Showing posts with label tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tips. Show all posts

LEGO Techniques - Using the Brick Separator

When I was kid I had two tools at my disposal for separating plates from other pieces.  The first one was my fingernails.  But as I have a habit of chewing my nails down to nothing that wasn't always an option.  The second tool was my teeth.  I've always had strong teeth until lately but of course this has the same function as remolding pieces into unintended shapes.  At times I may have grabbed one of my mother's butter knives which she wasn't too thrilled with.  "Really mom?  You should see what I'm doing with my teeth!"  I don't recall having a pocket knife until my teens and even then it didn't occur to me to use it as a LEGO tool.

Lo about 6 years ago I discovered for the first time the Brick Separator tool.

In the meantime I had made a good go of figuring out basics of physics in regards to separating my LEGO pieces.  Most of the time you need a fulcrum.  It should keep the base of the resistant piece firm, grip it near the top, and rotate it off.  Or you could pry near the bottom and hope to shoot it off into the heater vent.

I had to planned to show many ways of using the brick separator.  Then I found that TLG had made a handy little guide:  (Click the link from the following page to download an interactive pdf).  I found the guide to be good for basics but a little lacking in variety.  The methods they show are a good start to most problems, but certainly not all.  The one on the lower right, removing a tile, does not work for me.  At least not often.  I have found it simpler to turn the separator upside down and use it that way.

When removing rows of tiles, I've discovered that you can run the (upside down) blade edge along the whole row and pop them up like a giant worm might do in a Kevin Bacon flick.  Or if you've got pieces bridging across plates, just shove the separator straight through underneath them and watch the carnage.

You may encounter a situation where the grippage of two pieces is so tight that you cannot simultaneously grip and pry the assembly at the same time.  In these cases try employing one separator per piece.  One on top and one on the bottom acting in scissor formation.

Sometimes you may not have your tool handy.  Like a certain credit card, you should never leave home without it.  Wouldn't it be great to carry it on your keychain?

I'll keep this post updated with visuals for all the ways you can use this nifty piece.  Meanwhile, sound off in the comments if you have a unique method.

LEGO Tips and Techniques - Updated Store Organization

Back in June of 2013 I shared with you how I organize my LEGO parts store.  Since then I've grown my store and changed my layout.  Instead of the crummy looking boxes stacked seven high I've built a shelf to stack two high.  And instead of the crummy boxes I've now got 32 of the smallest IKEA Samla boxes.  I purchased the lids to have them but I don't use them.  The boxes are roughly 11" deep, 8" wide and 5"+ tall.  I built my shelf with 11-1/4" clear and two stacked fit nicely.  I wish I'd had 12" even but this works fine.  The unintended benefit is that that height can also hold 4 high of the large LEGO Games boxes (for projects) and 6 high of my builder storage cases as well as fit the accordion files I use for instructions, posters and other paper.

It's not sagging, that's the lens distortion.

The bins now hold more specific ranges of parts.  Rather than one "Slopes" box as before, I've now got "Slopes up to 45°", "Slopes above 45°" and "Slopes, Inverted and Curved".  Plates are 1x, 2x, and 4x.  I've moved a lot of parts from the little drawers but there are still some that persist.  The problem is the dimensions given for the Samla boxes.  IKEA lists them as if the lid were on.  So it's extreme exterior edges.  Useable space inside the bins is a bit less.  Enough so that I estimated I'd need 24 bins for all my parts stock.  I bought 32.  I'm using 24 for stock but still have inventory in the small drawers; at least 2 or more bins' worth.

But the bins are great for other things.  I've got all my LEGO Christmas decor in one, all my baggies in another, and my overstock of tape and packing supplies in another.  I keep tape, scissors, calipers, and my thickness sizing guide (for international orders) on the desk in another.  I plan to buy another 6 or 8 next time I'm at the Swedish Costco.  The small bins are $1.99 with lids, $1.49 without.  If you are an IKEA family member then they are $1.49 with lids, $1.12 without.  Trevligt fynd!

The shelving is 1/2" plywood stock.  I should have used 3/4" for a 5'-4" span but I've made do just fine with a little midspan support.  I added some wood trim around the edge to hide the plies.  I have another piece of scrap 3/8" plywood used on the back for shear stabilization.  The shelf is held on the wall by driving minimum 2-1/2" long screws through a 3/4" cleat at the top shelf and directly into the studs.  I should do the same on the bottom shelf.  The very top of the shelf is about 3" from the ceiling and fits all my flattened boxes of any value.

Other than the storage that protrudes I've got in mind that I could add doors someday.  On the other hand doors might make the already small room feel smaller.  So maybe open is OK as long as the shelves look tidy.

And the top shelf?  A museum of sorts.  There's some Primo and Quatro, some large tubs, and a Freestyle Brick Vac.  Also some trophies for Convention awards and marathon running.

LEGO Techniques - Gear With Studs

Quite a while ago I ran a series of posts describing the different sizes of Systems and how they all were part of the greater whole.  That is, bigger is still compatible with smaller.  In my wrap-up one astute reader noted that I had missed the stud sizes for gear such as salt and pepper shakers, minifig display cases, and clocks.  Finally, months later, here's another installation.

I bought a set of salt and pepper shakers more for the novelty than use in the actual kitchen.  That's a nice way of saying the Mrs. Dagsbricks would not let me use these in the kitchen but camping would be okay.  I'll pass on the dirt/ABS mashup.  So they are novelty items in my office space.  But while purchasing these I used them to test sizes of various "Gear" and discovered that there is consistency even in these large items.

To wit the 1x1 brick salt shaker:

Width: 47mm.  This is 8mm x 6 = 48mm - 1mm of tolerance.
Height: 57mm.  9.6mm x 6 = 57.6mm.  My calipers could be off a touch.
Stud Diameter: 29mm.  4.8mm x 6 = 28.8mm.
Stud Height: 11mm. 1.7mm x 6 = 10.2mm.  So apparently these studs are a touch high.

This comes in at the same size as Primo and Soft Bricks, six times LEGO System.  I've updated the chart with this new item.  Due to the height of Primo studs, they are only compatible in one direction with the gear.  You can stack Primo on top of gear but the other way 'round will be an exercise in frustration.

Practically there's very little value to this size other than novelty.  As with Primo there's no clutch to speak of.  But if you really wanted to you could create some sort of a megalith with your display cases and salt and pepper shakers, then topped off with whimsical Primo blocks.  But at that point you've got more free time and/or money than me.

LEGO Selling Tips - Filling out Customs Forms

Last week I talked a bit about how to send smaller international packages cheaper via the United States Postal Service.  Regardless of the service you use, customs forms are always needed.  When filling out customs forms, you may have questions about some of the fields.  Here is what I have successfully done without issue:

*edit, the USPS system has changed.  This article has been updated to reflect that.

Type of package: Merchandise.  If they paid you it is always merchandise.  Merchandise is no longer an option.  Commercial samples is not quite right, use Other.  Never gift.  There's like fines and prison time for lying on customs forms.  More likely you'll get blacklisted from overseas shipping.  Better to lose a customer who threatens negative feedback then declare as a gift.

Contents: Be careful using the word LEGO.  I always use "Plastic toy parts".  Then under Detailed Description I put "Bulk plastic toy parts".  That's sufficient.

Item Value:  NEVER add your packaging fees or postage to this.  This is only the value of the goods paid for.  If you sold $5 worth of parts, your shipping was $2.05, insurance is $1.50, your "packaging" fee is $0.75, and your privilege of ordering from you fee is a brass button, put down $5.  Since Europeans and Americans swap a period and a comma for thousands place, round to whole dollar amounts to avoid any confusion or possible $40 customs fees for your buyer.

Quantity: 1.  Because it's bulk.

Weight: Whatever your total package weight is including bubble mailer.

Ignore the tariff number and country of origin unless you are a larger commercial seller.

AES Exemption:  LEGO pieces are not approved humanitarian aid so this will always be 30.37(a).

Read the Prohibitions and Restrictions and chuckle.

On the next screen verify everything and then print.  If filling a customs form for a package (not large envelope), you can pay for your postage all on one easy form.  Don't forget to sign and date the form.  If you or the postal clerk misses that then your package might get two Transatlantic flights.

Hopefully that was simple enough.  If you have any other issues, let me know in the comments and I can update this post as needed.

LEGO Selling Tips - Shipping Internationally

In a twist of topics, let's look less at LEGO pieces themselves and more at how to move them from the United States to your buyers.  Specifically, those buyers outside the United States.

In 2012 we had a great racket going.  International packages would cost $3-$5 to move a decent amount of brick overseas.  In 2013 that all changed when the USPS jacked international rates through the roof.  Typical packages now cost double what they did a year ago starting at $6.16 for the electronic rate and zooming upwards after that.  This is all for the package rate mind you.  "But everything's a package, isn't it?"  Not so my friend.  Let's take a brief look at some terminology.

Envelope:  This is standard mail.  You write a letter and send it to someone.  Oh you use email?  Fine, then this is what credit card offers come to your apartment in.

Large Envelope:  Exceeds any one of the dimensional standards of an envelope.  Most of the time we will deal with thickness.  Envelopes may not exceed 1/4".  After that they become a large envelope until 3/4".  Beyond that it's a package.

Package:  Everything else.  Though there is also large package, that is rarely dealt with unless you send sets.  Outside the scope of this post.

Sometimes you may be able to send very small parts in an envelope.  By small parts I mean plates and tiles and not much else.  A plate is 4.9mm or 0.20" with the knobs.  Baggies and envelopes bring this thickness dangerously close to 1/4".  Why does the thickness matter?  Well, you see, the mail is not sorted by hand as some still think.  Postal centers are highly automated operations with all sorts of whiz bang technology.  Envelopes are put through high speed conveyance systems that include pinch points along the way in the form of rollers.  Anything that can't get through the rollers either gets stuck and backs up the system, mangled, or both.  This is a great way to break parts or shoot a minifig head across the floor where some unsuspecting postal worker steps on it, slips, and breaks a kneecap.  Don't let this happen to you!

Little piggies ready for a ride
Besides that, envelope mail goes through some bendy pathways and LEGO pieces may end up stressing or breaking along the way if not secured just right.  There is however the option to pay for a non-machinable surcharge on regular envelopes under 1/4" thick.  This will add 20c to your postage.  Make sure to write in big red letters "NON-MACHINABLE SURCHARGE PAID".  Still, you run the risk of this being missed and your dark blue 1x8 arch brick being sent through the rollers.

