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I am a life long Lego Maniac, and my kits from when I was a kid were passed down to my nephew, who has just passed them down to my son (40 years of history...). The trouble is that none of my old plans/directions are still around, and neither are the plans/direction from my nephew's kits. My nephew and I started to do a quick inventory, but he couldn't remember all of the kits that were in the hoard (3 LARGE boxes so far). Is there an easy way to figure this out? Does LEGO offer any of their old plans for free online or will I need to pay for them? Can any one offer help in identifying some of the fairly recent stuff? I can post images if needed. Some of the newer parts are quite unique.

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The following question also has details of how to get hold of instructions for older sets: bricks.stackexchange.com/questions/64/… –  Zhaph - Ben Duguid Oct 31 '11 at 12:05
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This previous question raises the problem of identifying kits from list of parts bricks.stackexchange.com/questions/102/… –  pcantin Oct 31 '11 at 14:42

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Your best shot is to identify individual piece and look them up on Peeron or BrickLink. Since both carry set inventories, you'll be able to find lists of sets in which the parts can be found. Try to start with more bizarre parts, chances are they are in a few models only.

Once you're sure you've found a model for which you've all the parts, build it using old instruction scans from PICSL.

If identifying LEGO parts proves too difficult for some of them, ask experts.

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You might want to include the note that almost all parts have their element or part id embossed on the underside. –  Zhaph - Ben Duguid Oct 31 '11 at 8:58
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Actually, no, I don't want to do that as it's not really the point of this question and it has been covered in another question. However, you're quite right that I should have at least pointed to that corresponding question on how to determine the name of a brick. I've added that. –  Joubarc Oct 31 '11 at 9:07
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Also, once you have parts for at least one kit identified, use rebrickable.com to find other kits that you may also have had with those parts. –  Grandpappy Oct 31 '11 at 14:03
    
@Joubarc +1 for a good answer, I check out those links and I'm sure they will help with ID'ing the more obscure pieces. –  bakoyaro Oct 31 '11 at 17:28
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@Zhaph-BenDuguid Some of the kits I have date back to the early 1970's, and don't necessarily have part numbers embossed on them. –  bakoyaro Oct 31 '11 at 17:36

One very good way is to look for numbers on pieces, especially when they are printed. A number on a Lego piece is almost always the number of the set.
These often come in places where there is supposed to be a number; like license plates on cars. If you have a license plate brick with a number, that's almost 100% certain to be the set that the car belongs to.

There are exceptions; for example, the Lego trains from the eighties had a "timetable" sticker that listed several numbers; each number was the number of another train set. (In other words, each train had a separate entry on the timetable). If you find that sticker, you have either a railway station from that time, or a train set from that tine that included a timetable. But, this will still narrow down your search.

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I've never noticed that! I'll have to check some of my pieces! –  MadTurki Sep 6 at 18:44

There are a number of ways to start figuring it out, my method is as follows:

Try and identify some of the following:

Unique pieces
Unique minifigs
Stickers on pieces
Unique logos
Color schemes or unique colors

The minifigs, stickers and colors are usually enough at least point you to the right theme category (ie space, pirates, castle, city, star wars, etc.) and often will narrow it down even further. A logo or minifig is usually a giveaway of what set group you're looking for.

For example a recent bulk buy I got had a number of Joker images on tiles and a number of unique purple and green colors that made it clear there was a Batman themed Joker set in the mix.

From there you can look up parts lists on Bricklink or Peeron, as well as find directions for assembly. To narrow it down to a specific set and make sure you have all the parts.

If your not super familiar with the lego themes these sites will also give you a place to find them.

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Those are great sites! I'd never seen them before. Thanks for sharing those - definitely useful. –  MadTurki Sep 5 at 21:22

Lego has an online page that can be used to download manuals in PDF format. Unfortunately, the page mentions that manuals are only available for kits that were released in 2002 or later:

We currently have over 3300 building instructions available onlinevwhich date back to sets packed in 2002.

You might want to contact Lego customer service to see if they might be able to direct you to other resources for these older kits. According to squidoo.com, Lego customer service can provide older instructions for a fee. That page also lists several alternate resource that you can search to find older manuals for free:

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+1 for a good answer. Some of the kits that I had as a kid date back to the early 1970's, and I recall some kits and some just boxes of bricks, with no planned structure or vehicle. –  bakoyaro Oct 31 '11 at 17:29

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