Friday, 13 June 2014

J-Doll upgrade, part 1: A look at the broken wrist

When you are trying to keep a blog, nothing goes according to the plan. I like to think of myself as a fairly organized person. Yes, I'm slow and overwhelmed with ideas, but generally, I make lists, never skip steps and my stuff has to be in the right place or I flip out on the person who moved it. I take pictures for the blog that I put in labeled and numbered folders, signifying the order in which I intend to write the corresponding posts. Yet there's always some event that disrupts the perfect queue and this is how my promised continuation of the hair care saga has been in drafts for months and also, how today's post came into existence.

One week ago one of the girls from the doll meeting messaged me with good and bad news. Her new J-doll came in the mail, but one wrist was smashed to pieces. She knew mine had a wrist problem as well and asked if I'd fixed it. I had to admit that no, I was reluctant to move it and break it any further. Unfortunately, things don't fix themselves if you do nothing about it. I bought a doll, not a statue. I decided I've had enough of that.

I removed the violin from the doll's hands and the doll from the shelf. The left wrist was mangled and immobile from the beginning and there were several other things I wanted to change. I was going to write a single post describing all the transformations, but after a few days I realised this might be one of those neverending big projects, so we'll take it one step at a time. I made this list:

- fix the wrist (you are now reading the first part of the surgery)
- make the wig removable and make a spare wig
- chisel the body a bit at the ankles and other odd-looking places
- remove the blush; paint new eyebrows, lips, enhance the eye makeup
- replace the dress velcro with snaps (it snags on the lace like crazy); while at it, measure the doll and whip up a few clothes patterns.

As I promised earlier in "Story of a story", I'm not going to hide less successful parts of my progress. Hence, this is an honest narrative of what I was up to last week. I'm not done with the wrist yet, but the worst parts are over and I'll condense my conclusions in an actual tutorial another time.

Part of the reason I kept postponing work on this doll was that I wanted to reserve a good chunk of time for it to do everything at once (see list above), otherwise she'd be sitting hairless and handless in a drawer like some of my MHs. We wouldn't want that for one of our top favourite dolls!

The first thing I did was try to pull the hand out carefully by what little part of the peg was still attached. Predictably, it broke. Although I fully expected this to happen, the knowledge that there would be no more posing with the violin until I fix it suddenly made me very sad. To make it worse, hubby was unaware of my butchering our most special doll and I hoped to find a working solution and be finished with most of the tasks by the time he got home. I thought I'd get the wig off, concentrate on the body, then grab breakfast and a cup of tea while glue or other stuff dried and use some of the hot water to restyle the wig. Then go ask Dad to drill a hole for the wrist.

I had breakfast at 17.00 that day. Tealess.
The moment I pulled the wrist apart was a point of no turning back and set me in complete crazy mode, brainstorming, chopping, sanding frantically. I'm actually trying to temper down the drama as I'm writing, but it was honestly some of the most fun I've ever had and I don't regret disturbing the peace of the violin-playing doll (now that it's sorted out!). She was coming to life, looking all happy and landing in goofy poses whenever I laid her on the table.

Anyway, the wrist. 

The reason the peg gave in was some kind of blockage in the hinge that immobilized it almost completely, so the pressure went to the peg whenever the wrist was to be flexed. Before I examined the wrist, my plan was to drill a little into the ring and anchor a new peg in the hole. With this in mind, I slipped a knife blade between the mobile parts, trying to find and smooth whatever was hindering movement. It didn't help, so I went to plan B - cutting the ring out altogether and replacing the whole joint. That would mean putting holes in the hand for a new axis, so you can see why I was reluctant to do this. This is the hand with the broken detail cut out:

I now realize it wasn't necessary to hack away blindly around the hinge. It never occurred to me that the blockage was most likely in the axis. I was misled by the choppy appearance of the whole hand and sliced away precious plastic that covered some of the joint. You can see in the above picture the misshapen gap I made.

Here is another look with the axis removed. The broken peg remained in the forearm. The mechanism is the same as in a Monster High doll.

I had to recreate the broken piece and insert a new axis instead of the one I cut. Not long ago, I stumbled into an engineer's solution to broken MH limbs. She cuts that piece out of 2mm LDPE cutting boards. I have two problems with this method. First of all, I have no idea where to find such cutting boards or other suitable plastic. Second, they come in weird colours and good luck trying to paint plastic, especially a piece that will experience a lot of friction! I looked around and started improvising out of stuff at hand. I peeled a layer from a paper towel, rolled some around a piece of wire, then put it around a toothpick (that's what I wanted to use for a hinge axis) and twisted the ends together. It looked pretty convincing and the paper stayed in place. I even found a cream coloured towel that sort of matched the doll. Then I flattened the loop base with pliers.

I covered the whole thing in superglue to harden and smooth it. I use gel superglue.

Meanwhile, I was looking for ideas for an axis. I couldn't wait to get to a drill so tried to see if I could make a hole with a pin. The pin pierced the rubbery hand easily. A piece of foam board is in the middle to keep the shape. Hey, what if I used a piece of pin for the new axis?

When the wire thingy was dry, I sanded it, applied nail polish and more paper towel layers, shaping it until I was pleased. I stuffed the too-big hole with a bit of foam board.

I assembled the wrist and pushed a pin again through everything. Then I snipped one end, pulled back a little, and snipped the other. Ta-da, functional wrist!

Ignore the coiled wire. I ended up snipping it off anyway.

All that was left was to drill into the arm and put it in place. I could safely tell hubby the doll was away for treatment, but everything was under control (I did detach the wig, remove the makeup and remodel the legs too on the same day).

The next morning, I packed everything for a trip to dad's carpentry workshop. He had gathered some of the thinnest drill bits for this job. I didn't know how the plastic would lend itself to drilling, so we started with a 1,5mm drill for wood. Dad drove it in at the slow speed of a hand drill and nothing melted or anything. But the hole was too small and I didn't want to file my peg for fear it would be too soft and weak. We put a 2mm drill, which caused the forearm seams to open a teeny bit. We tightened a scotch "bandage" around the arm to stop the cracks while we continued drilling. In retrospect, we should have bandaged beforehand and no seams would have split. I was too busy/nervous/excited to take pictures. When the hole was completed, I tried inserting the peg all the way... slowly... and it went in! My doll posed with the healing drill, still covered in plastic flakes. So happy!

The rest seemed like a piece of cake - covering the nastiness and strengthening the split seams. I was set to do that yesterday and blog cheerfully about the mended wrist afterwards. My plan was to tint acrylic primer (gesso) and push it into the hinge to fill the gap, moving it around so it didn't get stuck.

I used the wig-free scalp to match the colour.

I covered the pin holes pretty well, but the primer absolutely refused to fill the gaps. It simply pooled at the edges. But I could live with an ugly joint. What i did not expect was this....

Do you see it? What is with the black tint? What is going on inside? Aaaaargh!
At this point it was very late and I was tired. There was nothing to do except wipe the excess primer and bring the doll home. I snapped the photos from the beginning of the post. The blackness seemed to be fading away. I didn't know what to make of this and decided to take the wrist apart first thing in the morning. Green ear horror stories came to mind and I thought that a steel pin into rubbery plastic might have not been a very good idea....


Such was the state of things when I started writing this last night. I opened the photos and it bummed me to see how black the hand looked. I couldn't come up with a happy ending or at least an explanation to what happened. Today I can say with great relief that I saw no trace of decay inside the joint and I even found a way to cover the hinge! There is still some work to be done, but this time I know what to expect and I'm pretty sure nothing can go wrong. I'll post my discoveries and the improved results in a tutorial-style article.

What reparations did you have to perform on dolls? Do you have any tips or questions? Let's discuss below!

The Black Kitty


  1. I'm just in awe of all the stuff that you've done already. I'm not very crafty at all, and definitely don't work with power tools.

    1. Dad takes all the credit for power tools. I only checked that the drill was vertical at all time. Thanks though, I'll be sure to send him your compliment :)

  2. So informative! Definitely interested in your future steps. I've cut plastic a lot, but only drilled it a few times that I can recall. I wonder if the heat of the drill had something to do with the blackness as well.

    1. It didn't. It was the hand turned black, and I didn't drill through it. Dad drilled into the arm at a veeeeery slow speed, it didn't heat at all, the drill came out covered in not-at-all-melted cold plastic crumbs.
      I'm glad you enjoyed this post, it's nice to know I'm not the one to learn something new from this experience :)

  3. Blackness probably comes from the reaction of plastic to the wire or pin. Vintage Barbie fanatics learned that the black ear so many dolls were experiencing came from the original earrings. Mine had been stored with stainless steel pins. No problem. But when I put the originals back in, a tinge of black appeared.

  4. I want a J-Doll, but I've heard horror stories about how delicate their wrists are. This post puts my mind at ease, knowing that there's a way to repair it.

    1. Thank you, I'm glad you found this post helpful. Not to brag, but I've performed a more complicated repair on another j-doll's hands since then. So, where there's a will, there's a way :) J-dolls are my favourite. Which do you have in mind?


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