Quick and Spooky: Improving Dollar Store Skeleton Hands With a Heat Gun for Halloween

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About: I make art and have been known to get crafty.

My son requested skeleton hands coming out of the ground for Halloween decorations. I wanted some that were inexpensive, looked relatively realistic, and didn’t take hours of cutting and sculpting.

This project cost about $2 and took less than an hour.

The dollar store had a selection of blow molded plastic hands that were a bit flat and awkward looking (also only right hands) but the price was good and I reckoned I could adjust them sufficiently with a heat gun.

This basic modification could also be done with many other kinds of solid or hollow plastic hands. The heat source could be a hair dryer, hot water, or anything else that can soften the plastic without burning it.

Before we begin...

Warning! Caution! Danger!
Heat guns are HOT! They can put out anywhere from several hundred to over a thousand degrees, way hotter than a kitchen oven. These temperatures will quickly and easily cause fire and/or severe burns when applied to skin, wood, plastic, or other materials. Hot melted plastic will stick to skin and cause burns. Heating and melting plastic (of unknown origin) will also release toxic fumes which should not be inhaled. Only attempt this with adequate safety precautions outdoors in a well ventilated area away from other flammable material, and wear protective clothing, gloves, and respirator where appropriate. Take the time to learn how to use your tools properly, be careful, and you too can have a safe and enjoyable crafting experience.

Materials:
Plastic skeleton hands that are reasonably detailed, but not quite realistic or spooky enough

Heat gun or other suitable heat source

Optional:

Gloves, pliers, tweezers for pinching and moving hot plastic parts

Heavy wire or coat hanger for mounting finished hands (I used some old floral stakes I found in the shed)

Step 1: Get Some Cheap Plastic Skeleton Hands

I found these adult life-sized, hollow blow molded plastic hands at the dollar store. They cost a dollar each, far less than a better made prop skeleton hand, and not something I'm worried about being stolen from the front yard.

The the walls are thin plastic with a relatively low melting temperature, so they can be easily softened with heat, pushed into new poses, and allowed to cool to retain their new shapes.

The store only had right hands, so I needed to invert one to make a left hand. You can also see that the thumb bones aren't properly aligned or attached to the hands, but the fingers are all separate, and the individual bones are sufficiently defined, so overall they did not need many changes to get them into more realistic poses.

There were some smaller hands for sale that included arm bones, but these were painted and looked more realistic already. Maybe next year I'll try a few more styles.

Step 2: Get Your Heat Source and Start Working

I worked outside on a concrete slab on a breezy day. Someone gave me this heat gun before a move, and I was happy to have it, but I've done similar plastic work with other heat sources. See below for suggestions.

The gun puts out at least several hundred degrees (F) on low, and I guessed the plastic would become malleable when it reached around 200 or 300 degrees, so I started heating from a distance, gently and cautiously, so the whole thing didn't go soft and lose its shape. It's much easier to add more heat if you need it, but hard to fix if you add too much.

Turning a right hand into a left hand was going to be the most work, so I started with that process, testing how the plastic responded to the heat as I warmed the pinky end joint.

I was afraid of a cave-in that would require extra surgery, so I worked pretty slowly. The plastic was forgiving, and I was happy with how it worked. A few times I felt things getting too soft, so I quickly backed off and blew on the hot spots.

Work the front, back, and sides of the joint you want to move, avoiding overheating the bones themselves unless you want bend them a bit also.

Move around the whole hand, making small adjustments all over first, before going back and getting a final pose.

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Alternate Heat Sources:

If you don't have a heat gun you could try:

Hair dryer (it might take a while to get hot enough)

Oven or toaster oven (you'll have to be careful about the plastic slumping and deforming under its own weight, and you'll want to start at a low temperature to avoid overdoing it and ending up with a puddle or a fire)

Hot water (keep tongs and gloves handy, also, hot water might get inside the hollow plastic and behave unpredictably)

Candle or lighter (you will probably burn your fingers, you will release toxic fumes, and you might light the plastic on fire, so I only recommend trying these if you understand how to do so safely, and take appropriate precautions)

This is a good time to repeat the safety warning.

Warning! Caution! Danger!
Heat sources including guns and are HOT! (Who would have thought?) They can put out anywhere from several hundred to over a thousand degrees. These temperatures will quickly and easily cause fire and/or severe burns when applied to skin, wood, plastic, or other materials. Hot melted plastic will stick to skin and cause burns. Heating and melting plastic (of unknown origin) will also release toxic fumes which should not be inhaled. Only attempt this with adequate safety precautions outdoors in a well ventilated area away from other flammable material, and wear protective clothing, gloves, and respirator where appropriate. Take the time to learn how to use your tools properly, be careful, and you too can have a safe and enjoyable crafting experience.

Step 3: Bend All the Joints Backward to Turn a Right Hand Into a Left Hand

On the hand that will become the left one, applying heat to one or two joints at a time, gradually bend all the fingers and thumb so they curve in the correct direction.

Find a real left hand, preferably living, for reference, and look at everything from a lot of different angles.

On this plastic hand, the ball of the hand being very flat and squished against the rest of it, I had to do the best I could to get a more natural curve.

Step 4: Pose Those Fingers and Make Things a Bit Creepier

Using your own hands, someone else's, or photos for reference, give the fingers and hand more movement and gesture.

Move your hands and the plastic ones around a lot as you work, looking at everything from a many different angles in case something looks really odd from only one particular side.

In these photos you can see that the tip of the left thumb is still bent a little unnaturally. In later photos you might notice that I bent it just a little bit more.

I kept tweaking things until I was happy with the poses.

Step 5: Add Some Wire and Stick Them in the Ground

I found some old plant stakes the same diameter as the little hole in the wrist end of the hands, bent them a bit, and stuck them in. The plastic is thin enough that you can poke or drill holes for whatever and wherever you might want to use them.

On one hand I pushed a little too hard and poked through a finger, but the damage was not noticeable enough to repair.

Push them in the ground and fix the dirt to blend in the base. Enjoy!

Happy Halloween!

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Halloween Contest 2018

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    4 Discussions

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    AbschroederPenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 8 days ago

    Thank you! I’m new to publishing here, and haven’t yet figured out how to enter this or change the category from costumes to decorations.