A while ago, we featured an in-depth look at metal-sculpted LEGO creations. But what happens when you cross a skilled wood craftsman with a pinch of LEGO love? You get a master sculptor that churns out larger than life-sized LEGO made of wood. These are not just any ordinary wooden figures, but they are made with basic hand tools and a lathe and fully articulated. For those unaware like me, a lathe is a machine used to form a piece of wood into the desired shape. We just had to speak to Craig Daniel and find out more.
TBB: Craig, tell us what you do as your day job. Is it woodwork related?
Craig: I am a carpenter and joiner to trade but I have done woodturning for 25 years which plays a big part in the figure making. I actually teach the subject at the local technical college in Aberdeen, Scotland. But I have all my own tools and my lathe in my garage at home.
TBB: Where do you source your wood from?
Craig: I get it from various sources, some people give me timber, if perhaps they’ve felled a tree in their garden etc. Other sources are local sawmills (there are several in rural Scotland) and online vendors. All the timber (particularly the exotic woods) are from sustainable sources and have the correct chain of custody attached. The wonderful wooden builds are made with whatever I can get my hands on from tropical to temperate woods. The Spaceman and skimmer is made of Ash, Walnut, Boxwood, Bubinga, Purpleheart, Teak, Laburnum, Padauk, Beech and Maple, and that’s just one build!
TBB: Do the finished pieces still come apart into pieces the way their plastic counterparts would? Or do you permanently assemble them?
Craig: All the figures come apart as the standard minifigs do and the accessories are all as per the Lego pieces. The legs and arms are articulated as well. I take a lot of time figuring out how to make each component as accurate to the real pieces as possible.
TBB: Chain of custody? Would you be able to elaborate on that a little?
Craig: Yes, sustainability is a big issue these days, it’s what’s caused the massive deforestation of the rain forests so sawmills and timber merchants have to be careful.
TBB: How long have you been into LEGO and do you have a favorite set or theme?
Craig: Hard to say really, I’ve always liked LEGO but I suppose the last ten years it’s been a major hobby. I build sets and although I’ve always preferred the Technic sets, I’ve just recently finished the UCS Millennium Falcon. The Collectible Minifigures are not particularly appealing to me although I do have a few sets. I prefer to collect a specific theme (Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story etc) and I make display frames for them. Here is a couple I’ve done.
TBB: These are great displays! Did you make those as well?
Craig: Yes I paint or oil the frames depending on the finish.
TBB: How do you plan for the build of a Minifigure in that scale?
Well, first of all, I look at a figure or component and decide if it’s possible to be made of timber, not all Lego can be and some require a CNC router which I don’t have access to. I look at the sculpt, what jointing methods I’d use etc and try and work out in my head how I’d make it, what order the manufacture processes would need to be in, what tools I need and whether I have them and so on.
Then I make a rough sketch and take sizes of the figure or component, that’s when you really discover the complexity of the piece. I thereafter turn the sketch into a full-size technical drawing showing all relevant views, sizes, and angles. After that, it’s a case of gathering the timber and making it.
TBB: How long does it take to finish one of these?
Craig: I’ll sometimes spend a few weeks mulling an idea over and trying to figure out how to do it. If you take the rocket boy for example. The rocket is a simple, symmetrical shape but, it has a round aperture for the face dead center. The rocket begins life as a rectangular block and is turned on the lathe to the rocket shape. Now, there is no way I can bore a 90mm hole in the rocket after its round, it would never work, so I have to bore the hole before I turn it to shape. The rocket works exactly like its Minifigure counterpart with the ability for the figure to slide right in.
That is a small example of why it takes so long to think the job through and believe it or not the rocket is a very complicated build. As far as the scale of the figures goes, they are mostly 8x the size of a minifig (about 300mm tall).
My first three figures were 6x the size of a minifig but I prefer the larger ones. I did a batch of 8 figures that are 4x the size of a minifig and they are as small as I can reasonably make before the build quality is affected.
TBB: What finish do you put on them? Are we seeing the natural wood colors, or do you stain the wood at all?
Craig: Staining timber is sacrilege! Ha ha! I use Danish oil as a finish, it shows the natural character of the timber, is durable and if the timber gets damaged it’s easy to repair.
TBB: There seem to be a few different scales. How many sizes do you work with?
Craig: I have made 4 sizes of figures so far, 4x, 6x, 8x and 18x the size of a minifig. I have made one 18x figure and three 6x figures (they were the first ones). I made a batch of eight 4x figs. I don’t really know why — it was just something that took my fancy. The 8x figures are the standard ones, though. That’s the size of Batman, the pirate etc.
Of that scale, I have three basic figures and the characters. I also made two figures of that scale for friends as gifts. As far as experimenting went I didn’t have many failures, to be honest, I usually think the process out quite thoroughly before starting. The one area I did struggle to get right was the manufacture of the hands. That took 3 attempts to get the technique right and make the correct jigs. Nothing has gone wrong as yet but I always keep my fingers crossed!
TBB: The Ghost is dragging a chain. Can you tell us about making the chain? I imagine it was quite difficult.
Craig: I’ve made several chains over the years. I also make wooden padlocks and I made the chains to compliment them. I just added it to the ghost as it seemed to fit the character. The chain is actually a bit of a cheat, I make individual links then snap every second link and glue it back together. I have hand carved chain before but it’s very time-consuming!
TBB: The technic bike is quite amazing, it all has to fit together. How accurate do they need to be?
Craig: The Technic bike was very difficult to make. All the holes had to align perfectly and all the fixings had to slide onto the axles so they stayed in place but weren’t too tight. The technical drawings of the components had to be very accurate then I essentially used them as marking out templates.
I also made various boring jigs etc for forming the parts. I would estimate I spent over 120 hours and is one of my most challenging builds to date that made me almost throw in the towel more than once, but I’m glad I didn’t because the results were definitely worth it.
TBB: Do you have a favorite build Craig?
Craig: The Skeleton is my favorite, but once again, was extremely tough work! From a build process, the arms and hands are really hard to get right.
TBB: I’m sure we’re going to get tons of requests on how can we get a hold of these? Do you take orders?
Craig: This is a hobby to me and I don’t have any intention of making any profit from these. Each one of these is fully custom and unlike some that you’ve seen out there that are built using computerized controls and made for mass production, I make every single thing by hand which is extremely laborious.
TBB: Craig, thank you again, for taking the time of not only sharing your amazing creations but setting time aside to take wonderful photos of your labor of love. We do hope to see more of your creations in the future!
Gallery of images: