Use a fry bagger to sort LEGO parts?

Use a fry bagger to put LEGO parts into Ziploc bags!
What a great idea! I saw this today on Facebook, posted by Soyary Sunthorn‎ in the AFOLs of FaceBook group. He got a fry bagger – a tool used in fast food restaurants to put french fries into the bags or other containers they are served in.

Since my storage system is primarily built around plastic bins filled with Ziploc bags, this should be a huge help when sorting and putting away bulk parts. I’m pretty sure this is the fry bagger in the photo, if you want to get one: New Star 37814 Polycarbonate Commercial French Fry Bagger, Right Handle I am planning to order one of these myself…

Full disclaimer: Amazon affiliate link above.

Sorted Friends

First-stage sort of all the parts from all 14 of the Friends sets. In January I did a review of each of the sets in 14 days called “Fortnight of Friends” and these are the parts after dissassembling all the sets.

Sorted Friends

This first pass uses a bunch of my sorting bins to divide the parts into the following major categories. Each one will require its own second-stage sort (and perhaps in some cases, a third) before the parts reach their final resting place. These categories are totally arbitrary and seat-of-the-pants, and though they do roughly correlate to how I store the parts, really anything that reduces entropy is helpful.

Left column:

  • Slopes, curved slopes, and anything that has a curved upper surface
  • Animals
  • Tiles
  • Cylindrical parts and anything that has a curved side
  • SNOT pieces and Technic parts
  • Modified plates
  • Wheels, fenders, and other car parts
  • Small parts (1×1 rounds, jumper plates, grille tiles, Henrik/cheese slopes, etc.)
  • Transparent parts
  • Bars, antennae, flags, and controls

Middle column:

  • Panels
  • Printed parts and modified bricks (grille bricks, log bricks, bricks with clips on them, etc.)
  • Fences
  • Minifig accessories, including the new flowers (which should probably go under foliage) and bugs (which should probably go under animals)
  • Foliage (plant parts and old style flowers)
  • Minifig and minidoll body parts

Right column:

  • Bricks
  • Large parts (tall bricks, windows, doors, large detail parts, etc.)
  • Plates

Now that I’ve finished the initial sort, I need to process these further.

I’m having trouble deciding how to integrate these into my collection. For bricks, plates, and tiles, I sort by color and then within the bin for each color I have Ziploc bags for each size, so I can put the new colors into their own little mini-categories, probably just one bag for each color… But for the other parts, I generally sort by type, and I’m worried the exotic rare colors will get lost among the ordinary ones… so should I mix them with the other colors and maybe never see them again? Or should I put all the purple pieces together regardless of shape?

This is a problem I’ve been facing for some time and I keep going back and forth on how to deal with it. Any new ideas out there?

A sorting conundrum

When sorting LEGO there are two main approaches: sort by color, and sort by shape.

When I first started building as an adult, over ten years ago, I sorted by color. But I found that a lot of the time, I was digging through the monochromatic bins in search of the part I wanted. It was pointed out to me that it would be a lot easier to find a part of a particular color among identical size/shape parts of all colors, than to do the opposite, as the human eye is much better at spotting colors than shapes, and when parts of different sizes are mixed together, the small ones tend to settle to the bottom, falling through the voids between the larger parts.

I actually employ a hybrid system – for the basic bricks, I sort them by color, putting each color into a bin with each individual size brick in a baggie in that bin. When I sort, I dump all the bricks of that color into the bin, and at some point later on, like when I am building using that color and there are a large number of loose parts in the bin among the baggies, I will go through the bins and sort them into their bags. For most other parts though, they’re just sorted by size/type, with parts of different colors mixed together.

LEGO master builders have a fully sorted-out system, where they have a bin for each color/part combination. But that’s how the parts come from the factory, and they never have to sort – they just throw parts on the floor and they get swept up and recycled! To facilitate sorting, it’s just not feasible to sort down to that level of resolution, and it would take up too much space to store it that way anyway. So at some level it is necessary to mix parts together in the storage bins.

This all works well when the distribution of colors is fairly even among the pieces in question. But when there are hundreds of parts in the most common colors mixed with a handful of parts in rarer colors, it’s really hard to find the rare color parts… or even to remember that they exist. This is compounded by the fact that LEGO doesn’t produce all parts in all colors; for example, there is no dark red 1×3 brick.

So some time ago, I started separating the colors into different classes … the primary colors (black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, light grey, and dark grey) and all the others (the lighter and darker colors, orange, purple, etc.). In most categories, categories where color matters (bricks, plates, tiles, etc.) I have parallel sorting/storage systems for these two color groups. The rarer colors are in bags or bins (depending on how many there are of each) separate from the main colors. For parts where color isn’t as important (Technic parts, small decorative elements, hinges, clips, etc.) they are mixed together with other parts of the same type without regard to color.

I’m in the midst of a sort now, as I had a large amount of unsorted parts from taking apart some sets I had bought recently, and am being reminded that my color sorting solution is not quite satisfactory. So I’m throwing this topic open … any ideas or suggestions?

Sorting bins

I recently bought some plastic bins at the local pharmacy (Longs Drugs, if you’re curious) and found them to be very useful for sorting LEGO parts.

Sorting bins

These are sold for organizing small things in a drawer. My mom used to have something kind of like it to sort her silverware when I was a kid (though not the little ones). I’ve put them to use sorting LEGO. I connect them together in a big array on a small table, and then designate each one for a particular type of LEGO part.

Using bins to sort

It’s usually not possible to have enough bins for every possible category of LEGO part, so I do a multi-stage sort. First I sort into broad categories, which is what you see here, and then I take each category and do a secondary sort, and in some cases even tertiary, to their final categories.

How do you sort LEGO?

LEGO Studio in a Trailer?

I came across this article (thanks to BayLUG member David Simmons, via email) detailing how one family has coped with the stresses the LEGO hobby places on storage and work space in their home – buy a trailer and move the collection out there! That’s one way to solve the problem. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go measure the slab in our back yard…