Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Like any long-time LEGO builder and collector, I have my fair share of bricks which are damaged and well past their best. A few are actually broken - spokes snapped off T.V. aerials, leaves broken off plants, plates snapped in two - but the majority are just discoloured.

It's well known that LEGO bricks can become discoloured over time, taking on an increasingly yellowish tinge. This phenomenon is not specific to LEGO, and appears to be related to bromine-containing flame retardants which are added to some plastics for safety reasons. These flame retardants react with ultraviolet light (natural or artificial) to release reactive bromine molecules which initiate a chemical reaction in the plastic causing the hated discolouration. The process of discolouration is dramatically accelerated by prolonged exposure to sunlight. I can recommend the interesting Retr0Bright website as a resource if you're interested in learning more about this phenomenon.

Anyway, for a long time it was assumed that the discolouration process could not be reversed. I was therefore surprised and delighted to stumble upon a number of online accounts of people having some success in returning their plastics, and more specifically their LEGO, to its former glory. While the specifics of the actual restoration process varies from account to account, there seem to be a few common elements. All the reports I've seen basically involve adding a strong oxidising agent (hydrogen peroxide) to a catalyst (tetra acetyl ethylene diamine, or TAED, commonly found in laundry boosters such as 'Oxy' or 'Vanish'), immersing the discoloured LEGO into the resulting mixture, and somewhat ironically bombarding the whole lot with more ultraviolet light, either by sticking it in the sun or putting it under a U.V. lamp. Some of the results do indeed appear to be remarkably good (see for instance the account on The Brothers Brick website), so I figured that I just had to give it a go.

My first effort was a total failure. I mixed some 6% hydrogen peroxide bought from the local pharmacy with some Vanish laundry booster powder, poured it into a transparent Pyrex dish, added the sickly LEGO, and stuck it outside in the weak English winter sun. After a few hours nothing had happened, so I left the ghastly concoction for the whole day, and when there was still no change, I just walked away and left it for a whole week. And despite this, still no improvement ! Thoroughly unimpressed, I put the failure down to a combination of (1) the peroxide not being concentrated enough, (2) not enough U.V. from the low winter sun and (3) it being too cold outside. And I gave up.

Anyway, I recently bought a few old sets from eBay and was dismayed to find that many of the pieces were badly discoloured. Given that the sun was out at the time and it was nice and warm, I figured I'd have another go at LEGO restoration. This time I managed to source some 9% hydrogen peroxide (more concentrated than before, but still not the 10-15% recommended by the Retr0Bright folks). I once again added some Vanish powder to the peroxide, mixed it up as best I could, and poured the mixture into a transparent Pyrex dish. Then I added the LEGO, and placed the dish outside in the warm sun. And I waited. I have have to say that after a few hours of waiting there was little if any change evident. Frustrated, I played my final card. I boiled the kettle and poured half a cup of boiling water into the mix, figuring that perhaps some heat might drive the reaction. The effects were dramatic - within moments, the mixture started to froth, and soon copious volumes of foam were issuing forth from the Pyrex dish and spilling out over the patio and beyond. At this stage I figured the wisest thing to do would be to just leave well alone and not interfere any more lest I cause an explosion. So with some choice words from my wife ringing in my ears as she inspected the state of our patio, I quickly removed myself from the scene......

I returned a few hours later to inspect the damage. Thankfully the chemical reaction I had managed to induce had ceased, and all that was left was a (fully intact, I might add) Pyrex dish containing cloudy liquid and some LEGO. I gave the LEGO a good rinse and sat down to inspect the fruits of my labour.

In presenting the results, I must first apologise that I didn't necessarily plan to share the outcome of my experiments, so I didn't take pictures beforehand. What I've therefore done is attempted to find appropriate pieces to compare with so you can see what happened. So, first off - a red 1x2 brick. This had significantly darkened in colour due to prolonged exposure to light. Below you can see a picture of the 'treated' LEGO on the right, compared with a standard brick on the left (click to enlarge)

Not in my wildest dreams did I expect the result I got..... The treated brick is now toast - pink and badly faded. Interestingly, the underside of the brick looks normal. It's as if only the parts of the brick that were initially sun-damaged have reacted, and sheltered aspects of the brick have been seemingly unaffected by the bleaching process.

Below is a treated yellow brick, shown above a standard yellow brick :

Again, the sides of the brick have been badly faded by the process, but again, the underside of the brick is unaffected. For the record, my experiments also badly faded some medium blue pieces.

As well as nuking pieces in various colours, I also seem to have invented a new shade of grey...

On the left is good old-fashioned 'old grey', on the right is the newer blue-grey ('bley'/medium stone), and in the middle is....discoloured old grey treated by my toxic mixture !

Finally, below you can see a treated white palisade brick on top of an untreated, discoloured white 1x4 Brick :

Success at last ! At least the whites seem to have improved, which is not altogether surprising seeing as the process has partially whitened all the other colours to a lesser or greater extent..... Interestingly, I treated a large, old window with a badly discoloured white surround. The surround was significantly whitened, and the clear window pane survived unscathed.

So the moral of the story ? Well, there certainly seems to be something to this process - there are a lot of success stories out there - but it's clearly not without risk, particularly if you deviate from the suggested method..... Adding boiling water, which to be fair the sources I consulted don't actually recommend, seems to have tipped the balance here, changing a fairly sluggish reaction into something quite violent and damaging. So if you do decide to have a go at treating your own LEGO, think twice before adding boiling water (!), don't treat any pieces you're not willing to sacrifice, and please be careful (don't try this at home, kids !)

Thursday, 14 April 2011


I hate dust. It's evil. Dust is one of the the enemies of LEGO. It dulls the sheen of my nice shiny LEGO pieces, and settles in crevices, nooks and crannies where I can't reach it without dismantling my models.

I was therefore delighted to find a possible solution, at least with regard to displaying my ever-growing army of minifigures. Bricklink store SimplyBricks run by Emma and Mike has started selling minifigure display cases (below) which looked just perfect for the job.

These cases were positively reviewed by Huw on Brickset, and I decided to order a load of them. I took delivery last weekend. Each trans clear case usually comes supplied with a dark blue grey 4 x 4 base upon which it fits snugly, although not with as much grip as regular LEGO bricks. The upper surface of the cases has moulded studs, and these do grip firmly. More firmly than regular LEGO bricks, in fact, if my unscientific tests are representative.

Below you can see the first residents of my new minifig cases (click to enlarge).

As you can see, I've swapped out the dark blue grey bases for black. I've also added a black roof. Finally, to ensure that my figures stand in the middle of their perspex prisons I've stood each of them on top of two black 1x2 jumper plates.

I have to say that these cases are perfect for long-term, dust-free minifig display, and the ability to stack them adds to their usefulness and versatility. On the down side,  I also tried the cases with some series 4 Collectible Minifigs, and some of them would only fit inside the cases if I confiscated their accessories. As you can imagine, the Gnome looks profoundly bereft without his fishing rod, and the Viking won't fit inside unless he's shorn of the horns on his helmet and also his shield. Then there's the fact that buying enough cases to accomodate all my minifigs would require a sizeable bank loan, although to be fair this is more down to my excessive minifig accumulation than it is to the price of the cases.....

I only wish that Emma could now source some larger cases to fit my other models.... my UCS Millenium Falcon seems to need dusting every 5 minutes to keep it clean, and I suspect Tower Bridge will be much the same. I've found standard dusters too destructive for keeping intricate models with lots of greebles dust-free, and was therefore delighted to discover a cheap and cheerful product called Supreme Duster. This basically consists of a plastic handle, out of which sprouts an explosion of yellow filaments. These apparently "attract and hold dust electrostatically" and are "non-feather and non-allergenic". I don't know about any of that, but when I waft it over my models it certainly does seem to do the trick, and at less than £5 including shipping you can't really go far wrong. Admittedly I need to take a slightly more robust approach when trying to clean more heavily dust-coated models - it's less a case of wafting and more a case of brandishing it as if I was slapping my models with a wet fish - but at least I usually get a reasonable result.

Talking of dusting large models, the mind boggles as to how long it'd take to dust the beast below.....

UCS Super Star Destroyer - coming to a universe near you ?
The picture above was discovered just a couple of days ago in the image cache on LEGO's own website. It's a huge LEGO Super Star Destroyer, and the clever money is on it being the next Star Wars UCS set, although LEGO themselves have yet to comment. It goes without saying that I want it !

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A new place for AFOLs

As a regular visitor to, and an extensive user of, the Brickset website, I wanted to give folks a heads-up about a new discussion forum that Huw the owner of Brickset has set up and opened for business over the past few days.

My immedate reaction on hearing the news that a Brickset forum was on the way was to ask why we need yet another LEGO discussion forum. There are, after all, a myriad of well-established LEGO discussion sites already in existence. There are however a couple of aspects of the Brickset forum which suggest that it may cater for a somewhat neglected subset of the LEGO user community that other sites haven't necessarily served particularly well to this point.

Firstly, the forum aims to remain true to the ethos of the Brickset site, namely to be a resource for collectors, and many of the discussions on the forum thus far seem to be very much consistent with this. As a collector myself, I'm quite excited about this focus as I really don't feel well served by other discussion forums (fora ?) in this regard. As well as providing access to the collective expertise of a community of keen fellow collectors, it also opens up some exciting possibilities for the trading of LEGO items with like-minded individuals which would be very welcome indeed.

Secondly, the site has a "16 and over" age policy which, as I understand it, is in part driven by safety considerations (i.e. the protection of 'minors' as they say in the U.S.) but also in part by a desire to try and raise the quality of discussion beyond the level of "What set should I buy with my $20 ?" and the like. As you can imagine, this over 16's policy has predictably triggered a storm of protest amongst some younger users of Brickset (click here for a flavour of the reaction). Many of those excluded by the policy have reasonably argued that age is only one factor in the ability to behave in a mature fashion and contribute meaningfully to discussions, and that the cut-off of 16 is entirely arbitrary. Tellingly, however, the majority who have commented on the age cut-off in a discussion thread on the forum (click here to view) appear supportive of it. More than one contributor has pointed out that there are many forums which cater for fans of LEGO across the age spectrum, other forums which ostensibly cater just for older fans but which are nevertheless clearly overrun with younger contributors, but next to none which just cater for adults alone. It's clearly a divisive issue, and I can understand the arguments on both sides, but I certainly agree that there are few places where AFOLs can discuss LEGO with each other in the absence of younger fans.

So if collecting's your thing and you're over 16, why not check it out ? You can find the forum at (click to visit).