Book Review: The Unofficial LEGO(R) Builder's Guide
Monday, November 21st, 2005 at 1:34am by Kelly, BZPower Co-Owner
Recently, a new LEGO-related publication became available, and even though it's not about Bionicle, it's definitely something that holds interest for anybody interested in building with LEGO products. "The Unofficial LEGO® Builder's Guide" by Allan Bedford is currently available, and there's a good reason why it's being reviewed on BZPower. Read on for a full review and links to some nifty building resources.
As you may (or may not) be aware, LEGO is more than Bionicle. Toa and friends have been with us for five years now, but the 50-year-old stud-and-tube arrangement has been populating toyboxes for generations, and bricks purchased half a century ago will fit with parts you can buy today (even some Bionicle pieces, which have studs). Up until now, the only real way to learn how to effectively build with all the various shapes has been by reading instructions, trial and error, or talking with other LEGO builders. LEGO enthusiast Allan Bedford fills that information niche with a 300+ page book that focuses on some obvious and a lot of not-so-obvious building techniques. It also contains some excellent resources and new ways of thinking about getting the most out of The Brick.
Hold on, back up a second... why would this interest Bionicle enthusiasts, if it's not about Bionicle? Good question, glad you asked (you're pretty smart, anybody tell you that?) - there's a simple reason you should consider getting this book. Bionicle is aimed primarily at a younger LEGO audience, although even some ancient fossils up to 40 years old (ahem) seem to find the theme intriguing. But there's a whole big, wide LEGO world beyond Bionicle, a world of rectangular plastic bricks (among other shapes), just waiting for older kids. The LEGO Group itself is starting to provide sets that lead into building with more basic bricks - the Fall 2005 playsets, for example - and far from being limiting, non-Bionicle parts open up an entirely new set of building opportunities. The Builder's Guide is the guidebook to discovering some of those opportunities.
OK, let's get the obvious out of the way first. It's all in black and white. I have friends who don't see black and white movies, and have never seen the best movie ever made (Casablanca) - and it's their loss. So don't let the lack of flashy, glossy pages turn you off. This isn't the kind of book that sits on a shelf looking pretty, eager to entice you into purchasing it for a few quick flip-throughs and then be left on a shelf to rot. This is the kind of book that gets used and dog-eared. I've tried to build some of the samples shown in the book from memory, but (since I'm fossilized) I need frequent reminders, and have had to go back and thumb through its B&W pages.
The book has a structure that seems helpful for the beginner. In fact, that structure is why I'm reviewing it on BZP. One of my first thoughts after picking it up is, "Who is the intended audience?" It's probably not adult fans of LEGO (AFOL), although there's enough in the book to make it worthwhile for them. Er, us, I guess I mean. And the lack of glittery flash probably wouldn't make it a big seller next to Winnie-the-Pooh plushies and on-sale kitchenware at the local Walmart. The depth of the book, and the details Bedford provides about what (and more importantly, why) he's done things, scream out for somebody who really wants to learn how to build well. It's not exactly an impulse buy. The book has depth and (oof) heft.
The first section concentrates on the basics: terminology and definitions. Did you know that three plates stacked on top of each other equals one brick height? OK, that one's kind of easy, but he's listed most of the major "gotta know" bits about clicking bricks together. Then you dive into some examples, like a train station, which use basic brick types that can be found in most LEGO collections. From there he moves on to vehicles, spheres (which can be harder to construct than you may think), and Miniland scale figures. He also tackles microscale, a relatively new "official" theme. From there it's on to more advanced building methods using specialized bricks, including some Technic parts (but not Bionicle), to build a helicopter and space shuttle. There are quite a few other models, including one big Egyptian sculpture, but that one kind of Sphynx (nyuk nyuk - sorry).
Far from being boring lists of instructions, Bedford uses the examples to detail why a particular part or method of construction is used, and encourages the reader to continually come up with alternate ways of doing things. I've been slapping bricks together for longer than most of my dear readers have been alive, and I learned more than a few new (to me) construction techniques.
The last third of the book is a giant resources section, including a "Brickopedia" that lists the major types of bricks. (Not all types are covered, of course - there are literally thousands of different shapes currently being produced. But he's hit all the major groupings: bricks, plates, slopes, and so on.) There are also suggestions on how to sort your bricks - organization can be key to a successful creation. And finally, he includes some other spiffy tools to help you plan your creations, especially special graph paper that can easily be used with LEGO bricks, and instructions for building tools to get at those finicky little hard-to-reach places.
Now that you've read my long-winded description, find out for yourself if the book should be on your Christmas list: read a sample chapter (6.2MB PDF - Acrobat required). You can also visit his web site that lists where to purchase the book. It's even available through LEGO Shop at Home's web site. Hint: Amazon offers the book at about 1/3 off its USD$24.95 retail price.
The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide is a great gift item for anybody interested in learning how to design and put together solid and interesting LEGO models. It's especially useful for Bionicle fans wanting to take that next step into building with the LEGO system of studs and tubes - and for those who've already made the leap.
The only thing missing? Advanced techniques, like SNOT (studs not on top), load-bearing structures, Technic building, 5/6 techniques, and so on. Hopefully, if this book sells well enough, that sequel will be on shelves someday. But in the meantime, this guide will probably find a place somewhere close at hand in your building area.
Don't worry about how dog-eared it gets. I'm sure it likes the attention. Woof.
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