Introduction: Hack an Inexpensive Doll to Be Poseable

Picture of Hack an Inexpensive Doll to Be Poseable

I have noticed a strange inequity between the poseability of girls and boys dolls.  Most of the female dolls have stiff arms and legs which permit them to do little more than model clothing.   To rectify this, I will attempt to turn a very cheap Dollar Tree girls toy doll into a fully poseable action figure.




Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

doll from the Dollar Store ($1 each)
super glue (also $1 at the Dollar store)
hot melt glue ($1)
florist wire ($3)

hand drill
pin vise
hot melt glue gun
pliers for bending and cutting wire
very small drill bits (as thick as or smaller than the florist wire)

optional:  hot knife for cutting plastic
sculpting tools

Step 2: Disclaimers and Various Warnings

Picture of Disclaimers and Various Warnings

Once complete, this doll may not be suitable for young children.  There is a good chance that one of the dolls parts may come off, exposing possibly sharp wire which could cause injury.

When cutting plastic with a hot knife, make sure a window is open and there is good ventilation.  Better yet, do that part outside, the vapors are probably not good for you.

Step 3: Knees, Ankles, Elbows and Wrists

Picture of Knees, Ankles, Elbows and Wrists

The following sections might be disturbing to little kids, so you might want to do the doll surgery when they are not around...

Using the jeweler's saw (or a hot knife), separate the doll arms and legs into sections at the knee, ankle, elbow and wrist.  Try to create the knee and elbow lines symmetrically so they line up evenly in the final assembly.

Using the pin vise, create a starter hole in the center of the leg.  Then use the hand drill to slowly drill out a hole about a half inch deep in the center of the lower and upper leg and lower and upper arm.

Do the same for the feet and hands, but make the hole only a quarter inch deep.

Go slowly when drilling the forearm and ankle.  The plastic is very thin and it's easy for the drill to get off center and go out the side instead of straight down.


Step 4: Joints

Picture of Joints

Apply a bit of super glue to the end of the florist wire and insert it into the hole as far as it will go.  Allow 15 seconds for the glue to set before handling again.

Trim away excess wire, but leave at least 3/4" extending out of the hole.

Connect the upper and lower legs and arms together with the florist wire and super glue.  

Step 5: Torso

Picture of Torso

Remove the head and use the jeweler's saw or hot knife to cut away the ball joint of the head.

Remove the arms by pulling them off.  They should come off easily.

Cut the hips away from the torso at the waist.

Cut the legs away from the hips by passing the saw blade through the hinge.


Step 6: Reattach the Legs With Wire

Picture of Reattach the Legs With Wire

Thread a length of wire through the hips as shown in the first photo.  Try to hook it around the internal support rod for added strength.

Drill holes in the upper part of the legs as shown.

Line up the legs with the torso and trim the wire to the appropriate length.

Apply super glue to the ends of the wires extending from the hips and insert into the upper leg holes.  Allow to set 15 seconds.

Step 7: Reattach the Arms With Wire

Picture of Reattach the Arms With Wire

Preparing the arms for reattaching is the trickiest part.   Drill a hole vertically through the top of the upper arm.  Then drill a small hole perpendicular to the vertical hole as shown in the first photo.

Work a long length of florist wire into the side of the upper arm as shown.  You may have to curve the wire slightly to get it to go in and down into the vertical hole.  Once the wire is worked in as far as it will go, remove it, apply glue and reinsert it.  This is the hardest part.

Thread the arms into the torso by passing the length of wire through the holes at the armpits.  

Set the torso aside.


Step 8: Prepare the Head for Reattaching

Picture of Prepare the Head for Reattaching

Prepare two long lengths of florist wire.  These two lengths will extend from the tip of the head to the bottom of the hips.

Invert the head and fill it up with hot melt glue.

Insert the two lengths of florist wire into the head as far as it will go. 

Set the head aside until the glue sets.  Check for drips and remove them when the glue is cool enough to touch.

Step 9: Attach Head to Torso

Picture of Attach Head to Torso

Thread the wires extending from the  head through the neck into the torso.

Be sure the arms are threaded in fully.

Invert the torso and fill it up with hot melt glue.  This will secure the head and arms to the torso.


Step 10: Attach Torso to Hips

Picture of Attach Torso to Hips

Thread the wires extending from the torso into the hip cavity.  Trim to fit as necessary.

Fill the hip cavity with hot melt glue.  Thread the torso wires into the hip cavity.  Set aside until the glue sets.  Check for and remove drips when the glue is cool enough to touch.

Step 11: Optional: Head Sculpt

Picture of Optional: Head Sculpt

Maybe try and make a head sculpt and see how it turns out.

Using a hot knife, remove the face from the doll head as shown.

Fill the void with sculpey (skin colored sculpey would be best, but I don't have any on hand).

Try sculpting a face, just for fun. 

I have no idea how I would cure the sculpey with the hair attached like that.  I don't think the hair or the plastic would survive in the oven.   Sculpey is probably not the right choice here.


Step 12: She's Ready for Robot Chicken

Picture of She's Ready for Robot Chicken

Thanks for reading!


moonshinesoo (author)2017-12-06

Thanks! I have often noticed the disparity between available m/f genuinely passable dolls. I need a good one for life drawing myself. you have given me some real food for thought.

DOLLC1 (author)2016-01-16

How can i hide the seems??

scooterdad (author)2015-11-30

Hi, i cant imagine you expected this to be contantly pulled about , but its a great tutorial, really well laid out and wil be great for anyone wanted to use dolls in photograph work. i love modding dolls. i generally make them a bit creepy.

scoochmaroo (author)2010-12-05

You could use air dry clay instead of sculpey for the face. And make jewelry out of all your extra doll parts!

foobear (author)scoochmaroo2010-12-05

Yes, air dry clay is a good idea. I have a strange fear of it though...

Are those Barbie faces? wow, that's crazy

Grafton (author)foobear2011-01-06

Maybe you can oil the faces so that your sculpy will pop off so you can then bake it and glue it on. Or seal over the faces with plastic wrap and sculpy over that so the new faces can be popped off for baking.

foobear (author)Grafton2011-01-22

I was able to widgie the sculpey face out of the rubber head enclosure after a few days. I'm planning to bake and paint it soon. thanks!

Thrasym (author)foobear2012-06-14

I'm a little late to the party but I'm curious. Did the plasticizers in the polymer have any affect on the head? It seems to affect just about everything I've put it on (or its box) that has anything even close to any sort of plastic/rubber component (given enough time).

foobear (author)foobear2010-12-05

I mean of course, crazy in a good way. Wow

Always been a HUGE fan of your work. Its exquisite.

mad hatter307 (author)2011-05-27


insomniaSAH (author)2010-12-07

overtime though, wouldn't flexing of the joints cause the wire to snap or break from use?

Ball jointed dolls, which boast a high range of poses use a system of elastic or other stretchy material (sometimes even metal springs!) attached too loops at the extreme joints (Wrists, ankles, neck) and pulled all the way through the limbs to be anchored in either the hips or the torso.

The tension allows for the limbs to be posed in all manner of ways, and if the elastic breaks, it's easier and I would think probably safer to replace than small bits of metal. Though, to be completely honest, ball jointed dolls aren't meant for children in the first place.

Just my two cents! A wonderful 'ible.

foobear (author)insomniaSAH2010-12-07

Thank you. Yes, if flexed too rapidly and repeatedly, the wire will break.

I don't know about the ball jointed dolls you mention, I would not know how to fabricate that myself. Perhaps you will write an instructable about it?

Hot Toys makes a line of very poseable action figures which are very nice, but also very expensive.

urbanwoodswalker (author)foobear2010-12-08

Ball jointed dolls are VERY expensive. I just woke up, cannot think of the Asian company that is known for these (Sybarites, Super Dollfies etc...see below for links)....but they are exquisite. The web is full of images.

I agree...the ball jointed ones Insomnia speaks of are not playthings for children. Even GI joe dolls / accessories were expensive back in the day...I remember my folks telling us that .

I think these are wonderful for display scenes, dioramas, and photo shoots. If the bends are not extreme, and the wire is soft...the bends will last a long time.

(this link has the names of the major current companies)

foobear (author)urbanwoodswalker2011-01-22

Interesting, I hadn't seen those before, thanks. My favorites are still the Hot Toys dolls. they range from $50 to $200 depending.

hot toys action figures on amazon 

Grafton (author)2011-01-07

Potential experiment:

Assemble, but do not glue, the hacked doll. Put that heat-cure foam clay called 'Pluffy' over the wire joints. Dissemble. Bake the 'Pluffy'-covered wires to cure. Reassemble and glue.

According to the manufacturer, thin pieces of baked 'Pluffy' are flexible and durable. If this is true to a good enough degree you'd have a doll with much nicer looking joints, and better durability overall because you'd glue the edges of the 'Pluffy' joint-cover to the edges of the cut limbs and have more glued surface area than just the ends of the wire, and more porous/rough surfaces for the glue to grip.

foobear (author)Grafton2011-01-22

This sounds interesting. I'll look around for pluffy. thanks

Dream Dragon (author)2011-01-22

Really interesting piece of work, doesn't the wire fatigue and break though?

foobear (author)Dream Dragon2011-01-22

I expect it will. Mostly I'm just using it with the intention of posing the dolls for animation or other artworks. So far they haven't broken through yet. But I think if it were vigorously flexed, it would.

Lithium Rain (author)2011-01-07

Wow, this is one of those things where I'm just plain jealous I didn't think of it! Great project.

foobear (author)Lithium Rain2011-01-07

cool thanks!

dvnfntn (author)2010-12-19

hmmm, more flexibiliity makes for funner movies with ken

urbanwoodswalker (author)2010-12-07

I am so happy someone created this tutorial. Maybe if girl dolls had been poseable like this back in the 1960s, I would not wanted to play only with GI Joes!

Its long overdo....I cannot thank you enough.

foobear (author)urbanwoodswalker2010-12-07

That is the highest praise I can imagine. Thank you!

urbanwoodswalker (author)foobear2010-12-07

I meant it. Your tutorial here brought back so many memories... I could never get those damn dolls to ride horses, sit naturally in doll furniture or anything else. All you could do with em was comb and yank out their hair. even changing clothes on early Barbies was tedious....those teeny tiny snaps and velcro!

I love the poses you have your "crew" in...they are kickin some butt.... I salute you for finally allowing girl dolls to do everything that boy dolls (ooops...action figures) do.

Happy holidays to you!

foobear (author)urbanwoodswalker2010-12-07

Yes, it makes me wonder what the product designers tell themselves in their meetings that makes them perpetuate this unfortunate toy meme.

urbanwoodswalker (author)foobear2010-12-08

that boy toys are created for action and ruggedness...and girl toys are for...modeling, hair styling, and 'dainty" delicate play?

Yeah, sometimes I wonder how far women have come .....since woman's lib. toys still are full of stereotypes.

scoochmaroo (author)2010-12-05

<3 <3 <3

If only I had thought of this as a young girl.

mikeasaurus (author)2010-12-05

Nice hack. I've noticed the lacking of articulation of girl dolls, and the weird rubber-knees of some Barbies.

foobear (author)mikeasaurus2010-12-05

thank you! Yes, those Barbie knees are weird. They only bend about 20 degrees tops before flexing back.

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