A special thanks to Carrie Sansing for this article. She’s the blow mold queen!
I’m seriously addicted to blow molds. Having collected and displayed them in my Christmas display for over 30 years, I have used or created some of the methods I set out in this pamphlet. Winters can be pretty harsh here in Chicago, subzero temps one day, and a thaw the next, ice storms, winds at 60 mph and snow can sandblast the paint right off a blow mold. Hot climates (Texas, Arizona, Florida, etc.) also take their toll on our plastic friends, creating a different environment but with the similar effects, i.e., the sun’s UV rays fade the paint, molds become brittle…they crack and break, and restorations are often even more necessary. My collection of blow molds has been assembled from all over the country, Canada, and even from Hong Kong and the U.K! I have worked on the brittle ones from Texas and repaired the virtually paint free ones received from Canada and Minnesota, thus my quest to learn all I could to restore them.
In the late 1970’s, I noticed that our Poloron Snowman had a severe case of paint loss. He badly needed a new paint job and being an amateur “artist” I decided to redo him and did. The result was good…certainly not great. Since that first effort, done with artist’s brushes and enamels, I experimented with several methods. Stripping an entire blow mold came next, the fumes made my eyes burn and in one case, I used the wrong kind of stripper and left it on too long; it literally ate through the mold, it was ruined…lesson learned.
In 1999, I stumbled upon PlanetChristmas and lurked for several years. Much to my delight, I found out two important things.
- There were Christmas light enthusiasts out there that were just like me; and
- There were others who were also experimenting with and developing the art of blow mold restoration.
Over the years, I learned many valuable lessons and refined methods that were shared with me or created some of the techniques I’m presenting here…and I’m still learning, I certainly don’t have all the answers…so if you find that you have a better way, please contact me and share it!
There are many members of the Christmas community who have contributed to my store of blow mold knowledge and who have helped me in so many ways…there are too many to name…but they know who they are.
DISCLAIMER: Using these methods is at your own risk. The techniques I use have worked well for me, but I do not warrant, represent, or promise that your outcome will be the one you’re looking for and I take no responsibility whatsoever for any damage or injury to you, your property or your blow mold. (Now that the disclaimer has been made–enjoy!)
Stripping Paint From Blow Molds
Stripping the Mold
- Rubber or latex gloves
- Natural bristle or plastic scrub brush (I don’t use a wire brush, I find that they scratch the plastic)
- Old tooth brush
- Eye protection (safety glasses)
- Lots of clean Cotton Rags (available at Home Depot)
- Large Bucket
- Mild dish detergent
- Ammonia (I use lemon scented, it’s easier on the nose)
- Paint stripper (I use and highly recommend 3M Easy Stripper, but you can use other brands with great results)
- Shallow pie plate or bowl
- Paint brushes (2 or 3 of different sizes will do)
- Water and hose
To strip the entire blow mold, here are the steps I take:
Remove the light housing and any screws or light cord and put them where you can find them in a week or so.
Mix a squirt or two of detergent in a large bucket of water. Hose down the blow mold and then scrub the entire mold using your scrub brush and the soapy water to remove surface dirt. Take the time to rinse the scrub brush off of any old flaked paint that may get caught in the bristles (which you don’t want later on in the process). Put on your gloves and safety glasses (if you think you’ll splash, you definitely don’t want any ammonia in your eyes). Dip your scrub brush into the ammonia. Scrub down the entire blow mold and work to get any additional dirt, grease, or loose paint off that may be in the creases of the mold. Rinse the mold down and the scrub brush. Use the old tooth brush, dipped in ammonia, and scrub along each crease. Wash with detergent again and rinse the blow mold very well, particularly paying attention to the creases you scrubbed. Dry the mold as thoroughly as possible. Let it sit until you are sure it is completely dry. If you’re lucky, a lot of the old paint will now be off.
Put on your gloves if using a caustic stripper.
Pour the paint stripper into a tin pie plate or metal bowl (Caution: some paint strippers are highly caustic and emit fumes–read the container directions).
