What's The Best Way To Display Minifigures?

shadowbox number 4
I recently borrowed a fancy camera, to document a model-making project I completed (more on that in the near future), and while I had it, I took some extra photos so that I could show you a "virtual tour" of the old Casa del Sphinx.  Today we are going to focus on a subject near and dear to my heart.  I love Lego.  I never get to discuss them here, but at last count, there were over 109,000 bricks in my house, not counting minifigures of course.

My particular favorite is the Star Wars line--I felt that Lego was able to succeed where Lucas has failed, namely making Star Wars fun again.  A site I read daily is From Bricks to Bothans, and I have read several threads on the "best" way to display minifigures.

The answer is, whatever works best for you.  Lego tends to pile up, and then get bagged and stored, but I definitely wanted to display my figures.  I tried the "spice rack" approach.  This is where you go to the Container Store, or some such place, and buy one of those stair-step plastic racks that are intended to organize cabinets.  I glued pieces of baseplates to them, and that worked very well for quite a while.....until they were full to overflowing.  But that wasn't the worst problem--you will have to contend with dust!

So I decided on a more expensive route, but in the end it was definitely worth it.  If you watch ads, you can buy shadowboxes at a Michael's or Hobby Lobby for 40-50% off any given week.  They come in all sizes, but I ultimately went with the 16x20" one for a couple of reasons.  First, anything bigger just gets monolithically heavy; second, this particular style has a door that closes with an embedded magnet.
number 3

With this configuration, you can hold somewhere around 100 minifigures, which is a good use of the space.  (I will warn you though, there is just no room for Jabba....ok, for that first edition, I disassembled him, but for the latest one, you are on your own!)

If you want to go this route, here are a few instructions, so that you will hopefully avoid some of the mistakes I made.  First, remove the screws that hold the door on.  It will just get in the way.  Put it aside somewhere safe.

Now, remove the screws that hold the back wall of the shadowbox on.  It will probably have some foam padding (designed to pin things to), and you will notice that the solid part of the back is made of the cheapest, waviest, shoddiest material you have ever seen.  Throw it away.

We are going to replace the back anyway.  For this, go to the hardware store and buy some fiber board (or masonite, whichever you prefer).  A Home Depot will probably even cut it for you. You may have to sand it a bit, but get it where it exactly replaces the old backing. [NOTE: I have recently discovered that my Home Depot sells BLACK fiberboard...would have been nice to know at the time! Sheesh.]
number 2
Now map out the locations of your shelves with a yardstick, and draw pencil lines.  As a rule, I use 2 & 3/4" as the distance between shelves. [The top shelf turns out to be more like 3", but this is a very important safety; you may need it for unusual minifigures!]  You just want to make sure you have room for your tallest minifigure.  For the shelves, I used balsa wood for two reasons:  first,  you can cut it with a sharp knife, and second, I was trying not to add too much weight to the finished shadowbox.
The morning sun is coming through the blinds, but you can see the two pieces that make up the shelf, about to be glued together with wood glue.

SHELVES (x6):  15 1/2" long, 1 5/8" deep, 1/4" thick (balsa wood)
SHELF BASE (x6): 1/2" x 1/2" balsa wood strips (glued to shelf, as in the photos below):

You will need two types of balsa pieces--one to make the shelf, and another for the brace.  For that part, I bought some square-shaped balsa strips.  Cut the shelves to the right length, and lightly clamp a strip of the same width to the shelf with some wood glue.  This gives you more surface area to glue to the shelf to the back wall that we replaced.  Balsa wood is very absorbent, so you will have to spray-paint the finished shelves from all directions (except the back) more than once.

