Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Not to Install a Wig

I used to fixed television sets as a sideline. I could always tell when a set had been messed with by the owner. It was always screwed up. And it was always the wife who lugged it to my shop. Her husband, probably a rocket scientist, was too embarrassed by what he'd done. It's one thing to understand the underlying electronic design theory that specifies how a TV set works. Fixing one is quite another thing. The wife would say, "I don't know, it just quit working."

(Never let your friends and neighbors know you can fix TV sets. Or computers.)

I don't fix TV sets anymore. They don't work like they used to and they don't break like they used to. I look in there and don't know what I'm looking at. I know better than to mess with things I don't understand.

Not everyone can say that. Case in point:

Last week a client had shipped to me an old handcarved Selberg ventriloquist figure. The figure has lots of animations—jaw, eyes, winker/blinkers, eyebrows, and upper lip sneer. And it has a beautiful, expensive child's wig.

But the eyes are not self-centering, and the client wants that feature. Which is why it's here now. Usually, such a job would involve the simple installation of a spring. About a ten minute job if where the spring needs to connect is easy to reach.

I haven't opened the head to see, however. First there's no room on the workbench, which is currently dedicated to Chuck Norwood. Then there's the issue with the wig.

This Selberg boy has a very nice wig, which has always been a highlight of figures that Tim builds. They have great hair. The problem with this one, however, is how the wig is attached. It looks to me that to open the head I might have to destroy the wig, which I really hate to do. The wig is part of the original figure, which, besides being a fine ventriloquist figure, is approaching collectible status; it is from the era about twenty years ago when Tim made mostly one-of-a-kind woodcarved figures.

I know three acceptable ways to install a wig on a hard figure.

  1. attach it with Velcro strips
  2. staple it on
  3. attach it with hot glue

There are probably other ways, but these are the ways I've seen.

Velcro strips provide the most maintenance-friendly method for attaching a wig. You can easily remove and reinstall the wig, which makes for easy emergency repairs to the mechanics.

Stapling the wig is okay, but you need a tool to pull the staples and a staple gun to reinstall the wig.

Hot glue works okay, but it's my third choice. It leaves a clumped up residue when you remove the wig. Removing an old hot glue clump is next to impossible, so you just leave it there and add more hot glue when you put the wig back on. Too many wig removals make for an unruly wig with all those clumps of dried hot glue.

Those are the ways I know to attach a wig. The Selberg figure does not use one of those ways. Whoever last had the wig off reinstalled it with—you'd better sit down to read this—epoxy glue.

That's right, folks, epoxy glue. Figure makers around the world are smiling to themselves now. They're wondering if the owner's wife brought the figure in to my shop to be modified. No, not this time.

Epoxy glue is kind of permanent. It becomes one with whatever you apply it to. It flows freely, seeks its own level and bonds with everything it touches. That's okay when what it touches is wood, brass, plastic, or anything inflexible. But hair and net webbing? Alas.

This is kind of like working on your antique car and then welding the hood shut.

To remove the wig, I'll have to virtually destroy the webbing and a lot of the hair, much of which is heavily glued to the wooden head. Then I'll toss the wig fragments into my wig remnants box. Maybe it can contribute to a mustache some day. Then I'll spend several hours scraping the glue residue off the head and trapdoor. Finally I'll acquire, fit and install a new wig.

Whoever used epoxy on that wig substantially added to the cost of what would otherwise be a simple repair. And they also reduced the value of the figure as a collectible. The new wig won't be original or even like original; you can't find wigs like that anymore.

So, kind readers, if you are about to do maintenance on your valuable figure, please keep in mind that someone might have to do additional maintenance sometime later. Don't do dumb things that will make the next guy's job that more difficult. Don't weld the hood shut.

Better still, don't do anything yourself. Send the figure to someone who is qualified to work on these valuable works of art.

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