LEGO Building Techniques – SNOT

Note : An updated version of this post has been published here.

Did you know that my skyscraper builds have taken a lot of hard work ? In fact, you have no idea all the blood, sweat, tears and SNOT that went into them ! Sorry I couldn’t resist, but SNOT here refers not to a bodily fluid but a LEGO building technique (it stands for “Studs Not On Top”). Who came up with these LEGO acronyms anyway ? From AFOLs to MOCs to SNOT, the acronyms used by the LEGO community are anything but elegant, but I guess we are stuck with them for now.

Anyway, SNOT refers to a technique where, in addition to stacking LEGO bricks, plates and tiles the normal way (one on top of the other) we are also turning them on their sides and attaching them to the faces of other bricks. As the LEGO system has evolved over the years, more and more elements have been added to the LEGO catalog that are designed to facilitate this – especially bricks that have studs not just on the top but on their sides as well. Here are examples of some SNOT elements that I have found to be very useful.

SNOT is not as straight-forward as it sounds and the reason is the geometry of LEGO bricks. A basic 1 x 1 brick has a footprint of 0.8 cm x 0.8 cm and a height of 0.96 cm. In other words although the footprint of a brick is a perfect square, it is taller than it is wide. If we use a plate (0.32 cm high) as a unit of measurement, a brick is exactly 3 plates high but only 0.8 / 0.32 = 2.5 plates wide. A stack of two bricks would be 6 plates high but a 1 x 2 brick turned on its side would only be 5 plates high. To match the height of the 1 x 2 brick turned on its side, we would instead need a stack of 1 brick (3 plates) and 2 plates. This 2 studs = 5 plates equation is something that always comes into play with SNOT.

I cannot possibly cover all the different applications for SNOT here, but I can give some examples from my own skyscraper builds where it would not have been easy for me to achieve a certain detail or shape without using SNOT.

My first example is some simple SNOT I used for the base of the Empire State Building. Here I wanted the windows to be slightly recessed compared to the walls and an easy way to achieve that is by attaching tiles to the wall sections between the windows. With the 1/230 scale I was using, I needed each floor to be 5 plates high anyway and this was perfect for SNOT. I had layers with bricks sandwiched between layers with plates. I used the 1 x 1 modified bricks with two adjacent studs in the corners and 1 x 1 modified bricks with single studs everywhere else and attached 1 x 6 tiles to the wall sections between the windows to achieve the recessed windows effect.

It was a little trickier to create the same effect on the base of my model of the Hearst Tower. Here the scale is bigger (1/156) and calls for 7 plates per floor. To be able to attach 1 x 8 tiles to the faces of the wall I needed to somehow get the studs on the faces of the walls to be 5 plates apart even if each floor was 7 plates high. I ended up having to mix bricks and plates within the same layer (so to speak) to achieve this.

Next we look at a more complex example of SNOT. I couldn’t think of an easy way to recreate the curves of the crown of the Chrysler Building. Simply stacking bricks or plates would have created a very blocky structure and I knew I had to find a way to incorporate some curved slopes pieces which have smooth curved surfaces. After quite a bit of experimentation using LEGO graph paper, I figured out a way to do each of the 6 arch panels (of varying sizes) using a combination of regular bricks and plates as well as their SNOT counterparts with studs on their sides, in addition to tiles, brackets, etc. I also found a way to join these panels together to create a sturdy structure for the crown that would hold together without any glue.

My last example is another tricky roof – this time it’s the roof of 40 Wall Street. Again, there was no easy way to build the green pyramidal roof of this building just by stacking bricks or plates. I figured I would need to build the green roof panels entirely out of plates and have them angled using hinges. Each roof panel was exactly 30 plates wide so that it could be attached to the base that was 12 studs wide. Also each panel was built in two halves (with studs facing opposite directions) that were joined together using SNOT.