LEGO Storage for Large Collections

CHAPTER 5: LEGO Storage for Large Collections

Do you purchase multiple copies of a LEGO set because it includes great parts? Do you have a whole room dedicated to your LEGO collection? Have you been collecting since the 80’s? Your “Large” LEGO Collection needs to be really well organized, and you need to find the perfect storage solution for your home.

This chapter looks at storage solutions for advanced LEGO builders with a very large collection of bricks. These “Large” LEGO collections range from 50,000 bricks to well over a million bricks, and are typically sorted by part. Some extremely large collections are sorted by element (separate container for each unique color of each part). Because this chapter covers a wide ranges of collections, it includes many LEGO storage solutions, including professional storage solutions which are typically used in an industrial setting.

If you have a modest collection of bricks and you don’t want to sort by part, go back to Chapter 4: LEGO Storage for Medium Collections.

If you aren’t sure how you should organize your collection, start with Section I: Organizing, Sorting, & Storing LEGO Bricks.

Drawer Cabinets

One of the most popular storage solutions among AFOL’s with large collections are Plastic Drawer Cabinets. They are reasonably priced, and with more than 50 drawers per cabinet you can sort your pieces by Part, or even by Element (Part + Color).

Akro-Mils drawer cabinets are very popular.  They are high-quality and cost effective.

Akro-Mils drawer cabinets are very popular. They are high-quality and cost effective.

Best for:

  • Well organized collections
  • Lots of wall space

Also good for:

You can remove a drawer to bring the parts you need to your build area. Labels make it even easier to find the part you need.

Selection and quality varies greatly, with only one or two brands receiving the majority of attention in a given region. In the United States, the most common choice is the Akro-Mils products, but the Stack-on products are also popular. Some models can be stacked several units high, while others require wall mounting.

Features to look for in these cabinets include: flexible drawers (which bend instead of breaking), drawers that can be removed easily, drawers that can be stacked when they are removed from the cabinet, and drawers that are the right size for your needs.

Recommended Products:
  • Akro-Mils Drawer Cabinets – Plastic drawer cabinets by Akro-Mils are the top pick of most LEGO Enthusiasts in the USA. They have several advantages over other options including: drawers are easily removed and stack-able, drawers are deep enough for 16-stud bricks, drawers are flexible which makes them hard to break, and have competitive prices. All three cabinet sizes are 20″ x 6 ⅜″ x 15 ¾″ h (50.8cm x 16.2cm x 40cm h). They can be wall mounted, or stacked up to three units high. I strongly recommend the 64-drawer cabinet for most scenarios, but some people will want to use the 24-drawer cabinet for common elements or minifig accessories. There is also a 44-drawer cabinet with both large and small drawers.

    The small drawers have interior measurements of 5.0cm × 13.3cm × 3.7cm h (2″ × 5 ¼″ × 1 ½″ h), and a volume of 0.25 liters (15 1/4 in³).

    The large drawers have interior measurements of 10.8cm × 13.3cm × 5.3cm h (4 ¼″ × 5 ¼″ × 2″ h), and a volume of 0.76 liters (46 1/3 in³).

  • Stack on Drawer Cabinets – The Stack-on brand is also popular and well made. The cabinets are taller than they are wide, which might be easier in your home. The drawers are not stackable, which is less convenient when carrying drawers around your workspace. As with the Akro-Mils product, they come in three sizes: 60 small drawers, 18 large drawers, and a mix of 39 small and large drawers.

Drawers with dividers

If you want to store your LEGO collection like the LEGO design studios in Billund, you want large drawers with divided compartments. Drawers with dividers allow you to keep a large collection meticulously organized, and they take up less wall space than the drawer cabinets highlighted above. These cabinets are especially well suited for people who want to separate pieces by Element (Part + Color) instead of just by Part.

Really Useful Scrapbook Drawers with Dividers. (Photo from Brickset)

Really Useful Scrapbook Drawers with Dividers. (Photo from Brickset)

Best for:

  • Well organized collections
  • Limited Wall Space

Also good for:

Especially well suited to collections sorted by Element (Part + Color).

