BOOK REVIEW of The Unofficial LEGO® Technic Builder’s Guide
Details about the 352-page work by Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć
Title: The Unofficial LEGO® Technic Builder’s Guide
Author: Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć
Place of Publication: San Francisco, California USA
Publisher: No Starch Press, Inc.
Date of Publication: November 2012
Number of Pages: 352
Dimensions: 8” x 10” x 13/16” thick (20.2cm x 25.4 cm x 2 cm thick)
Reviewed By: David G. Luders, a Civil Engineer with 15 years of LEGO Technic experience
[NOTE: The publisher and the book’s author granted specific written permission to use the images and excerpts for this Book Review. This book is not authorized or endorsed by The Lego Group. LEGO® is a registered trademark of The Lego Group, but in this Book Review I use the word “LEGO” without the trademark symbol for readability.]
INTRODUCTION: Paweł (Paul) Kmieć is a world-renowned LEGO Technic builder of over 120 advanced creations. Known as “Sariel” on his website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel, he is an “Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) from Poland. The book’s “Forward” (written by Fernando Correia, Editor in Chief, TechnicBRICKS.com) explains this book’s merits the best:
“LEGO Technic expands the traditional LEGO System by providing a challenging building experience. [There are] three core concepts behind LEGO Technic — Authenticity, Functionality, and Challenging building….Modern LEGO Technic sets address these principles more effectively than ever….But many builders find freely building their own models difficult in this system, and that’s where this book comes in….Paul has unscrambled the secrets of Technic building in the best way I can imagine, and I’m delighted that his ideas are now available to all LEGO builders and fans. You will find many examples, tricks, and practical advice on assembling sturdy and useful mechanisms. You’ll also find detailed information on the history and evolution of LEGO Technic elements, for example, the LEGO pneumatic system’s evolution.
“The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide will certainly help introduce many young builders to the creative possibilities of LEGO Technic. If you’re a beginner, you’re going to read the introductory chapters and start getting excited….If you’re an intermediate practitioner, it will take you to the next level. If you’re already an advanced builder, this book has those extra gems and inspiration to push you even higher. Despite my own considerable experience, I still learned quite a bit about Technic from reading the book. I hope that you will too.”
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: I concur with the author’s objective for his book, where he wrote in the “Preface”:
“Rather than giving you building instructions for complete LEGO models, this guide attempts to equip you for your own adventure with LEGO Technic. It does so by introducing the principles that make LEGO constructions work, and by showing you component mechanisms, such as transmissions or suspension systems, which you can then incorporate into your own unique creations. LEGO sets usually provide you with complete instructions and no explanation of how things work. I decided to take the opposite approach. I strongly believe that playing with LEGO is about unleashing your own creativity, and not about following instructions.”
SUMMARY OF CONTENT: This book is well-written in an easy-to-understand style. This is important since many LEGO Technic fans worldwide do not have English as their native language. Navigating the book is simple via the 1-page “Brief Contents”, the 8-page “Contents in Detail”, and the 8-page “Index”. The Ebook version is similarly bookmarked in detail. The cover art and many of the book’s excellent illustrations were prepared by Eric “Blakbird” Albrecht, who also did the Technical Review of the manuscript and whose Technicopedia is an excellent reference. The author wrote that “This guide uses Bricklink’s part numbers, part names, and color names” to make it easy for the readers to obtain the parts shown in the many illustrations. The colors are clear and vibrant to help distinguish between the various LEGO pieces.
CHAPTER 1 – BASIC CONCEPTS: 6 pages are devoted to “…the basic concepts we’ll be exploring as we build. Note that it aims for strictly practical knowledge. Its goal is to get you acquainted with the laws of physics involved in building working LEGO mechanisms, not to cover everything a practicing engineer or physicist needs to know.” These concepts are important for good LEGO Technic design and construction. There is a good balance between rudimentary explanations and information that is useful to advanced builders too. The author describes concepts that apply both to LEGO models and to real-world vehicles.
CHAPTER 2 – BASIC UNITS AND PIECES: Via useful diagrams over 7 pages, the author displays the dimensions of standard LEGO System bricks and Technic bricks. Standard Bricklink terminology is used so that the reader understands the constructions in later chapters. Beginners can understand how certain-colored LEGO Technic connectors provide differing amounts of friction. Illustrations show various tricks of how LEGO “…bricks with plates can be repeated at regular intervals to align with beams.” I thought I knew all of the tricks, but I learned something new here.
CHAPTER 3 – STUDLESS OR STUDFULL?: The newer “studless” LEGO Technic Liftarms (Beams) are compared with classic “studfull” LEGO Technic Bricks. The author explains that “The two styles are significantly different, and each offers advantages. The styles can also be combined in order to use the best qualities of each technique in a single construction. As a matter of fact, most of today’s LEGO Technic sets and MOCs (My Own Creations, a term builders use for their custom models) use a combination of the two approaches rather than a purely studless or studfull building technique.” This is what makes Sariel’s models so good – many of them have a realistic, refined look but good functionality. I learned something here too (about combining structures of even and odd width). From the publisher’s website, one can see his LEGO Kenworth Road Train model and the beginning part of this 14-page chapter:
CHAPTER 4 – AXLES, BUSHES, AND JOINTS: Over 9 pages, the author demonstrates the usefulness of these parts, essential in most LEGO Technic models. He shows how “…you can use two half bushes to couple two switches in such a way that turning one switch on turns the other one off”, plus other uses that I didn’t know for these tiny parts. The book is full of such tips that get you thinking about the possibilities for your own models….
CHAPTER 5 – GEARS AND POWER TRANSMISSION BASICS: This 14-page chapter explains well the various uses and configurations of gears (possibly one of the harder things for beginners to fully understand about LEGO Technic). “A gear ratio is the relationship between the number of teeth in two interacting gears….A gear ratio is defined as follows: number of follower gear’s teeth [divided by] number of driver gear’s teeth…. We can use it to easily calculate how speed and torque are transformed between the two gears. Looking at the 3:1 ratio, we can tell that the speed is reduced by a factor of three, and since the decrease of speed results in an inversely proportional increase of torque, we know that torque is tripled.” There are 45 illustrations that show the characteristics of each type of LEGO Technic gear.
CHAPTER 6 – CHAINS AND PULLEYS: As an example of the author’s clear writing style, he wrote: “The important characteristic of a chain is its behavior under torque. When a high torque is applied to gears meshed directly…it pushes them apart, which may cause their teeth to skip. But when a high torque is applied to gears connected with a chain, it pulls them together. This means that a chain has an advantage in high-torque applications: Gears connected with a chain don’t need a reinforced housing—the chain is something of a structural reinforcement itself.” String and pulley systems are shown in six of this chapter’s 10 pages. Using the diagrams, one can make “power pulley systems” with mechanical advantages ranging from 2 to 16.
CHAPTER 7 – LEVERS AND LINKAGES: The author does a good job showing how levers can be used for crane booms and for the arms of front loaders. In 10 pages, he transitions from levers to linkages (which are used for pantographs and other devices). There are cool illustrations that show several linkage designs for rotating and lifting.
CHAPTER 8 – CUSTOM MECHANICAL SOLUTIONS: The nature of the book changes here – now come the step-by-step Building Instructions that are prominent in the rest of the Guide. There are detailed diagrams for making “…mechanisms that extend the functionality of your constructions beyond the limits of ready-made LEGO pieces. Here you’ll find mechanisms that transform one type of motion into another, that take basic LEGO lights and transform them into sophisticated signaling systems, and much more. These mechanisms are fun to build just on their own as explorations of mechanical engineering concepts, but you’ll also find them quite useful when building larger models.” 25 pages are devoted to differentials (with and without locks), ratchets, clutches, eccentric mechanisms, Scotch yokes, Oldham couplings, Schmidt couplings, stepper motors, & Geneva mechanisms. Even though they sound exotic, the author explains them in terms one can easily understand. He also shows his solutions for vehicle reverse lights, flashing lights, turn signals, a double-axle turntable transmission, and a sturdy universal joint. Some of them are quite clever!
