. Electric Tea Kettle
Look for a model with continuous boil and no whistle, i.e. without the safety features. Some models may have an auto shut off when it boils dry or a low water level indicator.
Example: 4 cup Electric Tea Kettle
Price: < $20
➕ Inexpensive, Lightweight, Packable
➖ Small reservoir 0.9 L; Rests on table/move hat block above steam flow; low PSI
3. Travel Steamer
If you live in a small apartment and have space constraints, this might be the ideal option for you.
Example: Small Handheld Steamer
Price: < $30
➕ Inexpensive, Lightweight, Packable, Heats quickly, Move steamer rather than hat block (large wooden brim blocks can be heavy to hold over a table or stovetop steam source)
➖ Very small reservoir 0.24 L; Refill often; Low PSI
4. Wallpaper Steamer
I'm including this one because sometimes it's wise to check your hardware store for items that will be useful in your millinery studio: sandpaper, rope, pliers, small hammer, plastic tubing, steamer, etc.
Example: Wagner Power Steamer
Price: < $50
➕ Large reservoir 3.8 L, Lightweight, Portable, 1500 W
➖12 ft. hose and large plate attachment might be cumbersome
5. Jiffy J-1 Steamer
This tabletop unit is designed specifically for the Hat and Wig trades. I own three of these and use them in my millinery classes. The J-1 heats in less than 60 seconds and the brass nozzle concentrates the steam. The water capacity yields about 2 hours of steam flow.
Example: Jiffy J-1 Hat Steamer
Price: < $150
➕ Large reservoir 3.8 L, Heats quickly, 1300 W, Concentrated Steam, High Quality, Made in USA
➖ Rests on table/move hat block above steam flow, Clean regularly to avoid spitting hot water (burn risk)
6. Garment Steamer
Many people already own a garment steamer. There is a range of models, manufacturers and price points. The Jiffy J-2 is on the more expensive end but their products are really well made. I bought a used Jiffy steamer in 1999 and it still works perfectly! If you opt for the J-2 model, look for one with the metal steam head and wood handle.
Example: Jiffy J-2 Garment Steamer
Price: < $180
➕ Large reservoir 3.8 L, Heats quickly, Move steamer rather than hat block, 1300 W, Multi-purpose, Low Water Auto-Off, High Quality, Made in USA
➖ Price, Size
7. Rowenta Steam Station
A lot of milliners love their Rowenta irons and steamers. Mine have never lasted more than 2 years but they are designed for home use rather than heavy professional use. If you don't block for hours each day, this might be the best steam station system for your money. It's lighter and more compact than the Reliable. You can also re-fill the tank before it cools, which is a convenient time-saver.
Example: Rowenta DG7530
Price: < $300
➕ Large reservoir (1.2 L), Two tools in one (iron and steamer), 1800 W, High PSI, Heats quickly, Move steamer rather than hat block, Compact design
➖ Price, Non-professional system, Limited warranty
8. Reliable Iron Station
This is what I invested in after killing 2 of the Rowenta Steam Stations. They are for light use -- the Reliable is for professional use and built to last.
I have the 5000IS model with a 2.5L tank, low water light, and water level indicator stick. It's one of the best investments I've made for my millinery business. Even dress weight felts are easy to steam and block! I also purchased a heavy duty ironing board by Reliable and love the sturdy, extra-wide workspace.
Example: Reliable 5000-IS Iron Station
➕ Large reservoir 2.5 L, Two tools in one (iron and steamer), Pressure Gauge, 1800 W, Powerful PSI, Move steamer rather than hat block, Professional system, Lifetime warranty, Made in Italy
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