Using one of your brushes, dip the brush into the stripper. Run the brush across the rim of the pan or bowl so that it doesn’t drip and to remove excess. If you are NOT USING the 3M Easy Stripper, start brushing the paint stripper on an area no more than 8 inches square. (Tip: You do not need to brush on a really thick coat of stripper. Just enough to cover the paint on the mold. If you find that the process is going too slow or the stripper is not working as well as it should, go ahead and put on a thicker coat in the next area. You will develop a “feel” for how much stripper to use.) If you do a larger area than 8 square inches, you will run the risk of the stripper eating the plastic! (Trust me on this, I ruined a mold so badly I had to throw it out!) Wait about 30 seconds, you should see the paint start to crack or bubble. Now, quickly dip your scrub brush (which you took pains to clean) into the ammonia and scrub the area you just stripped. Using the rags, wipe the area down. Rinse again with the hose to stop the chemical process. The paint should all come off. Repeat this procedure, doing small areas at a time, over the entire blow mold. Use a smaller size brush (I use one with an angle tip) to get the stripper into the creases of the mold. This is the hardest part and takes a lot of time. Once the mold has been completely stripped, I wash it down one more time with ammonia and the scrub brush and rinse it very well. The mold should now be close to white. If it looks cloudy, wash it with kitchen cleanser to remove any paint or chemical residue.
If you DO use the 3M Easy Stripper, we can now shorten the process considerably. Pour the stripper into your pan as above and start brushing it on. I have found that I can work very large areas of the blow mold all at once, if not the entire mold, depending upon the overall size. As you brush it on, work at a good pace, you don’t want the stripper to dry out. Work the blow mold as instructed above, making sure to get the stripper into all the creases. Once you have covered the blow mold, wait about 5 minutes. Using the rags, wipe the area down, the stripper and the paint will come off. Rinse the mold with the hose. If there is still some paint on the mold, apply stripper to the areas you missed, wait 5 minutes, and hose down again. Once the mold has been completely stripped, I wash the mold down again with mild detergent and rinse thoroughly. Let the mold dry completely before you start your paint job.
Be careful and take your time. Like any other restoration, the prep work you do now in respect to stripping the old paint, will pay you large dividends when you start to repaint your blow mold.
Repainting a Blow Mold
- Painter’s blue tape and
- Various sizes of masking tape and/or automotive detail tape
- Newspaper (Don’t use colored comics, the ink can and will transfer!), and/or plastic bags (I use grocery bags–nice freebies)
Decide on what areas you are going to paint first. This is a very important step–so think it through!
Following are the steps I took to repaint a pair of Poloron Pinecone Candles:
As the candles were an easy project, only using two colors, the decision of what to paint first was simple… the red areas. Using masking tape, I taped off all the wax drips, the spiral, and the pinecones. I covered all the areas I wanted to remain white or that may have been in the line of fire of the spray paint. Depending upon the mold you do, I can’t stress enough how important having a paint plan is. Otherwise, you will have to do a lot more masking off than you otherwise would.
If you need to cover a large expanse, use the plastic bags or newspaper to cover those areas. When you tape the paper or plastic on, press the tape down hard along the edges!
You don’t want any spray paint to seep under the edges of the tape and onto your blow mold.
When taping, the tape must be put on carefully, butting the edge of the tape up against the edge of the raised surface to be painted. Start to mask off all the areas that will NOT be painted first.
I usually paint the little annoying things first, to get them out of the way. In the case of these candles, I covered all the parts that were to remain white first, leaving all the red colored parts exposed. Be careful in this step, it will make the difference in the long run as you don’t want overspray on the white areas. Once the white areas were all covered with tape, you must make sure the tape is sealed well. If you have long fingernails (which I do), run a nail along the very edge of the tape and press firmly. If you don’t have long fingernails, use the tip of a screwdriver or other tool to do this.
I then painted all the red areas. Let the paint dry thoroughly. I generally use Krylon Fusion for Plastic (“KFFP”). It will dry in 15 minutes according to the product label (but temperature and humidity does make a difference in the drying time, it can be MUCH longer). Make sure the paint is completely dry before moving on to the next area. If you need to wait until the next day, wait. Don’t rush this or your work will be ruined. Once dry, you may then apply a second coat if needed. Also, when painting with KFFP, go with light sweeping strokes of the spray paint, don’t put the paint on too heavily or it will run.
Depress the button and keep it down, don’t stop, start, stop, start, use a side to side sweeping motion. CAUTION: If you have never painted with spray paint, practice with it before you decide to repaint an expensive or rare blow mold!
Once you are absolutely sure all the paint is completely dry (and you have done your second coat, if needed), cover these newly painted areas with paper and/or tape if needed, or with blue painters tape or detail tape, depending upon how many color changes you are going to do. In the case of the candles, I left the tape on the white areas and only covered the red area surrounding the pine cones. I also applied small pieces of tape to the individual red berries. I then painted the pine cones green. If you know that you will not be going near an area that is already painted and you are confident in your skill with spray paint, you can skip covering some areas. CAUTION: This is a judgment call on your part, but keep in mind that if you are outside in a breezy location, no matter how good you are, the wind is going to cause overspray. I do my painting in the garage with the door open. If you do have to do a lot of color changes, you will be doing a lot of masking and covering. The more careful and precise you are, the better the paint job will be.
Once you have repainted your blow mold, be careful when you take off the paper and tape. This part can be trickier than you’d expect. If you just pull the tape straight off, you probably will pull the newly applied paint off too. You want to peel the tape back onto itself so that it cuts through the paint. Screw it up once and you’ll know what I’m talking about! Take your time, be careful, and your blow mold will look brand new.
How To Fix A Blow Mold Ding
Here goes with some generic basics:
Depending on the size of the ding, you can do several things to repair it. If you have a pops-a-dent (used for auto repair-they are cheap and do a good job) use it and follow the directions. But seeing as how most people don’t have one (I do, works great) here is what you can do.
Use a broom stick, rod, or sturdy piece of wire (from a heavy coat hanger) and poke it into the mold through the light hole (now this is the tricky part because different blow molds have different placement of the light holes or access hole). Push the rod or whatever you’re using into the ding and gently apply pressure until the ding pops out. If the ding has been there a long time, chances are once you pull the rod back out, the plastic will pop back (the plastic has a memory). If this happens, push the rod in again and push out the ding. With a helper and a hair dryer set on hot, hold the rod in place inside the mold and apply the heat of the dryer to the plastic from the outside. In my experience, the heat of the dryer will not damage the paint, it has little effect on the paint, but if you see the paint change color or start to flake– pull hair dryer back a bit so that the warming is more gradual) This will help the plastic to learn its new correct position. You only need to hold the dryer until the plastic feels warm to the touch. Turn off the dryer and withdraw the rod. You have now repaired the ding.
If there is a crack in the ding itself, you will do basically the same procedure as above, but with a small difference. Before pushing the rod up into the blow mold, attach a piece of wadding (a nice scrap of cloth, I use a soft cotton terry washcloth) with tape to the end of the rod in order to make a smooth rounded surface (this will spread the pressure across the surface of the ding so that you don’t end up breaking through the crack or making the crack larger). Do the same as before, but you will have to be much more gentle when applying pressure so that you don’t create any more damage. Repeat with the hair dryer if necessary (the dryer isn’t necessary in most instances).
You don’t have to do a complete stripping of the mold, just clean and scrape away any flaked paint and do the job.
How-to: Repairing a Split or Crack
- Liquid Nails or two part epoxy glues (get one specifically labeled that can be used on plastic) or
- Hot glue gun
- An awl or sharpened nail
- Butter knife or other knife with a thin flexible blade
- Heavy fishing line, nylon line, thin wire..anything that can be threaded into a needle
- Masking tape (heavy duty)
- Heaving duty long needle (I use saddler’s and canvas needles)
- Sharpie marker
Depending upon the size of the crack or split and assuming that no part of the plastic is missing, here are several ways to fix a
crack or split.
One very common place for splits to occur is at a seam or between “shapes” on the mold. These are relatively easy to repair.
Using an adhesive
When repairing any blow mold, make sure the surface is spotlessly clean before you begin!
- Using your tape, apply it as though you were going to tape the crack together, stick several pieces of tape, that will be long enough to go over the crack, to one side of the crack or split…but don’t go over the crack, allow the tape to hang down, sticky side up on one side of the crack only.
- Using liquid nails, the epoxy glue, or whatever adhesive you’re using.. gently and carefully separate the crack using your knife (be careful when doing this, you don’t want to make it larger!). You don’t want to pry the crack open very much, just enough to allow the glue in.
- Apply the adhesive to crack in a thin bead…don’t use gobs, and if necessary, push the glue down into the crack with your finger. (Note: With many adhesives on the market, you may have to hold that crack open for several minutes to allow the adhesive to start to cure, just stick your knife into the crack and let go, it will stay there).
- After waiting the recommended amount of time, pull out your knife if you used one, and push the crack together tightly with your hands. Some of the glue may ooze up onto the surface of the crack. Remove the excess carefully with a finger (don’t use paper towels the paper will stick to the glue)
- Hold the crack together for several minutes and apply a good amount of pressure (don’t push so hard that you squeeze out all the adhesive).
- Now that the glue has started to bond, carefully pull your tape strips up and over the crack to hold the repair in place.
- Be patient and follow the manufacturers directions for cure time.
- After the glue has set, you can carefully peel the tape off.
- If there is a lot of excess glue on the mold, you can scrape this away with your knife or use a small file.
Caution! Be careful when using an awl.
This method works well when the crack is located in an area that allows your hand access to the interior of the mold (such as at a neck hole of a peep or a side seam..if you can reach inside the mold without difficulty from the light kit hole or neck, this method may be the one for you). To stitch a crack together:
- On both sides of the crack, place a series of equally spaced marks with your Sharpie
- Using the awl, carefully poke holes at the points you marked off. If the plastic is too thick or tough for you to push through with your hand, using moderate pressure (you don’t want to apply too much force, you’ll make the crack larger) you can use your propane torch to heat the tip of the awl and it will then melt its way through… just be very careful!
- After you’ve poked the holes, thread your needle and make a large knot at the end.
- Start sewing the crack together from the inside at the first hole you marked and pull the knot you made tight against the interior of the mold. Keeping one hand inside the mold, one out, start sewing:
- After you have finished stitching, reverse direction and go back to the beginning in the same way.
- Tie off the thread and knot it tightly on the inside (this is tricky…but you can do it.)
- Apply a bead of epoxy glue to both knots and the stitches. Allow to harden and you’re done.
Replacing a missing piece of plastic
Broken out pieces of plastic have been the death knell for many fine blow molds. Replacing that missing piece is a challenge and requires patience, practice, time, and care. Do Not Try these method if you aren’t willing to devote a good amount of time to the project…and remember, when using the alternate propane soldering method, make sure you have a clear area where nothing can or could come into contact with the torch. This is an advanced skill, it can be dangerous (propane), and it is not recommended that you try to repair an expensive or rare blow mold without first trying this method on a few test pieces first. I take no responsibility for these methods (see the disclaimer at the beginning of this booklet) or for your results…they have worked for me after having developed the soldering method over the last two years. Trust me, do not attempt the soldering method without practicing first!
- Plastic adhesive (liquid nails, hot glue, epoxy, etc.)
- Plastic containers, i.e. milk jugs, cool whip containers,orange juice jugs (white ones)
- Sharp scissors or Exacto type sharp craft knife
- White copy paper and pencil
- Masking tape
- Flat head screw driver
- Spray paint for plastic
- A small hand held propane torch
- Fire extinguisher
Before you begin, assess the damaged area and develop your repair plan.
- How large is the missing area? You will need enough replacement material to cover this area as well as additional plastic for the “solder” if using the alternate propane method.
- Is there a curve to be fixed or is the broken out area flat? Flat areas are much easier than curves to repair.
- What color is the broken area supposed to be? You will need paint to match and if you cannot find a matching paint, you may have to strip that color off the mold completely before beginning the repair. You will repaint the mold after the repair is complete. This is a critical decision and will ultimately affect your result.
- Locate some plastic containers that are similar in weight to the plastic of the mold. You probably will not find the same exact weight or thickness, that’s okay, but the closer you can come to the original plastic, the better.
- Have your paper, pencil, scissors or Exacto, screw driver, adhesives, tape, and propane torch assembled on a work bench or sturdy table.
Doing the Repair – Using an Adhesive
- Clean the mold thoroughly, it must be completely free of any dirt, loose paint, dust, etc. it should be spotless.
- If there are any pieces of plastic that are loose or hanging from the damaged area or if the area has jagged edges, cut the loose pieces off and remove any jagged edges. Try not to enlarge the damaged area, remove just enough plastic to get the hole into a more geometric shape.
- Lay the mold down flat, broken area up. Tape the piece of paper over the hole and using your pencil, draw around the hole, about 1/4 inch from the edges of the hole. You want to end up with a template of the damaged area that is slightly larger than the area you are repairing. On the mold itself, select a spot as a “start point” and place a dot on the mold…you will punch through the paper to do this. Make another dot on the paper template that is directly across from the start point. These dots will help you line up the patch. Remove the template and cut it out with your scissors.
- Take your template and apply it to your plastic container with tape. Transfer the template image to the plastic by tracing around the template and onto the plastic.
- Cut out the shape. You now have your patch.
- Prepare some strips of masking tape, have them handy and ready to use.
- Test fit the patch, make sure it covers the area of damage. If there are any irregularities, trim them off, and fit the patch on again. If it looks to be a proper “fit”, you’re now good to go.
- Using your adhesive of choice, apply a thin bead on the underside of the patch along the edge. Try to make the bead line as regular as possible. If using liquid nails cut the tube so that you will achieve the smallest possible hole that will allow the glue to flow.
- Line up your start point with the dot on the patch. Apply the patch and tape it down. Parts of the patch may pop up, this happens frequently and you will have to work quickly to secure the patch over the damaged area until all edges are sealed to the mold. If the adhesive oozes out, clean it off as you go. Press those edges tightly and don’t skimp on the tape.
- Once the patch is in place, take a good look, is the patch sealed all the way around? If not, add some more adhesive to the area and tape it down. If it is a large area that is being patched, you may need to weight down the patch to keep those edges sealed down tight. Don’t apply a weight directly to the patch, it will push the patch in and will defeat your purpose. To apply weight, place a board across the patched area and weight the board down.
- Allow the adhesive to completely dry…it make take several days or several hours, it will depend upon the glue you used and the temperature and humidity. Don’t rush it! Turn your back on the mold, shut the door, and leave it alone for at least as long as the manufacturer directs (I generally leave them alone for at least two days) 12. When you are certain the adhesive has dried, very carefully remove the tape…hold the patch in place with one hand while pulling the tape free. If any edges up come up, repeat the process on those edges only, tape, and wait until adhesive is set and dry.
- Clean up any glue globs that are on the mold by scraping off with your butter knife or filing down.
- Repaint as needed.
Doing the Repair – “Soldering” plastic
Caution! Be careful! Read through and become familiar with this process before starting.
- Follow the directions above from Assessment through step 7.
- Your patch is made and you’re ready to go with soldering plastic.
- From the same plastic material you made your patch from, cut the remaining material into numerous strips of plastic, these strips will become your “solder”.
- Line up your start point with the dot you made on the mold.
- Tape the patch carefully into place at two or three points, just enough to hold the patch still and in place.
- Light your propane torch and adjust to the lowest setting.
- Pick up a strip of solder in one hand and have your torch in the other.
- Being as careful as possible, gently heat a point on the outer edge of the patch. You do NOT want to set the plastic on fire or melt it, you only want to soften it. Watch carefully, once the plastic begins to soften it will become slightly transparent. This step only takes seconds and if you heat the plastic too much, you risk burning a hole or melting the patch edge and you may have to START OVER and create a new patch! So be very careful, sweep the torch slowly back and forth over the point you’re heating. Once softened, you’ll see the color change and that is your cue to stop.
- Working quickly, hold one end of the plastic “solder” strip directly above the softened area and heat it with your torch, you do want it to melt (if it catches fire, just blow out the flames). You want plastic to drip onto the softened area below it. Put down the torch and the solder strip. Grab your flathead screw driver and press down on the soldered spot you are securing to your blow mold. Now, pucker up and blow on it, the movement of the air will solidify and harden the plastic in seconds. If you did this step correctly, the molten plastic bonds the patch to the blow mold.
- Directly across from the first attach point, follow step 7 and do it again. You should have the patch secured at two places when you are done. Repeat this step, working back and forth across the patch until you have the entire patch secured to the blow mold at several points (4 or 5 should do it).
- After you have the patch bonded to the mold at several points, you will continue to do the same type of thing, with one difference.
- When melting the plastic solder, move your hand so that the melting plastic follows the contour of the patch edge in a line rather than a “spot”. This step takes some practice..you melt the solder, put down the torch and solder, grab the screwdriver and smooth the molten plastic on the edge of the patch and mold.
- Upon completion, your patch will be permanently attached to the blow mold all the way around in a water tight seal.
- Paint as needed. Note: depending upon the thickness of the plastic you have used to create the repair and the area of damage, you may notice a difference in the amount of light shining through from the repaired area as contrasted with the undamaged part of the mold. There is little that can be done about this other than using identical materials… but keep in mind, from a distance, this difference is hardly discernible; people who view your display will most likely not be aware of it.
How to keep them from blowing in the wind!
Ever wonder how to secure that blow mold that doesn’t want to stay where you put it? Here are a few tips:
- Sand and Gravel. I use pre-filled zip lock bags, the filling can be sand or gravel. Slide the bags into the mold through the bottom access hole, the light hole or if the head is removable, right down through the top. (I personally do not recommend filling the mold directly with sand in direct opposition to some manufacturers suggestions. As condensation occurs and, depending on the mold, rain seeps in, the sand will become wet and stick to the inside of the mold. This wet sand or gravel blocks the light from shining through and creates dark spots on the mold when viewed at night. Additionally, the sand’s density creates a dark shadow at the bottom of the mold where the light cannot penetrate). By using bags, the sand is contained so that the inside of the mold does not get dirty and the shadow at the bottom is minimized. The bags can also be removed, stored, and used for other holidays or to make carrying the blow molds easier.
- Bricks. If the access hole is large enough, slip in a brick or two (or 3 or 4). I use 5 bricks in the bases of each of my large choir peeps for
- Stakes. These can be rebar, wood, metal, pvc, conduit, or any slim upright that is strong and will not bend. Use the stakes behind the mold and inside the mold. Slide the mold down over the stake and pound another stake into the ground behind the mold. Use zip ties to secure.
- Scaffolding and Racks. I build a removable scaffold behind each tier of my choir and have a prebuilt rack for my angels. The scaffolding is made from 8 foot long metal garden stakes that are covered in green plastic, supported by different cut lengths of rebar. The plastic does not scratch the blow molds, but the metal interior of the garden stakes is sturdy. Each mold is then zip tied to the scaffold length behind the mold. I have found this a very effective technique to keep the molds in place (coupled with sand bags and bricks–depending upon the size of the choir peep).
- Wire: If you don’t mind putting holes into your blow molds, you can easily drill a small hole into the bottom area of the mold, on an angle, and drive a tent stake through the mold and into the ground.
- Peg Board or Pallets. You can attach your molds to a large piece of peg board or a pallet, by screwing the mold into the surface of the board or pallet. This will keep the mold very steady and is a great theft deterrent.
- If you can count on snow, it will cover the peg board or pallet, otherwise, you can paint them to match your ground cover. Combinations of any of these methods work well and I use many of the above on my larger blow molds.
- Arrange for a month off from work, dress up as Santa Claus and hold that blow mold in place.
Optional: Have plenty of food and coffee available.
- Wear warm socks and layers beneath the Santa Suit.
- Be prepared to be “confined” for a very long time after the holidays