CHAPTER 9 – THE LEGO PNEUMATIC SYSTEM: In 11 pages, the author presents an inventory and explanation of “old” and “new” LEGO pneumatic parts. It is great to see the entire system components explained so well; there have been few other references that describe the entire history (from 1984 to the present). He even gives advice on “turning your pneumatic system into a hydraulic one”.
CHAPTER 10 – PNEUMATIC DEVICES: “This chapter presents devices that make creative use of pneumatic systems: motorized compressors, remote-controlled valves, and pneumatic engines. All these devices take advantage of the fact that the pneumatic system has been designed to be customizable, and there’s almost no limit to potential modifications. In this chapter, we’ll start by discussing the most basic and versatile devices and then move on to more sophisticated and specialized ones.” 22 pages show how to make a motorized compressor, a rocking compressor, motorized valves, an autovalve, automated pneumatic pressure switch, various pneumatic engines, and a working water pressure pump. LEGO Pneumatics fans will love this chapter.
CHAPTER 11 – BUILDING STRONG: Through the author’s personal experience, he stresses the importance of reinforcing and bracing LEGO Technic models to eliminate weak links. Many diagrams show “the right way to reinforce” to prevent gear teeth from skipping. He provides Building Instructions to four reinforced differential casings and three reinforced worm gear casings. The remainder of this 24-page chapter covers load-bearing structures (such as his LEGO vehicle frames) and truss designs. LEGO bridge and crane builders may learn something new here.
CHAPTER 12 – AN INVENTORY OF LEGO MOTORS: No reference would be complete without discussing the various electric motors made from 1965-Present. “While there is no official technical specification for the LEGO motors, LEGO enthusiast Philippe “Philo” Hurbain has spent a lot of time performing many complex measures on these motors. This chapter’s measurements are derived from his work and used with his kind permission. (Read more about Philippe’s work at his site, http://www.philohome..../motorcomp.htm)” This 8-page chapter includes the new LEGO Power Functions L motor and Servo motor, plus the updated (July-August 2012) tests on the LEGO 5292 RC motor.
CHAPTER 13 – LEGO POWER FUNCTIONS SYSTEM: 18 pages are devoted to explaining the system components, in a better and more concise manner than what is presented on the official LEGO website (http://Powerfunctions.Lego.com). The author utilizes his extensive experience to give tips on the various Power Functions (PF) battery boxes and PF remotes. Building Instructions illustrate three different PF remote modifications. Linear actuator characteristics, PF extension wires, and miscellaneous PF elements are also presented well. Newcomers to the LEGO PF system will save a lot of time heeding his advice.
CHAPTER 14 – WHEELED STEERING SYSTEMS: The author explains that “In this chapter, we’re going to learn how to build typical LEGO steering systems as well as how to implement optional features, such as return-to-center steering. We’ll also explore issues of steering geometry and multi-axle steering.” Ackerman steering geometry and the “convergence of axles” principles are clearly diagrammed for 4- , 6- , and 8-wheeled LEGO vehicles. I wish I had had these 12 pages when I was starting out in LEGO Technic.
CHAPTER 15 – WHEELED SUSPENSION SYSTEMS: 38 colorful pages provide dozens of illustrations for LEGO Technic suspensions – “Now, we’ll take a look at two topics that are inextricably linked to steering axles: suspending axles and driving them….We’re going to discuss axles in four groups of increasing complexity:
* Driven axles (those that receive power)
* Driven and suspended axles
* Steered and suspended axles
* Driven, steered, and suspended axles
After going through the first group, we’ll focus on the concept of suspending wheels; we’ll learn how suspension systems work, how they are categorized, and how to choose the suspension that best suits our needs.”
