I’m at the dollar store stocking up on foam-core and a few other random items, when a little solar-powered dancing Valentine’s devil catches my eye. Having been to Torchy’s Tacos on many occasions in the few month’s I’ve lived here, I find the resemblance between this tchotchke and the local taco chain’s mascot to be pretty uncanny. With other projects on my plate I start considering how much time it would take to complete the conversion and have my own teeter-tottering, taco-wielding Torchy.
I know that it will take longer than I expect, but for one dollar, it’s too good a chance to pass up. Once home, I start by seeing how easily the figure comes apart. I’m pleased to find it breaks down nicely. First things first, the cape is not part of the official wardrobe so it has to go.
Taking the head apart, I can see the clever mechanism that makes the eyes of the devil blink as he rocks.
The whole design behind these toys is actually pretty interesting. The base contains some simple electronics. The solar cell stores energy in a capacitor that feeds a tiny coil with pulses of electricity at specific intervals. Inside the figure is a pendulum with a magnet at the end. The coil is offset, just below the magnet such that every time it gets a pulse, it induces a weak magnetic field that either attracts or repels (or both?) the magnet, causing the top end of the figure to wiggle.
For more on the specifics behind these things, check out this Engineering Zone blog where they deconstruct a similar toy and analyze it’s elements in detail.
I’m really only concerned with aesthetics though, so while I have the head apart I adjust the angle of the eyelids to be a little less sleepy and love-struck and a little more like Torchy. Ultimately you don’t notice them unless he’s really going in full sunlight, but it’s not all that important to me.
The tie also has to go, which is a little tricky. I end up shaving it off with an Xacto blade and polishing the part where it had been with a Dremel buffer tip.
The horns on this devil are black, but need to be white, so isopropyl alcohol helps strip off the paint so I can put on white model paint later.
Torchy needs his signature diaper, so I sculpt it on with polymer clay. Because the figure is plastic, I don’t want to just pop him in the oven at 250 degrees like I would normally do to get the clay to cure. Instead, I borrow my neighbor’s hair dryer (and forget to return it for a week) to heat up the clay locally. It gets hot enough to cure but not hot enough to melt anything.
Next, I sculpt the other pieces of the sign, taco and iconic pitchfork out of polymer.
I cut the plastic pitchforks off both hands. The left hand I melt enough to turn palm-up to hold a taco. The right I melt tiny metal pin into the hand and clip it off to help hold the pitchfork on. Same for the tail. I use poster tacky to hold the little guy still while I work and while glue dries.
Everything gets touched up with enamel paint or sharpie.
And that’s it! Now I have a one-of-a-kind piece of Austin memorabilia to sit on my desk and cheer me up.