Monday, June 27, 2011


Hurrah! I made the additional slotted blocks for my sparse sampler of Mobaco, as I mentioned in my last post, and I am quite pleased with how Mobaco works, with cardboard wall pieces & such sliding into grooved wooden posts.

Cardboard & wood. Great fun.

The baseboard should be cardboard as well, apparently in an olive-green color, or tan in earlier editions. My substitute for the time being is 6mm craft foam (Foamies), of which the local craft store gave me a choice of red or black. An early project will be cutting a piece of green paper to go on top of the foam. Or painting the foam, if that works.

That Mobaco link is to a fan site with much good information, including scans of older manuals. The prewar sets were much more extensive & built bigger buildings. Those sets seem to be rare & presumably expensive.

But Mobaco pieces aren't cast in stone (or injected in plastic), they are made of materials that can be manipulated by a mildly clumsy person with home tools. One can even go with simpler substitutes, as my foam base - which may actually have an advantage over the factory bases, in that it grips the posts.

I'm going to make some trial wall pieces from thin foam core, perhaps the self-adhesive, with stiffening card behind, the latter not necessarily with all the detail cuts.

If one had one of the computer driven craft die cutters, such as a Cricut Expression, but preferably a more versatile competitor, one could go to town and make the largest sets ever. Plus variations in color, window shapes, "brick" or "stone" walls, etc. I'm not sure that the Cricut itself can actually do what I want, having had brain fog from trying to figure out how to do it. There are a bunch of competitors, and looking at them gave me more brain fog.

So for the time being, I'd just as soon do what I can with craft knives & paper cutters, which means easier-to-cut materials & small quantities.

My first step is accomplished - I made enough posts & the base, so I could actually build. Next I make the missing wall panels, and extras so I don't have to match the originals too precisely, and can have adjacent pieces similar.

There have been a bunch of different versions of the wall-pieces-in-slotted-posts genre (eg Künstler-Baukasten Architekt, Fox Blox, etc).

With the potential for homemade parts, one could use the others for inspiration and stay with Mobaco dimensional compatibility.

Good fun. Good block play.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


A nice little crane from the not-quite-recent fischertechnik Basic Mechanics set. The crane boom moves up & down by a screw drive between the pillar & the crank stand. The power is directed from the horizontal crankshaft to the vertical screw shaft by bevels gears.

Seems like the set could be good for introducing kids to some basic mechanical processes. As I finshed it up & prepared to photograph it, I found myself wondering if the girls next door were old enough. It's not necessarily "their thing," but that might in itself be a good reason for them to spend some time working with a parent or two on something like this.

I used to post on fischertechnik quite a bit, but it's been a couple of years or more. But I've between making replacement grooved blocks for Künstler-Baukasten Architekt set, and preparing to do the same thing for some Mobaco, I've been thinking about slotted blocks quite a bit. That led me back to fischetechnik, which has a basic block form very similar to Mobaco's, but to entirely different effect.

fischertechnik is good fun - I shouldn't have been neglecting it.

Good Block Play.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Künstler-Baukasten Architekt

Old construction sets can be a delight. Especially old wooden construction sets. Especially German construction sets. One of the great joys of the Internet is that it has become so much easier to indulge esoteric interests such as this.

One of the challenges of the Internet is that when one buys an old construction set through the familiar marketplaces, it is very likely to arrive incomplete & with broken pieces.

I often plot out how to go about making replacement pieces, but often those require measures that are not currently available to me. We have a nice array of power tools in the basement, mostly purchased for, and well used by, my dear wife. But though I have the knowledge and experience to use them all, mostly I can't handle the noise & safety concerns. Doing something accurately & safely while exposed to that level of sensory overload is not often an option.

For a while I have been plotting how to make replacement parts for a particularly interesting set.

This morning I went downstairs & made one. Cut the block out of a piece of scrap on the band-saw. Sanded it for size & smoothness on the bench sander. Cut slots in it with the table saw. Drilled holes in it with the drill press. (All these tools are smaller, model-builder sized, not big hulky things - but they are still noisy. And quite capable of injury.)

It worked.

I went off to therapy with my set & my proof-of-concept ("POC") block for show & tell.

Put my POC & a sample from the set in my shirt pocket to go meet my daughter for lunch show & tell.

When I eventually got home, I made another, a "size 4" in contrast to the morning's "size 3" then built this building using them. They are the light-colored vertical blocks in the outside rear corners. The camera exaggerated the appearance difference, but I am still very happy with them.

The set is rather nifty, dating from the late 1940s and coming from the area of the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany along the Czech border.

Neither of my primary references, the book Baukästen, by Ulf Leinweber, or Joachim Kleindienst's JK BaukastenSammler web site, had much to offer, merely a directory listing for "Künstler Baukasten," by "Werner Dietze."

The set itself provided the location "Cranzahl, Erzgebirge," and that helped me get a wee bit more information by Googling. Not much though.

Intriguingly, browsing the Leinhaber book turned up a picture of "Haussers Künstler Baukasten" from a few decades earlier and with a similar construction technique, except Hausser's wall plates are lithographed sheet metal, instead of Dietze's varnished wood decorated with water-transfer decals.

I was well challenged getting this to go together, given some design flaws, documentation flaws, and my own personal flaws.

But go together it did, and I am happy to have it. 12 of the lovely lithographed design sheets accompany the set. I look forward to building them all.

Still a few more missing blocks to make first though. Or maybe as I go along.

All in all, very good block play.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Varis Architect 63

After my first experience with Varis Architect, I quickly ordered a larger set for further exploration and combining options.

I decided the 87 piece set was probably too big for therapeutic use, so went for the 63.

What arrived was the 87.

The seller had a stock problem and substituted the 87, presumably assuming that I would be delighted with the generosity.

Ah, well.

It was too big for me to attempt anything with at the time, but today I got it out and managed to build a close approximation of the 63 piece model with a subset of the 87 pieces.

At some point I will build the full 87 piece model - and it will probably be an easier build than trying to build the 63 piece model with the wrong assortment of pieces and no instruction sheet.

But I really wanted to know if I had the pieces to build the 63 piece church, and building it was the only effective way to find out.

More fun than damage, I think, though with my garbled brain, it's hard to tell.

At some point I look forward to mixing everything together and building some cottages. Maybe a small village.

Good Block Play.