Wing Flapping Mechanism

I’ve received a few requests for instructions for Kristal’s kinetic Bat sculpture, and though I don’t know if I’ll be able to make them for the full model, I have started to document some of its components. Here are instructions for the mechanism used to flap the wings. Hopefully some people can make use of these to achieve similar motion in their own models, or even just to get a better understanding of how it goes together.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

I explain how the mechanism works in detail in the main video, which you can find in the original blog post.

Wing Flapping Mechanism

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Micro Combine Harvester

I really enjoy designing LEGO models at the ‘micro’ scale. It can be a real challenge, and sometimes unlocks uses for pieces that you never even considered before. Not to mention, it doesn’t require an enormous collection of parts. One of my favourite models I’ve ever designed is my micro scale tractor from almost 11 years ago, and it’s been on my to do list since then to design more farm equipment at that scale.

Micro Combine

I finally took the opportunity when Kristal built her Micro Scale English Village almost two years ago. I figured a micro scale combine harvester would be a nice addition to the countryside. The finished model has been sitting on my desk ever since, just waiting to be posted. I was actually waiting to get a couple of ‘Plate, Modified 1 x 2 with 3 teeth’ pieces in Dark Bluish Gray to colour it the way I wanted. I use them for the cutter teeth under the header reel, and even though they are barely noticeable in the final model, I was determined to make them look more metallic.

Building instructions are below if you want to see how it is built, or build one yourself.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

 

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The Bat

Update 3/19/2017: Instructions for building the core flapping mechanism are now available here.

As I mentioned in my post about our trip to Australia, Brickvention is held in one of the coolest venues for any LEGO event I’ve been to. What I didn’t mention was that the Royal Exhibition Building is surrounded by some really wonderful green space, and that every evening as left we would see some cool Fruit Bats flying around. This was the inspiration for Kristal’s latest LEGO model, The Bat.

It took quite a few design iterations to finally get the mechanics of this model compact enough to fit in and under the body, but still evoke the unique movement of a bat’s wings. This includes the flapping motion, their expansion and contraction, and sweeping them forward with every beat.  The stand also moves the entire bat up and down. In the video I explain how the mechanics work together to achieve these movements.

The wings are built mostly with LEGO flex tube, to keep them as light as possible. Even so, you can see that they do bounce a bit when they reach the bottom of the downward beat. This is mostly due to the backlash that is present in any LEGO gear system, which is taken up as the wings turn over at the top of their cycle. The wings then recoil a bit as the gears ‘catch up’ to them at the bottom.

As these bats are mostly active at night, Kristal designed a brick built sunset on one side of the stand, which transitions to night as you turn the model around.

 

Bat Left

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Brickvention 2017

Things have been pretty quiet around here for the last couple of months. One big reason for that is that Kristal and I have been away on vacation, traveling through Australia for the last month. We were invited to attend Brickvention, Australia’s premier LEGO fan convention, and decided to take the opportunity to escape the Canadian winter for a while as well.

The entire trip was amazing, full of good weather, awesome wildlife sightings, sweet ocean side rock climbing and a weekend hanging out with great LEGO fans. I won’t go into much detail about the rest of the trip, but thought I would share some of the highlights of the event itself.

To begin with, Brickvention is held in probably one of the coolest venues for any LEGO event I have attended: the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. It is a beautiful heritage building with a lot of character and history.

Royal Exhibition Building

The event is set up on the main floor, but we were lucky enough to get a tour through the rest of the building.

Brickvention

As with any LEGO convention, the space was filled with all manner of fantastic LEGO models and, as the special guests this year, Kristal and I were given the unenviable task of selecting winners for the various awards. We actually didn’t take all that many pictures, so here are just a few of the awesome models that were on display.

Street Machine by Kieran Chamberlain. This model is a marvel of LEGO engineering and style, with a working engine and some exquisite detail work, which we awarded best in show.

Street Machine

Terra Astronavis by Ben Andrews.

Terra Astronovis

Railway Museum by Alexander McCooke.

Railway Museum

Oh, Mickey! by Claire Geddes and Bad Moon Rising by Tracee Geddes.

A really cool collaborative micropolis city.

Micropolis

U.S.S. Enterprise by Michael Peebles

Enterprise

For our part, Kristal and I didn’t bring that much to display, but it turned out we didn’t have to. When we arrived at the venue, we were blown away by three tables full of our models, built by many of the other participants in the event. I can’t express how flattered and humbled we were to see all these models, especially the different variations, re-interpretations and expansions people made to them. A huge, huge thanks to all those who built them!

JK Brickworks Table

The highlight of the event for me was interacting with all of our fans who showed up during the event. It was surreal to pose for pictures, sign autographs and just see how excited some people were to meet us. Thanks so much to the organizers of the event for inviting us!

I’m not sure we’ll make it back to Australia anytime soon, given it’s so far away, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it as a fantastic place to escape the winter. And, if you are a LEGO fan, be sure to add Brickvention to your list of shows to attend!

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Happy Holidays!