Get this template!  Piggies slide through 1/4" with ease.

It'll roller fine, but better to be safe.  I'm over by 2 pence.  Hope it doesn't go too far.

The large envelope is treated like relative royalty in comparison to the envelope.  It is still subject to the high speed rollers and the pinching and jamming.  But it gets a full 3/4" of thickness to go through and is (speculatively) not subject to as tight of turns as envelopes are.  I've never personally seen the difference.  I'm going off the differences noted in the postal manuals for these two types of mail.

Oh yes, there are manuals.

Since we're looking at reducing postage rates overseas, we need to look at the International Mailing Manual or IMM for short.  Do not confuse this with the Domestic Mailing Manual (DMM).  There are some subtle differences that can lead to confusion.

There's a whole lot of useless (but sometimes fascinating) information in the IMM.  For instance, did you know that it's illegal to send your trash to the United Kingdom?  Bugger!  Guess I'll send it to France!  The useful information is condensed into two sections: 241 and 242.  The first section can be accessed here:

A lot of this is blah blah until you get down to 241.23 which talks about the physical standards for Large Envelopes (AKA Flats).  Note that in the dimensions (231.242) that your mailpiece need only exceed ONE dimensional standard, not all three.  I had a postal employee try to tell me that I needed to exceed all three.  I had to explain to him what 'or' meant.  If your parcel is between 1/4" and 3/4", you can keep going.

My high-tech 3/4" template.  Actually about 0.70" for safety.

Slides right in and SAFE!

Let's move on down to 241.235, Uniform Thickness.  It is frequently misunderstood that if you're sending a piece that is 5/8" thick that the entire parcel must be 5/8" thick.  Not true.  This rule states that there can be up to 1/4" of variation in thickness.  Many standard Kraft bubble mailers are 1/4" thick for reference.  The idea is that you need to pad your envelope with some similarly thick material so that the rollers don't freak out and crush your Cloud City Boba Fett.  For reference, a 1x brick is 5/16" thick which is slightly over 1/4".  Given the flex and cushion in a bubble mailer, these are fine on their own sideways.  For thicker pieces I have often taken a scrap if bubble mailer and cut out a center portion in which I tape my baggie of carefully aligned parts.  "But what if they shift in transit?"  If you snugly pack a baggie flat, then fold over the remainder and tape it, the parts don't shift.  Further, when you tape it into your custom cut bubble scrap, the tape stiffens the poly to the point that shifting is almost impossible.

Little piggies ready for rollers

For the record, I would never send minifigs via large envelope as most of them are 3/4" thick on their own; the bubble mailer itself brings the thickness close to 1".  Send minifigs at package rate.

All your liftarm are belong to us.
Secured to a sheet of paper.  These are shiftless pieces!

Another thing to keep in mind about Uniform Thickness is that the outer 1" of the envelope does. not. count (unless your contents get out that far).  One postal employee told me that the crimped edge of my bubble mailer made it so that there was more than 1/4" of variation in my envelope.  He was wrong.  There's also a clue in here in that LEGO parts are allowed.  If you have "non-paper contents" they must be secured so as not to shift.

Next is my favorite part, Flexibility (241.236).  If Uniform Thickness is misunderstood, Flexibility is Quantum Mechanics.  Flexibility demonstrates that your parcel can go through the zigs and zags of the sorting machines on it's way to Spain or China or Antarctica.  The flexibility does not need to be exaggerated.  You can see by the pictures in the IMM that the tests are fairly lax.  If it bends once more or less in the middle, you're good.  I rolled a well packed large envelope up into a tube in front of a postal employee to demonstrate flexibility and he still refused.

Here's the trick to passing the flexibility test.  You can ship long 2x plates, perhaps even long 4x plates.  But they must be placed in the envelope up and down in reference to the address label.  If you place them side to side they will not pass the flex test and they will snap through the rollers and send shards of ABS into other packages and eyeballs.

After demonstrating how my package qualified for all tests my postal employee still refused on the grounds that I had told him I had small plastic pieces inside.  For this I turned the page to section 242.

Section 242 states what items are eligible for shipping via envelope and large envelope.  I highlighted the term "any item" and referred to the ability to send pens through the envelope service.  He refused based on nothing that he could reference.  Don't be fooled.  If you have an item that fits all other criteria and is not human remains, live ammo or E.coli samples, (or rubbish to the UK) you ARE allowed to send it via large envelope.

When I asked to speak to the manager I was told he was at another station.  When I called that station he was unavailable.  I left my contact info and never heard from him.  I talked to my regular route postman (who I am on good terms with) and he talked to the same manager.  He came back to me with the same failed arguments that the counter employee gave me.  I told him that his manager was wrong and that he should read the IMM.

Which brings up a good question.  If your post office refuses to abide by its own rules, what to do?  Well if the counter employee fails you, you could always ask to speak to the manager and continue escalating to the postmaster.  If you live in a very small town, these three might be the same people.  At that point you could appeal to the Postmaster General.  You could also go to another post office.  This is what I ended up doing.  The post office I had been using is about a mile away from my house.  When I started sending international large envelopes they refused me that service.  I took my business to another post office 3 miles away.  More inconvenient?  Perhaps.  But more importantly I am offering a service to international buyers that you may not be.  Is it worth it?  You tell me:

A 1 oz package to the world costs $6.16 if you buy postage electronically.  If you send as a large envelope, the cost goes down to $2.05.  A 5 oz package will cost your buyer $11.48 but if it qualifies as a large envelope, that cost goes down to $5.45.  Why these are almost better than the package rates from a year ago!