I have seen beautiful examples of drawers with every common brick and plate of a single color in one cabinet, or alternately, every color of a single part in a single drawer. Which organizational scheme you pick will depend on whether you think about the LEGO library of elements by color first, or by part first.

Recommended Products:
  • Really-Useful Scrapbooking Drawers – In addition to making premium storage boxes, the Really Useful Box company also makes quality stacking drawers for scrapbooking, and a divided insert which gives you 15 compartments per drawer for storing LEGO parts up to 12-studs long.

    Since scrapbook paper is 12″ x 12″ (30×30 cm) these are big drawers that can hold a lot of LEGO Bricks. With the insert, each of the 15 divided compartments are 10.5cm x 7.0cm x 7.5cm h (4 1/8 x 2 3/4″ x 2.9″ h), and a volume of 0.55 liters (33.6 in³).

  • Papimax LEGO Storage Drawers – This UK company makes the only storage drawers designed specifically for LEGO Bricks.

    Each drawer is 37cm x 23cm x 6cm h (14.5″ x 9″ x 2 1/3″ h), with a total volume of 5.1 liters (311 in³). Drawers can be configured with up to 15 compartments measuring about 7cm x 7.5cm x 6cm h (2 3/4″ x 3″ x 2 1/3″ h), and a volume of 0.32 liters (19 1/4 in³). Each drawer is about 1/3 smaller than the Really Useful Scrapbooking drawers.

Note: Neither of these products are readily available in the US at this time. I’ve contacted both companies about expanded global availability.

Removable Compartment Organizers

One of the newest products to gain popularity with LEGO builders is a new kind of tackle box with removable compartments. Many LEGO builders like how these have tight-fitting lids, but you can remove just one compartment and bring it to your build area.

Removable Compartment organizers are versatile and have tight-fitting lids to keep pieces in place.

Removable Compartment organizers are versatile and have tight-fitting lids to keep pieces in place.

Best for:

  • Well organized collections
  • Portability

Also good for:

You can remove a single compartment to bring the parts you need to your build area.

Most brands offer both a regular, and deep option. The shallower options are better for people who want a lot of small storage containers, especially when sorting by Part, or by both Part and Color (by Element). You typically get more compartments this way, and they aren’t as deep so it’s easier to remove parts from the bottom of each compartment. The deeper options only make sense if you sort by both part and color, and have a lot of basic bricks that you need to store.

Recommended Products:

Tackle Boxes

Tackle boxes are popular in the crafting community, and they are popular with LEGO enthusiasts as well. These containers have divided compartments and a tight fitting lid, and are less expensive than some other options. The most common designs have a lid which is attached to the base with a hinge, and the size of each compartment is often adjustable with plastic dividers.

Plano 3700 Series tackle boxes can store a lot of LEGO bricks.

Plano 3700 Series tackle boxes can store a lot of LEGO bricks.

Best for:

  • Portability
  • Inexpensive
  • High storage density
  • Stackable

Accessing a specific part is a bit slower than some other solutions, as you need to find the right container, fold it open, and carefully remove the parts you need without causing an earthquake (where parts end up shifting into the wrong compartment.) That said, they are extremely portable, making them a great choice for younger builders, or people who need to bring parts to a LEGO convention. It’s also a good deep storage option for well-organized builders who need an inexpensive and efficient storage solution for less frequently used parts.

Recommended Products:
  • Plano Tackle Boxes – Tackle boxes come in a wide range of sizes, but the larger sizes can hold more LEGO bricks. I recommend the 3700 Series which is 14″ x 9.25″ x 2″ tall, and has up to 24 compartments. The smaller 3600 Series is 11″ x 7.25″ x 1.75″ tall, with up to 21 compartments. (Anything smaller than this is probably too small for LEGO bricks.)
  • Plano Multi-tray Tackle Box – For the ultimate in well-organized portable storage, consider one of these large tackle boxes which store up to four tackle box trays. The Plano 1374 Rack System holds four of the 3700 Series Tackle Boxes recommended above.

Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are one of the cheapest and most commonly used LEGO storage containers. It helps that they are very easy to find — you can buy them at almost any grocery store. That said, not all bags are created equal… Premium bags don’t cost much more, but they include convenient Sliding zippers, and are designed to stand up when placed on the ground. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s really helpful since you can leave a bag unzipped without worrying about it falling over and spilling pieces all over your workspace.

Zippered Plastic Bags are inexpensive and versatile.

Zippered Plastic Bags are inexpensive and versatile.

Best for:

  • Low cost
  • High storage density
  • Overflow storage

Also good for:

Separating new and used bricks while storing them in the same container.

Plastic Bags are especially well suited as overflow storage for people with very large collections — you can stack a lot of bags in a box or large drawer without wasting space. (Plastic Bags are also useful for storing sets, manuals, or other LEGO accessories.)

I strongly recommend having bags available in all sizes: from the smallest 2″ x 3″ size to the largest 2.5 Gallon size — They are inexpensive, and you never know when you will need them!

Recommended Products:
  • Ziploc Slider Stand & Fill Bags – This is the premium option for storing LEGO bricks in bags. The slider makes it easier to open and close, and the bag stands up while you fill it. Available in Quart, Gallon, or a Variety packs. (For even larger quantities, or to store a complete LEGO set, try the Hefty Slider 2.5 Gallon Bag.)
  • Standard Plastic bags – The most common sizes are Sandwich, Quart, and Gallon. The name brand regular bags cost almost as much as the Slider bags, but you might be able to find inexpensive generic bags at your grocery store. The “Freezer” bags are thicker and more durable, but more expensive. (I really like the Snack Size, which is the same width as the Sandwich size, but half as tall. It’s perfect for small parts and accessories.)
  • Small Bags – If you’ve ever purchased LEGO bricks on Bricklink, you probably received some of them in very small plastic bags. The smallest size I can recommend are the 3″ x 5″ bags, which are cheap and can hold a fair number of pieces. (The 2″ x 3″ bags aren’t very useful, although they are large enough to store a couple bricks or a single LEGO Minifigure.)

Open-front Bins

Designed for industrial applications, some professional LEGO builders use open-front storage for commonly-used bricks. This storage solution takes up a lot of space, so it only makes sense if you have a very large quantity of common elements. For example, artists like Nathan Sawaya who use a large quantity of classic bricks to make large LEGO sculptures.

Akro-Mils Shelf with 8" x 12" Bins.

Akro-Mils Shelf with 8″ x 12″ Bins.

Not Recommended:

While they might make sense in the model shop at LEGOLAND, or the design studio of Nathan Sawaya, they aren’t very practical for most LEGO enthusiasts. The primary concerns are storage efficiency, cost, and dust.

The main concern with this storage solution is that it is expensive, takes up a lot of space, and pieces can fall out if the container is too full.

I’d love to hear if you use a different storage solution for your large collection. In the next chapter, we’ll look at some neat tricks to be more creative and organized.

36 Responses

  1. N. Leenders says:

    For my technics collection, I use Shuter flip out bins. It is hard to express just how great they are to use, and my on-line search didn’t find any pictures to do them justice. These bins come in a variety of sizes, but they are modular, they connect together to create systems. So I have large bins on the bottom, medium next, and topped with small bins. I have these at the back of my table, and at my side, on a shelf, I do this again, three layers deep. The bins don’t fall over. I slide the front sets of bins to the side to access bins further back and thus have many quickly accessible parts next to me.

    • tomalphin says:

      This looks like a high quality product, but it’s pretty expensive. Thankfully, there are far fewer common elements in Technic than in System, so this might be a good premium recommendation for Technic builders. I’d love to see a photo!

  2. Walter says:

    I re-configured Iris/Sterilite drawer organizer to be two storage system – each storage system is 6 feet high by 8 feet long by 1 feet deep – each column is bolt to the next column every 1 feet of height of the column to add stability to the frame.. My combine storage space for small Lego spare parts is 6 feet by 16 feet by 1 feet. The plastic frames from iris are stronger and more rigid than the ones from sterilite. the Iris unit has small and medium size drawers. The Sterilite has medium and large size drawers.

