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Can clutch power increase over time?


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#1 jFox

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 03:47 AM

Here's the situation: I bought a bunch of used plates a little while back, and they were a little dirty so I decided to wash them.  After they dried and I stuck a few together, I noticed they felt different than other pieces I have.  They felt harder, almost brittle.  And when I put them together they grip each other VERY well.  So much so that I'll have to give them several pushes to fully attach them.  Each little push only attaches them about a quarter of the way before they get stuck again, and need a harder push.  Even putting a minifig on the studs took more pressure.  Also, if I put a few together and bend/twist them just a little, they make a lot more creaking/cracking noise than other pieces do as well.

So the question I have is, is this normal?  Does this happen to all pieces over time, or is it something specific that could have done this?  When I washed them it was in warm water with some Dawn dish soap, and I used a toothbrush to clean around the studs.  Could the previous owner have left them in less-than-ideal conditions for storage?  Maybe a place that was too hot/cold, or too humid, etc?

Lastly, should I be worried about using these with other pieces?  If these pieces have hardened up a bit, will the extra stiffness cause undue stress on other pieces connected to them?  Or am I just worrying over nothing?

#2 fyrmedhatt

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 04:09 AM

You washing them should not change the properties of the bricks, unless you washed them in very warm water (although that would most likely make them fit looser rather than tighter).

Most likely the bricks are older, in the early 90's for instance there were some batches with much greater clutch power if I remember correctly. If you stick together any pair of plates greater than 2 studs wide they are very hard to pry apart as well.

#3 Fugazi

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 10:01 AM

There was an interesting post by Superkalle a while back about how clutch has a tendency to increase over time. It could be that your bricks are old enough to be affected by this. In the same thread you will find out that there are ways to decrease the clutch power, but I'm not sure I would recommend sticking your plates in an oven without lots of testing!

 Superkalle, on 24 August 2010 - 09:37 AM, said:

Then there is another intresting aging process in Lego bricks that is worth mentioning, and that is INCREASED clutch power due to increaseed surface friction. This is caused by molecular changes in the surface structure over time. At TLG they have huge shelfs with drawers of Lego-bricks used by designers to build models. This Lego is replaced every 5 years or so because the clutch power increases over years - older brickcs become more "squeaqy" when put together. And once again, designers do not want Lego bricks that hold together in a way that is not representative of how the bricks act out of the box. However, heating bricks in the "oven test" will make them shrink more than the friction increases.

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#4 Rufus

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 12:52 PM

I've noticed previously that 80s LEGO bricks (especially plates) tend to be 'squeaky' when put together:

 Rufus, on 11 April 2010 - 04:40 PM, said:

There was a lot of surface muck on the pieces that had been on exposed areas of the set; a good wash later and they're shining.  I noticed when building that the plates in particular were stiff and squeaky to put together; whether this is related to age or the different tolerances used in Lego's moulds back then I cannot say.
(This from my review of 1984's 6928)

I noticed a similar 'change' to the feel of the bricks that I cleaned for the Yellow Castle restoration.  They seemed to feel 'sticky' after I cleaned them.  However, the feel (and, to an extent, the clutch) returned to normal after wiping them with a dry cloth.  So, while there may be an increase in clutch over time, I suspect it is exacerbated by residue left over from the cleaning process.

#5 Modulex Guy

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 05:47 PM

 Rufus, on 02 June 2012 - 12:52 PM, said:

I've noticed previously that 80s LEGO bricks (especially plates) tend to be 'squeaky' when put together:


Modulex fairs in the same manner as this too. Sometimes even new bricks (new old stock) are squeaky and grip very tightly together. When I build with Modulex I even have a pair or pilers to pull parts apart sometimes because the clutch power is that strong. I would not worry about the bricks clutching to hard, I have yet to see damage from older bricks cracking or warping from the clutch.
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#6 LEGO Historian

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 08:18 AM

Interestingly enough, I shipped some 1960s ABS blue small plates from the USA to a Dutch collector.  They were in a bubble mailer... and the strangest thing happened... each and every one was broken when it arrived.  Not for being smashed... since the bubble wrap was still intact.  But just somehow they were extremely brittle.

Also, I knew they were ABS bricks, based on the color... Cellulose Acetate bricks usually have a different shade, and often have very little clutch power.

There may have been a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s where the clutch power was stronger on some plates (and bricks) than earlier and later parts...
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#7 antp

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 12:23 PM

I noticed that the few recent 2x2 bricks in trans-blue and trans-red that I have are much more difficult to separate than the usual bricks. I suppose that they are in a different plastic: they feel a little different from the regular color bricks, like do the very old trans-clear 2x2 bricks that I have.
However these trans-blue and trans-red bricks come from brick buckets from around 2000, so they are not _so_ old.

Edited by antp, 04 June 2012 - 12:25 PM.


#8 Hrw-Amen

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 12:25 PM

I have recently used some of my very old white standard 2X8 bricks which would date from mid 1970's era, I had no end of trouble getting them apart, they were simply stored in stacks of ten high one on one and were very difficult to separate. Mind you they had probably been together like that for the best part of 25 years without anyone touching them.

#9 LEGO Historian

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 05:34 PM

 antp, on 04 June 2012 - 12:23 PM, said:

I noticed that the few recent 2x2 bricks in trans-blue and trans-red that I have are much more difficult to separate than the usual bricks. I suppose that they are in a different plastic: they feel a little different from the regular color bricks, like do the very old trans-clear 2x2 bricks that I have.
However these trans-blue and trans-red bricks come from brick buckets from around 2000, so they are not _so_ old.

All trans colored bricks and plates are made of Polycarbonate, and not ABS plastic.  ABS pellets do not come in a trans color, so TLG has to use a different plastic to make trans parts.
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#10 brickmack

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Posted 06 June 2012 - 02:01 AM

Yea, I've noticed this as well. An oven isnt necessary though to reduce clutch, I did it by accident leaving some parts in a hot car. It would also be easier to check and make sure you don't overdo it.

 LEGO Historian, on 04 June 2012 - 05:34 PM, said:

All trans colored bricks and plates are made of Polycarbonate, and not ABS plastic.  ABS pellets do not come in a trans color, so TLG has to use a different plastic to make trans parts.
This is why TLG won't make an all transparent minifig, because the friction is so great that the arms and other parts would break.

#11 Lego Otaku

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Posted 06 June 2012 - 04:35 AM

 brickmack, on 06 June 2012 - 02:01 AM, said:

Yea, I've noticed this as well. An oven isnt necessary though to reduce clutch, I did it by accident leaving some parts in a hot car. It would also be easier to check and make sure you don't overdo it.

This is why TLG won't make an all transparent minifig, because the friction is so great that the arms and other parts would break.

Not to mention putting arm in torso or legs in hip would cause crack because PC do not flex for joining.  If there were to be a trans minifig, it'd have to be a one piece non-poseable minifig.

#12 LEGO Historian

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 12:08 AM

 Lego Otaku, on 06 June 2012 - 04:35 AM, said:

Not to mention putting arm in torso or legs in hip would cause crack because PC do not flex for joining.  If there were to be a trans minifig, it'd have to be a one piece non-poseable minifig.

... that just got me to thinking about another issue that hadn't even occurred to me until this very moment... that 1x1 round bricks in trans-clear often have very small fissures (or slight cracks) around the base.  I had always assumed that all the round bricks had this problem... but that we couldn't see it due to them being opaque.  Well it's the Polycarbonate plastic in the clear colored ones that will not give...  even the slightest bit, which in turn causes that cracking we see in the 1x1 round bricks.

Edited by LEGO Historian, 08 June 2012 - 12:09 AM.

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#13 antp

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 01:11 PM

Indeed I had several broken or fissured 1x1 transparent plates/tiles
(used a lot for car headlights, when I was kid I made more often square headlights than round headlights :laugh: )

#14 88high

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 05:47 AM

i have a bunch of older bricks with ths property. It is just aging over time, and being stored in a bad enviorment for many years (aka a Texas attic)

#15 Niku

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 06:14 AM

This thread is very interesting and informative, I have a few little sets from Western that I donĀ“t mix with my whole Lego, for the reason it has another degree of clutch power.
I will try to wash them on a warm water.  :thumbup:  (I never tried it before for fear of ruining them)

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#16 LEGO Historian

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 03:40 AM

A bigger problem in the 1960s was bricks made of Cellulose Acetate... they warped, especially if left in a hot attic.  If you ever find very old LEGO at a garage or boot sale.... you've probably noticed that they "wobble" on a flat surface... that would be Cellulose Acetate....

TLG switched over to ABS plastic in 1963 in Europe, but the switch over took longer in USA/Canada, where some Cellulose Acetate parts were found in sets as late as 1970.
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#17 CP5670

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 04:10 PM

I have quite a few old sets with the squeaky, high clutch power bricks, especially from the late 80s. It may be caused by aging but there are other factors involved too. Sets containing smoky bricks (discussed here) have this problem to the greatest extent, so it's related to the air quality in which the bricks are stored. Not all sets are affected to the same extent, and in some cases I recall that the bricks were simply like that even back then, which suggests that TLG has changed the bricks over time to have a looser grip. The bricks tend to lose that strong grip and become normal if you leave them on a model for a long time, in regular room temperature.

#18 The Blue Brick

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 05:27 PM

I just came back from the PAB wall at my local lego store and am now counting my parts along with dissembling. I stack most of my bricks including 1x2 plates.

So anyways, I can separate the 1x2 plates until there are two stacked on top of each other. I tried using a brick separator, but that was an utter fail. I have separated a few by using my fingernail, but it was slightly damaging the corners and hurting my nails.

Is there a solution for this.

#19 Rick

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 06:08 PM

 The Blue Brick, on 05 July 2012 - 05:27 PM, said:

So anyways, I can separate the 1x2 plates until there are two stacked on top of each other. I tried using a brick separator, but that was an utter fail. I have separated a few by using my fingernail, but it was slightly damaging the corners and hurting my nails.

Is there a solution for this.
I suppose they're not sticking together 'TOO well' (so not really on-topic), but you could try to put 1 x 2 bricks on the top and bottom and then try to separate the two plates. Now you're left with 1 x 2 bricks with 1 x 2 plates on the top or bottom, but they typically are easy to separate.

#20 AndyC

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 10:18 AM

 The Blue Brick, on 05 July 2012 - 05:27 PM, said:

Is there a solution for this.
Two brick seperators. :classic:

Basically put one underneath and the other on top then push the two seperator handles together and it'll seperate plates easily. Although, it has to be said, I think this worked a bit better with the older design of seperator than it does with the new ones.
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#21 vittorio

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Posted 25 November 2012 - 06:26 PM

Weird question, I know. This post is a bit long so I appreciate any help and thoughts on this matter.

I took out one my sets and re-assembled it for kicks. I built it only once before, when I bought it in 2011, and then sorted the parts along with the rest of my collection.

While I was building it yesterday, I noticed that most of the bricks had more clutch power than usual. I had to wiggle and forcefully push down some of the connections. There was a lot of squeaking plastic and it just didn't feel right. I then disassembled the whole thing today, except for this component:

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The curved bricks won't budge upward. I can't pull down the brown plate below. Brick separators (I use the old ones) won't work. I tried wedging a cutter blade between gaps to somehow loosen them but the whole assembly is stuck solid. I was still able to remove two of the curved bricks by attaching a 1x1 to have more grab surface at the top:

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There was a lot of pulling and pushing and wiggling and cursing involved but I was eventually able to detach them. I wasn't so lucky with the next row, though. This is what happened:

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This one snapped off the main assembly, ricochetted around my room, and managed to cut a 2-cm gash on my right index finger (already bandaged but still bleeding as I type this post).

So I have two questions:

1. How can I disassemble this? I've had my share of hard-to-detach connections but this just beyond my comprehension and physical abilities. It's like the whole thing is super-glued.  
2. How did this happen? I did not have a hard time dismantling this component the first time I built it. Can clutch power increase over time or because of certain environmental factors?

Like I mentioned earlier, the bricks didn't feel right at all while I was building the set. I wondered if the plastic might have expanded, but I can't find a possible reason why that would happen. I keep my bricks in tackle boxes and store them inside a closet when not in use. I don't display my sets and MOCs for more than a week. I live in a tropical climate but there's nothing extreme here as far as the weather is concerned. My building sessions are usually once every 3-6 months. Perhaps the prolonged idle time makes the plastic brittle?

Has anyone else encountered this problem?

My collection is fairly new. All sets are from the last six years, but I'm worried that they're now also in the same condition. I tested another random curved brick and it's also now stuck on the top row, even with ample grab space at both sides. :sceptic:

Edited by vittorio, 25 November 2012 - 06:34 PM.


#22 Jameson42

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 02:45 AM

I was taking apart the Pet Shop yesterday and had some trouble taking apart this very bed. No part snaps, but yeah the clutch seemed a little off.

Here's a tip to get those curves off - pull off that 4x6 plate first.

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#23 Grimmbeard

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 03:08 AM

When you say the old brick separators, do you mean these? http://www.bricklink...Pic.asp?S=630-1

If not, then try using two, one on the top and one on the bottom. It surprisingly works like a charm.
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#24 vittorio

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 04:02 AM

 Jameson42, on 26 November 2012 - 02:45 AM, said:

Here's a tip to get those curves off - pull off that 4x6 plate first.


I tried to do that but the whole assembly is so tight that I fear the 4x6 will break when I do that. I think the curved brick has too much clutch power on both the 2x6 and 4x6.

I found a similar thread from earlier this year. It seems that others have encountered this problem as well: Plates that stick together TOO well

 Grimmbeard, on 26 November 2012 - 03:08 AM, said:

When you say the old brick separators, do you mean these? http://www.bricklink...Pic.asp?S=630-1

If not, then try using two, one on the top and one on the bottom. It surprisingly works like a charm.


Yes, I used two. But it's so tight that it seemed it would break the wedges of the separators. I didn't want to force it more than normal/necessary.

I also have another stuck assembly from this build: two 1x1 round studs. Normally this would come off easily using two separators but they won't budge either.

#25 Front

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 04:49 PM

vittoriol, please contact (write to) consumer service at lego.com and tell them about the problem.
Tell them which set the pieces (part design no. 6091) are from, and what text is written inside them (e.g. 02-8).

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