The one drawback to the large envelope is that it almost always requires a trip to the post office.  Most all other postage can be printed online and sent from home.  But neither nor Paypal allow printing of first class international large envelope postage.  As of this writing only allows it if you can stand their monthly service fee and hostile customer service.  The key is that you need what's called a round stamp that shows acceptance of the package. prints it for you but postal carriers and DCU's do not have these.  If your carrier comes from a retail location, perhaps he'll round stamp them for you when he gets back from his route.

Paypal now allows printing of first class mail international large envelope postage WITH round stamp!  Joyous day!

Don't forget your customs forms.  This is required even for 99c orders or mail going to free ports such as Hong Kong.  These can be printed directly from with or without postage and logged electronically.  I'll explain these a little more next week.

You may decide it's too much work to prepare a package in such a way that it meets the first class international large envelope standard.  And if your buyer is willing to pay package costs, that's fine.  But when they find out the way I've been doing it, you may just lose that customer or start getting requests for cheaper postage.  Or you may argue with me and tell me I've been very lucky.  I was extremely surprised at the amount of hostility I received when I posted about this in a forum.  It appears many people thought I was spreading faulty information.  It took me a few months of research and asking questions to understand it to the level I do now and I am confident that I spread truth.

I hope this has been a useful guide and I'll update as needed if you have questions.  Feel free to hammer away in the comments.

LEGO Techniques - Creating Compound Slopes

Roof slopes (or Roof Tiles according to TLG) are a lot of fun to play with.  As a home designer by day, I enjoy working out dramatic roof layouts as simply as possible.  I prefer simple roofs but sometimes a little flair is needed.

The same can be said for LEGO architecture.  I like the 25° (AKA 33°) slopes as they are similar to a 6:12 roof pitch but the amount of parts is very lacking.  We've got several widths of straight slopes, a hip (outside) slope, and a valley (inside) slope that is seriously lacking in color choices.  There are also a couple of caps to finish off the ridge.  But you can't intersect two ridges.  Or run a ridge into a slope.  Or cap a hip.

The 45° slopes are much more diverse.  As well as several widths of straight slopes, there are enough auxiliary bits to make a respectable roof.  You can do a true hip cap (think pyramid) or run a lower ridge into a roof slope or have a ridge that turns a 90° angle.  My only beef with the 45° slopes is that this replicates a 12:12 roof pitch which is generally reserved for older homes, specifically Victorian or Tudor.  The 12:12 is uncommon on newer homes.  I guess that's just a good reason to do some classic homes with LEGO pieces, right?

Turns out, I've been working on a Micropolis scale Victorian home.  I started with the roof to make sure that part would turn out right.  There were four specific shapes I wanted to incorporate.  The first was a hip roof overall.  The second was to have an 'L' along the ridge.  The third was to have a minor gable on one end.  And the fourth, of course, was a turret or spire.

Here's my digital mockup which I'm quite pleased with.  All my features are incorporated.  I've noted the elements for you non-roofy type people.  There are a few minor quirks in the design but it's otherwise straightforward.  I started by sketching out the basic hip shape before adding the gable end.  That required 2 piece swaps to turn that portion of the slope vertical.  Rather than mess around with the next level up, I capped the gable end with a 3049.  This is a 1x2 double slope (ridge) with a little pointy inverted portion on it.  The pointy bit is specifically designed to sit flush over slopes.

On the back side I ran into a temporary issue with the ridge turning the corner.  There used to be a piece (called 962 in Ldraw) that was made specifically for this application.  However it was last made in 1969.  For a buck I could have a used one.  But I don't want a red or blue roof.  There are no other options.  I'm guessing that this part was discontinued due to it's uselessness.  There's nothing it could do that two other pieces couldn't achieve.  While it's always nice to have variety in pieces, sometimes the purple area of the Venn diagram is not cooperation but redundancy.

In my case the solution was easy.  One ridge was built as usual with the triple slope hip piece 3048.  Then the other ridge started by capping the first ridge with a 3049.  Both ridges were finished with the same triple slope.  From a house building perspective, this looks like tack-on to me.  But I guess when building with LEGO pieces, strict structural rules are not always necessary.

But one issue remained.  I needed a notch for the turret/spire/rocket ship to fit through.  For this, I could not find an extant solution.  There are some parts that come close.  The 3045 would be the part that would normally fit.  But I need that corner gone.  There's a newer 13548 that is somewhat faceted but it still does not eliminate the corner entirely.  Best bet is a 1x2 slope in one direction and fake the other side with a cheese slope.

Instead, I decided that something MUST be done about this gap in the canon.  A new piece was in order.  But much like the forgotten ridge corner, there's no use creating a piece that only has a very specific application.  So we need to take an existing piece and make a mate that will not only fulfill my needs but many others as well.

I thought it was such a good idea that I put it on Cuusoo.  *Edit: Cuusoo no longer accepts new parts submissions and has removed all existing ones.  Guess I'll keep dreaming.

LEGO Techniques - LEGO Dice

Roll them bones!  Probably one of the greatest things to come out of the new generation of LEGO Games has been the dice.  They seem to sell for a pretty low price but they are master studs out pieces if you can manage them.  The dice have two parts to them.  One is the ABS mold injected red (or pearl gold) bit.  The other is the rubber injected flange bit that allows the dice to bounce around your table like a ping pong ball.  The rubber flange is fairly easy to separate from the surface of the die but requires a bit more finesse to remove it in one piece.  At some point I finally gave up and cut out the center of one of the rubber sides.  Only then did I realize that there is a hollow inside the plastic part that allows the rubber to flow through and grip tenaciously.

But with or without the flange you an use the die for creating a whole ton of SNOT.  The only drawback is that the distance between studs is 5.5 plates.  This can be made a few different ways.  A 2x plate is the same width as 5 plates tall.  You could attach either one to a bracket or other element with a half plate portion.  Or you could use a travis brick (2.5 plates wide) with three plates (or a brick) to take up the rest.  You would have to choose whether to put 3 plates on one side or 2 on one side and 1 on the other.  In this case I've got studs to the outside with a half plate gap between them.

Or you could build out the die with a plate on opposite sides.  You would then have 7.5 plates in width which is exactly the same length as a 3x element.  The problem then becomes a 1/4 plate gap due to the size of the opposing plates.  (5.5 plates minus 5 plates for a 2x element leaves a 1/2 plate width to be split evenly).  One form of a perfect connection would be to place 2x2 plates on every face and then 3x3 plates over that.  Every 3x3 will show only the edge of the plate and no more.

Imagine these are 3x3 plates...

Or you can throw caution to the wind and let the gaps add up, eventually resolving it somewhere.

You can see that little hole in the middle that helps the rubber flange to grip the die so well.  You can start a Technic axle down the hole but it won't go past the stop.  Even a 3.2mm bar won't slip through there.  It's about 1.6mm thick so it's not grippable by a clip either.  It's mostly just in the way.

With Novvember coming up soon I think I might try my hand at using this piece to build some sort of LEGO Games based Nnenn-ship.

LEGO Techniques - Gingerbread Man Head

I'm not much of a CMF collector.  I had a little run on Series 6 but beyond that it's been hit and miss.  But when Series 11 came out I was impressed with the Gingerbread Man, mostly for the new head mold.  So when I found one of these figures through the usual packomancy (feel for the mug) I was excited to give it a look over.
The very first thing I noticed about the head was that it was 2 pieces.  I logged onto Bricklink and found I was not the first to make this discovery.  The head is listed as a c01 piece (meaning complete assembly) using the number for the main head piece.  However there is no entry for the filling. I took up my duties as a community activist and added the piece to be approved.  BrickOwl has already approved it as a new part.

As you can see I stressed it out trying to figure out the proper removal method.

My first thought on the shape of this piece was that it resembled the Rebel Alliance symbol but without the barb/floret in the center.  The addition of a small piece would make it a nice chocolate cream addition to a Star Wars diorama.  I can almost hear Yummy Wan Kenobi telling Luke Stovewalker to use the Fondant.

So what can you do with this piece?  It has some very odd dimensions.  Where the Bionicle Zamor Sphere is 17mm (just over 2 studs) this interior piece and the whole head is 14mm in diameter (just under 2 studs).  It's also too big to fit inside the bottom of a 2x2 piece (12.8mm).

LEGO element dimensions generally work on a grid of 0.8mm.  Here, the thickness of the piece is 2mm which again presents a challenge.  Most clips need at least 3mm of thickness to grab onto.  The 2mm thickness also makes it impossible to fit inside a grill tile which is 1.6mm wide.

One dimension worth noting is the void inside the two clip ends.  This space seems to be just under 8mm and can therefore grip onto a 1x element.  The little guide nub in the middle can slip into a hollow stud for a little extra security.

The great frosted staff of Chocohlu

"We've reached the temple!  Only those who are delicious may enter."

So how to remove this piece?  GENTLY pry both ends by the neck away from each other.  An X-acto blade should be skinny enough to get in there.  This should release the clips on either side just enough to shoot the piece off into your pile of clean laundry thereby requiring you to fold it all and put it away before finding it.  Not that that happened to me.  At least it wasn't dirty.

I look forward to seeing some creative uses with this piece.  Feel free to post links to your creations in the comments.

LEGO Techniques - Modulex Bricks

Modulex is yet another sub-brand of LEGO that enjoyed a bit of popularity before resurging.  Kind of like bell bottoms.  In 1963 Modulex was released to overcome the problem of the 5:6 w:h ratio of LEGO by using a more firm 1:1 ratio.  However the size of the bricks was also reduced to 5/8 the size.  These bricks were not marketed to kids mind you.  They were intended as a medium for architects, hence the 1:1 ratio.  There are no known Modulex sets per se.  The intention was to buy in bulk color packs and use as needed to create concept MOCs.  Everything went fabulous and the company was spun off to continue it's production lasting for years.

Modulex made a comeback in the last few years when apparently a crate full of it was found in a WWII Nazi warehouse in Poland*.  Before that it had been all but a myth.  Suddenly Bricklink was flooded with European sellers (they always get the good stuff first) peddling the tiny bricks.  Eventually prices settled and houses didn't have to be mortgaged to purchase a handful of them.