    • tomalphin says:

      Walter, I have also observed that the Iris drawer cabinets are a little more stable. The main advantage of Sterilite is that it is often cheaper.

  3. Lars Nelson says:

    Lego bins for organization.
    My collection fills a room so these are solutions were inadequate. I use the Seville storage 10 drawer organizer cart. https://smile.amazon.com/Seville-Classics-10-Drawer-Translucent-Color-Coded/dp/B01N9FFR6P/ref=pd_sim_201_12?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=78KCD36WF30RA94S7733
    They are sturdy and I like the colored ones because it helps me remember where parts are. I labelled them. Then I bought card stock and cut it and folded it to create paper bins. They are cheap, cut to fit the bin exactly, and removable. No plastic bin comes close to making them myself. I can send pics of what I did if you want to post them, because it seems to be different from what others do and it is a pretty cheap solution. I agree with the person above about the portable Stanley organizer with 16 removable bins for minifigs. https://smile.amazon.com/Stanley-Removable-Compartment-Professional-Organizer/dp/B001G1CUK0/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1510267496&sr=8-2&keywords=stanley+bin+organizer
    and 25 compartment is very good for small components.
    https://smile.amazon.com/Stanley-Removable-Compartment-Professional-Organizer/dp/B00005QWYF/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1510267496&sr=8-2&keywords=stanley%2Bbin%2Borganizer&th=1

    • tomalphin says:

      Lars, I will be adding these Stanley-style cabinets to the guide soon. Several people have suggested them, and I even use one for my extra LEGO Architecture Studio set which lives at work.

      Although the Seville drawers seem to work well for you, I’m not as fond of them because the sloping walls make it harder to subdivide into smaller compartments. While most people I’ve talked to prefer clear drawers, I can see how you would eventually learn which color contains the parts you need.

  4. Kyle says:

    I use the 3 and 5 drawer Sterilite bins commonly found at WalMart/Target ect. This is cheapest option I have found. I bought some additional plexiglass sheets at HobbyLobby and cut them to size to make dividers, securing it with hot glue, in the shallow bins. This is great for your less common colors in smaller quantities. I sort by color and type. Keeping them seperated in ziploc bags, going in bins for respective color. For items I have large quantities of like slopes or bricks, ill use entire large or small bins. I use $4 Plano tackle boxes from walmart for all my minifigure accessory sorting.

    • tomalphin says:

      That sounds like a lot of work, but I’m sure it works great now that you are done. I also use a combination of separate compartments and small ziploc bags to sort my collection.

  5. Zane Hardman says:

    I personally love to combine large and small drawers with large drawers with individual trays inside. In my personal opinion this is the best way to get the convenience of having the fast cleanup and parts access of large draws with the portability and specificness of small single section trays. And if you find a modular system, the trays can be easily shuffled around as collection changes. The main problem is finding trays that fit well in drawers with little wasted space. As of yet I have not found the perfect solution but I currently am making my own trays so I really have not looked much. That’s just how I like to do things in may small workspace.

    • tomalphin says:

      Zane,
      I have heard similar experiences from other LEGO builders. What you are discussing is the process of creating your perfect LEGO Storage Solution using a combination of different LEGO Storage Products. This is something that I plan to expand-on in a future addition to the guide.

      (To summarize your personal storage solution – you use a mixture of Akro-Mils style drawer cabinets and larger drawers with multiple rows of small removeable compartments inside. That’s very similar to my storage solution, although the individual compartment in the Really Useful Scrapbooking drawers I am using are not removeable.)

      Thanks for your support and feedback!
      —tom

  6. Gary says:

    When I was getting started and needed to organize, I researched the drawers like the stack-ons listed above. I thought the price was a bit high and kept shopping. Found the exact same stack on 39 drawer organizer at Home Depot for almost 1/2 the price ($16). https://www.homedepot.com/s/stack+on+organizer?NCNI-5. According to homedepot.com it looks like they might be sold out now. Still worth looking into.

    • tomalphin says:

      Gary,
      I think the important point you are making is that it is a good idea to shop around. Amazon has great prices on most things (in the USA at least), but you might be able to find slightly better prices if you shop around or wait for a sale.

      —tom

  7. Astrobricks says:

    The Akro Mills units are commonly available at Menards stores in the midwest for about $20.

  8. Paul Schaffert says:

    I’ve found that there is a step up from tackle boxes- cases with individual bins. Stanley makes a popular one in shallow and deep sizes. They have the advantage of removable bins like a drawer organizer but also locking lids that keep all the parts in like a tackle box. The bins can be rearranged between boxes of the same depth, allowing your collection to grow organically.

    • tomalphin says:

      This is an obvious gap in the guide which I will remedy very soon. Added your comment to my backlog in the appendix.

  9. Maybe this is covered somewhere else in the book but I’m going to jump in here anyway. Since we are talking about large collections, other key tools helping me keep my 1.7M collection manageable are:
    A small scale for weighing bulk parts. Saves a lot of time.
    A bakery rack for storing parts to be washed or sorted, WIP, table scraps, or odds and ends waiting for a place in the system. That way it is not cluttering my build tables.
    A wire 3 shelf cart for when I am either pulling or organizing parts. It’s especially helpful when I have to get parts from the section with Plano containers as you need somewhere to put them down to open them for part access.

  10. For fiddlybits I also use the small Akro-Mils cabinets but for large parts and quantities, I use easily available Sterilite and Iris stackable units, the IRIS being more expensive but sturdier for stacking floor to ceiling. IRIS made the drawer sets that LEGO sold for a while.

    My challenge was finding flexible dividers for the drawers. With fixed divided drawers it becomes very inefficient when you don’t have the same amount of each color. I sort by Category/Part/Mold variation/color. I use Categories defined by Bricklink.
    Sterilite: I have found this plastic insert from Consumer Craft (https://www.consumercrafts.com/store/details/catalog/papercraft-storage-and-organizers/1203-66tray) which fits perfectly into the large drawers and be cut to fit into the medium ones. Not perfect but cost effective. Found on sale with free shipping about $1/drawer.
    IRIS: They make a divided tray for their wide drawers but two things problematic; they don’t sell extra dividers which limits their usefulness and they don’t ‘snap’ in which can be undesirable for very small parts for which the trays are best suited!
    ALL: My ideal solution is the containers from Schaller Corporation (www.schallercorporation.com). As your collection grows or changes you can easily readjust the drawer configuration. Also, they can be easily moved to your build area with you don’t need the whole drawer. More expensive, averages about 0.80 per piece, but I am in organizing heaven with these.

  11. Dave De Gobbi says:

    Hey Tom, Saw your presentation at Brickcon and thought it was fantastic . I would like to add the Legendary Ikea Antonius tray to the recommended sorting trays.
    http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/50043573/

    Pros – Cheap , Sturdy , can be removed from shelves to be places on work area. easily adapts to accept large quantities of new acquisitions.
    Cons – requires custom made storage racking for maximum benefit.

    I emailed you some photos of my setup .

    • Dave Ware says:

      Love those. I haven’t gotten around to any kind of racking for them, but love that I can stack them easily, and they’re great for working on big projects, having a lot of pieces in each. Also really great for sorting.

  12. Ken Lilly says:

    Hi Tom,
    I would consider writing a small section about plastics and how they affect storage. Example, there are some differences between how polyethylene and polypropylene plastic bags function, and there are also a lot of polyvinyl-chloride baggies out there that simply should be avoided. Some storage solutions also wind up being constructed out of plastics that can be damaging over time. Not always to the ABS of LEGO Bricks, but they conduct temperatures and humidity differently, and in some climates it can be the difference between LEGO bricks with filmy or moldy surfaces or not.

    I haven’t read ahead to see if you have mentioned UV light, but it should be covered as well. Not just direct, but ambient reflected light from windows and also the UV light from some light bulbs. I recently had an issue with some CFL bulbs drastically affecting the color of some of my bricks.

    Thanks,
    Ken

    • tomalphin says:

      Ken,
      The issue of “archival” plastics which do not damage LEGO bricks is important, as is the discussion of the impact of UV light to LEGO bricks, especially certain colors like White. I’ve added this to my to-do list in Appendix: Version History & Acknowledgements.

