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.
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.
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.
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.
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.