The bricks are not supposed to be compatible with system bricks but who are we kidding.  EVERYthing is compatible when it comes to The LEGO Company.  A 2x4 Modulex brick is 10 x 20mm as opposed to a 2x4 System brick which is 16 x 32mm.  This ratio would make the stud 3mm compared to the 4.8mm stud.  The brick sidewalls are 0.8mm thick.  But this presents a problem.  If a 1x1 Modulex brick is 5mm wide and the sidewalls are 0.8mm thick, then this leaves 3.4mm for the stud.  I think it can be assumed that the actual size of the Modulex bricks is reduced by 0.1mm on each side for tolerance just as LEGO is.  In this case the stud works out to 3.2mm diameter.  In reality it feels a little smaller.  Most bar elements are 3.18mm in diameter.  The Modulex stud fits in the slightly flexible minifig hand but many other ABS elements will not tightly clutch to it.  Perhaps Modulex does not follow the same precise grid of fifths that LEGO System does.

Mind you the Modulex brick that is 5mm and has 0.1mm tolerance on each side will be 4.8mm wide, making it the same width as the diameter of a LEGO stud.

So how does Modulex actually fit with LEGO?  I could describe lots of ways but Flickr user eldeeem says it much better.

Thank you sir for this fabulous picture.

*Completely made up.

LEGO Techniques - Tubs and Cups

After our recent discussions on DUPLO, Quatro, and Primo, there is one even larger size of stud to consider.  Did you realize that The LEGO Company has made and continues to make pieces with a stud diameter of approximately 48mm or 10 times larger than a standard LEGO System stud.  "Where can I get these pieces!?" you may ask.  Unfortunately you can't buy these pieces by themselves.  You generally have to buy a bunch of other pieces to get them.  These pieces are the older studded tubs that LEGO sets used to come in (I make this assumption as I haven't seen any on store shelves in a while) or the Pick-a-Brick cups.


LEGO in their inherent genius has made even these large elements stackable.  The studs on top have a slightly more pronounced graduation to them which is why I said approximately 48mm.  The bottom of the stud is 50mm wide and the top (just before the bevel) is 48mm.  The very top not including the bevel is about 44mm.  The bottom of the PaB cups are also indented (much like a wine bottle) to allow other cups to stack on top.  This gigantic anti-stud is of course also graduated.  These conical contours are based on the necessity for compact stacking of the cups next to your local PaB wall.

So what can you do with these studs?  The first answer is obvious.  You could get a bunch of 2x3 tubs and stack them to make a life-size fort.  Use the PaB cups to top off your ramparts.  Of course the clutch power is worse than a MEGA-blok so the only defense you have is to push it over on your attacker once he's at your wall.  Game over.

And you can't even stack the cups side by side.  Pro-tip: The bottom older tub is designed for 44m studs, not 48mm.

The second answer would involve finding some sort of piece that could step these fatties down to System size.  Being 48mm wide, the studs are the same size as a 6x6 round plate or dish.  Given the looser tolerance of the cups, the only place a 6x6 round will fit snug is to the inside of the lid stud.

 For once though I am flabbergasted on a missed opportunity.  As noted in my previous post on PaB cups and holiday boxes, the small cups are precisely half the VOLUME of the big cups.  However the small cups are slightly LESS than half the height of a large cup.  Were the large cup to be a touch girthier than the problem would be solved.  As it is, the small cups are 78mm tall and the tall cups are about 170mm tall.  This is just shy of 8-1/3 studs and 18 studs high respectively.

Could you build with them?  Well, sure.  But you're limited to 2x2 and 2x3 bricks and 1x1 round bricks that aren't quite the same height.  Adding another lid or two on top may get you there but at that point, why bother.  Just go get some Soft Bricks.  84 elements for $500?  I'll take a 6-pack, please...

LEGO Tricks - A Primer on Primo

Continuing with our subject of big (and out of production) LEGO pieces, today we're going to play with some Primo.  In following the logic of naming conventions, this one's right out.  If LEGO is normal size, DUPLO makes sense as double size and Quatro makes sense as quadruple sized.  Primo (for those rusty in your Latin) would imply 'first' or 'one' and in my mind would be better suited for normal LEGO bricks.  Then again in following convention, Uno is probably rightly the proper word.  The use of Primo in this case would imply the first bricks you would get for your baby.  These are warehouse club sized bricks coming in at 6x the size of normal LEGO bricks.  A 1x1 Primo piece is the same size as a Minecraft module.

But in their German-type engineering spirit, the Primo pieces work almost seamlessly with System and DUPLO, not so much with Quatro.  (Which makes sense since the difference between those 2 scales is 1.5x).  They will however co-mingle on top of a DUPLO.

There is one awesome Primo brick that is 1x1 but instead of having a Primo stud on top has 4 DUPLO studs.  This is awesome because it reciprocates what is already possible.  Due to some sort of Divine Providence (Great Ole's ghost, no doubt), the anti-stud of a Primo brick fits perfectly over a grid of 2x2 DUPLO studs.  Incredible.

As if that wasn't enough of a bonus, there's more.  It'll cut a tin can, then a tomato with ease.  It'll even accept many 4x4 round pieces up its underside.  Plates, bricks, turntables, even the piece made famous by a recent Iron Builder challenge, the Bionicle Tridax Pod Half.  This latter piece is muy bueno for it almost acts as a ball and socket when used under a Primo with good clutch.  There's now only 1° between Bionicle and Primo.  Take that Kevin Bacon.