It’s been a busy year, highlighted by the release of my LEGO Ideas Maze set (which is already sold out!) and moving into a new house with an awesome dedicated LEGO room. I’ve also been busy working with my friend Michael on a new LEGO compatible product called the PFx Brick. It will enable you to add cool sound effects, lighting and animation to your LEGO models. In a couple of months we’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund its production. In the meantime, we wired up the Holiday Train and Santa’s Workshop with pre-production units to give you a preview of what can be done with it. Enjoy the video, and I hope you all have a great holiday season filled with a lot of LEGO building!

If you want to find more information about the PFx Brick, you can read all about it on the Fx Bricks website: fxbrick.com

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Piranha Plant

The motion of Kristal’s Dragonfly model inspired me to build a functional LEGO version of the classic Piranha Plant from Super Mario Brothers. Although it shares some similar motion to the Dragonfly model, the mechanics are quite a bit different. Watch the video to see it in action and to learn how it works.

Although the mechanics ended up being fairly straight forward in the end, it took a lot of time and effort to get to that point. Often, the biggest challenge with models like these is getting everything to fit in the space required. I was determined to keep the pipe no larger than 10×10 studs in diameter, which meant I had to fit everything in an 8×8 interior space, minus the corners that make it ’round’.

In addition, I really wanted the crank to be on the back of the model. You may notice that on the demo model I show in the video, the crank is on the side of the model, which is the easiest and most logical place for it to go given the orientation of the chain drive. It actually took some significant rebuilding to fit all the gears needed to move the crank to the back, without interfering with the space required for rest of the mechanics when the plant was fully retracted.

In the end, it was time well spent, as I’m really happy with how it turned out.

Pirhana Full

 

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Motorized Sleigh and Reindeer

It is an annual tradition for many people to build sets from the LEGO Creator winter village line and display them for the holidays. There are some wonderful sets in this collection, but one of my favourites is 10245 Santa’s Workshop. This year I decided to build a motorized base for the sleigh and reindeer, to add a bit of life to the model.

You can see it in action in the video, and you can find building instructions for the core of the base below.

My goal with the base was to keep it as low profile as possible, and I’m pretty happy that I could build the drive system into a base that is essentially only 5 plates tall.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw FileLDD File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

The instructions don’t include all of the white tiles and slopes I used to cover it up, since it’s probably easier for anyone trying to build it to just use what they have on hand to get a nice snow effect. They also don’t include the 2 strings I’m using for reins between the reindeer. They are part number 63141 on bricklink.

You may have to get creative with the reindeer’s antlers, to prevent them from colliding with the antlers of the reindeer beside them. If you orient them exactly as I have in the pictures and video it shouldn’t be an issue.

Sleigh and Reindeer

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Kinetic Horse Instructions

Of all the models I’ve designed that don’t have instructions, my kinetic sculpture of a galloping horse has probably received the most requests for them. I know quite a few people figured out how to build it from the original video, and a couple even sent me digital versions of the model in LDD and LDraw format. This really got me motivated to finally put together building instructions for it. A huge thank you to Ben Gee in particular, who sent me a mostly complete LDraw file with step sequencing, which was a great starting point for finally creating these.

Instructions

Building Guide

PDF File

Digital Model Files

LDraw File

Additional Resources

Parts List

Rebrickable

I also took the opportunity to make some updates to the model, and the newer version is much more structurally sound than the original. The connection points of the neck, body and tail with the stand are now achieved using Technic pin connections instead of relying on the clutch power of studs. Which means it won’t fall apart anymore if you blow on it. 🙂

The biggest visual change is with the feet, which I redesigned to use parts that are actually in production. I still prefer the look of the original feet, as my entire motivation to building the model in the first place was to use those Bionicle Piraka Head pieces as hooves, but they have been out of production for 10 years, so getting a hold of them might be a challenge. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which feet you want to go with. The Piraka head pieces can be attached to the ends of the legs using a 2L Technic axle, as pictured below.

The model can be easily motorized using a power functions M motor and a couple of gears, which are also pictured below.

It was actually a pretty interesting exercise to revisit this model, and I’m happy I was able to make some significant improvements to it. Hopefully it means I’m still learning new ways to be a better builder!

Kinetic Horse

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The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide

I often get asked how I come up with the mechanisms that power my models. There’s no real secret to it. If you take a look back through the history of human invention, you will find a treasure trove of solutions to pretty much any problem of moving some object, or collection of objects, from one point to another. Since the Industrial Revolution, and the advent of mechanical automation, the number of such mechanisms has exploded, and you can fall very far down the rabbit hole of YouTube videos watching these beautiful, hypnotic and fascinating devices.

So, finding cool mechanisms isn’t really the hard part. It just takes time and research. The real challenge lies in translating these mechanisms into LEGO form, and a large part of succeeding at that is knowing what LEGO Technic pieces exist and how they can be used. In the past, I usually suggested the best way of becoming familiar with the LEGO Technic system was by building a bunch of Technic sets.

