17 May 2020

Iron Builder: Cab's White Diamond techniques

We have another Iron Forge contestant from the Iron Builder challenge revealing LEGO® techniques for you today. Cab (on Flickr) hails from Germany but lives in California, and turned eighteen recently... "so I don't even know whether to call myself a TFOL or an AFOL". We don't think it matters really, so long as your techniques are awesome!

Hello everyone, Cab here! I was lucky enough to be among the final 20 contestants in this year’s instalment of The Forge. Now, while the final four compete for the prized Iron Builder slot, I thought I would share some techniques and tricks from my main entry in Round 2, a bust of the character White Diamond from the show Steven Universe. 

Adept builders will probably be familiar with many or all of these techniques, but I hope I can contribute to a few builders’ technical arsenals. 

Novel Connections

The seed parts for Round 2 were the minifigure wrench and hammer. My first idea was to use the tapered end of the wrench as White Diamond’s iconic fingernails, and so I used five wrench pieces to help construct her right hand. Not much of the hand wound up being visible, but I still wanted to share the following nifty trick. 

With the hand almost completed, I ran into a technical difficulty. I needed a way to fit a 2x2 curved slope over a 1x2 – 1x2 bracket facing the opposite direction, with only half a plate of space in between. Enter a stud reversal technique at the edge of legality: cutting pneumatic hosing. 

Pneumatic hoses fit neatly over bar connections, and therefore also onto the underside of any element with a bar-sized knob on the bottom. If you are willing to cut pneumatic hosing to very short lengths, you can achieve otherwise impossible direction reversals such as the one above.

My idea for this entry quickly expanded from just the hand to include White Diamond’s whole head, at which point I realized I could use minifigure wrenches as eyelashes. This required a mess of robot arms and other bits to achieve, however, leaving little space in front of the assembly for the actual eye. In order to solve this spacing issue, I used one of the most space-saving SNOT connections out there: sticking the clip end of a 1x1 plate with vertical clip into the bottom of another element. 

Note that this connection doesn’t work with every kind of 1x1 plate with vertical clip! There have been four slightly differing molds for this element over time, and the connection only works with the two earliest: 4085a and 4085b. Of the two, the latter is generally more stable. Also, the connection may be unstable if the receiving element is only a single plate deep.

Applying the wrench piece

As the eyes developed, I discovered a secondary application for the wrenches: they could be used to hold LEGO string in place such that it encircled the eyes.

By outlining the eyes with string, I hoped to enhance their shape and lend the face a more cartoonish appearance, true to the source material. I tied a single knot into the string and hooked it over two wrenches to keep it from sliding behind the 2x2 tile.  

SNOT with limited space

To shape the face and accommodate the internal structure of the eyes, I had to find ways of SNOT building that used less space than traditional SNOT pieces.

While working on the nose and filling in below the eyes, I lacked the space for a 1x1 brick with studs on two sides. Instead, I resorted to my minuscule emergency stash of minifigure roller skates. This piece is only one plate high, but still allows for sideways connections on two sides. The sideways connections even have some vertical flexibility, so you can adjust whether the attached element should line up with the bottom of the skate (as seen here), the top of the skate, or somewhere in between.

Above the eyes, I resorted to tap pieces as a space saving strategy. If you can find a way to attach them with clips or holes, they can create sideways offsets more efficiently than regular SNOT bricks. In this case, their proper alignment required a direction-reversed 1x2 plate with two horizontal clips, so the studs of the taps would be offset a half plate in depth compared to the center column.

Offset, offset, offset

Making the diamond on White Diamond’s forehead stand out by one plate required some further SNOT trickery. Here are two useful connections which I used:

The left assembly may seem obvious, but should never be underestimated. The hole-and-bar connection lends this assembly excellent flexibility: It can be used to achieve a variety of subtle horizontal offsets, and allows for sideways rotation as well as full direction reversal or anything in between. When vertical space is sparser, however, the assembly to the right comes in quite handy. The gap between the two 1x1 plate sections is only two plates wide, rather than the standard two and a half, the connection enables a direction reversal, and regardless of direction reversal, there will be a half plate vertical difference between the heights of the two studs.

Lastly, I faced a significant challenge in creating the shape of the diamond. The diamond had to be three studs wide and centrally aligned, but the head’s underlying structure was based on an even number of studs. The diamond’s middle row also had to be three studs wide, so 7.5 plates. With two cheese slopes at the sides, this left a 2.5 plate by 3.5 plate space to fill, which had to be aligned exactly on the build’s central axis. The result: a three-quarter plate offset.

To achieve this offset, I utilized a jumper plate, a headlight brick, and a 1x1 plate. The full assembly can be seen above. (Attaching the 1x1 plate to the 1x1 brick with studs on two sides is a loosely connected 3/4 Technic pin.) The solution is simple, but took quite a bit of math and head scratching to get right. A helpful rule to remember for any kind of quarter plate offset is that once you’ve placed a 1x1 brick on a jumper plate, the portion of the jumper left uncovered is 1.25 plates wide on each side. (Quarter plate offsets can also be generated with the newer version of the 1x1 plate with clip light: 4081b. It's a cleaner, more compact way to get a quarter plate offset, though also slightly less versatile.)

I hope some of these tricks come in useful, and thank you to New Elementary for the opportunity to share this!

Iron Forge continues! The final four have been announced today. We will have more techniques for you soon.

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  1. Great article and insane build! The outlining of the eyes is crazy, I would never thought of using the string like this.

  2. I think colleges should start giving honorary geometry and architectural degrees to Iron Forge winners.

  3. Amazing! I have been building ever since I turned five, but none of those techniques have ever crossed my mind. This is a wonderful MOC. Bravo! -Studio Brickton

  4. Great article. I think something got omitted in the final line:

    “ Quarter plate offsets can also be generated with .)”

    1. Cab here! I think the piece I meant to mention is the newer version of the 1x1 plate with clip light: 4081b. It's a cleaner, more compact way to get a quarter plate offset, though also slightly less versatile.