BrickArms can help you build your private army with everything you need, from the superadvanced Colonial Marines' Xeno Pulse Rifles to NATO's G36 Assault Rifles to vintage German Rocket Propeller Grenade launchers, PPK pistols with Brausch silencers and Magnum revolvers. If your private army is a bunch of LEGO minifigs, that is. We talked with the arms dealer himself, Will Chapman, and he spilt the beans on his Brickarms operation. Interview and amazing full gallery after the jump.
Jesús Díaz: How long have you been a LEGO fan?
Will Chapman: I'm 39 now, and I remember getting Lego for birthday presents ever since I was 5 years old. I still remember the surprise of getting my first Technic vehicle as a teen, and being absolutely thrilled with the rack-and-pinion steering system, and holes in the bricks and pegs that allowed for incredible new possibilities. Just before leaving for college, I gave my collection to a neighbor boy, and I don't remember buying another set until after I was married and had my first son...
JD: ... and then it all came back.
WC: Yeah, a few years later, in 1993, I decided to introduce him to Lego when he was 2, and he took to them immediately. His enthusiasm was a real eye-opener, and I realized how much I missed having Lego in my life. I promptly went on a spending spree and bought almost everything I could find on the shelves —including the entire line of Lego 9V trains. My son fell in love with them instantly, and we decided to bring the trains and every brick we owned to a local Model Railroad show in Seattle, where we let all of the attending kids run the trains, and build with our bricks. We brought our Lego trains to the show for a few years after that, each time bringing more and more of our creations, and bringing more and more trains and bricks for the kids to play with.
WC: It was about this time that I posted our experiences on the web, a web that had very few Lego sites at the time, and we attracted many Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs) to our shows. I met some incredible individuals, and helped inspire them to create the first Lego Train Club, the Pacific Northwest Lego Train Club, the founding members of are still active in the Lego Train scene today. As my older son grew, he stopped playing with Lego trains, and we moved on to building other things while my youngest son has shown renewed interest in everything Lego! We continue to collect a lot of Lego, with vehicles, Technic, robotics, and minifigures dominating our purchases. The Lego is all "Family" Lego, with all of the parts and sets blended into a community collection that fills an entire wall of our Lego room.
JD: So when was the point in which you decided to get into the business of creating weapons for minifigs and military minifigs?
WC: When my youngest son turned 9 in 2006, he became interested in WW2 history and weaponry and wondered where we could find compatible WW2 minifig accessories for our army. I looked and looked and found no one provided them, so we decided to make them ourselves. I have always been interested in 3D design, so we started with a few US and German weapons from WW2 and realized that we might as well make enough parts for everyone that wanted them! And so, BrickArms was born.
JD: Do you have any real weapons yourself?
WC: No. I have never owned a real weapon. I am married, and while my wife tolerates the miniature toy BrickArms, she would never tolerate real firearms of any kind. Honestly, I count myself lucky to have such an understanding spouse as far as the BrickArms are concerned.
JD: I know that LEGO has always been obsessed about the use of weapons in their sets; was that the reason for you to jump in and start doing BrickArms?
WC: Although Lego makes some nice weapons, they did not offer modern ones. When BrickArms was founded in 2006, the most modern weapon available from Lego was a Wild West carbine dating to the 1800's. It just wouldn't work for WW2 and the modern era. Lego had always said they did not like producing modern weapons, and until their licensed Batman series and Star Wars clone series, they had not. Now they do, but they still don't provide the items that my son and I were interested in, and we knew we could make some terrific ones. The only reason BrickArms exists is because Lego does not provide modern, well-designed, minifig-compatible weapons.
JD: Did they (LEGO) contacted you about these creations in any way?
WC: Yes, I have been contacted by the Lego company about BrickArms, but never in any negative way. They were very interested in my custom minifigure designs and weapons designs and per their request, I sent them copies of each one. The company seems to be supportive of anything that promotes Lego with the hobbyists, including AFOLs.
JD: I think the simplification of the real world weapons is amazing. How is the creative process? How do you decide on one weapon or another?
WC: Mostly, Ian (my youngest son) finds a weapon interesting and asks if we could make it. It is that simple. Once he finds one he likes, I study it and I abstract the design into minifig-scale. For some weapons, it is a distinctive stock, while for others it might be the angle of the grip, or the size and shape of the magazine clip. Finally, I study the design and look for as many places as possible for the oversized minifigure hand to grip the weapon, and I scale the proportions accordingly. There are a few dimensions that you absolutely cannot deviate from, and the grip is one of those locations. Each grip must be exact. If it is too small, it will be too loose in the minifig's hand, and will also slip out of any mounting areas on accessories, like gun racks.
JD: How do you actually produce the weapons? What technology do you use?
WC: Once my designs are completed, I check them by placing them in the hand of a virtual minifig in my CAD program. Once everything looks good, I cut small trial injection molds out of aluminum, on my small Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) mill in my garage. After the mold is cut, I inject it with hot ABS plastic—the same plastic Lego uses. I then give it to Ian to play with and if it passes his approval I send the samples to my quality team (super-fans and moderators of the BrickArms Forums) for further evaluation.
Once a design gets the thumbs-up from everyone, I save the design and after I collect enough designs to fill a production mold (10-15), I send it to a professional tooling company to produce a mold from hardened steel. Once the mold is cut, it is sent to an injection molding company to shoot hot ABS into the mold and produce the finished BrickArms parts. The whole process can take up to 12 weeks from start to completion and is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is very important to choose the very best tooling and molding companies, or it will cost you much more than you bargained for in the long run. I chose the best, and products are of very high quality, and can stand up to the scrutiny of hardcore Lego fans.
JD: What about the custom minifigs?
WC: The custom minifigs give my customers something different than the standard offering from Lego, and allows them to buy not only the weapons from a certain period (like WW2), but also minifigs with the uniforms of the period as well. The custom minifigs also help my son create the armies he always wanted. Okay, the armies *I* always wanted! I have my own small decal printer, and I design and produce professional decals for the custom minifigs I create and sell. I also license designs from talented minifig decal designers that I've met on the web, and offer their licensed designs on custom minifigs. I can produce decal designs for soldiers that Lego would never dream of producing—or at least that is what I thought before the Lego released their Indiana Jones series this year, with their Lego German Army soldiers!
JD: Do you sell a lot of these? What's your most popular model?
WC: Custom minifigure accessories are a very small niche market. I do this mostly for the love of designing something that hasn't ever been produced at this scale, and also for the challenges it provides in creating small recognizable designs. So far, the US M4 carbine is very popular along with an Aliens-inspired M41a Sci-Fi blaster. While sales are good, I still have a day job, with BrickArms being run out of my garage. I have a new mold of all new designs that is almost ready for sale. In this mold are some terrific new items that I hope will be even popular than anything else I have offered. I will have an M1 Garand, a Light Machine Gun, bipods and monopods for mounting BrickArms, as well as new sci-fi pistols and rifles and Personal Defense Weapons (PDWs).