Lego is a medium based on small pieces and figures which can be made in to an infinite variety of models.
When a new set is released it often happens that a family may have the majority of pieces required for that set (or pieces that are close enough) but there remain a few specialized pieces that really make the set.
This is often the minifigures, but not always.
Buying a whole new set each six months or so soon becomes an impossible ask for families – both financially and environmentally – there is simply a maximum level of Lego one household can assimilate (I reached that some years ago!).
However it is possible to recreate the essence of the set with existing Lego and the careful addition of a few select new Lego pieces.
A suitable subject for a case study would be a Star Wars Vehicle set like the recently released Malevolence or the Gungan Sub.
While both are beautiful vehicles, the large majority of pieces included in both sets are grey, a color of which most Star wars Lego fans have buckets of already.
So how do you go about recreating the set without actually buying it new?
The answer lies in purchasing important pieces from sites like Bricklink and ebay and having an open mind about the resulting model. It won’t be exactly the same as the bought set but in my mind that is half the fun of Lego – Improvising.
Lets take a look at how we could recreate these sets.
1. Download Set Instructions
First we download the instructions from Lego.com.
Most instructions are freely available to download, whether the set has just been released or came out 10 years ago. Searching the site using model numbers for the two sets above I located the instructions easily and downloaded the books for each set in PDF.
So I searched for:
- “9515” to locate the four instruction books for the Malevolence
- “9499” to locate the four books for the Gungan Sub
Now we have all the steps required to make the sets we like plus we have an entire inventory of the pieces used to make these sets.
If you prefer a hard copy of the instructions you can often pick them up for a few dollars form ebay or bricklink.
2. Set Inventory
At the back of the last instruction book for each set there are always one or two pages that lists each piece used in the model as well as:
- Number of each piece required
- Color of the piece
- Lego Piece number
At this stage we can carefully go through the list to to identify:
- Which pieces we already have
- Which we can easily substitute with similar pieces or different colors
- The unique pieces we will require to make our version of the set look and feel as close to the real thing as possible.
When I looked at the two inventory lists of both sets, the first thing I could identify as obviously missing were the minifigures. It just so happens that for both sets there are a couple of minifigures that are exclusive, beautiful and will be hard (or expensive) to come by.
If you aren’t able to look past the minifigures then you might be better off buying the set or simply take a look at ebay for the latest price on each figure, as they will be available to purchase separately. You can also make a similar minifigure using those already in your collection.
Looking past the minfigures there is not too much here that I don’t already have, either exactly the same or in a different color.
Those pieces I don’t have I then need to locate on Bricklink or ebay.
3. Purchasing Lego Pieces
As both these sets are very new (and not widely available in the US) finding pieces at this early stage might be difficult. But as more buyers purchase multiple sets, piece them out and sell the major parts separately, then supply of unique pieces will increase.
However presently, many of the more generic pieces are available on Bricklink.
Locating the unique piece number in the instruction book inventory page (61678), I was able to find individual pieces for sale on Bricklink, just by entering the piece number into the search box.
At about 20 cents each (and I need 6 pieces) + shipping it is a fairly expensive piece so I might be better off using a different color I already have and finding another specialized piece for highlights.
Sure enough, I find the larger piece, a blue wedge (piece number 42060), is available for 5 cents per piece. It is much better value for money and allows my Gungan Sub ship to have blue highlights, just like the original.
Bricklink is very useful for this process. Allowing us to search for an item using the piece’s unique item number puts it one step ahead of ebay where you would have to search for “long lego blue wedge” or similar to find what you are looking for.
Like ebay you can check seller’s feedback on Bricklink and postage costs per piece are fairly insignificant compared to sending sets, no matter where in the world you order them from.
Over time, as more set are released I will look for the larger cockpit and fuselage pieces as they help give the sub it’s distinctive shape. It may cost me a few more dollars but it certainly saves me money in the long run and help my kids learn to use and appreciate the Lego they have.
I may even be able to pick up some of the less-rare minifigures to add to the set, as they always contribute a high level of playability for a relatively low cost.