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Make: Asks is a new weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column will spark interesting conversation and that we’ll get to know more about each other.

This week’s question: What was your favorite building set as a child, and why?

Post your responses in the comments section.

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.


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Comments

  1. Brian says:

    Lego. Hands down. The perfect amount of structure and rules, yet creative and flexible with more advanced ways to connect the bricks and pieces. I still covet my Lego Star Destroyer and I’m 31 :)

    1. MSilvia says:

      Likewise. I haven’t even seen Brian’s Star Destroyer, and I covet it.
      I have enough of an enduring love for Legos that I have a storage bin filled to bursting, waiting for my kids to be old enough to play with them.

  2. Lego + the Free Universal Construction Kit (find it on Thingiverse)

  3. steve says:

    Capsela. Because (a) it was motorized, in a way that was very simple to use, and (b) it had worm gears(!) and finally (c) it had those those yellow pod things that floated and the capsules were airtight, so you could take it in the bathtub.

    1. Yes! I remember a friend of mine had Capsela, thanks for reminding me of the name! The bathtub-friendly feature definitely made it super-cool.

    2. Capsela was easily the coolest building toy ever. They had a ton of cool modules, the things seemed indestructible and everything just snapped together. You could see how everything worked. I built erector set models, which were fun, but were a more structured learning experience, it took awhile to do anything. I played with Lego, which were fun, but didn’t do much when I was kid (slightly pre-mindstorms and nxt). Capsela was quick. You could build something in 5 minutes, then quickly add something else, then change parts out. I was rapid and free flowing, like working with clay instead of granite.

  4. Mason says:

    I was a huge fan of Capsela.
    They were clear plastic spheres with 6 octagonal entry points. Inside each one was a different combination of gears or motors, whose shafts could be connected at the entry points. With their chains, wheels, and propellors you could make all manner of cool robots and vehicles and boats.

    1. Agreed. There are two things that taught me how gears worked: riding a 10 speed bike and Capcela. Of the two I’d say Capcela was the more important. I learned about torque, gear reduction, worm gears, crown gears… you name it. It’s a tragedy those sets aren’t made anymore.

  5. I have the fondest memories from my Construx set. This might have been because I didn’t have a very extensive lego set. With Construx I was able to make a variety of vehicles very quickly that were great for my Playmobil people :).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construx

    1. I think Construx was also my favorite. I used to build Construx frameworks around my toy dinosaurs and then weaponize them :)

    2. Max says:

      I’m old enough that the only building sets I had as a kid, other than wooden blocks, was Erector Sets and TinkerToys. However my son loved Construx. We were always amazed at how he could construct pretty much anything he wanted using them. He was a big fan of Zelda on the Super Nintendo and would make a potion flask, bow and arrow, even a crossbow using them. X-Wing? No problem. A pity Fisher-Price discontinued them.

  6. It’s a tie between my Erector Set and my Radio Shack 150-in-one experimenter’s kit. Electronic and electro-mechanical toys/kits were and still are what capture my attention.

  7. james treg says:

    Brickplayer. Real bricks and mortar made of flour and water. Submerge building to dissolve mortar and start again.

  8. mpilchfamily says:

    Lego for sure but gotta give props to the good old Fisher Price Construx sets.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construx

  9. rocketguy1701 says:

    Lego FTW, but also a big +1 for the 150 in 1 electronics kit. The genius of the spring connectors changed my life. Well, kinda.

    1. rocketguy1701 says:

      Oh yeah, capsela was also great, if limited in it’s combinations.

  10. Brian D says:

    TinkerToy- not finicky to work with, large enough to make something impressive, strings and pullys for motion and easy to sort/find the right pieces.
    In later years I fell in love with the aforementioned 150 in 1 from RS and assorted chemistry sets.

  11. tcj says:

    Red plastic bricks, pre-Lego as far as I know. http://www.balmoralsoftware.com/apb/aboutapb.htm

  12. Dan says:

    Legos are great, but I had the best time using tinker toys. I remember spending time in my Grandpa’s workshop making new components based on my design. All it took was imagination, some rudimentary wood working tools, and some scraps of materials. I used wood, plastic, styrofoam and leftover bike parts a lot.

