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!