How were old Lego instructions made

Reconditioning old LEGO sets: Instructions for cleaning, spare parts and repairs

Over the past few years, LEGO has brought more and more sets onto the market that are aimed specifically at adult fans. And although I wouldn't want to miss out on products like Hogwarts Castle (71043), my heart still belongs to the kits that inspired me as a child. I'm not alone with that, because nostalgia plays a central role in their hobby for many AFOLs.

Many would like LEGO to bring out pirate, knight or western sets again. I reply: Even old sets want to be loved! Be it that the treasures of your own youth are lifted from the cellar to play with the youngsters, be it the flea market find this a setthat one dreamed of as a child - after all, one of the greatest advantages of our favorite terminal blocks is their longevity.

With the purchase or rediscovery of used sets, however, you often get a lot of work into the house. First of all, the dust layer has to be tackled, then usually some parts or the assembly instructions are missing. There are also parts that do not “age gracefully”, but lose their ease of movement over time, become brittle or even break. Replacements are sometimes difficult and expensive to get. Viewed differently, it's also a great project to “save” a used set and prepare it so that it looks like new again.

Therefore, I would like to give you some tips below on how to make sets like this more beautiful. Of course, the following applies to everything: There is not just one solution.

Table of Contents

Cleaning used sets

There are two basic requirements for cleaning dusty or otherwise soiled sets: The parts should be clean, but protected as much as possible with regard to scratches and other damage. A common method is to put the parts in a securely closed pillowcase and then - together with a few towels for upholstery - wash them on the gentle cycle of the washing machine.

This method works fine, but puts the parts under too much stress for my taste. I therefore prefer hand washing and for this purpose I built a washing container from a stone box, such as the one in the building block box set 10696, by drilling a few holes in the floor.

I simply put this box with the parts to be cleaned in the shower and fill it with warm but not hot water and some liquid soap or mild shampoo. I sort out the smallest parts that could fall through the holes beforehand or catch them with a drainage sieve. I use the shower head with a jet that is as hard as possible and thus create turbulence in the box - you can of course also "stir" by hand. Then I let the soapy water run off through the holes in the bottom and rinse with clear water until there is no more soap residue.

To dry it, I stretch a towel over a laundry basket (so that it is ventilated from both sides), spread the washed parts on it and put the whole thing in a well-ventilated place. Depending on the climate - if the parts are turned over occasionally - it takes approx. One to two days until the parts are completely dry.

Replacement for missing instructions

If the instructions are missing for a set, Brickset is my first point of contact. Because if there are no instructions, the set number is often missing. In this case, Brickset fortunately offers the possibility to search the database by topic and year, which means that a set can usually be identified quickly:

Once you have found the right entry, Brickset offers a wealth of useful information, including an overview of whether and where the building instructions are digitally available. Many building instructions, including those for old sets, are provided directly by LEGO.

However, if, like me, you value the printed original instructions, all you have to do is buy them on the secondary market. Many building instructions are offered individually on Ebay, but it is almost always worth looking for the instructions on Bricklink. To do this, enter the set number in the search field and select the entry "Instruction" from the search results.

Replacement for missing stones and figures

I typically replace missing or damaged parts via Bricklink. To do this, look for the set number and call up the "Set Inventory". I add the missing parts to a dedicated wish list that I name after the set. Incidentally, the inventory also contains an entry for the sticker sheet in case you have to replace the stickers.

Finally, I look at how many (or how few) dealers I can order the missing parts from and how much the total price including shipping costs is (go to wish list and click "Buy all"). It should be noted that Bricklink does not consider shipping costs and any additional fees when selecting the shops. You should therefore read the “Store Terms” of each supplier carefully before deciding where to order the parts!

If you have to buy many or expensive parts, or if the shipping costs are high because you have to order from several retailers, it may be worth taking a look at Ebay classifieds. The same or a smaller set that is related to the topic and that contains the parts you are looking for may be offered cheaply there. In this way, you can choose the best-preserved parts from both sets and there are still plenty of parts left for extensions or your own models.

Fresh cell treatment for dry rubber parts

Rubber parts become brittle over time as they dry out. For example, it can happen that old tires tear when you try to pull them onto a rim. Once this has happened, there is usually no getting around an original spare part. However, you can take precautions and delay the aging process of the rubber. The magic remedy for this is called: silicone spray, e.g. from Ballistol (there is also something smaller with 200 ml).

Silicone oil is also used for this purpose in the automotive sector, e.g. to maintain door seals. It prevents the plasticizers from escaping and is also able to make rubber that has already dried out more pliable - to a certain extent, of course. I use it to wet the rubber parts, rub the silicone oil with a kitchen towel and then rub it with a dry kitchen towel.

Note: The classic WD40 is no silicone spray, but consists of mineral oils. Only silicone oil should be used as it does not tend to gum up. Please keep silicone spray away from all places where electrical contact is required (e.g. from cable connections), as it has an insulating effect and is difficult to remove completely from metal surfaces. You should also keep it away from laminate floors unless you want to skate in the apartment.

Repair of brittle 9V cables

The cable sheaths of the 9V system are also made of rubber and are therefore often brittle today. This is particularly critical as it can cause short circuits. With many cables, the aging process has progressed so far that the sheathing literally crumbles.

Replacement cables are still available at Bricklink, but the prices - depending on the length - are sometimes considerable and these cables have of course already aged. So I started repairing the cables myself. Fortunately, at that time LEGO neither glued the plugs nor soldered the twin wire to the plugs.

According to the LEGO philosophy, the 9V cables are constructed with a simple plug-in system. Therefore it is possible to open the connector and insert a new strand. To do this, I first carefully pry the connector open with two very small slotted screwdrivers:

Inside the connector, the stranded wire is held by two clamps and then led to the outside via a strain relief. You can now simply pull out the damaged strand, carefully squeeze the terminals together with small pliers and then push in the new strand. As a substitute, I use black twin braid with a cross-section of 2x 0.14 sqmm. This is a little thinner than the original cable, but it is hardly noticeable visually and protects the cable because it is less squeezed when laying in tight places.

Finally, the bottom of the plug must be reinserted and pressed into place. I recommend that you bend the stranded wire over the strain relief before inserting the base, otherwise it can come loose from the clamps. It is also advisable to test the correct function of the repaired cable with a multimeter before installing it in a set.

Inexpensive replacement for the Technic Flex system

The thin flex cables, which were primarily used in Technic sets in the 1990s, are now difficult to replace with original parts. The parts were already rather rare back then and at least the long cables are now very expensive at Bricklink. At the same time, there is a high probability that you will have to replace the flex cables if you buy a second-hand set because they too have often become brittle and break easily after more than 20 years.

Since the same problem can of course also occur with the cables that have been bought later, I was looking for an unlimited and inexpensive alternative. Fortunately, it turned out that the diameter of the flex cables is one of the standard filament dimensions for 3D printers. The keyword here is "Printer Filament ABS 1.75 mm" - the materials can be conveniently and comparatively cheaply ordered from Amazon or other retailers.

Thanks to the wide range of colors, it is easy to find a similar shade of gray, and even the material (ABS) is true to the original. I carve the notches for the brackets with a knife, in the end the tinkered flex cable is almost indistinguishable from the original. Another advantage: Flex cables of any length can be produced in this way.

One more tip at the end: The hoses that serve as guides for the flex cables also dry out over time, which can make the flex system stiff. A drop of silicone spray can help here.

That should have been it for the time being with my tips for preparing old LEGO sets. Do you have any further tips about the maintenance of your old LEGO treasures or alternative suggestions to the methods presented above? Then take it to the comment area!