Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hand of Glory - part One

In the good old days where you could be accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake for the simple act of living past 40 years old (Caveat Lector! I may or may not be making this up.), the european continent was riddled with strange and creepy beliefs.

One of those was the Hand of Glory; the mummified hand of a criminal who died at the gallows. It was believed that lighting a candle, made from the fat of the same man, or each individual finger, depending to whom you ask, would plunge a whole household in a deep sleep, which would last until the flame had been snuffed, either with blood or milk.

This made the Hand of Glory the perfect tool for burglars and other sly folks with crime on their minds.

Following the reading of this post by the good spirit behind Propnomicon (Is it a man? a woman? an unspeakable horror? who knows!), I decided to make myself a mummified hand. Not only that, I was also going to make it with some ghetto-ass materials.

First things first, if you want to make yourself a corpse hand, you need some reference. For that, you can easily browse google or anatomy books you happen to own, or, y'know, look down at your own friggin' hands. That's what I did. Being a skinny bugger, I happen to see lots of what is going on under my skin, so by poking & prodding I could guesstimate the size & position of my bones, which, coupled with a good knowledge of anatomy and the human skeleton, was all the info I needed to start building an armature.

By armature, I'm really meaning a skeleton hand and a bit of the forearm. You could be all fancy and order an anatomically correct, articulated reproduction of a human skeletal hand at the Skeleton Factory, but you would have to pay for the hand + the shipping and wait for the whole thing to arrive, and ain't nobody got time for that!

Enter the cheap markers.

That bundle of 50 crappy water markers cost me 1.99$ at my friendly local craft store.
They're a bit skinnier than human phalanx bones, but they'll do the trick to build an armature. And you won't need more than 10, less if you make a small hand (the hand I'm making ended up larger than mine, and I already have huge hands), so it'll cost about, oh, 0.40$ per hand. Pretty cheap.

All you have to do to prepare those to make some bones is to cut the end with the felt tip to remove it, pry out the cap at the back of the marker, and slide out the ink thingy from inside.

Afterwards, it's simply a matter of measuring how long you want to make each phalange & metacarpal, marking them, and cutting them out.

Once your phalanges & metacarpals are ready, you can simply tape them in the position you want, or if you're feeling sliiiiightly fancier (I was), fire up the hot glue gun. The plastic of those things is really cheap, and it'll melt and mingle with the hot glue, making for a reaaally strong bond.

Here you can see I made each finger a different color. Reason 1: it helps you remember which finger is which. Reason 2: it would be the worst pack of markers EVER if they were all the same color!

This is what remains of those markers.
You can throw these away or send them to your creepy cousin
who's alway in prison so he can fashion himself some shivs and 
a tattoo gun with them instead of using his toothbrushes. 
Dental hygiene is more important than stabbing implements.

Next step is to thicken up those bones and shape the knuckles. You can use masking tape or even tin foil for that, but I prefer to use butcher's twine instead. Why? 1- The flesh bonds more strongly to the porous, uneven surface of the twine than on tape or foil. 2- I find I have more control shaping the bones with that technique. 3- I have soooooo much butcher twine laying around because I use it when making shrunken heads.

Once all the fingers are done, it's just a matter of assembling them together. Once again, use which ever binding method you see fit. My glue gun was still hot, and glue sticks are cheap, so that's what I used. *random piece of advice: always keep a container of cold water next to you if you use hot glue. Not only will you be glad you did if you happen to drip some glue on your skin, you can also use a finger dipped in the cold water to smooth the glue and push it where you want it, and the cold water also helps it set quicker.*

If you want to add a forearm to your hand, nothing could be cheaper nor easier. Masking tape and rolled up newspaper is all you need.

Now, it's time to attach both together. But... wait! "David, woe is me, for you have not yet explained how to make the carpal bones! How couldst thou go on attaching thy hand on thy forearm without first building up the wrist?" I hear you clamor; Fear not!

All I did to build up the wrist is put a few balled up pieces of tape to fill up the spaces between the forearm and the hand. Afterwards, it was simply a matter of drowning that mother in hot glue!

The next step is simply to put flesh and skin on there. The technique I recommend using is basically the same as papier mâché; Basically, you take a piece of "fibery", absorbant material, soak it in a liquid glue-type material, and place it as you see fit.

I personally used masking tape to block the spaces between the metacarpals, and for the rest, I used pieces of toilet paper covered in liquid latex. If I had been smarter, I would have used cotton batting to build up the flesh first. But I didn't have cotton batting home. Only TP. so TP it was. As for the adhesive, I used latex only because I had a bunch from casting shrunken heads; elmer's glue works wonders. There are also recipes out there for papier mâché glue using little more than corn starch and water which works great. Carpet adhesive too, is a great material for this purpose.

Basically, you put "chunky" pieces of your material soaked in glue where you want meat, then add larger, flatter pieces over the whole thing to smooth it out (once again with glue) and create a skin.

 In case your were wondering what's drawn on my work area,
it's a bunch of zombies disembowling a headless jesus hung by hooks while a
naked baby chews on said bowels.

See that as a first draft; it doesn't need to be perfect, because we'll add some texture and more stuff to it later on. Have fun with the flesh, don't be afraid to slather on thicker than I did and to create wounds or what not. 

Let it dry overnight, and in a few days, I'll post the rest of the process!

UPDATE: Part 2 of this tutorial


  1. I love it! I've never thought to use pen tubes for armature, but what a great idea that is.

  2. To be honest, it's an idea that has been around in the prop making circle for quite some time! it's much easier to start with something that already has a certain girth than with wire or something like that.

  3. First, this is brilliant and secons, yes, I can see crappy felt pens having a bright new role. Thank you.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so glad I stumbled across your blog and this armature idea.

  5. This is awesome......Will be doing this THANKS

  6. Cool final product. Just in curiosity, have you ever considered making a model incorporating 1 or more lighters into the hand as well? Example: so that when lit it has the flames come out of 1 or more fingers? From looking at the pictures there would be enough space to incorporate it into the wrist and lower arm.

  7. You are a real Hoot!!! Can't wait to try this!

  8. This was absolutely wonderful! I needed a cheap and easy way to make hands for my DIY Dementor (from the Harry Potter books) props, and this is gonna work out perfectly!