After which, clamps are applied, LIGHTLY as possible.  You want to ensure the shelf bonds together straight, but balsa wood is very fragile.  You also want to ensure they are clamped together on a flat surface, so the back of the shelf is completely flush.  Remember though, some of the wood glue is going to squeeze out, so make sure you carefully wipe the excess off.  Then leave them to dry.
 Let me recommend something I only recently discovered that has been a REAL life-saver:
For a few dollars, you can buy a spray handle that clamps onto any paint can, and effectively turns it into an airbrush...keeps your hands and fingers clean, too! If only I'd had this simple invention years ago! Anyway, moving on, after the shelves are painted, temporarily mount your replaced backing board into the shadowbox, and lightly sand the horizontal areas where the shelves will be glued--masonite can be a bit slick, and this will ensure your glue gets a better hold.  There are lots of good glues, but I went with a new one that Loc-Tite makes.  It comes in a tube, and is sort of like super Elmer's, but it's contact cement. You have plenty of time to apply the glue to both areas, let it dry, and then position your shelf with a level, so that it will be straight:
Make sure you use a level so you can ensure that each one is, well, level.  Not only side-to-side level, but front-to-back as well.  It's not as hard as it sounds, but it is crucial to the outcome. Let the glue cure for quite a while; overnight is best.
Anyway, once all that is done, carefully remove the backing and shelves, and give them a touch-up coat with spray paint.  The glue dries clear, but you can still paint over it if you need to.

MINIFIGURE STANDS (x7): 12 black 2x4 plates each = 84 plates


The actual stands are rows of plates, super-glued together.  I buy plates in bulk from sellers at Bricklink.  They are pennies each.  The actual gluing is tedious, but pretty important.  One tip I can give you is, buy plenty of cotton swabs.  Use them to clean the edges of each plate with rubbing alcohol, which gets rid of dirt or oil, and ensures the super-glue will stick MUCH better.  Then, apply super-glue with a cotton swab, one brick at a time...there is a trick to the process that requires simply doing it over and over to refine it, and learning the right amount of glue, because excess with super-glue can get ugly quickly! And it's nearly impossible to type when your fingers are glued together.

These are Kre-O's (Kreons I think is the technical term), but you get the point.
Okay, now you have stands.  I usually let them sit overnight, so the super-glue can cure.  Once they are solid (enough), start spacing out minifigures on them.  You should be able to get eleven, leaving roughly two studs between each.  Of course, your mileage will vary, because not all minifigures are human-shaped.
Once you are satisfied with the positioning of your figures, lay each row on their backs, and use your trusty cotton swabs to paint a bit of glue both on the bottoms of the stands, as well as on your painted balsa shelves.  The contact cement is forgiving enough to allow you some freedom in positioning your stands...keep in mind that some rows are going to be closer to the front, because of large backpacks or gear that some minifigures have, but there's plenty of room (unless you are Jabba #2, like I said).  Just make sure each row is well-centered.

Give the seven glued rows of stands time to cure (again, overnight), and replace the door on the shadowbox.  Your quest is now at an end.

With everything black, it gives each unit a sleek look.  The glass door allows perfect visibility, keeps the dust out, and still gives you access to your figures.  Then you can hang them up, display them on a shelf, or whatever you prefer.  I'm going to have six total; see photo at the end of this post!
number 1
I have one more minifigure storage project to share with you, but it's completely different, so we will cover that in our next installment.
I ordered two "crown moulding" low-profile-type shelves from shelving.com that were 60" each.  They mount to the wall on wooden blocks, which attach to studs, so I finally have a way to display the shadowboxes, and some room to allow for growth. Project completed!


Gary doss said...

The new Brick Rack Display System can hold, organize and display up to 175 LEGO Minifigures.
See examples at http://www.brickrack.com

Anonymous said...

I realize that you wrote this post some time ago... any idea if Michael's still carries this shadow box?

Anonymous said...

I've had success with IKEA Ribba Frames: https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/00378403/

And these printed backgrounds: http://www.pointbrick.com/blog/tag/sfondi/ or https://www.technologist.site/posts/

You'll have to bricklink some inverted slope pieces.