Upon further reflection though, this probably isn’t the most efficient way of doing it. Any given set only has a subset of the parts that are available in the system, and buying a lot of sets can get very expensive very quickly. Not to mention, buying current sets won’t expose you to the useful parts that may be out of production, but still available on the second hand market. Also, building instructions show you how all the pieces go together, but they don’t explain the underlying engineering principals behind why they are put together in that way. It can be very easy to just merrily follow the building instructions and by the end have a cool model with little understanding of what is actually going on.

Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide

Enter The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide (Second Edition), authored by well known builder Paweł Kmieć, better known as Sariel in the online world. He has a very popular YouTube channel where he showcases his incredible custom Technic models and does Technic set reviews. Full disclosure, I did receive a free copy of this book from the kind people at No Starch Press but, having now read through most of it, I have no idea why I never bought the first edition. Here we have a book that has managed to capture, in one concise volume, the knowledge that would otherwise take years of experience with the Technic system to accumulate.

This book starts off covering the fundamental concepts that are critical to pretty much any mechanical creation, including speed, torque, friction, efficiency, backlash, etc. It’s a great refresher of some key engineering concepts, even if you are well versed in Technic building. Next up is a summary of all the basic Technic parts and how they work together. The Technic system has evolved a lot over the last 30 years, and this section discusses these changes in detail. Even as an experienced builder, I still found this section very informative. As an example, I never really knew what the point of the 4L axle with stop was, until seeing it plainly illustrated here.

4L axle with center stop

I was quite excited by the next section of the book, which covers basic mechanical concepts. This includes gears and chains, pulley systems, levers and linkages, pneumatic devices and techniques for reinforcing Technic builds. There are all kinds of useful mechanisms illustrated in this section, including ratchets, couplings, differentials, clutches, valves, compressors, etc. These form the fundamental building blocks of Technic models, and not only are they explained in detail, but instructions are included to show you how you can build them yourself.

The chapter on levers and linkages was of particular interest to me, and it was pretty cool to see systems like Hoeken’s linkage included, which is what drives the legs of my Sisyphus model. If there was one chapter in this entire book that I would have liked to see expanded, it would be this one. There are a lot of cool linkage systems out there, like those I used in my mini AT-TE and Steampunk Walking Ship, or the legs of my galloping horse, that I think would have been very interesting additions.

Hoeken's Linkage

Another section of the book covers motors, including a detailed look at all the Power Functions and RC system components, and the final section includes general tips on building models, which covers many of the challenges faced when trying to build scale models of real world machines.

The shining glory of this book though, and the section that is perhaps the most interesting and useful, is the one on advanced mechanics. This section spans almost 1/3 of the entire book, and rightly so, as these are the components that form the heart of a model’s behaviour. This section covers, in great detail, steering and suspension systems, various types of transmissions, adders and subtractors, and planetary gearing systems. Again, in addition to explaining how these systems work, building instructions for many different systems are also included, which will give you a solid starting point to incorporating them into your own models.

Instructions

Setting aside the fact that this book is targeted towards LEGO Technic builders, it is fair to say that this is also a great reference for mechanical systems in general. Ever since I built my first Technic set, I have always been amazed with how the LEGO Technic system can be used to accurately recreate many mechanical systems. Had I owned a book like this when I was a child there is no telling what elaborate models I would have built.

From a technical standpoint everything in this book is clear and concise. The text is clear and easy to read. The illustrations and instructions are clearly rendered and easy to follow. Sprinkled throughout the book are photos of Paweł’s beautiful models, to give you inspiration and show you what is possible.

So, is this book worth purchasing? If you don’t have the first edition, and you are looking for a resource to expand your Technic knowledge and take your building to the next level, then I think this is a must have. I personally think the building instructions alone are worth the price of admission. If you already own the first edition, then the answer is less clear. There are 4 new chapters in this edition, which include discussion of wheels, planetary gearing systems, the long out of production LEGO RC system and custom 3D printed parts. 13 of the other chapters have been updated with new information, but I can’t speak to those changes since I don’t have the first edition.

Ultimately the choice is yours. All I know is that I have only had this book for a couple of weeks and I think it is already the most read book in my LEGO library, and I know I will continue to refer to it again and again in the days, months and years to come.

You can find more information about The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide, or purchase it, from No Starch Press using this link.

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Tales from the LEGO Crypt

In just under two months, the Pop Up Book project Grant and I posted to LEGO Ideas has obtained 5,000 supporters, which is half way to the 10,000 needed for it to enter the LEGO review! This is a huge accomplishment, and we would like to thank everyone who has supported us so far. To celebrate reaching this milestone, and since Halloween is only a few days away, I thought it would be cool to build a spooky interior for it.

For this interior I wanted to incorporate some interactive features, which you often find in traditional pop up books. The ghost coming out of the crypt can move up and down as you rotate a gear in the back (achieved via a small piston inside the crypt), and you can make the skeleton in the open grave rise up using a small lever beside it.

I also decided to try building the book in a different color and add some decorative pieces to the front of it. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, and think it adds a little more interest to the exterior of the book. I had a lot of fun adding the spooky details to it, which include some jack-o-lanterns with creepy vines, a skeleton digging his way out from a grave, a Dementor coming through the fence, and the detailed crypt.

1613cryptopen

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