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Repair and Maintenance of your Magic Tricks and Apparatus - Part 1

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Before we get into the actual repair of magic equipment, let me tell you what I carry in a small carry around bag.  I always used to carry a few pairs of non-latex gloves, a small container of flat black latex paint, an assortment of small model building paint brushes, several clean rags, small spray bottle of Windex type cleaner, can of spray lubricant, and a bar of soap (watch that is not a creamy kind, like dove or caress, I use dial or ivory) and keep it in a zip lock bag.  The whole idea behind carrying such a bag of stuff is, you want your props to be as sharp looking as you and working in tiptop condition.

Now, I will tell you what each is for.  The gloves will keep your manicured hands clean and not greasy while cleaning, painting and setting up your props/show.  The paint and brushes are for the last minute touch-up on your props; latex paint, if applied lightly will dry in 10-15 minutes.  The Windex type cleaner is for any chrome items, mirrors (I know we do not use them, these are the kind you check yourself out in).  A light spray of the cleaner on a rag will clean smudges and fingerprints off your painted props.  The lubricant will stop any creaky hinges, props with wheels and is good to remove gooey stuff from your props.  Soap is the one I used most and it seemed to work best, as it does not attract dirt and dust like waxy lubricants.  The dry non-creamy soap will keep your wooden props, i.e. drawer box, working smooth as glass.  It is great on both small props and large illusions.  Dry soap is also very versatile, as it will keep metal parts (metal slides, drawers, tracks and etc.) working smoothly.

Let’s start with wood props; one of the most common repairs is the hinge.  If the pin gets lost or broke a quick fix is using a piece of stainless steel wire and just thread it through the loops and twirl the ends together.  Permanent fix is using a brass pin or a finishing nail blunt the end so it does not go through the loop, slide it in and measure how much needs to be cut off.  Once that is done, cut it to fit and hold a punch on the end and tap other to blunt the end.

Another common repair is dents and scraps your props receive during packing/unpacking and use.

When you first get your prop or even later on, take it to a reputable hardware/paint store and have them computer match the colors in your prop ( a good quality enamel is preferable).  I always kept on hand, small quantities of each color I needed.  So if you need to touch up a scrap, dent or scratch, you have the right color.  Just a little tip: Keep your painted props shinning and fingerprint proof by using a good quality paste car wax, I used Turtle paste wax.  It works well on painted metal props, and it also helps protect them.

Another major problem with wooden equipment is loose screws.  To fix, repair and/or with building wooden props, you can take the loose screws out, add a drop of epoxy glue in the screw hole and replace screw.  That also goes for building props; I always used to use epoxy glue in every screw hole.  It is great for securing hard working hinges.
Tip: Be sure when applying the glue you only get in where you need it; cutting a pin tip size hole in applicator is the best way tom ensure that.  Lacquer thinner on a Q-tip will clean excess glue, if done quickly after the smear.  However, it will take paint off if not careful.

A not so common but still important repair is when you break a wooden prop.  A repairman’s best friends are an assortment of clamps, including a belt clamp, good quality glue (epoxy and Gorilla glue), a variety of thin metal strips (I have them from 1/16th of an inch wide to 1 full inch and most are about 10 inches long), and the time and patience to fix the prop.  The metal strips are to apply glue in between the cracks, bulges, and breaks.  Once you assess the damage, you need see if you can pry the break apart enough to slip some glue on a metal strip in it.  Next you need to figure what kind of clamp will work on the fix.  Sometimes I have to use just a free weight (heavy cans of?, barbell weights and etc.).

Some myths about repairs: The chrome, brass and copper paint will fix your props.  They do not even come close to looking like what they say they are. 

If you scratch chrome, brass or copper prop or decoration on a prop, you replace it, take it to a metal refinisher (very, very expensive) or live with it.  However, sometimes an overcoat of clear plastic paint on the scratch (using a superfine brush) will mask not fix the scratch.

Nailing wooden props is just as good as screws; no way!  Screws hold tighter, better and longer than nails and a drop or two of epoxy glue with the screw, even better.  Black felt tip or permanent marker is a good quick fix for scratch; wrong, it makes it harder to cover when you have the time to fix it right.  Flat black, dead black and/or satin black paint is what you want to fix scratches on your black props.  You will need a super fine brush (2-4 hairs only) like an artist’s brush.  You can good quality artists’ brushes at hobby or craft stores.  While you are there pick-up a variety of brushes.

Another good tool to have hanging around is an airbrush (just be sure to practice, practice, well you know the saying).  You do not need a professional painter’s airbrush, just a good workable one.  I like them because you can match any color paint and use the airbrush, it makes buying hundreds of cans of spray paints obsolete. 

While speaking of paint, never try to feather sand a chip or dent in the paint job on your prop.  It makes the paint look uneven.  You need to fill the dent or chip with a good putty, sand lightly (of course, you must have matched the paint first) wipe clean with a tack cloth and touch up with matching paint.  Tip: How to make your own tack cloths; Dip an old rag (cut rag, cheese cloth, old oxford shirt or the best is old cloth diapers, with pinking shears so it does not ravel) into clean warm water and squeeze dry. Sprinkle with paint thinner and 3 tbsp. Varnish work into cloth until it's saturated with the mixture; Make sure mixture is worked evenly into the rag before applying to surface.  Keep tack cloths sealed in a glass jar with a tight seal screw on cap (a super clean glass mayo jar fitted with a rubber gasket).  Second tip: Use latex/non-latex gloves when making and using a tack cloth.

Let’s talk a minute about clear or tinted color Plexiglas, plastic or Lexan props.  If you use Plexiglas or clear plastic/Lexan, a good coat of car wax helps protect it, just be sure to use a very soft cloth to polish with; I used an old flannel shirt or material.  Let’s say you do get a scratch in the Lexan, or Plexiglas. A buffing wheel on a Dremel type tool at low speed will buff it out, just watch you do NOT leave it in one place to long or it will melt it.  If you are really careful, a kitchen-cooking torch will also take the deep scratches out; you just need to keep the flame quickly moving over the scratch and watch it closely.  The scratch just seems to disappear right before your eyes (like magic).  The best thing you can do for these types of props is to protect them, especially in storage and traveling.  I use several Lexan items and I keep them wrapped in old towels and secured in an old pillowcase for storage and a foam lined box for travel.

I would like to re-address paint and brushes, more particularly the care of them.  I usually keep small seal glass jars with rubber gaskets and a variety of new empty paint cans (any hardware store has them) on hand to pour left over paint into for storage.  Brushes, I always clean with paint thinner and a final cleaning with a good quality Lacquer thinner.  When clean, I wash them in a warm soapy solutions and rinse several times.  If while washing I notice the brush has gunk or left over paint still in it, I will brush it with a stainless steel wire brush from the heel out to the tips.  This will ensure they are soft, pliable and in tiptop shape.

One last tip for this article; I keep a variety of hinges, knobs, paint, screws, and a variety of metal pieces (to make things I need out of) on hand and labeled.  When I buy a prop, I quickly check out all pieces that I might need to replace if broken and make sure I have them on hand and labeled!

I hope this has been some help to you and I offer any help verbally or by E-Mail, you need only to ask.  Send me an E-Mail and I will send my phone # if you want to talk rather than write.

Bono Fortuna
of The Mental Institution™

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Our valuable member Massimo Malloque has been with us since Sunday, 23 August 2009.

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+1 #2 Massimo Malloque 2009-11-14 12:10
Excellent tip Matt! :idea: That was going to be in volume 2, but great. I also bore a little bigger hole and use a small dowel with glue and if you use oak doweling even better. B)
+1 #1 Administrator 2009-11-10 02:15
My favorite solution for loose screws especially when the have been pulled loose and the hole is now too big. Fill the hole with some wood glue and and place a toothpick into the hole. Break it off flush with the top of the hole. Use more than one toothpick for larger holes. Put the screw back in and it should now hold tight.
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