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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
Yep! I’m a knoller too. Sort of. Not quite to the extent that you are. I have a smaller magnetic mat used for phone repairs that I will usually fill up with parts, in order and orientation of appearance in the directions. If I manage to fit all of them in one pass, great. If not, I usually revert to clipping them out as I need them for the remainder of the build. One exception is in builds that have a lot of mirrored parts that are visually similar but location specific. I try to leave those in the sheets so that I don’t get them confused and installed wrong. I haven’t decided how I am going to handle the bigger builds with more sheets. I like the flip-book approach and may try out something like that to start.
Besides the obvious organizational advantage of knolling, I find it forces me to go through the directions ahead of time and helps me get a better feel for the possible trouble spots. It also lets me get into the flow of the build faster with fewer interruptions.
And I also learned of the term/process from Adam Savage. Specifically the Saturn 5 Lego build video. Good stuff!
I can’t remember if it was the Saturn V build or some other Lego set for me, but yeah. Savage’s channel is a great source of inspiration. I started out my knolling in much the same way… though I had a very small magnet (pulled off the back of one of those free fridge calendars you get from realtors). I would knoll out the next few steps, then build, then knoll, then lather-rinse-repeat. I’m pretty sure it was actually one of the big multi-sheet builds that convinced me to pull the gun on a large knolling sheet. lol.
As far as pulling parts ahead, I usually do a page or a series of steps and line them up in order of the instructions. I do not do the entire sheets. I see some advantage to pulling all the parts (and cleaning any burrs) at one time, but I do not want too many pieces out. I do have a photo magnetic sheet attached to my work piece on the desk to use as necessary. I also build a box to hold the larger sheets (primarily Transformers) where there are 8-10 sheets. It’s too much to lay multiple sheets on the desk and onto the pull out board.
Yeah, that’s the approach I used before I started knolling out the whole thing. And still use whenever I’m building a “gold” model that’s made of brass. I fashioned myself a paper-folio with invidividual slots for each sheet on my last mega-build (the Skynet Tank from Piececool). Though I like the idea of a box or stand that’s a little more rigid / self-supporting.
Interesting process. I’ve seen other’s knoll as well. I might if I had room. I work at my office desk so there is minimum space. I printed some stands to hold my parts sheets upright which makes finding the parts easier while taking up minimal space. I need to print some tool holders as I have a mess.
Interesting. I rather like the idea of stands to hold up the parts sheet. I might have to look into that. Even with a large work area, finding space for the parts sheets, my knolling sheet, the parts diagram, and the other pages of instructions can be rather difficult.
And since you mentioned “printing” some tool holders… I’ve done just that for my own main set of tools. I threw together a design on Tinkercad, printed it, it didn’t work, adjusted, printed, adjusted, printed, completely reworked it, and printed a final time. It now holds every tool I use except for the drill bits (which I printed their own holder for as well). Anyways, if you are interested, I went over and made the design public, so you can check it out and modify it as needed. It’s been designed such that it doesn’t need to have and supports when printing, cause I hate dealing with supports. Here’s the link: https://www.tinkercad.com/things/fZIRCwpH421-metal-earth-tool-holder