Stressful Legalities? Wedging elements between studs

In recent years, we have seen more frequent use of the tile wedged between two studs on a brick or plate. And almost inevitably, the question will crop up in some online forum ‘Is this LEGAL?’ I wrote a little about this back in 2017. This topic of conversation has come up again most recently as a result of a small detail on the LEGO ICONS Concorde model, and has, I suspect, resulted in a surge of activity on that previous post.

Now, there is no LEGO Police (outside of LEGO City, LEGO Town and most recently LEGO Friends) who will come and enforce the way you have built your model: You do you. If it goes together in an aesthetically pleasing way, we won’t judge you. But it might put some of your LEGO Elements at risk…

That said, I thought I would take a closer look at the idea of these ‘wedged tile and plate’ connections, and see if the mantra ‘plates bad, tiles good’ is universally applicable.

Image: cmglee via Wikimedia Commons

The notion of legal or illegal connections stems from the concept of whether an element is under stress in the final model. That is to say, are their forces at play which could potentially damage the elements, with time.

The ‘legality’ in question really refers to whether or not the technique is appropriate for LEGO Designers to use in a model slated for release. Chances are such a model will need some review before final approval. A now ancient presentation by Jamie Bernard (Judge on US LEGO Masters, as well as Senior Design Manager of LEGO for Grown Ups) has been in the wild for some time, and while it is no longer used internally, remains true to the principals of the topic at hand: Elements should not be in a stressed situation in a commercially releasedmodel, lest they break. Of course, these rules have changed over the years, and there are some examples from times gone past when elements under stress made their way into released sets. You can hear more about Stressed elements and illegal building techniques in this video from Tiago Catarino, a former LEGO Designer turned YouTuber

Since my initial look at this subject, I have subsequently picked up a pair of digital calipers and started using a better macro lens.

Let’s take a closer look at plates and tiles: you can see that the offset plate is almost as this as the regular plate, and both are thicker than the tile..

PlateOffset plate (1×2)Tile
Thickness (mm)

These measurements are being performed by the same individual, by hand – While there might be some inaccuracies in the final measurements, I expect errors to be systematic in nature (i.e. carried accross all measurements)

To summarize: Thickness of plate >offset plate>tile

The distance between a stud and the edge of the plate is approx 1.6mm while the stud is ostensibly 1.7mm high: as such, so the edge of a plate wedged between studs does not completely slot in the same way that a tile might.

You can see the gap between the end of the plate and the bottom of the space between studs, as studs are taller than the distance between a stud and the end of the plate.

Stress Testing

I performed several tests to see just how much stress different wedged elements might place on a system. Specifically:

  • Placing 1 stud wide tiles and plates between the studs of a 2×12 plate
  • Placing 2 stud wide tiles and plates between the studs of a 2×12 plate
  • Placing 4 stud wide tiles and plates between the studs of a 4×10 plate

The presence of the system being under a degree of stress was assessed by looking at the degree of flex present in the supporting plate, and its ability to be flattened through the application of light pressure.

I then looked for the presence of the bottom plate deforming. In some examples, I test the degree of deformation by dividing the ‘height of the deformed element by its thickness.

1xn on a 2×12 plate:

Placing a single 1xn tile in between studs has been used relatively frequently in recent years – the flag in the Saturn V set, the quarter tile on the dorsal aspect of the Concorde, and more in between.

A single plate is pretty safe: It appears to cause no distortion al all.

I wonder if by inserting multiple tiles that we will see a stress transmissed to the plate, by compressing studs from either side? Will we see distortion byn adding sequential 1xn tiles between the studs on a 2×2 place?

Overall, the effect is more subtle. There is a small amount of bowing here, which starts to become visible after a second tile is added next to the first, and slowly increases during the process. Here is an example of the spring left in the plate after adding 11 tiles. Unfortunately, the surface is slightly flexible. Let’s place the setup on a solid table:

We can see some definite bowing of the plate, and this bowingcan be demonstrated by springing down on the central tile. There is definitely some bowing that occurs when a 1xn plate is placed between the studs of a 2×12 plate. And this effect is magnified as you add more and more.

There is a small amount of give apparent here.

2xn on a 2×12 plate:

I progressively added a 2 unit wide tile and plate. Even with

In each of these examples, the degree of bowing increases with every element we wedge between the studs. the 2 wide elements cause more distortion/stress than the 1xn.

I’m starting to get a feeling that the wider the ‘wedging’, the greater amount ofbowing is seen. (Ie plates>tiles)

Lets try 4 stud wide wedging…

So… Some theories:

Stress is proportional to the thickness of the wedged element?

Ratio of displacement of the centre of the arc:thickness of the plate.

Let’s look at elements 2 units wide wedged between the studs: 2×3 plates, 1×2 offset plates and 2x2tiles.

We see a greater relative height of the arch with the offset plates and normal plates (ratio approc 0.5), but much less with the tiles (ration 0.35).

Is distortion proportional to the width of the wedged portion?


Interestingly, there seems to ‘U’ shaped relation ship here: the ratio of the arch height is greater with the 2 unit elements compared to the 1 unit element, while the wider one had a lower ration in both instances. I wonder if this is a function of the length of the base, or the number of plates slotted in, as I only had access to 4×10, rather than 4×12 plates to use as the base.

As such, this theory remains unproven

What have I seen?

  1. A single tile wedged between the studs on a plate causes minimal deformation. This is considered to be a technique where there are NO elements under stress.

2. Single plates do not will the slot between studs. Multiple plates wedged between studs cause significant deformation of the underlying plate. These elements are under stress. This is well established knowledge.

3. Since a tile on its own is slightly smaller than the gap between studs, it should not cause any permanent deformation to the plate, but there is no doubt that tiles inserted in multiple places along a plate can cause it to bow. The question that remains is whether or not this bowing represents stress on the plate, or is simply a product of ‘gentle’, non stressful forces, as you might see when a brick separator is applied to a plate.

I would suggest that the degree of flex seen in the supporting plate is dependent on the thickness of the element being placed between the studs as well as the number of elements in place. I am uncertain as to whether the with of the elements being wedged into place has a significant effect or not.

This has been an interesting learning experience for me. I have long been happy with being able to place a single tile between studs, but it was an eye opener to see the effect of wedging multiple tiles between studs. Does it belong in th naughty corner? This might need to be a question for the LEGO Design Lab.

Thanks for bearing with me during this short exploration of wedging elements get wedged between the studs. If you want to find out more about the idea of Stressing elements, and ‘Illegal building techniques’, I do recommend checking out Tiago’s video

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Play Well!

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