Advanced builders are bound to learn something here, and employ the ideas in their LEGO Technic “supercars” and “trial trucks”. Advantages and disadvantages of each system are discussed, and there are several Building Instructions that prove most useful.
CHAPTER 16 – TRACKED VEHICLES AND SUSPENSIONS: Over the years, the author has designed more than a dozen different motorized LEGO tanks. It is good that he provides his tips for cool “bogies” having shock absorbers and torsion bars suspensions. Here are two of the chapter’s 10 pages (from images provided by the publisher):
CHAPTER 17 – TRANSMISSIONS: Advanced builders will enjoy the 26 pages of LEGO vehicle transmission designs and tips. They range from non-motorized and motorized 2-speed transmissions all the way to 5- and 10-speed transmissions. Studfull LEGO Technic Bricks and studless LEGO Technic Liftarms (Beams) are combined in colorful Building Instruction diagrams that are easy to follow.
CHAPTER 18 – ADDERS AND SUBTRACTORS: The author has great success explaining these useful devices. “Adders and subtractors are mechanisms used to couple two or more motors together. Coupled motors are usually used to control a single function, most often the propulsion of a vehicle. They can work together (in an adder) or against each other (in a subtractor). Both mechanisms make use of differentials, and both are examples of advanced mechanics. The way subtractors work is particularly fascinating. You’ll find that using adders is a great way to give your motor even more power. Subtractors will be most useful when building tanks and construction vehicles, as these mechanisms have two outputs perfectly suited for controlling two treads.” Here are two of the 16 pages (from images supplied by the publisher); they show just a few of the Building Instructions provided in this chapter:
CHAPTER 19 – FORM VS. FUNCTION: 11 pages show how models can be made to work well, look good, and accurately model a real-life object. Various types of wheeled vehicles and aircraft are shown. This chapter can be augmented by the author’s website, on which he presents more details about his LEGO Technic models. From the publisher’s website:
CHAPTER 20 – SCALING A MODEL: The author is one of the few LEGO Technic builders who can design beautiful models that are properly scaled and realistic. In 8 pages, he provides the source of references, diagrams, and formulas so that the reader can be successful in modeling something new. Advanced builders employ these techniques, now within the reach of LEGO Technic fans.
CHAPTER 21 – THE MODELING PROCESS: This final, 10-page chapter provides the finishing touches. “Size matters” when building LEGO Technic creations, as do the choice of wheels, colors, details, and controls. His tips help make the author’s creations distinctive in their form and function.
RECOMMENDATION: The author wrote that this book “…gives you tools to explore—it’s up to you to provide the rest. Creating something new and seeing it work the way you intended it to is far more rewarding than building even the coolest LEGO set ever released. Enjoy creating.” In that regard, The Unofficial LEGO® Technic Builder’s Guide is a huge success. It inspires the builder and explains why things work. It is a compilation that can save you months (if not years) of trial-and-error work. It shares not only Paul Kmieć’s experience, but also that of Eric “Blakbird” Albrecht, Philippe “Philo” Hurbain, and several other prominent creators. I highly recommend this valuable reference to anybody (whether a beginner or advanced builder) wanting to enhance their LEGO Technic understanding. It should be the primary reference in every LEGO Technic fan’s library!
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If you would like to order this book, it is available on the publisher’s website in print book form and/or Ebook. I’ve compared them side-by-side, and can attest that the print book has sharper lines and better color rendition than can be seen on a computer screen, or on a PDF page printed on a color laser jet. The print book is a great value at only USD $0.085 per page!
No Starch Press is running a promotion for 40% off all of their LEGO books until October 31st, 2012. Use coupon code BUILDIT to get 40% off all LEGO books! Here are links to the deal and to the “tweet” -- http://nostar.ch/LEGO_promo & https://twitter.com/...159719098527744 .
The book is also available at Amazon (item number 1593274343) and from BookDepository.co.uk: http://www.bookdepos...c/9781593274344 .
See this YouTube video of the various LEGO Technic creations made by the author: