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Repair and Maintenance of your Magic Tricks and Apparatus - Part 2

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This is the second installment of repairing your own magic props.  I think I forgot to mention in volume 1 that I do have a lot of experience in repairing, refinishing, refurbishing, and building magic props.  I have a little over 40 years of doing the repairs, building, and etc. on magic props.  My father was a master wood worker and an Industrial Arts professor.  I learned from him and he was my building partner and consultant for years.

I will tackle squeaky, sluggish hinges.  Hinges take a real beating and tend to get sluggish or stiff and they squeak and give secrets away.  A good dry spray lube (one made for garage doors) on a clean dry rag and wiped over the hinge on both side will fix any of the mentioned symptoms.  Piano hinges especially get stiff and squeak a lot.  While tending to your hinges, take the time to inspect all the screws.  Make sure they are tight and not stripped.  What do you do if they are stripped?  Well, the first thing is to remove them for the prop and blow out ant dust in the hole.  They can then be filled with good quality glue (I always use epoxy or Gorilla glue) and insert several tooth picks or match sticks.  Cut the sticks flush and sand lightly when dry.  I do not use this method much any more.  I find that drilling the screw hole out to accept an oak dowel is a much better fix.  I do finish it the same; that is, when dry, I cut it flush and sand lightly and then re-insert the screw.

Let’s say you are building a prop and you are using screws; what is the best way to assemble and get your screws to stay in and not loosen up?  The method I use is to pre-drill each hole with a drill bit two (2) sizes smaller than the screw.  I assemble the prop; then I disassemble it and re-assemble putting a drop of epoxy glue in each hole and re-screw the prop together.  When you first assemble the prop, be sure to test the moving parts before disassembling it.  I know it takes time, but as they (?) used to say “a ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”.

Sometimes you will need to use nails, what is the best way to prevent splitting the wood?  I hold to the old method of dulling the pointed end, that is hold nail upside down on a solid surface and hit it with a hammer to flatten the point.  This is for trim work, thin pieces of wood, and/or narrow pieces.  I just recovered a floating table with new colored cloth material and it had a ¾-inch wide by 1/8-inch thick wooden trim on it.  I sort of destroyed the trim while taking it off.  No, I did not hurt it taking it off, I broken the trim when I dropped it and stepped on it accidentally.  I also push the nail into a block of dry soap before nailing in place, to help ease it through the wood. 

There are several tried and trued methods to spot repair dents, splits, and cavities in your wooden props.  First, let’s assume you have the matching paint.  Then you will need to lightly sand the problem area with very fine sandpaper (250-500 grit) just to get to the bare wood.   Next you can put a few drops of water on the bare wood area, let set about 5-10 minutes; you will need a high power hairdryer and heat the area and the wood should swell up and usually over the indentation, which is good.  For really stubborn dents and etc. you can take a straight hatpin and poke a few holes in the cavity and then drop water on it; let it set about 10 minutes and see if it swells past the cavity.  Once you have the cavity filled with the swollen wood you can light sand it flat, airbrush some primer paint on it and then when dry match the color and feather spray it in.

Let me talk a little on different primers.  I like props to be shiny, but not have a smooth finish, therefore I use latex enamel as a primer and I roll it on.  This technique gives the prop a good base and it is not smooth.  When using a primer always go with a light color primer for topcoats and darker primers for dark topcoats.  If you like a smoother finish you can lightly sand the primer progressing to finer grits of sandpaper until you reach your desired smoothness.  Just remember the smoother the finish, the more it shows imperfections. 

How about that black felt used to hide things.  Sometimes it rips or tears, it is repairable, fairly easily.  Just apply a little bit of glue (the kind depends on the material under it, i.e. wood, metal or etc.).  Most materials will accept white glue (Wilhold or Elmer’s) that dries clear.  I usually get an old art paint brush, that is very thin on bristles and dip it in the glue.  Next, I brush it over the tear (s) and when dried, you can take a stiff bristled brush (not a wire one, unless it is a soft brass bristles) and go over the repairs to rough up and blend the tear (carefully).

I always like to finish an article like this saying:  If you are not handy with tools, painting, sanding and general repairs, please do not try any of this, call or hire a professional to do it.  I had a gentleman who had a real nice head chopper (Lester Lake type), it broke and he tried to fix it himself.  After, several attempts and a real mess, he called for my help.  He could have almost bought a new one for what it cost to fix his.  Not only do you need woodworking, metalworking, electrical, mechanical experience, you also need to understand how a magic prop works.  The best professional handyman can mess up an effect if he does not understand the magic principles behind it.

I think I will end this article and just ask you all: If you have any questions, please just ask, I do not charge for advice; I can be reached at the e-Mail below.  If possible send photos of the prop and where it is broke or needs to be fixed.

If you have any comments, questions and/or any criticisms of this article, please use the comment box below or feel free to e-mail me at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Bono Fortuna
Check out my Mentalism website: 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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