  13. Jack McKee says:

    Tom, the open Akro Mils drawers would be great, but dust on parts can be frustrating. I’d like to see drawers with clear lids which would open when you pulled the drawer out, and close as you shut the drawer. I don’t know if these exist or not.

    I am enjoying your beta book; learning a lot! Thanks for letting us read it.

    [::] Jack

    • tomalphin says:

      Jack,
      I have not experienced problems with dust while using the Akro-mils style cabinets. While they aren’t airtight when the drawers are closed, there isn’t a very large gap to allow dust to enter.

      I am not aware of drawers with lids which open when you pull the drawer out.

      Good luck!
      —tom

    • Ryan Bradley says:

      I have the same problem… I’m not at the point, location or situation where I can securely mount these units on the wall and as such find these units chock full of dust, daily as the backs of these units are wide open. I love the stack-ability, usability and sort-ability but have reverted back to Plano boxes for just this reason… Still looking for Akro Mils or another company to enclose the back of the units, would add rigidity as well.

      • tomalphin says:

        Ryan, you could always tape a piece of cardboard or plastic to the back of the akro-mils cabinet.

        • Ash says:

          That’s what I did when I lived in a dusty home and couldn’t wall-mount – just taped big panels of cardboard over the back of the frame. Reduces dust infiltration to essentially nil unless you’re just letting dust pile up on the frame and drawer handles. Even taping a paper bag over the back would work as long as you cover the mounting holes and the gaps in the frame.

  14. Andreas Lederer says:

    Hi Tom, just a thought:
    I use three different types of tackle boxes – red, blue, and yellow – they have different tray sizes. Advantage: this solution is stackable – example:
    https://www.amazon.de/dp/B0002YYXUM/ref=twister_B01MZ0OJVH?_encoding=UTF8&th=1
    ( Hünersdorff 611900 Sortimentskasten )
    If a brick is out of stock of these boxes, I use in parallel plastic bags with the equvalent brick types. This is my “big” store.
    So I can decide quick and easely to reorder. The plastic bags are stored in boxes like you presented the “under-bed storage” solution 🙂
    Best regards, Andy

    • tomalphin says:

      Andreas,
      Thanks for sharing a link to a product which is versatile and works well with your collection. I love that there are versions with different size compartments, but the outside dimensions are the same so they stack well. I will consider offering a link to this product when I expand the article to include international product links.

      As for your system which includes overflow storage in plastic bags which are kept under the bed, that makes perfect sense to me! It’s not just about picking one product, but picking a set of products that work well together; finding the perfect LEGO Storage Solution for you!

      Sincerely,
      —tom

  15. Roloff de Jeu says:

    I also use small containers that are normally used for storing food (in your fridge or so). I take of the lids and stack them. I’ve started to use these as they are cheap, durable, and don’t waste space as I stack them with the lids off.

  16. Ralf says:

    A challenge I have is to find the piece I needed. The solution, I give all the parts that I store, a storage location like xxx.yyy, where the xxx points into the right box/cabinet/bag and the yyy the location in that box/cabinet/bag. Searching was never that easy, but also during the breaking out, it is easy to find the right spot.

  17. Josh chase says:

    I would also consider sterilite drawers that come in small, medium, and large sizes. Those small acro mills ones fill up very quickly. The small and large come apart and can be reconfigured to stack securely as high as you like. I currently have a 12×12 back of small drawers for most parts, with, 27 medium (9 units, and 9 large for very common parts I have a lot of. I also have an 6 stack on combo drawers and 2 acro mills small drawers for the rarer stuff. It’s worked out really well after a lot of trial and error. I find the tackle boxes and divided cases are a pain when you need to break out a large box for a single part, and often you need several for a category of part, especially technic. Anyway, food for thought

    • tomalphin says:

      Josh, thanks for the feedback. I agree that there are some medium-sized drawers that I should add to the guide, and look forward to hearing more about the specific Sterilite drawers that are working well for you.

      thanks,
      —tom

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