Friday, October 28, 2011

Resurrecting The Skull's Eye Part 4: Making The Sails

As I alluded to earlier if I had needed to buy the sails that would have been a deal breaker for this project. Whether on eBay or Bricklink the price for sails is obscene.  Painful as it is this makes perfect sense as sails are the ultimate exclusive part; each one is unique to its particular set alone.  Some shapes and sizes a shared but the design is particular to each ship.  With such a limited supply the cost is bound to be high. 

On most things I am a purist.  You will not find a single Megablock, Tyco or other cheap imitation piece in my collection.  However, as I mentioned earlier I am not opposed to changing the color of an official Lego piece (and am doing so on this project) and I am also not opposed to creating my own custom parts when I can do it at the same level of quality as Lego.  With the sails and flags I am in a unique position in that I have a fashion designer as a wife which gives me access to some expert knowledge and work as an engineer which gives me access to some fairly high end software, both of which I will put to good use.  I am certain I can make top quality replicas.

My first stop is and their excellent library of 1:1 scans of all the Lego sails from every ship Lego has produced.  After downloading those I import them into a computer aided drafting (CAD) program that I use for work.  I then painstakingly trace them down to the smallest detail saving the final product as a PDF.

Screen shot of sail tracing
Ok now for the material.  This is where my wife and her textile training comes in.  What is that mysterious not quite paper but not quite fabric material Lego sails are made of? The answer?   Artist's canvas.  Yes that material is the same stuff as those large canvases you see hanging in museums with all manner of wet media spread across them.  A quick stop at my local hobby shop and I have a pad of artist's canvas with more than enough sheets. 

I insert those sheets into my home printer and must confess that even I am taken aback by the perfection of the result.  Out of the machine come a set of sails indistinguishable from the originals for my soon to be constructed schooner.  Some quick work with my beloved bride's extra sharp scissors and I have a full set of sails for under $8.00!

For those of you interested in trying something like this project yourself I will post, in a later entry, detailed step by step instructions for how to make your own Lego sails from scratch as there are some particulars and pitfalls you should be aware of. 

The parts are here and after a little painting I have before me the final product, I will post final pictures, including the few modifications I did, as well as the final costs in my next entry. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Resurrecting the Skull's Eye Part 3: The Bricklink Purchases

I approach buying Legos on Bricklink like generals approach a war.  Making a large purchase (as I am about to do for my Skull's Eye project) is like storming an enemy's  beachhead; poor planning or execution will cost you... Dearly.  Ok so I exaggerate a little bit but the point holds.  With the plethora of stores hawking their plastic studded wares Bricklink can be overwhelming to those looking to pinch pennies as I am.  Here is how I do it. 

My Bricklink purchases are made after hours at work.  No, this is not because I am trying to hide my Lego addiction from an indignant spouse (my wonderful bride is the biggest supporter of my habit God bless her!).  It is because my work computer has 2 screens, and I am going to need them.  I open up no fewer than 8 windows (4 per screen to start) each to the homepage of Bricklink.  I then do a search for the 8 pieces that I think are going to be the most rare. 

Filling the carts
I start with the ones I have labeled as exclusive (as per my earlier blog entry) and then move into the mid-range pieces filling in however many remaining windows I have choosing the parts based on my past experience with their exclusivity. 

These become my 8 starting stores and I then search for my Wanted List in each one of them.  9 times out of 10, if I have done a good job of parsing out the pieces into the 3  categories, this will yield all of the parts I need being in the carts of these various stores.  If not then I find stores that have the missing ones until I have all of the parts accounted for.  Obviously the is a lot of overlap and by the time I have all the pieces accounted for my carts are swelling with repeats.  Thus begins the slashing (and why I want the 2 screens).  Like some sort of perverse reality show I begin eliminating repeats leaving only the most inexpensive offering for a given piece in the cart of it's respective store.  Along with the cold numerical considerations there is also a certain amount of judgement which must be employed at this stage.  Yes a given piece may be cheaper in store A but if that is the only piece that is cheaper and store B has that same piece for a mere few cents more then it is not worth the shipping to buy that single part from store A.  Often whole stores will get eliminated for this reason because even if I can save a couple of bucks on pieces it isn't worth the 7 or 8 dollars I would have to pay in shipping.  Judgement is also needed as it relates to the size of pieces.  Baseplates or other large specialty parts are going to require a larger box for shipment, so packing more small parts (even if they are a bit more expensive) in with the larger ones that are going to have to be shipped in a larger box anyway can potentially save you money somewhere else.  So really my technique is part science and part my gut instinct mixed with past experience. 

When it is all said and done this time around I am left with items in 6 stores and the sense that I have had a mind numbing out of body experience.  Bricklink does not have a lot of automated tools to assist me in my technique, I have to track which pieces are accounted for on my own as there is no online tool that lets you fill your wanted list with the cheapest option across multiple stores (at least not that I have found, if someone knows where this feature is please let me know!).  At the end of one of these crusades (which can take, on a project like this, multiple hours) my head is spinning and I am always wishing I had enough money to just order from the first stores that come to the top of the list.  But I have the parts I need and the supreme satisfaction of feeling like I have won a battle. 

Normally, completing my orders would usher in the time that would find me bouncing around with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve waiting for all the parts to come in so I can build the new set.  This time, however, I have a task to occupy my mind and hands: the sails. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Resurrecting the Skull's Eye Part 2: Dealing With The Exclusive Pieces

Alright, I have reached the first major challenge of all resurrection projects: how to deal with the exclusive pieces. 

In terms of figuring out how to deal with exclusive pieces You have the following options:

1. Bite the bullet and pay the arm and a leg it will take to get them (that is going to be rough for me as I am trying to do this for less than the original MSRP and am cheap as it is).
2. Omit them (this sacrifices authenticity but can be a good option if the part is not essential).
3. Substitue another piece (this can be a great option if you are willing to sacrifice authenticity and the piece is "buried" within the set).  
4. Modify a less rare piece (this can be done by modifying the color, creating stickers, etc.).
5. Make your own (this is a great option if you have the skills and equipment on parts like sails and ropes).

In my case I am trying to be as accurate as possible but have already made the decision to go with option 1 on the minifigures and just not get them (I have plenty of extra pirates) so I am not going to be perfectly authentic as it is.  After checking prices on Bricklink and eBay I come to the following conclusions.

On the Hull and the Masts (two exclusive pieces I forgot to mention in my last post) I have no choice but to do option 1 and bite the bullet, there is no way to do this project without them. 

For the Compass I am going to do a combination of option 3 and 4.  My plan is to get get a Round 2 x 2 Tile and create my own sticker which will mimick the look of the compass.  

For the Printed Panel I am going to do option 4 by making a skull and cross bones sticker and applying it to a plain White 4 x 3 Panel.  I will trace the skull and cross bones from a picture of the actual piece so I should be able to make it indistinguishable.   

For the Green Flags and the Blue Palm Tree Pieces I am undecided.  There are some reasonable prices out there for both of these, but all the stores they were in for cheap don't have a lot of the other parts I need which means I will be paying shipping for only a few parts which may prove to be too expensive.  I am going to play this one by ear as I go and either buy them or get each of those parts in a more standard color and paint them (i.e. option 4).   

Finally on the Sails and Ropes I am fortunate enough to have married my amazing wife who coveniently graduated with a degree in textile production management from one of the top fashion schools in the world.  She has assurred me she can help me make perfect replica sails so I will be able to do option 5 on these.  Thank goodness because the price for sails on both Bricklink and eBay is outrageous! 

With those decisions made it is time to start shopping!!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ressurecting The Skull's Eye Part 1: Developing The Parts List

A key aspect of any resurrection project is understanding the different categories that a set's parts fall into.  There are three categories which, in my mind, describe each of the pieces in a set. 

The Basic Pieces
The Mid-Range Pieces
The Exclusive Pieces

The basic pieces are those that are common in both type and color.  A prime example of these are bricks and plates, the foundations of any set. 

These will be availible in almost any Bricklink store or lot of loose pieces on eBay.  On a resurrection project they are the parts you won't have to worry about finding or paying an arm and a leg for.   

The mid-range pieces are a little more difficult to find than the basic ones but are still fundamental to the set.  A great example of these types of parts are hinges.  Most Bricklink stores will have hinges, but there are so many differnt types and colors that the exact combination you need is often a bit harder to find and may not exist in a single store.  

The final category is the exclusive parts.  These are the ones that, whether in type, color or both, only came with a few sets and therfore there are less of them floating around.  Due to the limited supply the price for these parts goes up accordingly.  An example from the Skull's Eye is the compass. 
My approach to shopping for parts (which I will describe in detail in a later post when I get to that point) is to figure out where I am going to get all the exclusive parts and see how many of the pieces in the other 2 categories I can get from those stores.  Most of the time it is 95% of them or more depending on how many exclusive parts there are.  For now I need to figure out which parts are in which category.   

In the case of the Skull's Eye I identify the following pieces as being exclusive and for the following reasons:

1. The compass shown above (only availible in Pirate themed sets).
2. The printed 4x3 panel on the back of the ship (the piece is common but the printed skull and crossbones is exlusive to this set alone... already dreading the price on that one).
3. The green flags wich cover the cannon ports on the sides (a common piece but very rare in this color).
4. The blue palm tree top pieces that make up the bottom of the lanterns (I only know of one other set that these came with in that blue color: 6271 Imperial Flagship from 1992, my guess is they were included here because they had been overproduced for that earlier set).

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's a Go!

After having looked into it I have determined that trying to ressurrect the Skull's Eye is a reasonable project and am giving the project the green light!  I am in fact a little behind as I have already made the first purchase: the hull.

I knew going into this that the hull was going to be the most expensive part of the project.  Whenever I have a piece (or pieces) like that which are essential and exclusive to the set, I always check both Bricklink and eBay.  In this case it turned out that eBay won.  I found a seller offering the complete hull in excellent condition with free shipping for less than any of the stores on Bricklink.  As the hulls would have added substantially to the shipping cost of any Bricklink purchase this was a no brainer for me.  $35.00 later and I am off and running (or sailing as the case may be)!

The hull from the eBay purchase.
After getting the hull (which along with being essential commmits me to the project) my next stop was Peeron for the set inventory.  This past weekend I went through all of my spare parts to see what I had and develop the shopping list which will guide my decisions on how to get the pieces I need and form the basis of the future Bricklink purchases.  I was pleasantly suprised by how many of the parts I already had.  This is the beauty of some of these older sets, as Lego did not have as large a pool of pieces to draw from they had to make do by using the ones they had in creative ways.  This translates to sets containing a lot more of the basic pieces which are easy to come by.  I was delighted to find that I had about 30% of the pieces already spread throughout my bags and bins of "spare parts". 

With the hull on order and the shopping list in hand I am ready to tackle the next challenge: figuring out how I am going to get the pieces I need.