OYLC Part II: Sorting Sets

Welcome to Part II of OYLC (Organizing Your Lego Collection)!
This section covers sorting out complete sets from bricks. If you finish or if this is not what you're looking for, feel free to browse the other sections of the series:
Part I: Sorting Bricks
Part III: Sorting Sets (Special Cases)
Part IV: Storing It All

To perform this step properly, all of your Lego bricks should be sorted, as directed in Part I. Next, find all of your instruction books and pick one to sort. If you don't keep your instructions, all you can do is see what pieces you recognize and look up instructions online (Brickset.com is an excellent resource).

It doesn't matter what set you start with, though you may wish to start with a small one while you get used to sorting. When I first started, I made the mistake of beginning with a massive set, and I quickly abandoned it in favor of a smaller one (I eventually finished the first, though).

The sorting process is simple, but very tedious and painstaking. All you need to do is follow the instructions and build the set, searching for each piece one at a time.
Note: It will take FAR less time if you previously sorted your pieces as discussed in Part I.
 If you cannot find a piece, feel free to move on and find the rest. However, make sure to write down every piece you do not find, so you know what set the piece goes to once you find it (or replace it).

This is my Discovery Mission to Mars set (7469), which I just recently sorted after ten years of being incomplete.
Another way to do this is to gather all pieces found in the inventory in the back of the instructions. While it is much more difficult to keep everything straight, it does work. This method is discussed more in Part III (link above).

As with most steps, you have some freedoms. You may keep all of your missing part lists in one place, or with each set. (You could also not document them at all, but I don't recommend doing that). If you get tired of working on one set, you can set it aside and work on another. How you work is up to you, but you must know that this step takes the longest of all, and it won't necessarily be easy.
When a set is sorted- either completely or partially- I recommend storing it so it will be out of the way. You can use a bag, a box, whatever works for you. I have stored sets in everything from shoe boxes to Ziploc bags to Clorox wipe containers. As long as they are out of your work space when not needed, it works.You should be fine if you have your bricks and instructions in one place.

Most importantly, don't get discouraged! This step can be VERY FRUSTRATING. If you need to take a break, do so whenever necessary. Try watching a movie or listening to music while you work. Good luck and happy building!

Lego Winter Village

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, I deem it acceptable to put up Christmas decorations. My biggest contribution to the decoration at my house is my Winter Village Lego sets. My collection currently consists of the Winter Village Toy Shop (10199), Winter Village Bakery (10216), Winter Village Post Office (10222), and Winter Village Cottage (10229). Over the last few years, the collection has grown more and more spectacular. The Cottage is the newest addition, acquired only a month ago. I do not yet own the Winter Village Market (10235), since I buy one per year and I'm a year behind. This is due to the fact that the Toy Shop completely sold out in the first year of its running, so I couldn't get it until the following year. To this day the Toy Shop is extremely desirable, fetching anywhere up to two hundred dollars or more online.
The display as seen from a low angle

The Post Office (left) and the Toy Shop (right) behind the
skating pond and massive Christmas tree.

The Cottage, flanked by an army of skiers and carolers

I love the Winter Village sets because they have such a festive feel, and each contributes something new to the setup. Each set (with the exception of the Market, which isn't exactly a "building"), includes a yellow light brick, which casts light through the windows and further enhances the atmosphere. In its current state, the display has everything from a community tree to an ice skating pond, with swarms of child minifigures running about.
Saxophone and banjo players occupy the gazebo from the Post Office

Legs stick out of a snow bank on the ice pond from the Bakery,
which was advertised to include "7.5 Minifigures".

Presents from multiple sets adorn the Toy Shop's tree

The Cottage, with its shed, igloo, and snow plow

The Cottage's shed features a firewood pile and chainsaw

Skaters enjoy the pond while a minifig with a snowball prepares
to ambush his unsuspecting prey

I threw in the Christmas Tree Stand, which was a promotional
set for 2013

The horse-drawn carriage from the Bakery delivers a tree

Another shot of the Toy Shop's tree

Four skiers: two from the Toy Shop, two from the Cottage

The mail truck from the Post Office

All in all, I think the Winter Village sets are a very worthwhile investment. When displayed together, they are quite a spectacle and will enhance the festivity of any setting. However, you may not want to shell out for a Toy Shop, as they are extremely expensive. (The same thing happened with the modular buildings; I don't think I'll ever get Cafe Corner). Be sure to enjoy your holiday season, and happy building!

Organizing Your Lego Collection, Part I: Sorting Bricks

Welcome to Part I of OYLC (Organizing Your Lego Collection)!
This section discusses sorting out and organizing loose bricks. Links to other sections are found at the end of this entry.

I was first introduced to Lego at about three years old. At that time, I lacked an understanding of the importance of organization, so every set I acquired ended up in an enormous, jumbled mess. Unfortunately, this is the fate of many peoples' collections. When I was a bit older, I realized that I would run out of room if I didn't do something about it. Thus, I began experimenting with many different organizational methods. By now, I have spent about ten years undoing this disaster, and I have finally found a method that works remarkably well. I have discovered effective methods and tricks for nearly every step of the process. By sharing my own skills and experience, I aim to help others organize their collections in considerably less time than it took to figure it out myself.
Know that your collection must be organized to suit your needs, so you have to find out what works for you. If my methods don't quite work out for you, feel free to do something different. I will do my best to offer ideas for other ways to do it. However, I know that my methods do work, and I have spent a decade honing and perfecting my strategies to operate as smoothly as possible.
The way you organize your collection revolves around what type of builder you are. My process assumes that the goal is to have all sets sorted out, completed, and organized effectively. If you only buy sets for parts and enjoy building from one enormous pool of bricks, you may want to stop after sorting your pieces out. Feel free to skip or ignore steps that are not applicable to your needs. Organization is a process, and it will take time. My intention is merely to help you along the way and make sure it takes you less than a decade to do it.

The First Step
In order to sort a collection, it has to be in one place. Gather all sets, instructions, and loose pieces into one area. This may result in a frighteningly large pile, but don't be intimidated. Make sure you have absolutely everything you can find, since this will prevent frustration later.

Sort Out Bricks
Many people are unsure how to sort their pieces. I have found that it works the best by far to sort by color first, then type, then size. You don't have to sort it all three ways. In fact, I only used color up until the last year. If you only sort by color to start, keep each color in a separate container. I recommend wide, shallow boxes that are easy to sift through. The cardboard boxes from cases of soup cans work extremely well, and shoe boxes can work, too. If you have smaller quantities of particular colors, use smaller containers such as whipped cream tubs. As you sort out sets, your unsorted bricks will take up less space. It is important to move to smaller containers, to fit your bricks. This not only provides a sense of accomplishment, but also prevents the wasting of space. If you sort by multiple sub-categories, I recommend cases of divided, sliding trays, similar to what I use now.
My unsorted bricks, which once took up an entire room,
now fit comfortably in two chests of divided trays.

The box to the right is what my black bricks once filled to the
brim. Now they fit in a  little sorting tray, several times smaller.

During sorting, a decision must be made. Between 2003 and 2004, Lego changed the tints of Light Gray, Dark Gray, and Brown very slightly. The "New Grays" are more bluish, causing the name of Light/Dark Bluish Gray or "Bley", for short. The newer shade of brown is warmer, with the name "Reddish Brown". If you own unsorted sets from both sides of the switch, then you must choose whether to go to the trouble of distinguishing them. If it doesn't bother you, then don't worry about it. If it annoys you to no end like it does me, then you should sort out each shade individually. The differences between the browns and dark grays are easily noticeable, but the light grays are an immense pain. When trying to tell if a piece is Light Gray or Light Bluish Gray, I recommend working under natural or fluorescent light, rather than incandescent. Also, placing the undetermined piece between known pieces of either type can help you to compare them.

 Other Tips
Take it a little at a time-- it's usually impossible to sort it all at once anyway, so break it into manageable chunks.

Don't get bored-- sorting is monotonous. Turn on some music, a TV show, anything to keep you going.

Enlist help-- it's a massive undertaking for one person. Consider asking friends or relatives to help get it done faster.

Please read the other sections in this series. Happy Building!
Part II: Sorting Sets
Part III: Sorting Sets (Special Cases)
Part IV: Storing It All

Improvised Pull-Back Motor

During a recent afternoon, I found myself bored. Then, I experienced a spontaneous urge to build a sort of homemade pull-back motor. (My junior high shop teacher would comment about what happens when I get bored. Refer to The Gear Train of Doom). I didn't want to use the type with an elastic band wrapped around an axle, because I've seen that done before. Instead I decided on a model with a rack sliding along a track, meshing with gears driving the wheels. The rack is securely locked within the casing, able only to slide back and forth.Three rubber bands stretch from the rack to fixed points on the frame of the vehicle, which pull the rack along the gears. In this respect, it is more like an automatic rip-cord than a tension coil, but it still works.
The final product
As usual, my first attempt did not work. I tried to use all studless pieces, but the frame was not strong enough to withstand the elastic tension. The frame warped just a bit, allowing the rack to slip by without turning the gears.

Though slight, the distorted angle of the rack is visible.

This picture shows the basic mechanism, which did not have
enough support to function correctly.

For my second attempt, I used a combination of studded and studless pieces. While most technic builders have drifted away from studded beams, they have their merits. Their dimensions are more rigidly set, so a track using bricks and tiles virtually eliminated the vertical breathing room seen in the first model. However, bricks can pull apart vertically, which is why I reinforced it with studless beams crossing the casing vertically. When reinforcing in this way, it is important to note that there must be exactly two plates (two thirds of a brick) between two technic bricks in order for a beam to cross them vertically. This formula follows for greater distances, though it is sometimes easier to fiddle with it until it works than to calculate it. The new, sturdier casing has no vertical give, thus forcing the rack to mesh with the gears at all times. The casing is long enough that the rack can pull all the way off the gears when fully contracted, thus allowing the vehicle to coast.
The rubber bands take up the space where the cockpit should
be. Note that the diagonal beams keep the front end from
bending upward under high tension.

This picture shows how the studless beams (in gray) reinforce
the studded beams (green) of the main casing.

This picture shows what it looks like when wound up to maximum.

This picture shows how the gears interact when wound up.

This one shows how the rack (black) does not mesh with
the gray eight tooth gears when at rest. This allows the car
to coast after all the tension has been released.

Though outperformed by the one-piece Lego pull-back motors, I still managed to make it go about fifteen feet. The one-piece motors can go twice as far, but they are easy to find, and I tend not to do things the easy way. I enjoy knowing that I created a working mechanism, though not perfect. I encourage everyone to try to build something different, just to see if you can. Happy building!

Finally, a Lego Store In Utah!

It's been seven years since I last visited a Lego store, in Disneyland California. All I remember about it is that they had Mars Mission a month before it came out everywhere else. Since then, I have waited patiently, wondering if a store would ever be built close enough to visit regularly. Now the wait is over, and there is a Lego store practically on my doorstep: Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah.(Its location can be found here.)

The new store is smaller than the others I have seen, but it still has everything a Lego store should: walls full of boxes, sets in display cases, even tiny displays embedded in the walls, only visible through small holes. And, of course, the signature wall of pieces. The selection isn't great, but it's a pretty good deal if you find yourself in need of those particular bricks.
The walls full of different sets

The wall of bricks

This display contains large insects.

This one is a movie theater full of minifigures.
This one has butterflies in several colors.

I attended the grand opening on October 4th. there were so many people there, they handed out tickets and issued updates whenever another group was permitted inside. It was about an hour and a half wait, so we went hunting for series 11 minifigures (I found them at a different store and came away with seven: the Blacktron robot, the yeti, the climber, the tribal warrior, the barbarian, the scarecrow, and the welder), and then went out to dinner. By the time we got back, it was time to go inside. Inside, there were tables where anyone could build random stuff, and also a stand where custom minifigures can be made and purchased (also slim selection, but fun). I talked to an employee for a while, and he was impressed that I could give the name of any set he described (particularly space sets from 1988 on). Any in attendance could also witness and assist in the construction of an eight foot Hulk sculpture. It was about half finished when I went.

The custom minifigure table

One of several tables of random stuff

The sculpture is constructed of scaled-up bricks made of many smaller ones.

This is a scaled-down version of the monstrous sculpture.
All in all, I am very excited to have a Lego store so nearby, and I plan to go regularly. Happy building!

A Brief Lesson in Lego Terminology

Do you ever get irritated when someone makes a grammatical error? Are you irked by linguistic discontinuities that seem blatantly apparent to you, but unbeknownst to the speaker? Well, chances are you are not just a victim, but also a perpetrator. To put it plainly, there is a decent chance that any given reader uses the term "Legos" to describe everyone's favorite toy. We appreciate the effort, but unfortunately this is WRONG.
This police officer knows what he's doing. Notice the handcuffs.

LEGO is a brand name, and therefore should not be pluralized to describe its products. Proper form is to use "LEGO" as an adjective, with a noun behind it. For example, instead of "Legos", one should say either Lego bricks, pieces, parts, or elements (the latter being the most formal). "Blocks" is also regarded to be incorrect. To describe an entire product, say "Lego set". Kit is incorrect. Also, use minifigures (or minifigs, for short), instead of "people". If my word is not good enough, I have found some official statements from the company. The first was originally issued in 1980, and is still upheld. The second is an excerpt from the Lego company's trademark infringement rules.

“The word LEGO is a brand name, and is very special to all of us in the LEGO Group Companies. We would sincerely like your help in keeping it special. Please always refer to our products as “LEGO bricks or toys” and not “LEGOS.” By doing so, you will be helping to protect and preserve a brand of which we are very proud, and that stands for quality the world over. Thank you!”
Proper Use of the LEGO Trademark
"If the LEGO trademark is used at all, it should always be used as an adjective, not as a noun. For example, say "MODELS BUILT OF LEGO BRICKS". Never say "MODELS BUILT OF LEGOs".


First off, I will make the note that official form for multiple building elements is "LEGO® brand building bricks," but honestly that's ridiculous and nobody really takes the time to say that every time. Most often, builders will use just LEGO, though it is generally also accepted to capitalize only the "L" in an informal setting. I do it that way because if you put LEGO in all caps too many times in an entry, I find it distracting.

According to official rules, it is also incorrect to refer to The LEGO Group as simply "Lego" (It's officially TLG), and also to refer to "your Lego collection". These two rules can usually be safely disregarded during casual use, because there isn't an easier but still respectful form. The former should probably be observed if you own any different products similar to Lego, but if you despise and eradicate these knock-offs like I and many fans do, you're fine. It is also usually acceptable to address Lego bricks as simply "Lego" in a casual setting, but NOT "Legos".

These guidelines are nothing new, the first statement having been issued thirty-three years ago. It may also be helpful for you to notice that no official statement from the company has ever used the term "Legos", and some word processors even treat "Legos" as a typo, while accepting the proper form. So, out of respect for the company and for the sanity of nerds everywhere, kindly try to use proper terminology. Happy building!

Attack of the Ewoks!

I have recently acquired Lego set 10236, the Ewok Village. This monstrous set is truly a necessary addition to any Endor layout, but it carries a hefty price tag of $250. It has 1990 pieces, though, so that's about twelve cents per piece-- much more reasonable than a lot of other sets. I found out about this set a month or two before its release, and began saving up for it immediately. You will soon see why.
The Ewok Village as it comes, without other sets thrown in.
Let's start with the minifigures. The set comes with 17 of them, making it the second largest number for a Star Wars set (the Death Star has 24). They include two Stormtroopers, two Rebel Commandos, two Scout Troopers (which have a new, vastly improved design), a new Luke, a new Leia (with a fabric skirt), a new R2-D2 (with a silver head instead of gray), the most recent versions of Han and Chewbacca, and five Ewoks: Wicket, Chief Chirpa, Teebo, Logray, and an unnamed one.
The five Ewoks: Wicket, unnamed, Chirpa, Teebo, and Logray
The new Scout Trooper has
more accurate armor.

The Building Experience
The building experience is very enjoyable. The trees and other structures are similar enough to be cohesive, but unique enough to keep you engaged the whole time. The set is built in several sections, which can be put together and separated easily, allowing multiple configurations. The lower parts of the trees and the sockets in the floor are color coded, so it is easy to tell which tree goes where. The trees and undergrowth are very fun to build, and the rope bridge is tedious, but also fun. The worst part are the railings, since it is difficult to get all of the droid arms evenly spaced. The set has some rare pieces, such as the mushroom tops, the Death Star Trooper helmet, and some 3X3 plates (when did they invent those?), but for the most part it is composed of familiar pieces and colors. It took me perhaps an hour or two to build, but for some it will take longer. If you hate applying stickers (as I do) then don't worry-- there are only three!

This set has an abundance of play value in addition to its striking construction. There is a catapult which works very well, a hidden hollow in one of the trees, a pop-out spider web (which also has a new design), the swinging log trap (it was used on an AT-ST in the movie, but the trees are only tall enough to permit speeder bikes), C-3PO's floating chair, the roasting spit, an escape chute, and the net trap. The top part of the village also houses a campfire, a kitchen of sorts, a bedroom, and a room with design charts on the wall. The set also has two drum sets: one of regular drums, and the one with imperial helmets.
Han Solo hanging from a rope

The Finished Product
Because of its huge size and incredible detail, this set is perfect for AFoL (Adult Fan of Lego) display as well as KFoL (Kid Fan of Lego) play, though the only problem is it is a bit expensive for the target audience. All in all, this is an excellent set, perfect for bolstering your Endor collection. I have thrown in some of my other sets to make the scene bigger, such as 7657, 7956, 9489, and 9492. I think this set would look great next to the shield generator bunker (8038), but I don't have that one. I'll have to round one up just to complete the series. Anyway, I highly recommend this set to fans of any age. It really is a work of art.
Luke fights alongside two Rebel soldiers
My fleet of speeder bikes prepares to attack.
Chewie throws the driver out of the AT-ST

The complete battle, with TIE Fighter, just for fun. Happy building!

The Gear Train of Doom

Sometimes it's fun to create something completely and utterly pointless. Then, after you create something pointless, you want to share it with the entire world, right? Maybe not. In any case, I want to properly display one of my great feats of uselessness: The Gear Train of Doom. The principle is simple. It consists of lots of sets of gears stacked against each other, such that the gear reduction reaches ridiculous levels.
This gear train uses seven 40-tooth-to-8-tooth pairings, and nine 36-tooth-to
12-tooth pairings, with a few 24-tooth gears in there for some reason.

Here are some stats:
  • The gear ratio is one billion, five hundred thirty seven million, seven hundred thirty four thousand, three hundred seventy five to one, or 1,537,734,375 to 1.
  • When driven by a Lego RC motor, which can operate at 3000 RPM, it would take two years and four months nonstop to finish one rotation of the output.
  • When driven by a Lego RC motor, the output has 20 million, 755 thousand, 396.46 foot pounds of torque, which approximately equals 27,131 Chevy Silverados. With that kind of power, one could easily snap the Empire State Building in half. (It would take decades, though).
  • When driven by a Lego NXT motor, it takes an abysmal twenty five years to complete a rotation, but has nine times as much torque as the RC motor.
  • Under no circumstances would you need to use this. EVER.
I built the Gear Train of Doom when I had spare time in shop class, out of the forgotten remnants of a few Mindstorms NXT's. I pretty much raided every gear in the box to build it. My gear train became quite popular among my classmates, and my teacher even mentioned it at a meeting once. (My shop teacher is awesome, by the way. You can find his YouTube channel here). The conversation went something like this:

Other Teacher: "I wrote this great new assignment to make students calculate gear ratios!"

My Teacher: "I have a student who does that for fun, except REALLY OVERKILL."

I think he almost passed out when I showed him all the numbers I calculated. In spirit of this, I encourage everyone to build something completely useless, as time well wasted is not wasted at all.

The Asteroid Raider: A Blacktron II MOC

The Asteroid Raider
As I sat in front of a pile of recently dismantled Blacktron II pieces, I wondered what to build. Then, thinking of a vehicle from Star Wars, I got to work. The ship that popped into my head was a B-Wing, an advanced fighter used by the Rebellion in Return of the Jedi. The B-Wing's cockpit is mounted on a complex system of gyroscopes, which keep the cockpit level no matter where the rest of the ship is. This allows for some very impressive maneuvers, if the pilot can withstand the strain. The idea of the gyroscopes is what got me started on my newest creation, the Asteroid Raider. This ship is built according to the Blacktron II color scheme, and it includes the signature globe cockpit of that theme. Rather than make the entire cockpit swivel, (which probably would have been much easier), I decided to make only the pilot move. That doesn't seem too hard, but it took a few hours' work to get the minifig pilot to spin without hitting anything.
Released this past year, set 10227 is the largest and most
detailed B-Wing Lego has ever produced. Note that the
cockpit is mounted on a turntable.

The Asteroid Raider employs all signatures of Blacktron II, incorporating the colors, shapes, and the famous cockpit. I even took care in naming it according to the Blackton/M-Tron title formula, a two-word name with the second ending in -er/-or. Unlike actual BT2 cockpits, which are detachable, the Asteroid Raider's cockpit is fixed, so that its main mechanism can operate uninhibited. The pilot's seat is mounted on an axle, which runs through the length of the ship. The axle is weighted at the aft end by a magnetic coupling. (I know that belongs in M-Tron, but it was the best available weight). The weight keeps the pilot's seat level at all times, rotating freely within the round cockpit. The main body of the ship is built around a 9V battery box, so I threw some blinking lights on it just for fun. The wings are mounted on hinges, so they can be bent down when the ship is upside-down to create an entirely different design. In an effort to make the bottom of the ship look interesting, I accidentally prevented it from sitting level on a landing pad. I'm currently working on some retractable landing gear to even out the front end, but until then, enjoy!
In this picture, the ship is at a diagonal to the pilot,
demonstrating the rotation capabilities.
The body of the ship can be flipped over and the wings
bent to create a different fighter. The pilot reliably follows
the movement.

I put a makeshift jack under the ship so it would stay level.