Lego Storage and Cleaning
It doesn't take long before storing your lego parts becomes a major exercise. I am currently at step 13 of Remy's evolution of storage. My collection is predominantly Technics related.
I always sort by type and never by colour - that is I don't put two parts of the same colour but different types together. This make it easy for me to look for a part - find the box or bag of the right type and then look for a colour. It also allows me to substitute with another colour if I don't have a part of the right colour (arggh!). It also helps that I rarely have large quantities of a single part that I have further sort by colour to keep the total quantity down. The main aim of this storage approach is to avoid hunting for a special part through a huge pile of bricks. I tend to solve building problems in my head and then picking the parts. There are probably many who prefer to spread a whole pile of bricks around them and build. For them, sorting by type may be a bad idea. I sometimes use a pick-and-choose method while building. For these situations, I prefer a small pile of representative parts. It helps that I am a compulsive sorter. Sometimes I think I spend way more time on sorting and storing Lego than actually using it. To make matters worse, the Little Builder likes pulling parts out and spreading them and rarely sorts or puts stuff away.
I have a set of plastic drawers that are about 20cm x 12cm and 5 cm deep in size. They come in sets of 4. So far I have 48 drawers. They came with a bulk lot of lego I bought on ebay and I found out I could buy more at the local Bunnings store for five bucks each. I put a label with an image of the parts on each drawer. Some commonly used parts such as Technic beams and some parts like Mindstorms motors and sensors live here. Parts of different types but similar in some way share the same drawer. I may put some parts into zip lock bags before putting them into the drawers.
I use a plastic tray for commonly used pins and axles. Each compartment is small and is sufficient for tiny parts like Technic pins. Excess parts that don't fit in here go to my overflow storage.
A set of wooden drawers hold most of the remaining parts. The drawers have dividers to form compartments. A label on the from of the drawer shows what's in each compartment. The drawer set is one of my woodworking projects and I haven't yet made the missing drawer. Parts in each drawer tend to be of a similar type. The picture on the right shows a close-up of the labels on the top three drawers.
All overflow parts or parts that don't have a compartment end up in zip-lock plastics bags of various sizes. All bags containing parts of a particular type (e.g. all 1 x plates) end up in a bigger plastic bag. All plastic bags are kept in two cardboard boxes.
When I store parts I usually interlock them. This has two advantages - the parts take a lot less space when interlocked and it it is easier to count out the parts I need when I am building. With technic bricks it is easy to just stack them up but some parts need a less obvious way of interlocking. Here are some of the interlocking schemes I use. I even put wheels on Technic Axle 12 parts. Plates are stacked offset by one stud. This makes it easier to count them and to pull a certain number apart. Stacking parts also makes the shades of grey more obvious. Figuring out how to stack parts has become an interesting pastime.
Most of my Lego collection was bought as large lots off ebay - usually 5 to 10 kgs. Sometimes, I buy used Technic sets off ebay as well. Unless they are clean enough to the point of being shiny, I wash those as well. For sets, I don't bother sorting before cleaning but just remove the 'unwashables'. Once the lot arrives and the package is ripped open, the real work starts.
First, I sort the Lego into rough categories. You can see a picture of the latest lot sorted into origami boxes made from newspaper. One important category is the 'unwashables' - parts with stickers, electric and pneumatic parts.
Once the Lego is roughly sorted, I pack them into old, clean socks with no holes(yes, they do exist). Try using thicker cotton socks rather than thinner nylon socks. Silk stockings are definitely out of the question. Being thrown around in the washing machine can make holes in thin nylon socks and you will end up trying to find small parts in the lint trap. The parts are stuffed into a sock and the sock firmly knotted. They then go into the washing machine. It is a front-loader and I add a few towels to provide some cushioning. It is also important to disassemble every bit of Lego. Bricks stuck together don't get cleaned and take a long time to dry. For the same reason, I take tyres off wheels and wash both. I use the same amount of detergent as a normal wash - maybe a little less. I use a normal cycle (rinse and spin included) with the usual amount of detergent. I add an extra rinse cycle as the bricks felt a bit sticky when I didn't.
The slightly damp parts are pulled out of the socks and the sock is turned inside out. The parts are spread on towels. Any bricks that manage to attach to each other are seperated. Parts that sneak inside tyres are pulled out. The parts are allowed to dry for a few days. They are then sorted further into each individual type and are then ready for storage. The towel on the left has the wet parts spread out to dry and the one on the right shows parts sorted down to the individual type ready for storage.