As big as they are shipping gets into the cost prohibitive range rather quickly.  I was lucky to obtain mine via an early LEGO Find.  But if you have a few in your collection you may enjoy using them in unusual ways.

LEGO Techniques - Using Quatro

Quatro makes DUPLO look like LEGO.  Wait, what?  See, DUPLO is a double sized LEGO brick.  You can see that in the name itself.  Quatro is an even larger scale of LEGO brick that is twice as big as DUPLO.  The line was produced between 2004 and 2006 with only 10 sets.  I'm assuming LEGO stopped at the Quatro brick because Octro is a terrible marketing name.  Though there is Octan...

Quatro comes in 5 basic shapes; 1x2, 1x4, 2x2, 2x2 curved slope and 2x4.  There is also a 2x4 vehicle base and a massive truck.  And a minifigure (Quatrofigure?).

Much as DUPLO to LEGO, Quatro studs are hollow to allow the bottom tubes of DUPLO to set inside them.

Integrating Quatro directly with LEGO is a little difficult.  It would be easier to step down with DUPLO first.  However there are a very limited number of pieces that could help.  First, a minifig head fits nicely into the bottom tube of the Quatro.  This is a very dangerous way to lose a perfectly good head unless you are willing to drill a hole in the top of your Quatro block.  If you want to integrate this way, it would be better to shove some 1x1 round brick on the hole to keep the head from going to far.

 The inside of the open stud is about 15mm, just shy of a round 2x2 brick.  Further (just like all hollow studs) there are four little bits of extra material in there to create clutch.  What I did find to fit was a small tire which could have a wheel inside which then attaches to the appropriate modified plate.

When I first built my Dag Bricks, I was calling them Tetra Bricks to not be confused with the official Quatro Blocks.  Given that the scale is the same it should be no surprise that Quatro stack on top of Dag Bricks.  Unfortunately the converse is not true.  Which is a shame.  Thankfully Dag Bricks are still compatible with System.  :-D

Using Quatro might not be your best choice unless you already own some or know of someone who is tossing them.  The pieces are pretty cheap on Bricklink but they will almost certainly be more expensive to ship any quantity due to their volume.  However your tireless hours of creating filler inside your superstructure may be reduced to mere minutes.  And the overall weight will be much lighter as well.

LEGO Techniques - Using DUPLO

DUPLO (if you haven't noticed) is a larger sized LEGO compatible brick made by the same company.  The target audience is usually pre-schoolers and under.  The idea is that the larger bricks are easier to handle and harder to swallow.  My 2 year old handles 1x1 round plates without a problem so this concept is lost on us.  Nonetheless we have a sizable collection in our house and I find it very hard to pass up the opportunity to add to it.  Reasons are multiple.

First off, you can build large and fast.  DUPLO bricks are twice the size of regular bricks in every respect.  If you remember your high school geometry, this means a 2x4 DUPLO brick occupies 8x (twice the size in three dimensions) the space of a 2x4 LEGO brick.  So you could replicate the size of a 2x4 DUPLO brick with 8 2x4 LEGO bricks.  This means towers to the 8' ceiling can happen in about 5 minutes or less.

Second, DUPLO comes in a myriad of colors.  The 2x2 DUPLO brick comes in 49 colors.  This is surpassed only by minifig arms and 1x2 bricks (according to the Bricklink catalog stats for parts in the most colors).  So you could build the most beautiful rainbow, flowers, or color gradient.  All in blocky 2x scale of course.

Finally, and most importantly to this post, DUPLO is completely and utterly compatible with LEGO.  The designers of DUPLO did us a great service by integrating two crucial elements into DUPLO bricks.  The first is the knob on top.  All DUPLO knobs are open.  The interior diameter of the knobs is the same as the outside diameter of the tube on the underside of a 2x brick.  This dimension (for the engineers) is 6.51mm O.D.  So a 2x4 brick will fit very snugly down onto and clutch with a 1x2 DUPLO brick.

Check out my amazing clutch powers

The underside of DUPLO bricks have ribs that make up for what should be thicker walls.  But economic geniuses that they are, The LEGO Group has decided to make the walls as thin as practically possible.  In order to clutch well, ribs are placed at every point where they meet knobs in order to take up the difference in thickness.  By making the walls thinner the DUPLO elements also accept the 1.6mm offset of LEGO element knobs and allow them to be placed on the underside as well.

The only major geometric difference between LEGO and DUPLO is that DUPLO plates are 1/2 the thickness of bricks rather than 1/3 as LEGO are.  This makes DUPLO plates the same thickness as LEGO bricks.  If DUPLO followed the 1/3 rule, the plates would be 2/3 of a brick and would require a touch more finessing for integration between both systems.

So, how to use DUPLO and LEGO together?  The most practical reason would be to take up big chunks of filler space in a large project that needs very stout support.  At the last Bricks Cascade conference I witnessed a very large bridge that was created with what must have been 100,000 brick bricks.  But as the pieces were being assembled I caught sight of the large DUPLO knobs inside.  "Aha!" I thought.  Here's someone who understand economy.  Besides that, the mass of DUPLO bricks are less and so several pounds were shaved from a gigantic creation.

