Bonus Bits: A Quick Take On Extra Pieces In LEGO Sets

We’ve all received those curious extra LEGO elements included in many sets. Most BrickNerd readers are accustomed to them, but new LEGO builders might be a little worried about having leftover pieces after assembling their first set! Join BrickNerd as we take a quick look at the ever-evolving history of extra LEGO elements and how they have changed over the years.

40602 Winter Market Stall

Why Extras Pieces?

I’ve always wondered whether the extras are included to mitigate against packaging errors (due to the accuracy of the factory counting scales) or to cut down on customer service requests if customers lose a small piece. I can’t say for sure, but perhaps the answer is a little of both. No doubt, The LEGO Group (TLG) has done exhaustive analyses comparing the cost of including intentional extras versus the much higher cost of processing and mailing out a replacement. But when did the trend get its start?

Younger readers/builders might take for granted that there have always been extra parts in sets. But not so! Extra pieces gradually started to appear in the late 1980s. I checked the BrickLink inventory for a couple of larger sets from each year as an unscientific sample. Two of the three sets checked from 1988 had extras (6987 2/538, and 8855 4/573). But even by 1990, the inclusion of extra pieces was sporadic. The iconic 6399 Airport Shuttle Monorail set from 1990 had zero extra out of 728 elements.

Over the years, there was a gradual increase in the number of eligible extra parts included in sets. Once LEGO set packaging changed to numbered bags for an easier build process, the extras greatly increased. In general, each bag containing an eligible element had an extra of that part included.

What Parts Get Extras?

The extra elements are always tiny, lightweight parts or those that can roll. Sure, there may be rare instances when larger parts get included due to inventory errors or packaging machine programming errors, but we’re focusing on intentional extras today.

What are my favorite extra pieces? Well, anything I’ll actually use when building a MOC! What are my least favorite? The levers for stud shooters. I’ve never used any of those, though no doubt more talented builders have found a use for them.

Rather than try to compile an exhaustive list of extra pieces that LEGO typically includes in sets, I decided to take a photo showing a sampling of extras. How many do you recognize?

What Parts Are Not Included?

I’m always a little surprised that 43093 Blue Technic, Axle 1L with Pin with Friction Ridges are not included as extras while 2780 Black Technic, Pin with Short Friction Ridges, and 3673 Technic, Pin without Friction Ridges are included. According to the BrickLink catalog, the blue axle weighs .26 grams versus .2 grams for the black pin and .16 grams for the bluish gray pin. Perhaps this gives some clue as to the weight cutoff for determining extras.

Though even depending on weight, extra pieces have been diminishing over the years. About six or seven years ago, I started noticing a change in the extra parts included. Instead of the customary one extra piece per small element per bag, there began to be only one extra of each unique element per set. Most likely this was done as a cost-savings measure at LEGO or because of more accurate scales being used to verify parts. While this reduction was generally the case, there are still many exceptions.

The More You Buy, the Less (Extras) You Get!

Last Christmas while I was building the 40602 Winter Market Stall gift with purchase (GWP), set I was struck by how many extras were included. Smaller sets will, by nature, tend to use more smaller elements. Add a variety of different colors, and the number of extras can really grow. There were 23 extras (20 unique parts) in this set with 263 pieces. That’s nearly 9% of the parts that had an extra!

Let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum. The 10307 Eiffel Tower set has 58 extras (31 unique parts) out of 10,001 pieces. That’s a meager 0.6% of the parts that had an extra! OK, I know what you’re thinking: the Eiffel Tower is largely monochromatic, which skews the data. The more colorful 10294 Titanic set has 93 extras (57 unique parts) out of 9,090 pieces. That’s still only a modest 1% of extra pieces. Going a step further, I looked at the highly colorful 10316 Rivendell set which has 120 extras (92 unique parts) out of 6,074 pieces. That still only amounts to 2% of extras.

Charted on this graph, you can see that the smaller the set, the higher percentage of that set will be extra pieces. So if amassing more of the smaller pieces is your goal, you may want to focus on smaller sets with lots of different smaller-sized pieces like the Advent Calendars for example.

Final (Extra) Thoughts

This isn’t meant to be a deep dive or a definitive essay on extra pieces. These are just some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind over the past few years while building LEGO sets. I’m personally glad we get them because they provide a wonderful sense of delight… as well as providing a quality control check to determine if you’ve built the set right. (If you have too many extras of the same piece or bigger elements, you know you’ve missed something in the instructions.)

We’ll undoubtedly continue to see evolution in how LEGO handles intentional extras in sets, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of how to sort, store, or show off your extra bits. But how about you? Do you sort the extras into your parts drawers, leave them out for table scraps, or keep them with the original sets in case you lose a piece?

What are your favorite extra pieces? Let us know in the comments below.

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