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Let’s Have a Big Hand for GI Joe

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Not everyone would agree with me, but I believe the hands-on 1/6th scale figures are extremely important. I believe they absolutely are to kids and collectors, but most employees in toy companies do not understand the significance. Many times, I turned down buying figures because the hands were useless. My definition of useless in this case is “hands that cannot grip or hold any of the figure’s gear.” A point in case is the hand design/construction on the twelve in Star Trek figures by Playmates. They are just about useless. If they were going to make the hands useless, they should have at least sculpted them in more of a relaxed grip like the very early Marx Stoney Smith and Daniel Boone figures.

To be fair to the toy companies, soft PVC hands are more expensive to produce since the PVC is more costly than relatively cheap polypropylene, and the cycle time to run hands like that is slower since they require injection pins to push the soft plastic out of tool quickly.

While discussing GI Joe’s hands, I realize might be annoying many die-hard GI Joe fans by stating this, but the hands-on the later Marx Best of the West figures were always superior. These came out in the mid-1960s yet most companies ignored the solution of using soft PVC hands until much later.

GI Joe Vintage Hands

The original hands for G I Joe were interesting. They were intended for one hand to hold the rifle stock while the other figures could be put into the trigger. They are shown here as the hands of the Soldiers of the World British Commando. These are hard, tough polypropylene hands with no bend to them. I only broke one set of fingers all the years I played with my GI Joes. It was when we were tired of tying up and untying a parachute for Joe, and I continued tossing him up in the air multiple times, landing on the concrete sidewalk until a figure broke and I stopped.

GI Joe Kung Fu Grip hands

The Kung Fu Grip was a HUGE improvement over the original vintage hands. I heard that these were also designed by the European Palitoy company but rethemed for the US market. See the hand on the Adventure Team Mike Powers. Note that these have silver-colored plastic wrist pins for Mike only. The one thing that always bothered me on these was the lack detail on the inner part of the hands. However, once I obtained a GI Joe with Kung Fu grip, that became my favorite Joe since he could hold things.

GI Joe Hall of Fame hands

These hands are the low point of GI Joe hands and first appeared on the Target exclusive HOF Duke. They are big chunky, mitten-like hands. Fortunately, most of his current gear was big and chunky, which the chunky hands could hold, so it did not matter. Later, the Action Man design team in London made a version of this hand which had the pin at the wrist for better movement. While the figures and the gear were chunkier and had less detail, they eventually inspired one of the designers to make better hands on the Classic Collection GI Joes.

GI Joe Classic Collection Solid hands These new hands for the Classic Collection figures looked much like the Kung Fu grip hands but larger. The fingers are all lumped together, and they hold gear well. They were used on so many figures; they are not hard to find. I am going to break the historical sequence here to show the original Classic Collection solid hands next to the later Classic Collection Kung Fu Grip hands.

These hands came as a complete surprise to me. By this time, the rest of the Cincinnati Hasbro (old Kenner) office was closed down, and the Joe designers were now all working in the Pawtucket office. I was still working on Joe, but now as an outside vendor instead of an inside vendor (or Hasbro Employee which I was before turning down the option to relocate to Pawtucket for Girls toys). Sadly, when they sent me new figures to use, I did not even notice they were different. But when you look at them carefully, they are the same size as the solid Classic Collection hands but have some of the geometry of the original Kung Fu Grip hands. The other difference, though subtle, is that the figures are separate. I believe the first figure which launched with those hands was the Adventure Team Danger of the Depths.

GI Joe Classic Collection Kung Fu Grip hands

GI Joe Classic Collection Football Right Hand

This right hand was the first alternate hand used in the Classic Collection.  In development, they quickly realized that the figure could not hold the football which was planned to accompany the Army Football Quarterback figure.  So the sculpting team made a new hand with fingers extended to hold the ball.

Later, I used that hand on the US Coast Guard Cold Water Immersion Suit.  The figure had a button to active the arms to go up. The left hand is holding a pistol. We put a slight delay in the movement so the right hand would come up a fraction of a second later so when it pops up, it has a wider grip looks they the figure is steadying his hand by gripping his wrist for support.  This delayed double-action looks so much better than one arm flipping straight up.  

Later, we reused it again on the GI Joe Vietnam Wall Memorial to make it look like Joe was actually touching the wall instead of just putting his closed fist on the wall.

GI Joe Classic Collection Grenade Thrower Right Hand

It was thought that if we added some features to the GI Joes, we could attract more sales if we added traditional action figure features in that larger size. One of the first of these figures was the GI Joe Marine Grenade Thrower. In this case, we had to resculpt the hand in a way that would hold the grenade just lose enough that when you pressed the button on his back, his arm would fling forward and release the grenade at just the right point. We had it working surprisingly well. The grenade would fly about three to five feet. The figures are pulled in just a little bit tighter to hang onto the grenade better. We also used those fingers on the Adventures of GI Joe 2010 – Operation Sand Sting figure. The large sniper rifle (we borrowed from Acton Man) was so large at the base that the normal hands could not hold the gun, so I added right hand so he could hold the gun properly.

Come on back to this site next week for part 2 of this discussion with eight more hands!

What is your favorite 1/6th scale action figure hand?

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