While action figures often depict nigh-invincible heroes, over years of play even the mightiest plastic warriors will accrue their share of war wounds. Depending on the level of damage, repairing an action figure ranges from a quick afternoon fix to an intensive project spanning weeks or more. Before you set up your superhero surgery clinic, take a careful look at the toy and figure out just what you're getting into.
Chipped or Damaged Paint
Clean the figure in soapy water to wash away any dust or dirt and let it dry completely. For plastic action figures, use acrylic paint that is formulated to bond with plastic and avoid oil-based paints: Oil-based paint can deteriorate the vinyl in the plastic over time and further damage the toy. Oil-based paint tends to work better with metal figures. Blend paint as necessary to match the affected area's original color, then thin it down with a little water and apply carefully in several thin layers, allowing the paint to dry between applications.
Loose or Tight Ball Joints
If the joint is loose, the best way to fix it is to carefully disconnect the limb from the joint, then apply an extremely thin layer of clear nail polish onto both the ball joint itself and the joint's housing. Let the nail polish cure overnight, then reattach the limb. Don't force the limb off, though -- pull gently and carefully, using a hairdryer to warm and loosen the piece if it is being too resistant. For tight ball joints, working a small amount of automobile shock absorber lubricant into the joint will often loosen up the joint and make it work more smoothly.
Broken Ball Joints
To fix snapped-off ball joints, open up the figure's torso, either by unscrewing it if possible or by very carefully prying at the side seams until the two halves of the torso come apart. Find the rotation disc inside and drill a very small hole through it so that a screw can fit through. Do the same to the shoulder joint on the arm and cut away any of the remaining original post. Check to make sure the screw will fit through both the disk and into the joint, then fit the screw into the disk and glue it in place. Once dried, put the screw and disk into the hole on the shoulder joint and glue into place. Re-set the arm and glue the torso back together when you're satisfied.
Cuts, Cracks, Gouges and Breaks
Breaks for non-moving pieces can often be repaired with PVC glue or super glue, although they will always run the risk of breaking off again in the future. For cuts, cracks and gouges, repair depends on the depth of the damage. Shallow cuts and cracks can be painted over with minimal issue. For deeper gouges, fill the gouge with a small amount of epoxy, shaping it and scraping away the excess so it is flush with the original surface. Let the epoxy cure, then paint over it to complete the repair.
Some action figures face very specific issues related to their model or build. For example, the Generation One "Transformers" figure Mirage has a notoriously fragile waistline that is prone to snapping if handled too roughly. For issues unique to specific figures, your best bet is to do research online with other collectors about how to repair the issue or if it can be repaired at all. The expertise of other collectors and restorers is often an invaluable resource for figure-specific damage.