Sunday, July 31, 2005

Ankerstein Bridge

Starting with the first plan in the Anchor #8 (6A) plan book, this bridge goes a little further.

It is the largest Anker Stone project I have built yet, and probably the shortest lived large structure: I lost my footing trying to get a better camera angle in tight confines, and my fall knocked down much of the bridge.

I usually leave things up for a day or three and I am a bit disappointed that this one was so short lived. But not nearly as much as I am delighted with having built it, and at least I did get a few pictures.

There will be another bridge another day.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Block Building for Children

Architect Lester Walker's Block Building for Children : Making Buildings of the World with the Ultimate Construction Toy shows several interesting projects for a set of Unit Blocks (aka Kindergarten Blocks), but uses a somewhat odd block mix that is hard to match using any normal set (though Barclay Blocks does offer a special set for use with this book).

After months of muddled cogitation, I finally set out a few days ago to make the missing blocks. The cathedral plan from the book is slightly modified as I built it for my picture, above, to make use of some extra blocks my unit block did provide, along with several of the missing blocks I made.

Making up shortages is a lot more feasible for me than making a whole block set, since most of the blocks I made are for cosmetic rather than structural use, and thus don't have to be as dimensionally accurate. Even so, I would have been happy to purchase individual blocks had they been available for my nonstandard size.

The Barclay web site also has information on making your own blocks, and lists a wide variety of individual blocks for sale for standard unit blocks. Unfortunately, they do not offer mini unit blocks for table play.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ankerstein 0

Many Anchor Stone fans say that you need a set #6, or even #8 (6 + 6A) to build anything of interest.

But I rather enjoy building with smaller sets, even the smallest - set 0, as shown above with some battered older stones.

The current maker doesn't offer sets smaller than a #4, but plans for the smaller sets can be found online or acquired through

This smallest set would make a nice gift to potentially entice friends. The current offerings are too expensive for any but the sincerely interested.

Maxim Preschool

Maxim's 100 block set from their Preschool line.

This series has identical block sizes and shapes (though perhaps a slightly different block mix) as Maxim's earlier Tumble Tree Woods, as well as Imaginarium's bucket series of 50-, 100-, and 200-block sets, though it is a whiter, blander wood (rubberwood?) from Thailand, replacing the pine.

The set is very heavy on cubes and deriviative shapes, with a 30mm cube size. In additional to natural wood sets, there are colored and mixed sets, with the colored blocks mostly in very nice darker colors. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 25, 2005


I do very much like bridges. And Kapla blocks.


Toys"R"Us had an interesting looking block set with a $9.99 sale sticker, but it was the additional 30% off that made me bring it home. The container says "5 shapes" but there are nine. Not a bad little set.

The natural wood blocks turn out to be exactly the same as the Tumble Tree Woods I posted about a bit ago. I presume they were made in the same factory.

That means they are also size and shape match for the current Maxim Prechool 30mm block sets, though the unpainted woods are different. I'm not sure how the painted blocks will comapre for color and finish, but I am curious.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Froebel Gift 3

Friederich Froebel invented Kindergarten over 150 years ago, and in the process introducing building blocks as an educational toy.

A central part of his revoluionary early childhood education was a series of Kindergarten Gifts, numbers 3 through 6 of which were a series of small building block sets. Each set consisted of a large cube subdivided into smaller component building blocks.

Gift 3, with stunning simplicity and elegance, consists of eight cubes.

When one is used to building block sets of many dozens of blocks, perhaps even hundreds, in multiple shapes and often different colors, it might not seem that eight identical blocks, of the most basic imaginable shape, could provide much entertainment or education, either one. But in fact they do, and exploring their use is highly recommended.

I often carry a small set with me, along with a reproduction of the exercises, to use as a relaxation tool - sort of a mental t'ai chi.

[Recommended: Inventing Kindergartenby Norman Brosterman]

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ankerstein, Set 6

After a few rounds of wood block construction, it is a treat to get back to the weight and texture of Ankerstein.

This is a set 6 model. I wanted simplicity today. Most of my recent models have been for set 8, combining set 6 and set 6A, which converts a set 6 to a set 8. My next step would be to get a set 8A, so I can build models of set 10.

The sets continue, with 10A, 12A, etc, through 24A so far, and more to come. The sets are expensive, and at some point, they would exceed the level of complexity that I can cope with.

But I'd still like a set 8A. Donations are welcome. ;) Posted by Picasa


This is an older Heros block set, # 4/20, with 41 pieces. The 4 probably means there are even smaller sets, with fewer pieces. Or maybe it means "about 4x10 pieces." The 20 probably refers to the 20mm block pitch (a little over 3/4").

The sheet with sample designs is taped inside the box lid. Unfortunately, several of the designs are for larger sets, or two sets, since they show four arches, instead of the two included.

The blocks are mostly 20mm x 20mm by some multiple of 20mm, with a nice bias towards longer blocks. Some pieces are half thickness of 10mm, and the arches are 30mm, so there can be some matching necessary for heights to come out.

The colors are bright, the surfaces slick, with typical tumble-finished characteristics, including a bit of dimensional unevenness and occasional slight lumpiness. Those irregularities can make for some problems in construction, but I am so fond of tumble-finished wooden pieces, that I don't mind.

Heros current production may be more dimensionally consistent. I'll need to find a store that carries some.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Unit Blocks

Unit Blocks are the American Standard of children's playing blocks.

The full size versions are also known as "kindergarten blocks" and were at one time ubiquitous in American early learning. Recent trends toward "teaching the test" have pushed block play into the corners and storerooms of American kindergartens as children spend their time instead on worksheets and "academics." What a tragedy.

These are T. C. Timber "Table Unit Blocks," and have a pitch of 25mm, rather than standard Unit Blocks' 1 3/8" (35mm). That might not sound like a lot of difference, but it means tabletop blocks have only 36% of the bulk (and weight) of their floor-play brethren.

My play style may often be that of a young child, but my back and leg joints are those of a middle aged man. I mostly need to play on the table, not the floor.

Most of the block sets I talk about here are "architectural blocks" based on cubes, and fractions and multiples developed from cubes. The "unit block" of "unit Blocks" is 1x2x4 of the pitch unit (1 3/8"x2 3/4"x5 1/2" in standard floor blocks). Most sets include "double blocks of 1x2x8 (11" floor) and larger sets at least a few "quad blocks" of 1x2x16 (22"). Building with Unit Blocks is quite a different experience.

[Recommended: A Constructivist Approach to Block Play in Early Childhood by Karyn Wellhousen, Judith Kieff]

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mula and Kapla

The left-hand and center parts are Kapla, the right-hand part is Mula.

I found out about Mula Sticks just after Ikea dropped the product, so missed out on the cheap pricing -I believe it was $6.99 for 150 sticks versus Kapla's ~$65 for 200 sticks and a booklet of designs.

Kapla are better, but that much better?

The Mula are exactly the same thickness as Kapla, roughly the same width, but less consistent. The length is unfortunately a couple of millimeters shorter, which not only doesn't match Kapla, but is shorter than 5 Mula sticks side by side.

Consistency of longer dimensions being exact multiples of shorter dimensions is a vital part of and block construction set having maximum versatility.

Kapla are a very nice pine, with gorgeous grain patterns. Mula seem very much like Basswood, with barely visible grain in most pieces.

Kapla is probably worth paying double what it costs to get Mula now, especially if you don't have the booklet. I think maybe I am glad that Mula isn't still available at the local Ikea store - paying 7 times more per stick for Kapla would not be easy.

The design is from the Kapla "Green Book." I liked the bridge aspect. Posted by Picasa

[Recommended: L'art Kaplaby Tom Van Der Bruggen]

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Burgdorfer Fensterbaukasten

Facade block sets, in German Fassadenbaukaesten, are also know as windows construction sets, or Fensterbaukaesten. Instead of building an entire structure, they are intended for constructing simpky a building facade, with decorated doors, windows, wall surfaces, etc. Many, many different sets have been made by a variety of manufacturers over many decades.

See the german collector site at JK Baukastensammler for a variety of example sets, many with images of the sheets of sample designs typically included with these sets. Even if you can't read German, poking around in that web site will reward you with a wealth of fascinating images of all sorts of German toy construction sets.

(Picture from January, 2005) Posted by Hello

Tumble Tree Woods

An inexpensive unit-block-like set of sharp-edged pine.

Manufacturer Maxim has replaced this series with identically dimensioned hardwood blocks of mellower color, tighter grain, and partially rounded edges. Now in Maxim's Preschool product line, rather than Tumble Tree, they seem to have the same part numbers!

The 30mm pitch is a very nice size for building, albeit compatible with neither "tabletop" sizes (usually 25mm) nor "kindergarten" size (35mm). The emphasis is on smaller blocks - cubes and double length - rather than the longer blocks of Unit Block sets. There is a passable, simple selection of pieces.

The structure used all the pieces of a 50 piece set.

(I built the structure & took the picture in January, but wrote the text and cleaned up the picture today)

Sunday, July 17, 2005


These Toysmith Architect Blocks are 27mm or 1 1/16" -- a pretty weird block pitch! They were inexpensive, but poorly made, with a lot of size inconsistency. No bargain.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Battered and broken

A few days ago, I got a mixed box of battered and broken old Ankerstein and Liberty Stones. I had intended to use them to fill in for missing stones in older sets, but was initially unsure how useful they'd be, given their condition. Building something usually makes me feel better, and I am now beginning to feel better about these, after the small effort in today's picture. Maybe they can provide some expendable stones for experimenting with cleaning and repairing as well. Posted by Picasa

Clover Toys

I was in a favorite toy store this morning, and it suddenly hit me that as far as I know, they are the only store in the Seattle area currently stocking Ankerstein sets, and one of the few currently stocking Kapla or Haba.

I wanted to do something to support them, but all I could afford today was some potholder loops. Then I thought about how this blog only has links to online sources with product listings, since I thought that would be more useful to a national audience ("national audience"? huh!).

That didn't seem right, so I am adding a link to Clover Toys, particularly for my many Seattle readers (three, maybe four). But I bet they also ship nationally.Give them a call or email. Sarah is very nice.

Also, I am very fond of hedgehogs, or in German, Igel (rhymes with "eagle"). One might suspect that hedgehogs, porcupines, kiwis, and echidnas, are a particularly intriguing example of parallel evolution.But that would be straying much too far from block play.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Small Caliber

Back to the older small caliber Anker stones, with metal bridge parts. I chose these mostly because that was what was handy. I think I will build it again with modern Anker and trusses from the Airfix HO pontoon bridge. Posted by Picasa

I like building bridges because you can get a pretty substantial structure with mostly uncomplicated components. They can be built with the simple stones provided by multiple small sets, rather than requiring the fancy stones that only come in the higher expansion sets. The repetition of similar small structures rather pleases me.

I deviated quite a lot from the pattern I started with, using it mostly for inspiration. The piers provided the sort of look I wanted, though I knew I wanted multiple spans. I could see that the big arch could go in the middle, and I could duplicte the small pier at the other end. The addition of the towers was the result of just fiddling around after what I considered the "basic bridge" was done.

This plan is also from the wonderful CDroms. Often when I feel like building something, I simply leaf through a pile of printed out designs until one grabs me. When I don't feel like building, but feel like endulging my affection for things Anker, I browse the contents of the CDroms, and print out likely looking designs. The CDroms have hundreds to choose from, many of which are also available for download.

[Recommended: Bridging the Worldby Robert S. Cortright]

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Modern Ankerstein

Old Richter Anker Stone sets can have a lot of charm (though some are pretty junky), but for actually building structures, sets from current Anker Steinbaukasten GmbH production are surely the best choice. The sizes and surfaces of the blocks are more consistant, so the buildings simply go together better. The larger the structure, the more important that can be.

The joy of building from anchor stones is not just the heft (as important as that is for sturdy structures and a pleasant building experience) but from the fit and finish of the stones.

The bottom line is, quality counts, and modern Ankerstein are simply better quality.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Not having enough regular Kapla planks, I knew I would need to compromise. I had trouble deciding whether to downscale the design or use colored. I think I would like the picture better in all natural, but I liked building the larger bridge (modified from the first design in the red book). I think I need to get some more Kapla. Note Webster supervising from the background, and if you look closely, some color cube designs are on the coffee table in front of him. Posted by Picasa