A few months ago I was challenged to build an alternate model of the latest LEGO Fire Station, set number 60004. The goal was to design an alternate model that would fit within the LEGO City theme, and target the same age range as the original set (ages 8-12). I don’t build a lot of LEGO City themed models, or even minifig scale models for that matter, so the biggest challenge for me was coming up with an idea of what to build. It was hard to imagine re-purposing all those large wall bricks and windows into something other than a building!
Upon seeing all the windows, Kristal suggested I build a glass factory. That got me thinking about building construction, and I eventually decided to tackle a tower crane and construction site. I tried to incorporate a lot of play features into this model, making do with the limited number of Technic parts from the original set. The tower crane is quite functional, with a really quick and easy mechanism for raising and lower it’s payload.
I built several baskets for the crane, each designed to carry a different part. Each basket also has a simple inset frame on the bottom, which allows them to securely fit onto the truck bed or trailer.
You can find building instructions for this model below, along with a video showing all of the play features in action and some photos of the details.
Since I posted our fun little particle accelerator video a few weeks ago (you can see it here), I have received many requests to submit it to LEGO Ideas and create building instructions for it. You can find info on both below. I have also put together another video to answer some questions and show you how it works.
LEGO Ideas Project
For those unfamiliar with Ideas, it gives fans of LEGO an opportunity to suggest potential set ideas to the company. If a project receives enough fan support it is reviewed by LEGO and an official set is potentially made based on the idea. I think it would be great to have another science based set come out of Ideas.
I have put together instructions for the basic ring and accelerator module. It can be set up on any flat surface and be decorated and styled to suit your tastes. Some notes on the construction can be found below.
The ring itself is constructed using these old train rail pieces,which unfortunately haven’t been produced by LEGO in many years. There are actually two versions of this rail piece, one for the inside curve of a track and one for the outside curve. In the instructions I’m referencing the outside rail, but you can also use the inner rail piece instead. It will just slightly decrease the diameter of the ring. Both versions of the rail are still available on the second hand markets (part numbers 3229b and 3230b on bricklink.com and brickowl.com).
The simplest way to power the accelerator is to use a Power Functions M-Motor and one of the Power Functions battery boxes (AAA or AA). Note that with either of these battery boxes alone the accelerator will only run at full speed.
If you want to control the speed of the accelerator there are a few options:
Add a Power Functions IR Receiver and IR Speed Remote to the basic setup above.
Instead of one of the basic battery boxes, use the Power Functions Rechargeable Battery Box, which has an on board speed controller.
If you have an old 9V LEGO Train Regulator you can connect the M-Motor directly to that using one of the Power Functions Extension Wires
All of the Power Functions components can be ordered directly from LEGO via their online store (shop.lego.com). You can find them under the Power Functions Category. Links to each of them can also be found below.
The idea to build this started out as a joke. I was going to make a gag video where I start describing how I built some completely ridiculous and unbelievable thing (ie, a working particle accelerator) out of LEGO bricks. At some point the video would be interrupted by something completely inane, and hilarity would ensue. Clearly that video hasn’t happened yet, and the more I thought about it the more I figured that, you know what, I’m actually going to build a particle accelerator.
In the end it turned out to be not completely ridiculous or unbelievable. In fact the propulsion system is quite simple. More info and pics after the cheesy video my 10 year old self would be proud of.
I did round the speeds stated in the video up or down to make them more narrative friendly, but they are pretty accurate. By stepping through video frames I was able to determine how long it took the ball to travel around the ring at each power level. The ring has a circumference of around 264 studs and at maximum speed the ball travels around it approximately once every 0.6 seconds. That works out to about 440 studs per second, which is the equivalent of just over 12.5 km/hr.
The particle is a LEGO soccer ball, recently re-introduced in a few of the LEGO Friends sets. To accelerate it I’m just using a pair of LEGO wheels, one of which rotates at high speed, powered by a Power Functions M motor through a simple set of gears (see image below). The other wheel is left to spin freely. As the ball passes between them it is accelerated out into the ring.
I have tried powering both wheels, and it does make the ball go faster, but the additional gearing introduces more vibration into the system. Not to mention the ball is already a bit unpredictable at its current high speed. It will occasionally start bouncing around and come flying out. It only runs completely reliably at about half of the maximum speed.
This is Kristal’s latest LEGO model, entitled ‘The Artist’. It is a kinetic sculpture of a human head that opens up to reveal a wonderful world of pure imagination.
She’s had this idea for almost a year now, and has been working on it off and on since the spring. During that time there has been much discussion about what exactly should go inside. In the end she decided to borrow parts of her yellow Dr. Suess castle to use as the centerpiece, and surround it with an assortment of fantastical scenes.
Watch the video to see it in action and how it works. Pictures can be found below.
