If you’re a fan of regular LEGO, the world of LEGO Technic might seem arcane, foreign, and rather hard to get into. The truth is that they really aren’t all that different and you can come over to the technical side with a minimum of fuss – with the right attitude and by paying attention to what makes LEGO Technic different.
So here are some tips that I’ve picked up from all over the Web and, of course, time spent talking to people who are actually competent at building Technic LEGO.
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
This is the thing I am the worst at, but with Technic more than any other LEGO series, you need to plan ahead and have a very good idea of where you’re going and what the final product will look like. With regular LEGO you can get away with a freeform approach, but Technic doesn’t really play well with that.
With regular LEGO building there are only two possibilities with a piece’s position – either it’s correct or it’s wrong. LEGO Technic isn’t always quite so precise, specifically since you’re building machines that have to move and mesh their parts.
So often you have to finagle how tight some stuff is or how far apart th pieces should be. If you have moving mechanical elements, test everything as you proceed through a build. Sometimes one little thing fouling a gear somewhere can cause the project to malfunction.
LEGO Technic instructions have the infuriating tendency to create confusion around scale, especially with a very big model. Since parts like rods all look the same on a drawing, you often need a scale reference. LEGO will do this either by providing a sketch of the part labeled “1:1” against which you can physically measure the piece. Alternatively, often you’ll be told how many studs a part is in length; you can then use a LEGO bricks as a ruler to measure the part and make sure you have the right one.
It’s a feature, not a bug! Many Technic sets are marked with “2-in-1” on the box, which means that there is an alternative model you can build with the parts inside. This also means that after building the main model there may be some parts left over. Do not panic, this is normal.
Remember, It’s Just Plastic
It’s pretty easy to forget sometimes that the machines that you build with LEGO Technic are just plastic. It’s not hard to build something that will operate at high RPMs or lift relatively heavy objects, but you also don’t have to push far before those machines will break apart under the strain.
Check out this following video where Technic engines are pushed past their limits:
Pretty spectacular right? Yeah, that’s not the way you want things to go down when you’ve spent hours and hours putting it together. In some cases you may even damage pieces by pushing them beyond their limits, so try to have some mechanical sympathy.
Umm, How Do I Move It?
It’s easy to get so lost in a design or build that you forget to think about how practical it will be to use and move around. Here we can take some inspiration from another LEGO series: modular buildings. The designers of those sets have made them in such a way that they can be broken up into two or three main sections and then these can fit through a door or be carried with little risk of damage.
There have to be a number of points that are strong enough so that the model can be lifted by them – the same way your car has certain points where the jack is meant to go when you jack it up.
Be A Shutterbug
Back in the day you’d have to keep a pen and notepad handy so that you could keep detailed records of your build – any problems you ran into, how you fixed them, and so on. The idea is that at the end of the whole thing you’d be able to write up explicit instructions, or at the very least have enough information to rebuild the thing yourself.
These days you don’t need to do any of that or have good drawing skills. Just take oodles of pictures with your phone and turn them into instructions later. Get into the habit of stopping and snapping a picture every time you’ve done something significant.