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Tips on repurposing a LEGO-set!

(Written by William)

The major difference between an official LEGO creation and a model made by an Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) are the number of parts AFOLs use. It’s a rather common occurrence to talk to other AFOLs about a LEGO set, then hear that they had to buy multiple copies of it to make their own.

This LEGO-designed Log Cabin does not have a complete filled-in roof.

The reason for this is the fact that we do not take shortcuts. We like a creation to be fully realized. LEGO often leaves holes in their designs when they can get away with it. For instance, when making a roof, LEGO will not make a solid roof, but use enough support pieces to make it stable enough. An AFOL will, on the other hand, make a solid roof and not leave any space open in the design. This makes our creations sturdier, denser, and above all, much more expensive. 8)

This Bullhead Tavern MOC has a solid roof, through and through.

So what happens when we only have one set to build with? What can we do to get the full effect with the pieces available? The following sections will help put you in the right frame of mind to accomplish a good build out of one set. 🙂


Before starting a project like repurposing a set, make sure to organize the pieces in ways that fit your building style. You could organize by color, by function, or by your own set of criteria. Organizing will give you a clear idea of what you have to work with and encourage the use of as many pieces as possible.

Old Tupperware or cheap plastic tubs work well for sorting.

Limit the View Point

Many of our creations are made to be seen from multiple angels. However, if you limit the direction from where it will be viewed, you can extend the possibilities of a limited set number of pieces. This is a common technique in the film industry. By controlling the view of the audience you don’t have to build fully.

This is The London Escape set rebuilt to be seen only from the front.

Limit the Functionality

Having things that work is an awesome accomplishment for any LEGO creation. Of course, functionality usually calls for more pieces. Therefore, when you reduce the functionality of a design you will typically use fewer pieces.

This is a simple cart, much simpler than the cart built in the London Escape.

This balcony may look nice, but it can’t withstand much pressure.

Minimize stability

AFOL models can withstand a good deal of jostling. Take this away and you’ve now created a surplus of parts for yourself. Many times when you repurpose a set, it’s more important that it looks right rather than if it will stay up.


Forego the Details

This storefront is very simple, but has the painted tile as its detailing.

One of the most interesting things about an AFOLs’ creations are looking at the details. Often they will spend much of their time making sure everything meets exacting criteria. When repurposing a single set, you will not have that luxury. Therefore, only detail the pieces that are the main focus of the set. The rest of the set should only roughly approximate things. This will further focus the audience’s attention to where you want it.

Interesting Parts

Many sets will have pieces that stand out. Often these are the minifigures, but they can include LEGO elements that break normal designs. These pieces should be given the greatest priority. They will give builders a focal point for whatever you build. Consider the treasure-room with the prize-gem or sword in the center. This takes up all the attention and makes you forget that it is the only piece of treasure in a virtually empty vault.


This last suggestion is something we all try to do in every creation we make. Put simply, it asks, “Can we find new ways to use LEGO  elements?” . Repurposing a single set is a good exercise in discovering these uses. Faced with a situation that limits elements availability will often result in spontaneous ingenuity.

The back view shows how messy a repurposed can look from the wrong side.


The reasons why you would repurposes a single set are numerous. The difficult part usually comes down to doing it successfully. The main principles presented here all focus on two things. First, is the piece necessary and second, does it bring focus to my design? In fact, if you are not sure about something you’ve built and you’re conserving pieces, ask yourself those two questions. Chances are they’ll come in handy even when you’re not conserving. 😉

This is LEGO’s original design for the London Escape.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • DavidH July 12, 2011, 3:29 PM

    Great post, Will! I appreciate your methodical look at various strategies to conserve. Not everyone has unlimited legos!

    To lego’s defense I would say though that the reason they make their sets “airy” is so that kids can build them and play with them easily. Denser MOCs may be cool to look at, but they are not kid-friendly; too complex, takes a long time to build, you can’t just blow it up (something kids often do) and rebuilt it fast, you can’t stick your hands in it, etc.

    In contrast, sets built for adults, like the modulars, tower bridge, taj, the trains, etc, are very complete and fulfill our adult needs for realism and perfection. But then the price reflects that too! 😡

    • Will July 16, 2011, 1:15 PM

      I don’t blame you about the price. Although, as a child, I was constantly forced to build tick, sturdy constructions because I had a younger brother bent on destroying them.

      I have nothing against LEGO, which is why I wanted to point out all the ways that adults cane get the most from their sets. Especially when they’ve just gotten started.

      After a while, an adult fan will usually have more than enough pieces to make nearly anything they want. But in the meantime, a little advice can go a long way.

      Thanks for reading and your comments!

  • brickhead July 13, 2011, 10:25 PM

    Good ideas! An other thing one might consider is buying sets in the same theme, so the parts and colors are compatible with each other.
    For example if someone is into castle, just keep buying castle related sets, and this way one’s stash will grow, the parts will be in the same color sceme and you can eventually build a really big castle! 😀

    • Will July 16, 2011, 1:16 PM

      That’s what I do! I totally agree with you. I spend most of my time buying copies of the same sets in the same themes simply for this reason. Great point to bring up and thanks for commenting!

  • slovakiasteph August 3, 2011, 11:08 AM

    I think repurposing is a fun challenge: what can I do with these pieces only. Plus, it’s kind of your only option when you only have a few LEGO sets! 😉

    Here’s my re-do of the Log Cabin:

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