Swapping Heads 101

A simple yet effective technique that every customizer should know.

Most customizers can tell you all about their "firsts".  The first figure they made.  The first brushes they used.  The first time they were able to get around paint rub. And then there is the first "trick" they learned. 

Well that trick will nine times out of ten be the old "boil 'n pop" trick.  Often times in customizing you find a figure with the body type you want but it has a head you hate.  A separate figure will have exactly the head you want, so a swap is in order. 

Today I will be swapping the heads of the DC Superheroes Lex Luthor with the Clark Kent of the same line.


Now there are two methods to the headswapping technique:

"Boil 'N Pop" and "Dry 'N Pull"  

Boil 'N Pop is rather popular with those customizers who have been in the game for a while.  It is taking a pot and boiling some water in it.  Dunk in the figure and after a while you'll be able to pop the head off. 

Dry 'N Pull is where you just take a hairdryer and heat up the head of the figure for a few seconds and then pull the head off.  This has the same effect as the boil 'n pop but by the time the water has gotten to a boil you will have been able to finish removing the head with the hair dryer method.  Simply put, I use a hair dryer because it is faster and probably a lot less likely to burn yourself on.  


Simply rotate the hairdryer slowly around the figure's head ... kinda like roasting a marshmallow over a campfire.  Only in this case you are moving the fire around the marshmallow.  This will ensure an even distribution of heat.  Once the head is noticibly softer to the touch begin to pull while wiggling it side to side and it should pop right off. 

Repeat with the other figure.  Notice how the ball jointed neck pegs are the same size for both figures.  This will make swapping the heads as simple as can be. 




Now I was able to pop the head on the peg easily without re-heating.  Pieces are usually designed to be easier to put together than take apart.  Just push down and rotate the head slowly back and forth.  The peg may be a firm plastic but it is still small and you wouldn't want to break it.  You can always re-heat the head a little with the hairdryer to make it easier on you. 

And presto, you have a Business Suit Luthor and ... Clark in a Battle Suit.  A simple custom to be sure, but nifty nonetheless. 

So why bother heating the figure?  Well, while action figures are made of plastic, they are not all made up of the exact same kind of plastic throughout.  There is rubbery plastic that makes up capes and suit jackets.  There is the soft but rigid plastic that makes up most limbs.  And then firmer hard plastic that makes up pegs and joints.  These different plastics expand at different rates when heated... and we can take advantage of this to help take our figures apart without damage.


Good ol' Mr. Luthor here was able to be done in five minutes.  That includes taking the figures out of the packages, taking these photos, and all the heating and swapping of craniums. Much faster than re-sculpting a whole new head. 

Heck even my "Matt Avatar" figure got started as just a headswap.  Put Cyclops' head on Captain America's body. 

But not all headswaps will be easy.  Sometimes the perfect face for your custom is on a head that just won't fit on the neck.  That is when a little more modification will have to be made.




Here we have the infamous "butterface" Emma Frost figure from the Hasbro Marvel Legends line.  They didn't do a horrible job on her but they sure gave her a face only a mother could love... and then only at a distance without her glasses.  For a character famous for using sex appeal as a weapon this is difficult to take sitting down for a customizer.

On the other hand the line of Fantastic Four movie figures had the lovely
Ms Jessica Alba as a base.  Surely a little Alba will go a long way to make Emma Frost a vixen for your tiny plastic army. 

Let's go ahead and bust out the hairdryer and get to swapping these heads before Cyclops looses his lunch. 


Once off you will notice a couple things.  First, when the hair is long, toy companies usually stick a wig of sorts on figures' heads.  Typically rubbery plastic that bends well so as to not break and make sharp pieces for a young child.  This means that in getting the head off of the neck... the hair usually departs from the head.  So life has given us some lemons, stay tuned for a lemonade recipe later.

The second thing you will notice is how different the pegs are for these two figures.  The Emma peg is so small in comparison that Alba's head would never stay.  Also Emma's neck for some reason is way way way too long proportionally to her body. 

Now is a good time to break out the customizer's little helper ... Mr. Dremel.  For those not in the know a dremel is a rotary tool that allows figures to be modified much faster than hacking away for hours with an Xacto knife. 



Since the neck is so thin on this figure I have decided that swapping the neck joints would just not look right.so I just sliced it off at her choker.  You can take the neck peg and pair it with that original Emma head and store it away for whenever you get the urge to make a Sarah Jessica Parker "horseface" custom.

But for now grab the Alba head and now is the time for that lemonade I was talking about.  Since the hair was so kindly removed for us when removing the heads, why not use that nicely sculpted Emma hair on the nicely sculpted Alba head?  The only problem is (as you can tell above) the Emma head was much smaller.  So use your dremel to shave a bit of the back of Alba's head down so the hair will fit nicely.  Go slowly and check the fit often.  Soon it should be ready. 


A couple dabs of Superglue will easily hold the hair on the head now.  Once that is on good now we can make our own neck peg.  This is an easy cheat to get out of using the neck peg off of someone else.  I used a thin dowel rod and glue it into Alba's head.  Next I dremeled out a hole in the neck that would allow the peg to fit inside and let it turn side to side.  Then I just adjusted the dowel rod for the right height. 

This is an easy fix to be sure. The neck peg from Alba was too brittle to use and I didn't want to use up any other already made joints.  Emma doesn't need to look up and down much in my collection, side to side is fine with me.  Later tutorials will go into more elaborate joint making but we are keeping it simple for now. 




And there you have it.  In only around ten minutes the figure has a whole different look to her.  A little paint to get her skin tones to match better and nobody will guess how easy this all was. 

So there you have it.  Headswapping is an extremely easy but versitile tool for the customizer to master.  Once you got this down, it is a small step to swapping legs, hands, or feet.

Well we should go and give Nightwing and Emma some privacy.

--Matt Ashbaugh