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A talk with Allan Bedford
by Lando da Pimp

Allan Bedford wrote a great book entitled, The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide. This is a great reference for LEGO builders. In the book you will learn the best way to build and how to calculate scale. Allan also goes into great detail about how to sort and storing your LEGO bricks.

I recently interviewed Allan about his book and his love of everything brick. How did you get started building LEGO's? What was your first set?

Allan: I got my first LEGO set back around 1975. It was a 13-piece police car (set #611).

There is nothing really special about this set. In fact, some people would call it clunky or boring. But for me it was one of those rare moments where you remember something important beginning or coming into your life. That was my entrance into the world of LEGO building.

MPb: Is there a favorite LEGO set that you loved? If so, what is it? Is there a line / set of LEGO's that you don't care for?

Allan: My all-time favorite set, bar none, would have to be the Fire House released in 1973. It was set #570 in Canada and Europe (#357 in the U.S.)

It's from a series of sets known simply as 'LEGOLand' that pre-dated the more modern minifig scaled models. It's the same series, in fact, that also included the police car I mentioned earlier. For me this set came out of the golden years of the LEGO company. It was a rather bland, square building but that didn't stop my very young imagination from staging elaborate fire/rescue scenes, many of which were surely based on episodes of Emergency that I saw on TV at the time.

MPb: Your book The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide is a great reference for LEGO builders on the different building techniques. So the obvious question is why did you decide to write a user manual on LEGO building?

Allan: The short answer is, "because there wasn't one." The longer answer is still pretty simple though. I have always enjoyed writing. I've written screenplays, software user guides, short fiction, poetry and even an article about how to make handcrafted fishing lures. So being able to combine my favorite hobby (LEGO building) with an also enjoyable pastime (writing) just seemed natural at some point. I guess the hardest part was identifying when that point finally came. In the end it was a combination of being in the right place with my personal/home life, having the right software and hardware available and lastly finding a publisher who was interested. The last item on that list wasn't a hard one to take care of. No Starch Press had already released a few other LEGO-related books (Virtual LEGO, Getting Started with LEGO Trains, and Jin Sato's LEGO Mindstorms).

When I get involved in a new hobby one of the first things I do is go looking for some sort of beginner's guide. I like to get up to speed on the background, the lingo and get a general overview of whatever I'm getting involved with, be it cycling, photography or playing poker. And since there really wasn't the equivalent book for the LEGO hobby I thought it might be a good way to really explore my interest in LEGO while further expanding my writing skills. Little did I know it would take nearly two years to finish this little project I had dreamed up.

MPb: Where do you get your inspiration when starting a new project? Is there a specific theme that you build from?

Allan: I don't really stick to one particular theme or scale. I prefer to more often build from real life inspiration rather than inventing something entirely new. A couple of subjects that do capture my interest include fire fighting apparatus and architecture. My 9-foot tall CN tower was the realization of a childhood desire to build a tower taller than myself. Little did I realize that if I'd built it when I was ten I would have only had to make it five feet tall! You can see the tower on this page.

MPb: When you are about to start a big project how do you start it? Have you ever gotten into a rut? If so, what kept you going?

Allan:Given that I mostly work from real life objects, I usually start a model by trying to find pictures and if possible the actual measurements of whatever I want to build. I do a bit of number crunching in the beginning to get a general sense of how big the final model will be. In the case of my CN Tower I worked out roughly how wide the base needed to be and how tall each section would be in relation to the others. As often happens though, the translation of idea to model requires a bit of finessing. As I built the base of the tower I eventually abandoned the original measurements and simply kept stacking bricks until it just "looked right". In the end the eye is often a better judge of a good build than is a tape measure.

In those times when I get into a rut (and that most definitely happens) I will often just pick out a handful of random bricks and start assembling them into whimsical arrangements. Sometimes a bit of "unplanning" can help unlock a stuck brain.

MPb: What do you think about the newer sets that include "set specific" pieces that can only be used to create that set?

Actually I think these types of sets are less common today than even just a few years ago. Some of the fabulous Designer sets are actually based on the very idea of reusing the same pieces (within one set) to construct several different models. I think the LEGO company has, in some of these sets, begun to really show off the core of the LEGO system and what made it great to begin with.

MPb: In the book you discuss about building using in scale with the mini-figure. I find that my projects are built to scale. Do you prefer to build in scale? Do you find that most people build to scale?

I think the minifig has certainly become a common scale to which many people build. Is it the most common? I'm not sure, but it does get a lot of attention with the town and train builders. For myself, as noted earlier, scale is something to play with but I'm not really interested in keeping to just one scale.

MPb: The book goes into a great deal about sorting your LEGO's for easy building and keeping track of your inventory. Do you have an estimate on how many LEGO's / pieces you have?

If I were to guess, I'd have to put the piece count somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000. But who's got time to count pieces? There are so many things to build.

MPb: So what is next? Do you have any plans for more LEGO books? Any future LEGO projects in the works?

Yes, another book is in the works. Something about LEGO, but something completely different than The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide.

MPb: I have one final question for you, Millionaire or Playboy? Which and why?

Allan: Well, I've been happily married for over 14 years now, so I'm pretty sure my wife wouldn't want me to answer 'playboy'. And although I'm not one I guess being a millionaire wouldn't be too bad.

MPb: Thanks for your time.

You can visit the official web site for this book, and buy it from Also check out our expansive LEGO coverage.

This article is ©2006 and may not be reprinted without permission.

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