When I picked up the awesome LEGO Ewok Village (set 10236) one of the first things that came to my mind was that you could probably build a pretty awesome Ent from the parts in it. That was almost a year ago, and last month I finally sat down to tackle the project.
It quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to build a fully articulated model at the scale I was aiming for. There just weren’t enough suitable hinge pieces to build really strong joint connections. Using some counterweight trickery I was able to overcome this limitation in the upper body, and Technic friction pins ended up being strong enough to create some reasonably pose-able arms.
For the legs I eventually resigned myself to firmly attaching them to the base of the model. I was determined to make them a little more interesting than just sticking straight down into the ground though, and eventually worked out a solid design to have the model posed in mid stride.
Step by step building instructions, showcase video and photos can all be found below.
“Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”
Last year Kristal and I built a LEGO version of the artwork for Where the Sidewalk Ends, the iconic children’s poem by Shel Silverstein (you can see the photos in the original post here). I thought it would be neat to put images of it together with a reading of the poem by Kristal.
Last fall, while looking for new projects to work on, I was inspired to build a kinetic sculpture of a horse. After many prototypes, several months of procrastination and what seems like hours of watching horse videos, it is finally finished.
It proved to be quite a challenge to reproduce the fluid motion of a galloping horse. I designed the system for the legs early on, but I really wanted to capture some of the other subtle movements involved as well. Like the slight rocking of the body, the forward thrust of the head and a little flick of the tail. All of that motion is driven through a single axle in the base, which can be cranked by hand or via a motor.
It is fairly mesmerizing to watch and as an added bonus even sounds a little like a galloping horse.
A few weeks ago my local LEGO User Group (ParLUGment), set up a display at the Ottawa Train Expo. I was challenged by one of the other members to build a self-guided vehicle to drive itself through the layout, modeled after the Faller Car System. The Faller system is a common system used in traditional model layouts. It uses a magnet attached to the steering system of the vehicle to follow a wire embedded in the roads of the layout.
The concept is actually quite simple, and adapting it to a LEGO vehicle was pretty straight forward in principle. In the end there were a few issues that I encountered, which I will discuss below. Be sure to watch the video to see it in action.
Being based in Ottawa, the obvious choice for vehicle was an OC Transpo bus. I ended up building two buses, based on the ones currently in service: an Invero D40i and an Orion VII Hybrid.
As I mentioned in the video, both buses were built on a common frame, which you can find instructions for here:
There are a few important things to note about the frame.
1. I found it was critical to only provide power to one of the rear wheels. When I was powering a single drive axle connected to both wheels the bus was predisposed to drive in a straight line (due to not having a differential). This caused a lot of problems with the steering, either continuing straight when going into a turn or over steering (jackknifing the steering system) while it was in a turn.
2. The frame can only turn sharp enough to go around LEGO road curves in one direction. The magnet is attached to one side of the steering system and as a result the left and right turning radius are significantly different.
3. The magnet holder has to be oriented with the stud facing down, otherwise it will catch on the seams between road plates. Of course if you are willing to damage your parts, you can just file down the top and bottom of the magnet holder to avoid any problems.
I built this frame with a design goal of using stock LEGO components, but if you are willing to modify parts, or use other materials, then you can otherwise overcome some of these issues.
Road Plates and Wire
The wire I’m using is just some picture hanging wire I had around the house. It’s basic steel wire, about 1 mm thick. Here’s a picture of the underside of a couple of the road plates. It was pretty straight forward to tape the wire underneath.
I found it was helpful to tape the seams where the road plates met with clear tape. This helps prevent the magnet from getting stuck on the seams where they don’t quite meet at the same height. You can see some of these pieces of tape in the video.
Also keep in mind that if you are running a vehicle for an extended period of time (like, many hours) the magnet sliding along the road plates will eventually start to wear through the paint. I found that covering the magnet with clear tape minimized this issue. If you are overly concerned about wear you could tape the entire line on the road plates where the magnet runs. This way the magnet will only be running on the tape and not the road plate surface itself.
In the controlled environment of my nice flat build table the performance of this system is 100%. In the field this may vary, especially if the road loop spans multiple tables that aren’t quite level, or the tables aren’t perfectly flat (cheap plastic tables). For our show at the Ottawa Train Expo it did require some attention (thanks Jeff!) when it occasionally ‘jumped the wire’. At least this failure scenario isn’t catastrophic. The vehicles don’t have enough power to drive over the studded parts of the baseplates, so they won’t go flying off the tables.
This is my latest alternate model, a steampunk walker I call the Lazarus. It is an alternate model of LEGO set 31019 Forest Animals. I’m really digging these new LEGO Creator sets. They seem to have a good variety of useful parts in a uniform colour palette. For this one I wanted to try and design something completely different than the subject matter of the original set. I think I achieved my goal! I also had some fun making a retro style commercial for it…