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A Catablog of Tools, Tips, and Techniques for building with LEGO®

A stranded pirate by Jalkow (via Brickshelf).

A couple cool techniques to point out here,

  1. The Lobster.
  2. Use of carrot green (pushed all the way through so just the top is showing) to create a small grass sprout
  3. Use of barrels for the coconut tree
  4. Very nice use of cheese in conjuntion with other slopes to create the rocky island.

The visors are an interesting idea, but I’m not really sold on their effectiveness here. Would like to have seen a snot base, mostly blue with some with washing up close to the shore. I’m also not convinced on the fire technique.

Do we even want to discuss how it got up there? Okay, yes we do. You grew up, right? You became a man and put away childish things. And you almost feel guilty about wanting to pull them down. But you’ve kept them. You didn’t let your little brother inherit them; you didn’t let your mom garage-sale them (or worse yet — sell them to a complete stranger on eBay), and they’re still sitting there in a cardboard box. Or a pile of cardboard boxes. Or maybe they never even got to the attic — they’re still in the back of your closet, or under your bed.

But you’re twenty-five. Or thirty-five. Maybe you have kids that have their own batch of bricks. And now you’re sitting there on the edge of the bed with a dusty-covered, slightly musty-smelling box that contains knights in shining armor battling green and black dragons, astronauts setting up a base on the moon for exploration, bits of Fort Legoredo still standing against the bad guys, a pirate ship with the Jolly Roger still hoisted … all the adventures you spent hours on every day as a kid until … something. And all your imagination was put in a cardboard box. And set aside. And forgotten.

Until now. What will you do?

Does your wife come in and find you sitting there, staring at the box? Perhaps it’s your kids. Maybe the dog is begging you to take him for a walk. Something. Something will try to tear you away. Or not. The door to the bedroom is closed and you blow off the dust. And cough. And then open one flap of the cardboard, and then peel away the other three.

Poking up at the top of the box is that Jolly Roger you were thinking about a minute ago. The deck is still being manned by a crew complete with a wooden-legged captain and his first mate, the monkey. Beside the Pirate ship, all jumbled in as a stack of building instructions, well-worn, half of them missing covers, most of them ripped a bit, some gone altogether. And beneath the pirate ship is a sea of brick. You touch it. And pick up a brick. It’s a standard 2×4 brick. You remember how the plastic feels to the touch. You remember pushing your hands through it looking for just the right piece. You start pushing your hands through. You find part of a spaceship. And the instructions were just there a second ago..yes, here they are. And a few hours later the ship is done, and the castle is rebuilt, and the Pirate Ship is taking them both on. And you’re sitting in the middle of a pile of LEGO in the middle of your bedroom. You’ve made a space for yourself, and you have a pile of special pieces beside your left knee, and a pile of minifigs beside your right knee, and the monkey in your left hand with the sword is attacking our space man and his blaster in your right hand and you’re making “eek-eek” and “ka-zhoom” sounds when your wife bursts through the door and she looks at you, and you look at her and she puts her hands on her hips.

But what happens next is all up to you. Maybe she’ll pull her box out of the attic, too. 🙂

Allan Bedford, author of The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide, (a book I highly recommend), presents instructions for building this tool in his book, though he calls it a “presser.” While I’ve used it for pressing, I also use it for poking, and extracting. And I don’t really like the name, “presser,” — sounds more like a piece of dry-cleaning equipment, whereas with “poker,” I think of a fire-place tool, since I’ve had fireplaces in most homes I’ve lived in. Although that term isn’t completely satisfactory either. So, for now I’ve settled on a “Presser-Poker.”

Allan offered a basic design, and mentioned that you could use just about any number of designs. Here are a few of mine:

my original color design
My original design
I wanted something translucent and cool.
The Zebra
The Zebra
Need I say more?
The Patriot
The Patriot
Red, White, and Blue. I’m an American, but I suppose these colors could be patriotic for a number of countries. 🙂
Midnight Magic
Midnight Magic
I liked the idea of black with a subtle bit of standard green in there.
The Basic Eight
The Basic Eight
I thought it would be neat to touch on some of the colors that are most common in LEGO. These are the most common eight, as far as I can tell.

Maybe they disappeared in a move. Or your baby sister tore them to shreds. Or the dog ate them. For whatever reason, most of us have, at some time, lost building instructions. Apart from trying to put the thing back together from memory, stealing your best friend’s instructions, or just plain never building the set again, there are a number of sources online for you to recover instructions.

The first and best source is the LEGO website itself. Down at the bottom of each page in their standard footer, there is a link for Customer Service. That page has a couple links on it that say “Building Instructions.” There you can enter the set number, a key word, or search by a set brand (i.e. castle, harry potter, etc.) While they don’t have all the sets ever made, they do have all the recent ones. Once you’ve entered a set or a keyword you’ll get a list of all the applicable sets in their database. Click on one to see a thumbnail image of the set. Then, once you’ve found your set, you can download the instructions as a pretty good quality PDF.

Another place to find scanned images of most of the sets ever made is at The Brickfactory. Keep in mind that these won’t be nifty PDFs you can download. Each scan is a big JPG file sitting on a web-page. If you’re concerned about the legality of saving and/or printing these scans, The Brickfactory has respectfully posted a disclaimer that links to LEGO’s official “fair play” standards. There is a paragraph at the bottom of the page entitled, “Scanning Of Copyrighted Materials Into A Web Site” where the LEGO company specifically addresses this sort of site and essentially says, “hey, we own the copyrights, but at present we are not going to make a stink about people posting old building instructions on the internet if they’re not trying to make money off it, or make us look bad.” (That was my paraphrase, but please do go ahead and read the page for yourself.)

Finally, If you want a real, live set of paper instructions, Bricklink is a good place to go to find people selling building instructions. From the Reference page, use the Item Types drop-down menu to select “Instructions.”

Hope that helps. If you have found other helpful ways to track down building instructions, feel free to post a comment, and I may incorporate it back into the article at some point.