So you have all heard the about sorting LEGO ‘bulk’, the many, many pieces thrown into tubs, bags and boxes by collectors over the years and sold by the kilogram, right?
You have decided you might give it a try and thought you could handle 10kg in a weekend? Thought you might score some unknown treasure in its midst? Where do you start? What are the best techniques to sort it with? Hopefully this article may lend you a bit of help.
Personally, I have done quite a few hours of sorting, I won’t proclaim to be a master, but I have certainly picked up a few tips along the way. Here are some I would like to share.
What are bulk LEGO lots worth?
First up, there are plenty of bulk lots around, and what should you pay? Well how much you are prepare to pay is up to you, people will sometimes ask crazy prices for what they are selling, they will sometimes also tell you it weighs more than it actually does and sometimes what you are buying are not 100% LEGO parts. It can also depend on the content, for example, Star Wars is a popular theme and if you are buying it to make the kits to resell, you might want to pay a little more to secure your purchase. Bulk LEGO parts with minifigures in are also worth a bit more.
I work off a guide personally of around $20 a kilogram, for bulk parts without minfigs. If it is under this amount, I consider it cheap and a good buy. If it is way over, this it is too expensive and I move on. This is a personal judgment and every buyer to themselves! I also ask the question as to whether it is all genuine LEGO parts. Is there any Megablocks or any other toy in there? If you are paying by the kilogram you will want it all as close to 100% LEGO parts as possible!
Keep it or sell it?
So, first part down. You think the price is fair, but now think about what you are actually going to do with it once you have it. Do you want to have extra parts for your own builds? Are you going to let the kids run wild with it? Or are you thinking about maybe turning a little profit and reselling it? Are there kits in the bulk that are worth a pretty penny on their own? I have done this with my sons on a few occasions now and sometimes it can be a good bit of pocket money on the right buy!
Firstly, for used bulk, regardless if you are using yourself or reselling, everybody will want it clean whether it is in parts or kits. We will come to cleaning shortly, but just to stay on target, if you are thinking about reselling, think about how you are going to present this to customers. Will you be selling it per kilogram or will you make up the sets and sell them off individually? Both have their merits.
If you decided you are going to sell as bulk per kilogram, it is better to break down into individual blocks and plates, easier to wash and dry. If you are going to sell the kits, you will need to find all the parts.
Parting out LEGO bulk lots
Parting out (separating out individual pieces) LEGO bulk lots means a lot of loose bits and depending on the choice you made above about selling bulk or kits depends on which direction you head here. If you are parting out for bulk, you can proceed to throw every part into some sort of container ready for washing. If you are thinking about sets you will also need to colour sort parts so you can find items from the instruction books. It will have to be done eventually, so it’s up to you whether you do it before the wash or after.
Washing LEGO parts
Washing LEGO parts has its ups and downs. Here are some pointers. Firstly, washing it in a machine can be done if you find an old pillowcase and load it up, tie up the loose end and put in the machine on a short cycle. Don’t make the water hot as you can end up with warped and melted parts, liquid soap is better also as powder can leave white streaks in places. I have done a lot of mine by hand in the sink. If you choose a sink make sure you have a grate drain that you can use to save and small parts that sit on the bottom when you drain the water out and drain it very slowly!
To concentrate on the sink method for a minute, this is tedious for 40kg amounts, but works well for about 5kg lots. I normally place the LEGO parts into water that is hot to touch, but NOT boiling with some normal dish washing liquid. I have a dish washing scrubber type brush that I pick up a small handful at a time and gently scrub, then pass over to my second sink with a colander in (the things you drain spaghetti and lettuce in), dropping the clean pieces in there. When the colander fills up, rinse with water and I drop on a tea towel a bit at a time.
Your first tea towel will get really wet, really quick. I have about 3 tea towels on the go, picking up the first, rolling the pieces back and forth holding the tea towel like a bit of a hammock, then drop it in to the second. Repeat the motion and drop it back into another colander if you have one. I normally take one and fill it to about an inch under the rim and place it outside in the sun to air dry.
By leaving an inch near the top, you can put your hand in and move pieces around once in a while to get the wetter ones near the bottom to the top and so on. After a couple of hours or so, I will bring the LEGO parts inside and place on new tea towels (you could also use bath towels) on a table and pour the LEGO parts out and spread them out thinly. Leaving it for 24 hours will make sure the blocks have no water left inside them for later when you least expect it.
Before you start to bag up random parts by the kilogram to sell, or dump it into a large tub ready for random building, cast your eye over the table to look for parts that are impostors. Many bulk lots will have Megablocks, Kreo, no-name clones and even Barbie, He-Man and Hot Wheels in them as well. Now is the time to pull all of this stuff out and leave the genuine parts. I have personally had bulk lots where the seller has told me there are a handful of parts in 10kg, quickly becoming a container of 2kg worth! That is about $40 odd out of your pocket on fakes, so beware what you are buying.
If you have clean bulk and are happy, you can leave us here and happy building! If you are planning to sort parts for yourself or to build particular kits you think are in the middle of all the bulk, read on!
Sorting LEGO parts
People have different techniques for sorting, this is mine and it seems to work well. I colour sort first, black, white, light grey, dark grey etc. until I get colour piles happening. Now is a good time to line up a dozen ice cream containers or any other sort of storage to place your colours into.
Once in big colour piles, I will then pull out larger plates, then the 2×4, 2×6, 2x8s of each colour and I stick my plates of the same size together on one end so that they sort of fan out a little. It keeps all the parts together and is neater than being loose. Then work your way down from the medium parts to the smallest ones and start sub-piles. Zip-lock, press-seal bags can be great for keeping grilles and smaller pieces organized. Plastic storage boxes with dividers are also great to start sorting into.
Repeat for all your colours until you have some resemblance of a system happening!
Now if you pick up an instruction book, there is a better chance that you go to the right colour and right part in a much shorter amount of time, you can find what parts you have of actual kits and what you might need to find in your local store or off Bricklink suppliers.
I hope this small insight has helped someone and you will soon come to realise the amount of work involved in bulk.
Based in Adelaide, South Australia, Ben is a Committee Member and Secretary of Southern Bricks LUG South Australia, Classic Space fan and technology glutton. He also helps run Custom Brick Builds, specialising in Emergency Service LEGO Vehicles and Minifigures.