REPAIRING A DRAGON

Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

Note: Before reading this, you might want to check out Mark Cole's article, which takes you step-by-step through an ingenious and less destructive repair strategy. He's also got other custom goodies for you to check out there!-- 09/10/99

01/29/2000-- IMPORTANT NOTE: I'm keeping the rest of this article around for information only. I currently don't consider my original repair strategy to be a good one. The problem is that the plastic material itself is brittle, and repairs which restore Dragon's spring tensioning design are very iffy. Dragon's design focuses the tensioning force onto a few small pieces of plastic. The brittle plastic can't handle the concentrated force of the spring over the long haul. You can fix one part, but then another part might break. Instead, I recommend using Mark Cole's suggested method of repair. Basically, this entails gutting the entire spring-loaded contraption inside and replacing it with an elastic tensioning design, a la vintage Joe. The most important thing is to distribute the force over as great an area as you can. The chest and neckpin ball/socket junctions are probably okay since the force is well distributed. However, I recommend reinforcing the elastic's neckpin and hip anchor points; particularly the hip. You can do this by sinking a screw with hook into the hip section and reinforcing it by packing around it with epoxy putty. If the screw pulls loose from fractured plastic, the epoxy putty will prevent the anchor from slipping through the upper hip section opening. I don't recommend relying on any existing interior plastic parts for strength-- I've seen just about every interior part fracture (even ones you'd think were sturdy enough).

Having said that, you can now read what I once thought was a good way to repair the defective Dragon figures...


(06/99) The Gutting A Dragon article was intended to be an evaluative, exploratory article, but lost focus once the plague of defective Dragon Adam & Klaus figures reared its ugly head. Still, I hadn't planned on doing this article since I'd figured that the plague had run its course. Unfortunately, the defective figures are still out there in the distribution chain, probably because it's not easy to identify the defects from markings on the packaging.

Since I'm grateful for what Dragon/DML has done for the hobby, I thought it might help them out a little bit if I did a more focused do-it-yourself repair article. Each figure you repair saves them some moolah, saves you waiting time, builds your confidence to rip into projects, and as a bonus, lets you improve some things while you've got the figure open. Plus, it's training to tackle repairs which might be necessary in the future. If you don't have modeling tools, or aren't confident doing this, you're advised to take advantage of their replacement offer. Details are at their web site (under "Announce" as of 6/99), and they throw in a free potato masher grenade to compensate you for your trouble. If you decide to do it yourself, but for some reason don't succeed, don't expect Dragon/DML or myself to haul your ass out of trouble!


DIAGNOSIS: It's easy to tell if you've got a defective figure. In really obvious cases, the head or upper torso separates from the body. In other cases, the parts just feel floppy loose, and can be lifted slightly from the body without engaging any spring tension. If you shake the body, you should hear small pieces rattling around inside.

THE CAUSE: Dragon has an explanation at their web site, and basically the plastic is too brittle for the compression of the spring. This can cause several different failures: the spring-loaded plastic tensioning shaft is brittle at the tips, and the ends which secure the metal C-ring tend to chip or break off. Once the C-ring is loose, the spring isn't under tension, and there's nothing holding the body parts together. Similarly, the spring can punch through the pressure plate at the other end. Dragon blames it on the spring, but they've also beefed up the ends of the plastic part. Personally, I believe that the brittle plastic is equally to blame, since the pieces I've seen look fractured, with shiny break points.

REPAIR STRATEGIES: Since there are different manifestations of damage, there are different suggested repair solutions. I offer these strategies which I've tried and which seem to work, but none have been tested long-term. Therefore, there are no guarantees. There may be other problems which I haven't seen yet, and for those, you'll just have to be creative in your solutions.

These are some ideas which I haven't tried yet:


YOUR ATTITUDE: This isn't terribly difficult, but it is a drastic procedure. It's important to be confident and bold, and not be intimidated by the possibility of writing off the figure. I can't begin to stress this enough, since it's the underlying attitude I take for all the radical stuff I've done in my projects. When I cut apart a vintage figure, I see it as plastic, not as an expensive collectible. If you regard these things for their external value, you become crippled by doubt.

I reiterate-- If you are unsure of yourself, don't do it. Once you begin operating on the figure, it becomes your responsibility, your mess, and you have no right to expect someone else to clean it up for you. Either do it and be willing to eat your loss, or send your defective figure in for replacement.

TOOLS: (You may not need everything here, but they're good to have around)


STEP 0- REMOVING THE HEAD: You may want to remove the figure's head first, to prevent it from being marred by any of the following procedures. If your figure has a broken neck joint, you'll definitely have to do it.

Dragon/DML seems to be gluing their rubber heads to the neck posts now, so they're harder to remove cleanly. The most certain way that I know to remove the head is to cut at the junction with an Exacto knife. Then, you should be able to find some place where you can insert a small screwdriver and walk it around the circumference. This doesn't produce a really clean separation, since it tears the rubber. Just make sure that all the torn rubber is on the inside, and not visible from the outside! If you get the head off, you should be able to glue it back on when you're finished. You might want to mark an alignment reference on both pieces to make it easier to figure out how it originally fit. Or you can modify the neck so that it will fit other heads.


STEP 1- CUTTING THE FIGURE: This is the most drastic and dangerous step of the procedure. First, know that you'll never produce as clean a cut as the figure had when its parts popped out of the factory molds. Therefore, if you're going to agonize over the look of the seams, don't do it. Even if you do a bang-up job filling the seams, it probably won't look factory fresh. (Some people are real fussy about that sort of thing.)

First, put on your protective goggles.

To cut the figure apart, use your Dremel mototool to cut along the upper torso's factory glue seam. The best cutting bit is a thin metal rotary blade (top) which is sold by places which supply jewelers. These aren't manufactured by Dremel for the hobby market probably because they're extremely dangerous in careless hands. These work best because they produce a very thin cut line in plastic, without producing a lot of excess melted material. The less material that is lost means that the figure can be glued back together more cleanly, with fewer gaps. The metal rotary cutting blade (lower right) produced by Dremel is much thicker and therefore creates a wider cut path, with the loss of more material. A third alternative is their thin emery cut-off wheel (lower left). Because this is an abrasive wheel, it creates some heat along the sides, which melts the plastic. If you use this wheel, make sure it's in good shape because it may shatter if it binds or snags.

In both types of repairs (torso and head) you must split the upper torso, so it's a good place to start. You don't have to cut the entire way around the torso-- you can stop cutting as you near the areas where the arms and neck project. (note that cut in torso ends at "cut to here".) There's a good reason for this-- rotary cutters have a habit of getting away from you, and you don't want them cutting other stuff up. Along those lines, you don't want your fingers anywhere in front of where the blade is cutting. When it gets away from you, it will lurch forward very quickly (if you're using it as a right-handed person would, cutting from the top), and will cut anything in its path.


STEP 2- SPLITTING THE FIGURE: Once your figure's torso has been cut, use a narrow chisel, Exacto knife, or screwdriver to split the torso halves. You may have to do this in sections, slowly and tediously, and you'll hear some snapping and cracking plastic inside, but the if your cut line was along the original glue seam of the figure, the torso should separate along the glue line instead of cracking randomly across the figure. That isn't something you want to have happen! If your splitting tool is thin enough, you should only cause minimal marring at the splitting line. If not, oh well... No big deal, huh?


STEP 3- SURVEYING THE SITUATION: If you've gotten this far, you now have a clear idea of how the figure is put together. Notice that the arms are fitted to the front torso section, since that's cast with the fitting notches. These make it easier to reassemble the figure, so you don't have to worry about them flopping around as you tension stuff while popping the back cover on. You can remove the arms to see how they work-- just make sure that you have the right one in the right socket before reassembling the figure! Beware: the arms' clicker lock tabs are pretty fragile.

YOUR DIAGNOSIS FROM THIS PICTURE?
If you're really observant, you'll notice that the spring is visible through the opening of the lower torso section, when it shouldn't be. If the shaft tips are breaking off, you wouldn't expect to see this, would you? The pressure plate is supposed to cover that end. Yep, in this case, the spring has punched through the lower pressure plate! The C-ring is still intact at the other end. From this we can surmise that the plastic was very thin there, and that the spring's edge was marginally wide enough to sit on the outside of the hole through the pressure plate. Obviously, the shaft end repairs mentioned above aren't called for. Instead, we will need to find a washer to fit between the bottom of the spring and the pressure plate.

FREEING THE TENSIONING ASSEMBLY: In some cases, the tensioning assembly is glued to the torso half and this makes it more difficult to make repairs. With strong but gentle prying, you should be able to separate the two, although you'll hear that lovely cracking sound as you do it.

PADDING THE TORSO SOCKET (OPTIONAL): Notice how the lower torso ball fits the upper torso socket. Although Dragon textured the ball surface, it really doesn't do a great job of keeping the ball joint in position. To fix this, you could shoot a bunch of hot glue between the vanes in the socket. This creates a good rubbery surface for the ball to rest in. It doesn't allow really smooth movement of the parts, but makes sure they stay in position. Make sure that you let the glue cool before test fitting.


STEP 4- TACKLING THE REPAIR: How your figure is broken will determine the course of the actual repair job. In terms of procedure and difficulty, they're about the same. However, because you'll have to split either the neck or the lower torso section, you can take advantage of "having the hood open" to make other optional "improvements". Or shoot for the whole ball 'o wax.

NECK REPAIR: To make a neck repair, you will need to split the neckpin as per the instructions given above in steps 1 & 2, but be careful not to mar the seam with gaps. They're noticible since the neck is usually uncovered, unlike the torso. You can pry the part open from the top, where it won't ever be visible. Once you've got the neckpin split open, you can retrieve the pressure plate, spring and C-ring. Your specific repair strategy can follow any of the lines suggested above. I feel that they're self-explanatory.

While you have the neck split, you can optionally pad the neck socket with hot glue, just like the torso socket. This will make the neck's posing less likely to slip.

Once you've got the part repaired, you can reassemble the neckpin halves. Use Tenax or any plastic-welding glue to get a good strong joint.

TORSO REPAIR: To make a torso repair, you will need to split the lower torso as per the instructions given above in steps 1 & 2, and follow the advice given for the neck repair. You don't have the same easy "improvement" option as with the neckpin, but if you're willing to split open the lower hip area (which is now accessible), you can replace the shim which Dragon uses to tighten the legs with hot glue fill in the cavities behind the leg pins. I think the hot glue idea works better, personally. Their shim tends to make the legs move in tandem, and places a lot of lateral stress on the hip area's internal support struts. Of course, if you glue-fill the front and back areas, you'll need to clamp the halves before gluing them. An extra shot of superglue along the seams would help to further strengthen the clamped pieces.

OTHER PROBLEMS? This is where your problem solving skills come into play. I've popped open three Dragon figures so far, and each of them had related, but different problems. All three required different solutions. So I can't say for certain that these are the only problems possible. But Geez! How many more ways can the thing break?
PRESSURE PLATE REPAIR: This shows the insertion of the washer between the spring and the pressure plate. The spring tension is maxed out, so I'm not doing the hot glue treatment unless I snip a few coils from the spring. Also, notice that the shaft end is slightly chipped. This would be a good candidate for remelting, reinforcing with epoxy putty or superglue. While you've got a figure open, you want to take care of as much as possible so you don't have to cut it open again, later.


STEP 5- REASSEMBLY: This should be fairly easy and obvious-- just do the disassembly procedure in reverse, and use glue this time. If you've got gaps in the seams that you want to fix, you can cover the area with gap-filling superglue and hit it with the cure accellerator before it disappears into the cracks. The superglue can then be sanded with a progression of grits. If you're meticulous, you can achieve the same level of finish as the original plastic, and the filled gaps aren't that noticible.

One last word about reassembly: If you've repaired both ends of the tensioning assembly, make sure you've put the correct pressure plates on the correct shafts. It's not a big deal, but the tensioning assembly body has a notch which interlocks with the torso, giving it a "top" and "bottom". If you've screwed up, you can always grind a second notch in the tensioning assembly body and things will be hunky dory.

Good luck!