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I need to rephrase my question. Has anyone built or used a large pigeon hole/ chute/ bin collection system to sort LEGO elements? The sorting system doesn't need to be made of LEGO bricks. I just want to know if any of you studio builders sort your elements in a more organised fashion than the average fan. I'm trying to figure out if this is a project I should take on, or a boondoggle I should avoid...

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I'm imagining a sorting table with a slotted back panel into which you drop the pieces and retrieve them from a series of collection trays. It's still sorting by hand, but it would accelerate the unbuild/sorting process. It would be great to see if anybody has done this. –  Major Stackings Nov 3 '11 at 23:11
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

While they won't do the sorting for you like that clever youtube video, there are a couple of commercial sorting products that can help you bulk-group your legos by size as a preliminary sorting mechanism, through differently-sized grates.

Box4Blox has been around for a while. Good review of it at Brother's Brick.

Box4Blox

Lego has recently produced their own similar Sort and Store shaped like a minifig head:

Sort and Store

At our house we organize by color, and have a large bucket of each (mostly because its easier for the kids to help maintain the organization, hypothetically anyway...). I've toyed with the idea of getting one of these, pouring each color bucket through, and ending up with convenient size-groupings within each color. Should be much easier to find what we need.

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Thanks. We're getting closer. The obsessive compulsive side of me says I should build one. Rube Goldbrick, here I come. –  Major Stackings Nov 6 '11 at 5:47
    
@MajorStackings: Perhaps a "vibrating table"-style mechanism starting with sorting screens like this? –  BradC Nov 7 '11 at 17:20
    
I was leaning towards a hand sorting device. I had a differnet concept in mind, but this is a great answer. Thanks. –  Major Stackings Nov 12 '11 at 1:04
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I have a fairly large collection. Processing bricks is a lot more pleasant with my homemade device, which is vaguely similar to the devices above, but made from MDF.

Note that the commercial products have holes that are square, not round, so the size of bricks that is blocked by them is kind of variable. My sorter has two sorting levels, one with 30mm holes and one with 15mm holes. Because LEGO bricks are 8mm per stud, nothing 4x4 or over falls through the top level, and nothing 2x2 or over goes through the second. I could have done 22/23mm holes for 3x3s and 7mm for sub 1x1s, but empirically they're rare pieces and not worth the effort. The holes are laid out in a hexagonal grid, on a sheet of MDF large enough to cover - and fall straight through into - my storage boxes (450mm square, as that's the size the sheets come in). Spacing of the holes and thickness of the MDF was selected to ensure strength - MDF doesn't distort too much before breaking, and using MDF was important because it's cheap, common and unlikely to damage the bricks. There are sides to each tray to prevent spillage, and nodes on the underside to lock each layer into the one below.

The hardest part in constructing my sorting trays was finding drill bits for making 30mm and 15mm holes; I found only one 30mm spade bit in my local hardware superstore, and I had to go to a commercial tool supplier for the 15mm bit. I also needed a new drill, as my existing one couldn't spin slowly enough to make round holes with a spade bit.

So, here's the entire unit; you can see the sides to hold a reasonable amount of LEGO without spilling over: The entire unit

And here's what LEGO swamping the 30mm holes in the top looks like. Most of the time I'm operating at this level; the second level can contain a large number of pieces given they're so much smaller. 30mm holes in the top

The second level gets the smaller parts falling through while you're pawing through the top tier. You can see the spacing created by the tall corner posts, this is to allow a 2x16 plate (the longest part I'd expect to process - 128mm) to fall through if it wants too - but typically something that long won't fall from the top level, as its lowest centre of gravity lays it flat and so the great length won't fit through the topmost holes. If one were to slip into a hole, it could be raked into a position to fall, so about 10% or 20% of pieces as large as this fall through to this level. The second level

The small detritus finds its way to the bottom level The bottom level

Here you can see the locking nodes that prevent the tiers rotating and moving off the tier below. The underside

Prior to building this I experimented with a number of designs and found that they had a common problem of clogging up. This experiences that to some extent too, but has a vast number of holes to minimize the impact, and a finger poked up from below can clear the blockage. Radar dishes and large cones, for example, are good at filling holes.

I do have a tumbler to separate out plates and other small items from bricks, but it requires a lot of work to cause the separation so I wouldn't recommend it as a sorting tool. I could supply an image for those with an academic interest.

I showed my device at my local LUG, and a year or so later another member went and made his own tennis-racket inspired LEGO sifter. I humbly suggest this device suffers from the same problem with square (or sometimes triangular) holes that the commercial devices exhibit.

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Thanks for the pics. I bet you've gained a ton of build time by reducing your sort time. I like the size of the footprint of your device as well . It's much smaller than the behemoth I have in mind. –  Major Stackings Nov 15 '12 at 0:18
    
My tennis racquet based one is for sorting mostly Technic, where I have a lot of sub-1x1 parts and very few studded parts, so it works pretty well for that. Rob has it now so it'd be interesting to see how it works with non-Technic. –  Mσᶎ Sep 17 '13 at 22:20
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Here's a video I found:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6lZ9rSZwDzE

Keep in mind that the time it takes you to build and use one of these is probably greater than the amount of time it takes to sort by hand.

EDIT:

I don't think slots would work great as the bricks could fit into multiple shapes/sizes of holes. One thing you could try is a "panning for gold" method - put pieces in a bowl and swirl them around. The heavier ones should fall out. Don't know how well it would work, but it is worth a shot.

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Thanks! It's not quite what I have in mind, but thanks for your help. –  Major Stackings Nov 3 '11 at 23:12
    
@MajorStakings How is this not helpful? The only difference with what you want is the output sorter (shoots instead of buckets) –  pcantin Nov 3 '11 at 23:30
    
That's the video I was looking for. I like how this sorts beyond the colour of the brick. –  Ambo100 Nov 4 '11 at 10:31
    
@pcantin: I think the device in the video is awesome, but it seems somewhat limited by the number of elements types it can sort at one time and by the speed it can sort them. I'm picturing a sort by hand "mailslot" pigeon hole system that routes to dozens of trays at once. –  Major Stackings Nov 4 '11 at 17:40
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@MajorStackings The hard part is not the output mechanism. Recognizing the bricks is everything and this system is amazing at that (even using computer vision). Once that's done, optimizing the speed can be done several ways and on several components (software, mechanical, structural). One simple way to augment the speed would be to put many similar detectors in parallel but connected to the same input and output systems. –  pcantin Nov 4 '11 at 17:52
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