  13. David Walker says:

    I had fischertechnik – brilliantly designed, it was nylon and it’s advantage over Lego was that it was very strong once assembled. Great electronics kit as well ! Biggest drawback was it was sooo expensivce …

  14. Lego of course, but a close second was Wooden American Bricks, which were orginally my father’s. Way better than plastic bricks for realistic crumbling demolition

    1. More specifically, I should say Lego “Expert Builder” (came before Technic).

  15. radium226 says:

    #1 would have to be Lego (specifically, space) but also agreed on Construx, Capsella, and my Radio Shack 200-in-1 kit. One more, from early childhood, was a plastic construction set consisting of two, big, red boxes (roughly 12″ on a side) and various nuts, bolts, and wheels. That great thing about that kit was, at that young age, you could actually build something you could sit in or ride on!

    1. Jesse Smith says:

      On a related note, your avatar is the old guy minifig (whose name I just learned is Commander Cold) from the Ice Planet theme, my favorite! I have the Deep Freeze Defender (flagship) and several other sets and can’t wait until my son is old enough to play with them.

    2. HippyFish says:

      OMG! The set you describe with the red boxes and wheels, do you have any inkling of what it was called?? I am looking for that and can’t fine any reference to it online. My cousins had one when I was a kid and we loved it! You could make like a little chair/car with a steering bar… so much fun!

      1. Jack in TN says:

        Gilbert Erector set, the bigger the better.

  16. Nick G says:

    Lego Technic, for sure!

  17. sixminus4is5 says:

    K’NEX and Capsela were my favorite growing up, but Erector Set and Lego’s were also great. I also had the 150 in 1 experimenter kit. I can’t remember the name of it, but I also had a wood working set made of red plastic. It could be converted into a jig saw, a lathe, a drill press, etc.

    1. Glad to see K’nex. That was my kids building set…I loved lincoln logs, erector sets, and lego.

  18. FredB says:

    Tinkertoy and Erector Set. The Tinkertoys offered tool free fast prototyping. The Erector set was STEEL. The largest Tinkertoy project was a B-52. The most complex Erector Set project was a Ferris wheel. Our budgie rode it around and around.

  19. Jeff Jukes says:

    Meccano the best could make everything you could imagine, clockwork and electric motors best ever. What it couldn’t make was a good boat or aeroplane but then the ultimate was a sheet of balsa wood 1/8 x 4 x 36 and balsa cement. how many ideas have flown or sailed on them ?

  20. matt says:

    Construx, no question. Among other reasons, in a no-violence-toy approving household, they made the BEST toy guns for playing war.

  21. DarkStar says:

    I can’t remember the name of it, but I had a neat building construction set that was these plastic sticks with pegs sticking out from the sticks. You would assemble a building and it was a basic I-Beam type design and you would then use the pegs to attach plastic sheets to the outside that had industrial skyscraper type exteriors.

    If anybody knows the name of this, I would love to get another set!

    1. DarkStar says:

      Well, just a quick Google search later revealed that I loved playing with Girder and Panel Building Sets from Kenner Toys. Through the many years, the company has gone through a lot of changes and now is owned by Bridge Street Toys and their girder and panel building sets are a top selling item!

      Needless to say, I now have a TektĂ´n Plaza Building Set in my wishlist!

  22. Rob says:

    Construx by far. I even built a working differential with them when I was about 12.

  23. HWC says:

    Any of Jetco’s tissue paper and balsa airplanes &, better still, the ones that would take a Jetex rocket. And I still think AMT had better plastic models than Revell.

  24. Dave says:

    Rokenbock. If you haven’t seen it, check it out! Just got my son a set this past Christmas. We’ll be playing this a lot.

  25. John says:

    Big Waffle Blocks. I liked building structures that I could climb on. I also really liked cardboard bricks because I could build a wall and smash through it, “Oh Yeah!” In preschool I got in trouble for taking apart one of the bricks to see how they were made.

  26. R. Mark Adams says:

    I loved my Erector set! I still remember how fun it was to work with my dad to build a motorized car, including the steering system and suspension. Magical. Heathkit, too – being able to build a working set of neon lamps that ran off of battery power and a transformer was the coolest thing ever. I think if Lego Technic had been around when I was younger it would have had a top place, too.

  27. Adam says:

    Lego no question. A close second would be Constructs. You could build big. I used Constructs for my first working (ish) robots.

  28. Karel K says:

    For me, number one was Fischer Technik and a close second was Lego.
    Fischer Technik ruled for me because I had the computer interface (I believe for a Commodore 64?). It was easy to control motors and a lot of sensors (light, temp, touch, etc) at young ages.
    Since a few months I have a son and can’t wait until he is old enough to allow me to get both sets from my parents attic so I can play together with him :-)

    1. Karel K says:

      To add to this: Lego is more sturdy than Fischer Technik, but the price is the discreteness. Fischer Technik is less stiff, but construction is more “analog” :-) Hence, for an idea I could choose the best suitable tech set. Drag racers: Lego. Some robots: Fischer Technik.

  29. curts says:

    Lego hands down. I later discovered Fischer Technik, which was much more flexible for machine construction and predated Lego Mindstorms. I would have loved Mindstorms. Also a nod to the Radio Shack 100-in-1 kit.

    I’ve passed my Lego and 100-in-1 kit to the next generation of Makers, but not my Fischer Technik.

  30. Colin Chapman says:

    Fishertechnik because of its industrial look and flexibility in connection between pieces [not quantised like Lego].
    Lego and Technic essentially because of its ubiquity.
    Really all construction sets – each set’s limitation really provoked better engineering thinking during play.
    The Free Universal Construction Kit will become a new favourite – once I get a 3D printer to love and to hold.

  31. Eric says:

    How can you choose just one? We had tinkertoys, zax, knex, legos, construx, waffle blocks, wooden blocks, erector and probably more that I can’t remember. Each had their advantages. As far as fun playing went, I would probably go with knex. They stayed together well enough for rough play. The only set I had that used any electronics was a construx set with LEDs. Always wanted a lego technic set and never got one though.

  32. Matt says:

    I didn’t have any building sets as a kid because my parents didn’t want anything with lots of peices, so I had to play with friends sets. My favorite I don’t even know the name of, early 60′s era. It had plastic I beams that snapped together. After constructing your building, there were plastic panels that snapped on to finish the outside (some with windows, some with doors, etc). Also some set that was sort of water mains type, with working valves. I remember my friend and I making some sort of liquid processing plant with the two sets. And yes, we got in trouble for spilling water all over the floor!

    1. ameyring says:

      The first set you mentioned sounds like Girder and Panel (which I had no idea dates back to the 1960s!). They’re still sold by Bridge Street Toys.

  33. Tim says:

    No doubt it was Legos, but Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys were used almost as often throughout the years.

  34. SpinWelder hands down. More free form approach and the smell of melted ABS was just fantastic

  35. Jack in Tennessee says:

    I’m old school. I had wood building blocks, different colors. Add onto that with Lincoln Logs, and wooden Tinker Toys. Eventually a couple of Gilbert Erector Sets (and even Gilbert Chemistry Set – remember: good things through chemistry :)

    My kids started out with my old toys. Grandpa built them more great wood ‘building blocks’. We (wife and I) added some Duplo’s, lots of Lego’s (mainly basic blocks and flats, some ‘specialty sets’), K’nex by the boat load (Target used to have GOOD sales on them after the holidays).

    We still have most of it. … We helped my son with a ‘invention’ for 5th grade using the Erector set parts. We still haven’t got it back but he does have an official ‘U.S. Patent’ based on the model he/we built for that school project. (He was a Jr in High school before it was granted). I think partly due to the patent he got a full boat scholarship to college. The school said it was about $150K worth of scholarship!

    My favorite is the Gilbert Erector and Tinkertoys, just because my memory of my younger years . They are all great and inspiring sets.

    Oh yes, my son now is a professional MechEngr with a degree from a great Boston area college and is a ‘maker and builder’ for a living. Daughter never got into it as much, but she enjoys them as she teaches 3rd grade kids to grow and think through problems for real life solutions.

    All the various sets, even PVC pipe and connectors (another favorite of mine), have their time and place. If they help your mind expand, build new and wonderful things (practical or not), they are good tools.

  36. ameyring says:

    Legos were the primary one for me, but my parents kept buying different toys, so I had some fun times with Capsela, Girder and Panel, RS 200-in-1, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and Robotix. Still have all my Legos and share them with my kids. Also still have the RS set and Robotix, but the rest disappeared due to garage sales :-( I really remembered how much fun Capsela was in water and would love to do some water robots. It’s good to hear that Girder and Panel is still made today.

  37. GoodHart says:

    When I was a child? There were only two that I recall: Erector and Meccano, essentially the same thing really. With enough pieces, you could build nearly anything.

  38. Larry says:

    “Girder and Panel” was my favorite, with a Radio Shack xxx-in-1 as a second

  39. Mbk says:

    At the time, the Erector Set and Lincoln Logs were about all that was availabe in my backwoods town, so I favored the Erector Set. When I finally got old enough to do some work for others (around 14) I got the Radio Shack 150 Electronics Lab. That was my introduction into electronnics which is what I currenty do as a hobby (imagine that, someone as afraid of being SHOCKED as I am, doing electronics LOL ).