Sunday, January 29, 2017

Repairing a Push Puppet Toy

A Push Puppet.
You know, "The dog/cat/giraffe toy that falls apart when you push the button on the bottom toy and then springs back like magic."
Ohhh... THAT push puppet!
And no, I didn't know they had a real name until I started this project.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me to repair her dog push puppet. It had broken awhile ago but she managed to keep hold of all the pieces except for a small bone that the dog used to carry in his (her?) mouth. I was excited to give it a shot. I had played with a few of these over the years, but never actually had one myself.

Unfortunately the memory card where all the repair photos were on became damaged before I could download the photos. So all I have are post procedure pictures and a couple diagrams to share.

But first - I have to use that BA in History at least once a year.
These toys have been around since 1932 when Walther Kourt Walss invented them in Switzerland.

Taking the first letters from his name he came up with WAKOUWA. That is the name they are still referred to as in some places and with collectors. The Kohner Brothers started making them in the US in the 1947 and they were a huge success. Later,  imports from Italy and Germany began coming to the US. Until the '60s they were almost always made of wood but sometimes had a metal or plastic base. (Even now when I see them imported from China, they are often made of wood and not plastic.) By the late '60s though, most of these toys were being made with plastic and often featured licensed characters.

Alright, history lesson is over. Quiz on Tuesday.

This is basically how push puppets work and how I think they are assembled:

The base is hollow. There is a disk, connected to a spring, that has four strings attached. The strings pass through small holes in the base and up through the leg segments and body of the toy.

By applying some, but not full pressure to the disk, the strings can be tied off or glued into their final spots and trimmed up. With this toy, there are two holes in his neck for the strings through his front legs and two strings attached at the base of his tail for his rear legs.

Once the strings are secure, the clamp can be removed and then the toy will stand rigid since the spring is pushing down, keeping the strings taut.

To play with the toy, press the button "up" and the tension on the strings will lessen and the toy will partially or completely collapse. By not pressing right in the center, the toy can be made to dance or wiggle from side to side.

The little dog that my friend sent is all wood except for his fabric floppy ears and of course the metal spring and a plastic/vinyl cap on the push button in his base. He had no marking on him but he looks EXACTLY like some Italian push puppets from the 1960s that I have seen online.

I decided to not completely restring him and just added some very strong but still soft nylon upholstery thread to the existing string and make the repair that way. Besides not being 100% that I could get him properly reassembled, I also felt like the more I could leave it original, the better.

As described above, I used a C-clamp to keep some pressure on the disk and then I used a "Fisherman's Knot" to extend his broken string with this new thread. It work great and seemed plenty tight but I went ahead and put a few drops of "super" glue to the knot as insurance.

The neck of the dog is a separate segment. Both of the stings from the front legs go through the body and up through the neck and are tied off. I tied the new string to the old one, trimmed off the excess and put a drop of super glue on it for good measure.

The dog's head wasn't actually attached to the neck as far as I could tell except by pressure. I didn't want to glue it since I figured it could hinder future repair efforts. However after about the third time his head popped off when I was testing him, I decided to use just a little hot glue. I figured that it doesn't soak into the wood and would probably still be easy to get off if needed. You can see a little "string" of hot glue in this picture this I just hadn't cleaned off. Wow... digital cameras don't miss much. This is also a decent shot to show how the threads are strung through the toy.

And just for anyone who has to fix the OTHER end of a toy like this, this is how his tail is attached. The strings must be glued into the holes in the tail. I just don't see any other way to secure them there.

Last thing was to make and paint the bone. The hole in his mouth was just a little over 1/8" round so I know that would be the size of the dowel for the shank on the bone. In my bins of assorted but not always sorted parts, I had some 5/16" beads that have a 3/32" hole in them. I don't have a vice for my drill press and no way was I going to hold something that small in my hand while I tried to drill it so I kicked it old school. Behold... my grandfather's "egg beater" hand drill with 1/8" bit. I used the vice on the end of my workbench to hold the bead and the drill worked like a charm. No effort and a clean cut. What can I say, right tool for the right job.

The bone was finished with white craft store paint and then given a coat of gloss acrylic. After it dried, I assembled it in his mouth, glued the ends to the shank and touched up a couple of spots. All set.

Here is a video of the repaired toy:

These toys have a lot of character. They seem to come alive with just the slightest bit of pressure on their base. It was a fun project to work on. I got to learn a few things and most importantly my friend got her toy back and working.

It got me thinking about how this sort of toy's action could be applied to an automata toy. Hmmmmm.... stay tuned.

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Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.