Sunday, 1 February 2015

And now for a brief interlude...

As may be evident from the title, this is a blog concerned with Lego.  However, “Other construction toys”, as the BBC might say, “are available”.  Casting my mind back to the days of my childhood, I vaguely remember having some Stickle Bricks, which were blocks that were more akin to velcro than a viable building material.  Whatever good intentions you started out with, it always ended up as just a large wodge of bricks stuck together. (1)

The other thing I had was Meccano.  I had a small basic set, and a larger ‘Mountain Engineer’s set’.  The cover of the dog-eared box showed a number of exciting things that could be made, from station wagons and buses to cable cars and funicular railways.

The Meccano Mountain Engineers set
(Image courtesy of

What I largely remember of Meccano though, is scraped knuckles, sore fingers and crawling around looking for tiny nuts and bolts which would lose themselves in the carpet, only turning up when they announced themselves by rattling around inside the hoover.  While you could make some detailed models, they always seemed to take ages and the build seemed like a bit of a chore.

So when, back in 2012, I got back into Lego, I didn’t look any further to see what else was on the market.  At the Christmas just gone though, I recieved a parcel from my sister-in-law and her husband, that rattled in an interesting fashion, and when I opened it, it turned out to be a model of the Empire State Building.  But it wasn’t the Lego Architecture series, but Nanoblocks, which was new to me.

The Nanoblocks box

Nanoblocks are construction sets that use similarly shaped bricks to the basic Lego building blocks, but, as the name suggests, are considerably smaller.  You can see a comparison between some Nanoblocks and their Lego equivalents, here.

Lego bricks & Nanoblocks bricks

Some research shows that Nanoblocks, from the Kawada Company in Tokyo, have been around since 2008, and include models of famous buildings, animals, musical instruments, and various licensed sets based on films and TV series.  The piece count varies from around 100 to over 2000 and my Empire State Building, according to the box, had ‘over 740 pieces’.

So having an evening free recently, I sat down, opened the box and had a look.  The contents consisted of a couple of bags of pieces and a base plate - so far, so familiar, and a single instruction sheet. This was different to the booklets that you usually get with a Lego set.

While other sets are undoubtedly more complex, this particular set simply starts at the bottom and builds up, one layer on top of another, in about 35 steps. (2)   I empted all the pieces into a couple of bowls, put the baseplate down in front of me and peered at the sheet.

The first thing you notice is how small the parts are.  While the 4x1 and 8x1 bricks are reasonably easy to grasp and position, the 1x1 blocks - of which there are many - are fiddly as anything.  I remember someone saying that you could do with tweezers to place them, and they weren’t far wrong.  A couple of hours of peering at the sheet and fiddling with the pieces (and retreiving a few escapees along the way), and I was about a dozen layers up.  The instructions took a bit of getting used to, as they show a birds eye view of the build, and the previous layer is shown as light blue (irrespective of what colour the blocks were), while the new blocks are either grey or a darker shade of blue.

Next evening I went back and finished it off.  The middle section, consisting of 24 layers in a repeating 4 layer pattern did, it has to be said, get a bit boring, but once you’re past that, you’re onto the home stretch which is completed fairly quickly.

You’re left with a model about 6” tall, and remarkably close to the original in looks.

The finished model

It was an interesting build overall.  I doubt whether I’m going to switch allegience from Lego to Nanoblocks - I’ll leave that to those with nimbler fingers than I - but as a ‘change of scenery’ it was a fun little side project.

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(1) Some googling suggests that while there are one or two valiant souls who’ve managed to create something impressive out of Stickle Bricks, most people are in the same boat as me.  

(2) It’s actually more than this, as the main section repeats, so there’s a small note telling you to repeat 4 steps another 6 times, resulting in the final tally being more like 60 steps.

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