Skate ramp, DUPLO style

You could also use DUPLO elements where a feature is desired that can't be replicated with LEGO.  There are many interesting shapes that have been created via DUPLO.  Some of them can be simulated with LEGO, others cannot.  So embedding a DUPLO brick into a LEGO creation can possibly lead to one of your MOCs getting branded with NPU, crossover dude!

LEGO Micropolis Finish Edges - Inside Corners

It's been a while since I posted some examples of how I finish the street edges of my Micropolis blocks.  The final piece of the puzzle is the inside corners for when you have an 'L' shaped layout.  As with the other edges, these are built with 16x16 modules in mind.  They can easily be repeated and used for larger layouts.  This inside corner will easily connect to the straight edges and outside corners previously posted.

Please note that the corner if this module can be very weak if you don't take proper care to overlap elements.  As with the other modules you can substitute pieces as needed, just be sure to overlap joints.

Parts you will need:

1   1x2 brick
1   1x3 brick

2   1x3 plate
1   1x4 plate
3   1x8 plate
1   2x2 corner plate
14 2x3 plate
4   2x2 inverted slope 45
6   3x2 inverted slope 33
2   1x1 technic brick with hole
2   1x2 technic brick with hole
tiles as needed for street and sidewalk (staggering recommended for strength).

Don't miss the 1x3 and 1x4 plate near the back

Bricks in the back.  Yes, the 2x2 corner plate is floating.  Firmly attach it in the next step.

LEGO Tips and Techniques - Builder Storage

Last week I discussed my storage techniques for my Bricklink store.  But having a store and being a builder are two very different things.  I certainly pull parts from my store from time to time to add to my personal building stash.  But there are some things I do quite differently.

For starters my store is organized to match the Bricklink catalog.  This makes it easier to go down the line and pull orders.  My personal parts are organized mostly by color.  I have 6 storage cases from Harbor Freight Tools that are lightweight, convenient, and adaptable.  These cases are usually $6.99 a piece but go on sale for $2.99 or $3.99 often.  They come with all the dividers which gives you 24 compartments.  Each compartment is a touch larger than a 6x6 plate.  Dividers can be removed for 8L pieces or larger lots.  For instance, I keep all 1x2 tiles regardless of color in two combined compartments.
Storehouse 94458 24 Compartment Large Storage Container
I like the adaptable part of these.  I recently added two more to the collection and expanded my neutral colors into their own case away from the earth tones.  I also added another one as a specific project case to do away with parts that were in baggies and being stored in a used bubble mailer.  I may add a couple more soon to break out primary colors into their own case away from trans.

I reserve one compartment or double compartment for plates of a particular color.  The next double compartment below it I put all other parts in that color.  This is most easily seen in my earth tone case and somewhat in my neutrals case.  My primary colors are lower in quantity so plates and others are sometimes in one compartment each or just one compartment period!

My primary colors case includes several one compartment colors, a load of green and a load of transparent pieces.  Blue and yellow are currently overflowing due to one project.  Those pieces will get used up fairly quickly.  On the far right are double compartments of trans clear 1x2 plates and trans clear 1x1 plates.  All the other trans clear pieces need to spread out a little.  This case may soon be divided into greens + landscaping and primaries + trans

My other general cases are divided into neutrals, earth tones, and other pieces.  The other pieces case takes into account pieces that are used more often for function instead of color.  It also contains many smaller pieces that otherwise get lost in the other compartments.  There's space for hinges, travis bricks, brackets, 1x1 round, 2x2 round, bars, technic bits, and 12 compartments of tiles.  Those are broken up into 1x1, 1x2, 1x4, 2x2, 2x4, 1x6, 1x8 + 1x4 overflow, grill tiles, and cheese slopes.

How do I determine whether a part has more merit for its color or function?  The general rule of thumb is to consider how commonly I use the piece.  If I have very few of a color in general then all pieces of that color go in the same compartment (i.e. pearl gold).  If the function of the part comes in a myriad of colors then I generally store them together.

In order to save space, the pieces themselves are stacked where appropriate.  All plates are stagger stacked and tetrised into their compartments.  Stacking makes certain sizes easier to find.  Since 1x1 plates always filter to the bottom, it is easier to look for a long stack of them.  1x2 plates are built into 2x2 towers.  Bricks are straight stacked or built into cubes.  Round plates are straight stacked since they are easy to get apart.   Brackets and travis bricks are clipped together into as tight a formation as I can get with as many pieces as possible.  The 1x2-2x2 brackets are 5 to a group.  Most others are 4.

I also use some of the larger game board boxes.  These are for larger parts, temporary bulk overflow and WIPs.  If you carefully undo the glue that holds the flaps down, you can turn them inside out for a nice clean brown cardboard look.  It also looks less appealing than clickable ABS if it's sitting on your front seat at the grocery store.

I've seen many photos of build rooms where endless plastic parts drawer cases are used.  These are great too and likely expandable.  I'm happy to stick with my cases.  I can take a couple with me to work on part of a project or have something to do in an otherwise boring situation (doctor's office?)  As I end up with more, it is also no big deal to build slender shelves to hold these library style.  If I do it right it could end up looking like a rainbow Craftsman tool cart with one case per color.

I'm sure you've got some better ideas.  Let us know.