If you spend any time at all with Lego, then the sight above is probably a familiar one: a giant bin full of assorted Lego bricks and parts. As a kid, this was about the pinnacle of my organizational skills (hey, they’re in a box, right?) but I’m sure that in aggregate I wasted several years of my life pawing through boxes like this trying to find the next piece that I needed.
Twenty years later I have Lego again, but much less tolerance for digging through piles. So how can we make things better? In this article we show off some of the tricks that we use to keep our stacks organized, so that we can spend our Lego time building efficiently, not looking for bricks. (Warning: article is image heavy!)
So what’s the big idea? We need to be able to locate bricks of a given type easily. We need to be able to tell at a glance which colors, kinds, and quantities we have, and be able to separate them easily.
One obvious but not particularly good solution is to get a big set of drawers to store the bricks in. The chief problem with this is one of scalability: For a big collection, you need an awful lot of drawers, particularly for common large bricks. Secondly, the drawers are
not fully mostly opaque, and you can spend a lot of time pulling out one drawer after another looking for what you need, even if they are well labeled. Larger drawers also suffer from the usual “pile” problem: Even in a medium-sized bin of sorted parts, it can be hard to tell how many are there in each color.
You could also consider sorting bricks into plastic bags, but this doesn’t really solve the fundamental organizational issue, because you’ve still got to find a way to file and display the plastic bags.
A solution that we like better is to simply stack bricks of like kind together, forming large neat structures that are easy to pick out of a large bin. However this has to be executed with some care. Consider the following picture:
What we have here is a compact and space efficient stack: two 2×2 flat plates stuck together. However, it’s an abomination: those pieces are really stuck together. Even the godsend brick separator is all but useless in this particular case and there is hardly any non-destructive way to get the damn bricks apart. (A plastic putty knife or thin guitar pick can work, with effort.)
That naturally leads to our requirement that stacks be easy to separate. If not, you could end up spending all your time trying to get the bricks apart, which isn’t much of an improvement versus digging for them. In what follows, we illustrate some of the basic types of large organized stacks that hold together firmly, give easy access, and can always be separated easily.
First off, here is a much better way to stack and store 2×2 flat plates. Each layer alternates a single flat plate with two flat plates side by side. You can make a long stick like this and it is very robust– if you place it in the bin with other big stacks it will come out in one piece. Yet, it is trivially easy to break it apart anywhere you want to– even if you need to get to that one green square in the middle of the stack.
You can of course use the same stacking method with 2×2 round plates, although it ends up looking quite different and does not hold together quite as well. Recommended solutions: (1) Store these in a bin for small parts, unless you use them a lot or (2) follow the method for stacking 2×2 thick bricks shown later, rather than the method for 2×2 flat plates.
There are, of course, some small parts that really are better off not built into stacks.
We organize our small Technic pieces in this divided fishing tackle box with a locking lid. Note that as opposed to the set-of-drawers method, this lets you see– and access– everything at once.
We also keep a separate box for similarly small non-technic pieces.
There’s no trick to this, so why bother? It turns out to be useful because you can see what you’ve got at a glance– much more easily than with a drawer full of mixed pieces. (Do I have three blue round one-by-one plates?) Also, the columns are much easier to work with. With my much-larger-than-kid-size fingers, it usually takes a couple tries to reach into a tiny bin and pick out (for example) a transparent red round piece rather than a green one. Working with the stacks instead, you can just pull out the column that you want and pick off the pieces that you need.
Here’s an interesting method that works well for storing 1×1 full-height bricks. Sandwich even-height columns of them between two large flat plates. When you need a 1×1 piece, peel off the top plate for fast and easy access. When it’s time to store them back in the bin, put the top plate back on. While the individual 1×1 columns have almost no strength, the whole assembly with top and bottom plates installed, is remarkably robust.
Like the 2×2 flat plates, the 2×4 flat plates can be difficult to separate if you don’t stack them carefully. Here, we’re alternating two repeating layers to create a strong but easily separable structure.
Painfully simple: A stack of 2×6 flat plates.
The same basic method is used for 2×8 and 2×10 flat plates. Be sure to leave (at least) a 2×2 hole in the middle, which helps to keep them easy to separate.
One Borg Cube’s worth of 1×8 full height bricks. These are fairly easy to separate out, but youngsters may want to emulate the method of the 1×8 flat plates (below) for something that’s less space-efficient but easier to separate.
1×2 flat plates. While this particular arrangement is very space-efficient, it isn’t so easy to take apart– keep a brick separator handy if you use this configuration. While you can stack these in some other ways (e.g., the great wall configuration), they are still hard to take apart. Often, a better bet is to keep them in a small parts bin.
The 1×2 full height bricks pose a bit of a challenge, it takes a little bit of thought to construct them into a larger shape that has sufficient rigidity for normal handling. The first three pictures illustrate the method: build alternating layers of 1×2 bricks as shown. The end result is actually solid enough to pick up and store in the bins with the other big stacks.
Stacking 2×3 flat plates. These plates are a funny size– too small to treat like normal bricks but too large to file with the tiny parts. Stacking them into one big ingot of identical parts helps a lot in that respect.
2×6 Bricks. This one may actually be a little bit on the dense side, it can take a brick separator for kids to break these off. Youngsters may want to emulate the 2×6 flat brick stacking method instead.
Here is a good method for use with 1×4 flat plates, although it can be applied in other situations as well. Alternate four side-by-side pieces in a layer with two perpendicular ones. This also makes large, sturdy canes that can be stored in a bin, but provides easy access anywhere in the stack without a brick separator.
The same stacking can of course be used for the 1×6 flat and 1×10 flat pieces.
Other evilmadscientist Lego projects: