It might be the most controversial debate among Metal Model Builders. To knoll or not to knoll. Well, assuming you know what knolling is. And I only learned the term from watching Adam Savage’s Tested show on YouTube. Knolling is the act of sorting and arranging parts of an assembly before beginning said assembly. I learned it in reference to building Legos, but eventually applied it to building Metal Earth Models. And to circle back, yeah… using the term controversial is a bit silly, as people don’t really fight about it. But people do have some strong feelings about it, that’s for sure.

There’s something so inviting about seeing all the parts laid out and ready to go…

That being said, I fall on the side of knolling out the parts beforehand. Yes, that means clipping out all the parts before I even start building. And if that scares you with regards to losing parts, worry not! I use a magnetic strip sheet that I created to assist with my knolling. Of course, that doesn’t really work with the brass models, as brass could care less about magnets. I’ve also seen other people use magnetic “project mats” or little cups / containers to hold the parts as well. Mine is made using a sheet of craft foam, with magnetic tape strips applied across it in several rows.

Of course, the next question is why? Why do I knoll out the parts beforehand. Naysayers call it a waste of time, and I can understand that. But for me, I like the flow of the build better when I don’t have to stop frequently to hunt down and clip out a part. And to be honest, the pre-clipping and arranging the parts is almost a Zen-like process. At least for me. Another benefit, in my own little messy way, is that I have one less tool out while building. If you’ve watched any of my videos, I just drop tools and pick up tools, and make a general mess out of tools. Anything to reduce that is a benefit for me. Haha.

Can you feel the Zen?

So, rather than intending to argue for knolling (if you don’t like knolling, that’s fine by me!), I really meant to write this post as an explanation of my strategy when it comes to knolling. And part of my approach comes from the knolling mat’s that I’ve created. I actually started with a couple of large sheets of magnet that came from magnetic photo frames, but found that I liked the strips better. With full sheets, I sometimes found it hard to pick up the parts, and sliding them can sometimes cause scratches. So having gaps between the magnetic strips allows me to (usually) pick up the parts fairly easily, and without damaging them at all.

Those large sheets are less linear in arrangement, too. Also, yellow!

Originally, I arranged the parts on the sheets like written words: line by line, top-to-bottom, left-to-right. It seemed the logical way, and the easiest to process. And that was fine, but I eventually changed my approach to work from bottom-to-top, instead. Why? Because of a couple of things, both of which are a result of the fact that I usually place the knolling sheets “above” or “behind” my build area. I’m not sure of the clearest way to say that. Past my build area? On the far side of the build area? Whatever, hopefully one of those phrases made sense. Anyways, being located there, if I do the top-to-bottom approach and don’t fill the sheet (which is most of the time) then I’m reaching farther than I really need to, if that makes sense. That’s reason one. Reason two is that I’m clumsy. And I realized that when I’m picking up parts in that arrangement, I’m carrying them over all the subsequent parts on the way to the build area. And if I drop said parts, well… you get the idea. Both of these issues are resolved by reversing to a bottom-to-top. But I still go left-to-right. Can’t get too backwards!

bottom-to-top, left-to-right

The next part of arranging the parts is how I keep track of which part is which. And the simple answer, for me, is that I clip them out in mostly numerical order. It kinda depends on the model, though I’ve started doing this with more and more models, as it’s just nicer when it comes to the build sessions. I clip them out in the order they are used in the instructions. Which, for the most part, is in numerical order. Except when there are duplicate parts used in separate areas of the instructions. You can stick to strictly numerical order with some models though, when it’s fairly easy to tell which part is which. But some of the larger, more complex models tend to get too messy, and it’s just easier to know that the next part in the instructions is always going to be the next part in line on the knolling sheet.

These numbers match the part numbers. I’ve highlighted the “out-of-order” parts and extras.

Of course, there are a couple of quirks / unique cases that must be handled when I’m knolling like this. The most obvious one is that not all parts are the same size, and some won’t fit on just one row of my knolling sheets. In those cases, I just put the bottom of them into the current row, and knoll around them when I get to the next row up. It’s place in order is dependent on the lowest magnetic strip it’s connected to. As for the other general quirk, I’m referring to repeated assemblies. The x2 or x4 or times whatever bits that you encounter from time to time. Sometimes I’ll arrange those parts one full assembly after another. Other times I’ll arrange them factory-line style: all of the first part, then all of the second part, etc. In that case, I plan on forming all the repetitions alongside each other, rather than sequentially.

Some parts are just too darn big!
Repetitive tasks call for assembly line arrangement

So, yeah… that’s how I knoll. Do you knoll? Did you even know about the term for knolling? If you do knoll, how do you do it? What’s your strategy / approach? What apparatus have you created or used in the process? And because I’ve posted a number of these on Instagram over the last couple of years, here’s some more knolling pictures: