Review of 21325 Medieval Blacksmith

In 21325 Medieval Blacksmith, LEGO sells an AFOL-quality castle MOC as a set.

Medieval Blacksmith Review
Medieval Blacksmith Review

The 33rd LEGO Ideas set has been announced, the LEGO® Ideas 21325 Medieval Blacksmith. It will be available on February 1, 2021 for $149.99 in the US. In this review, I’ll be comparing the official set with Clemens Fiedler’s proposal as well as Daniel Siskind’s Blacksmith Shop 3739 released in 2002. This will be an AFOL targeted review focused on features, parts and techniques; my opinions will be italicized.


Contents

Overview

This modular-sized medieval building clocks in at 2164 pieces. It has been marketed to adults, both with the “18+” age rating as well as with the “Adults Welcome” tagline.

The approved product idea (AKA proposal) was designed by Namirob and the final set was designed by LEGO Model Designer Wes Talbott and LEGO Graphic Designer by Austin Carlson

Minifigures and Animals
Minifigures and Animals

The set comes with four minifigures: a red-bearded blacksmith, female archer and two knights. The knights heraldry features the classic Black Falcons crest but with more detail, both on the minifig torsos and shields. Three animals are provided: a tan horse, husky and frog. Sadly, LEGO did not bring back the goat.

Three floors and roof pieces (click to enlarge)
Three floors and roof pieces (click to enlarge)

The building itself sits on an irregular plate-built base. A fully decorated interior is accessible by removing each story and one side of the roof. The first floor is a place of work. The forge is available both inside and outside the building. The second floor consists of a kitchen and the third has the bedroom.

The building walls are stone for the first floor and half timber (Tudor style) for the second and third floors. Slate is the material of choice for the roof. The techniques used for each of these areas are quite detailed. In 21325 Medieval Blacksmith, LEGO sells an AFOL-quality castle MOC as a set. Much of the original detail in the proposal has been retained in the official set with a few critical changes; read on for a deeper dive into these differences as well as building techniques used to create this incredibly detailed set.

Detailed Look

I’ll first cover the build as a whole and then move to the base and work my way up, carefully covering the techniques used for each part. I’ll compare them to the proposed model, as well as the 2002 blacksmith and interject my comments as I go. I’ll also frequently refer to the Old Fishing Store 21310 as it also a detailed Ideas building at the $150, ~2,000 piece mark and Pirates of Barracuda Bay 21322 as it is a recent ‘historic’ Ideas set.

In my mind, there were three major changes between the proposed MOC and the final set:

  1. Color palette
  2. Size/scope
  3. Roof design

But I’m getting ahead of myself; looking at the whole set…

Color Palette

We can see a very bright scene, which is in contrast to the muted colors in Clemens’ original proposal.

Color Comparison
Color Comparison

Looking at the official art when compared to the proposal rendering, the color palette is much brighter. This comes from two key changes. The first is the use of brighter blues and sand green on the roof. The second from the use of reddish-brown for the wood compared to the dark brown off the submission.

Sitting on my piano, the built set does not look quite as bright as the marketing photo/render for the official set, but is still much brighter than the initial submission. The original submission render is fairly dark, you can see the light bley stone looks darker than the official set, my picture or this other MOC I created.

The use of lime green foliage also adds to the brightness of the official set both on the tree and on the ground around the building.

On the whole, I’m ok with the brighter color. I’d also be happier with a more muted palette, but I don’t think the set would sell as well. The first thing my daughter noticed about the set was how bright it was - she certainly enjoys the official color palette. I’ll get into my theories on each color later in the review.

Replaced Roof Tiles
Replaced Roof Tiles

Huw over at BrickSet removed the moss. It is an OK look, I would have experimented with the blue vs. dark blue patterns and would have favored the dark blue more. I can imagine if the roof was just dark blue shield tiles, it would look quite repetitive.

Size

The building in the final model is close to the same size as the proposal, but its environment has undergone a drastic change. I’ve tried to scale the buildings appropriately in the image below, though the different perspectives make this comparison imperfect.

Size Comparison
Size Comparison

The table below compares the various building sizes:

Location Proposal MOC Official Set Daniel’s 2002 Set
Base 48s x 46s 32s x 27s 16s x 16s
Building Base 19s x 16s 18s x 16s 15s x 14s
Top Floor Footprint 24s x 16s 23s x 16s 16s x 14s
Roof length 29s 24s 16s
Height (ground to roof saddle) 29b 25b 18b
Chimney 4s x 4s x 29b 4s x 4s x 24b 2s x 4s x 22b

s is studs (wide), b is bricks (tall)

As you can see the official building is only slightly smaller than in the proposed MOC. On the display, it is a bit smaller than an average modular building. Against official LEGO castle sets, it is quite imposing, but compared to modern LEGO MOCs, it is just the right size, if not on the big end. The base itself is considerably smaller, but I’ll go into that in the next two sections.

When the set was first announced (leaked), I heard many people complaining how small it was. I’ve come to the conclusion they are wrong both compared to the proposal and considering the set on its own. Perhaps the base being smaller made them assume the building was smaller too.

The roof on the proposal is bigger, especially the overhang on either end. This effect would not work as well with the different roof design of the official set (more on that later!).

I’ve also heard others say the official set is too big, at least when compared to other LEGO castle sets, especially the castles themselves. While I agree with the direct comparison, I feel this official set is the right size. It is large and imposing. It is bigger than my other castle town MOCs, but is also three stories tall, while my others are only two.

Scope

Presumably, this blacksmith’s shop exists in a rural setting. When design a MOC (or official set), you cannot fit the whole farm in and must make the cut somewhere. The official set made the cut closer to the building both in terms of the physical base, but also by reducing the number of animals, which I’ll get to later, and ground foliage.

The official set counters those cuts by adding a cart and two soldiers. I’d argue these fit better with the idea of a blacksmith. Having a separate medieval farm set with animals would be terrific, (like 7189: Mill Village Raid), but trying to squeeze all this out of one set is quite ambitious.

Having a larger base helps set the environment and the feel of the proposal. These changes put a larger focus on the building itself and less on its environment. I liked the larger base myself, but am happy with the official set. As I said above, you have to ‘cut’ the environment somewhere and I cannot fault LEGO for their choice as having more ground would have increased the price of the set.

If the proposal was accepted as presented, I imagine it would be a $200 set. Comparing it to the Barracuda Bay set, it just doesn’t look as immediately impressive. That is partially due to the mast and sails bulking up the looks without a high piece count. LEGO did what I expected, which was to scale everything down slightly and give us an ‘Old Fishing Store’ type set. I think another option would have been to drastically scale the set down and sell it for $100. Of these three imagined options, I believe LEGO made the right choice.

Base

Base Comparison
Base Comparison

The base of the set is a single layer of plates. Round corner plates are used for the corners, similar to the proposal. But we see a difference between the proposal and the official set: the official set’s base is much smaller (closer to the building) and is not on the rounded slope bricks, like the official Barracuda Bay.

Having the building on top of slopes, as in the proposal, would make it harder to integrate into a larger scene, especially if you wanted a road to lead up to the building. I would have liked a slightly larger base, but still keeping the 1 and 2 plate height at the $150 price point.

Traditional baseplates were used in the 2002 blacksmith set and the building took up almost the entire base - leaving just 1 row of studs on all sides (except the back, allowing it to open up). The official set gives you a whooping 2 to 4 studs down from the 6-12 off the proposal (depending on if you count the slope).

First Floor Floorplan

The layout of the first floor is largely the same between the proposal and the official set. A stone stairway on the left side takes you to the living quarters, while the forge sits on the front of the building, though the door into the workshop has been moved to between the stairs and the forge. The under-the-stairs door into the workshop has been replaced by a place to store firewood. Moving the workshop door to the front is an improvement; not only does it liven up the front view, it make more sense to give the blacksmith easy access to his shop from the outdoor forge.

Backside of the First Floor
Backside of the First Floor

The arches supporting the second story on the right side remain. A 2x6 extension on the back side has been removed in the official set. The larger window remains on the rear side remains while the smaller one has been replaced by a stone arch.

Stonework

Stonework Comparison
Stonework Comparison

Next up, literally, is the first floor, made of stone both in the proposal and the official set, as well as Daniel’s. Here we see a pretty faithful application of Clemens’ techniques in the official set. Most of the stone is light bley with dark bley accent bricks. The official set does start to add some color by using olive and sand green bricks. This seems like a natural choice to me and is undoubtedly an improvement to the original design, especially given how tattered the original design’s roof is, having worn stone is natural).

Aside from the color change, the stones are laid more squarely in the official set and utilize fewer tile-on-SNOT. This creates a smoother and simpler design, but takes away some important details in the original proposal. I would have preferred a few more SNOT+tiles used in the middle of the walls as well as some plates to give a more weathered and imperfect look. Even with the simplicity, you can see the difference 17 years can make when you look at the flat-gray-brick used in Daniel’s 2002 set.

Stone Arch
Stone Arch

To add back some detail, official set adds decorative stones above the 6-wide arches, not present in the original MOC. It can be seen over two doorways and the forge. This design works well with the corners, which use dark bley tiles on SNOT bricks and take advantage of the fact that 1x2 tiles can ‘slide’ on a single stud, allowing the corner tiles on each side of the wall line up perfectly.*

Forge and First Floor Interior

Interior View of the Forge
Interior View of the Forge

The forge in the official set is accessible from inside and outside the building, which is more apparent in the official set than in the proposal. Coal, iron ingots and bars are available in plenty inside. Tools include two anvils (inside and out), hammers a shovel and a broom as well as a grinding wheel, which is a nice touch. My favorite part is the bellows. Bellows are critically important for a forge and often missing from blacksmith MOCs, including the proposal and the 2002 set. Pressing the bellows turns on a LEGO light brick, which illuminates the hot coals of the forge.

First Floor’s Floor
First Floor’s Floor

Now comes my first real complaint about the set; the first floor (as well as the others) is bare studs, whereas they were tiled in Clemens’ approved submission. While this makes minifigure positioning easier, this lack of detail is disappointing. A stone and dirt floor for the first level would have been terrific.

TODO: sign, printed

Half Timber, Wattle and Daub

Half Timber, Wattle and Daub Comparison
Half Timber, Wattle and Daub Comparison

The woodwork and wattle-and-daub techniques is where this set really shines. This amount of detail is unparalleled in any other official LEGO set, especially that of Daniel’s 2002 blacksmith and even 10193 Medieval Market Village

First Floor Wood Arches
First Floor Wood Arches

Starting on the back of the first floor, we can see the wooden arches brace the larger second floor. I particularly like how the wood sits on the stone foundation using dark bley cheese slopes and how the brown ingot pieces fit just right.

Other than the chimney, the second floor is devoid of all stone, unlike the accepted proposal, which kept the stone for half of the walls. This change is a slight improvement as the wattle and daub technique is done so well, having it on show no matter what side of the building you are on is terrific.

Up Close View of Half Timber
Up Close View of Half Timber

Like real buildings, most of the wood beams are set at 90° from each other. Variety is provided via arch shapes, both support arches themselves (a set on the side over the pumpkin patch and another set over the first floor stairs) as well as the 4x4 macaroni tiles. While the macaroni tiles do add needed wood shape variety missing from the original proposal, I was hoping LEGO would have found are more clever method of angled wooden beams, which are common on many read half-timbered buildings, but rare in LEGO buildings, except for a 1x6 tile ‘on top’ of all the 90° tiles/bricks.

Timber Corner Technique
Timber Corner Technique

My other pet peeve of using tiles for a half-timbered/wattle and daub is the corners. In a real building, there would be a thick corner post, but this technique gives a plus (+) shaped corner when viewed from above. Here too, I hoped LEGO might find a better technique us MOC builders could use.

16x16 Dark Tan Plate is Visible
16x16 Dark Tan Plate is Visible

The timber wall tiles are flush with the top of the second floor, leaving an almost seamless transition to the third floor’s timber. I saw almost, because the 16x16 dark tan plates are visible from the outside of the building. Though these are hardly noticeable, and sort of blend in with the yellowing (tan) parts of the wattle and daub parts of the wall, these sorts of details are generally hidden carefully in MOCs, as well as Clemens’ proposal.

While all the wood technique is great (despite my minor gripes above), it is largely in reddish brown, rather than the dark brown of the proposal. Ignoring the brightness of the overall set, I know many people were hoping for dark brown in this set. This certainly would have required existing pieces be printed in dark brown for the first time. The frequent use of wood grain printed tiles in the proposal is also missing from the final product. I’m guessing between dark brown being more brittle than even reddish brown and the cost of printing dark brown pieces for the first time, using reddish brown was an easy decision for LEGO. But I too was hoping for a bounty of dark brown pieces.

Doors

Door Comparison
Door Comparison

The doors of the final set are both 4-wide, SNOT tiles on plates and are functional. They fully sit behind the wall, so when closed, the protrude on the interior, but look good from the outside. Here, printed wood grain nougat tiles are used to good effect.

In the proposed set, two different doors are used. On the first floor, a run-down brick-built (well, plate built) door can be seen. The second floor door was a bit taller and appears to be a pre-fab door, like the one used in many classic castle buildings, including Daniel’s blacksmith.

Second Floor Interior

Interior of the Second Floor
Interior of the Second Floor

The second floor consists of kitchen/dining area. The oven and stove feature many pots to cook the gourds grown outside as well as what game the archer (the blacksmith’s wife) might bag - a turkey leg appears to have been the most recent quarry.

A table and two chairs occupies the center of the room. While the table is plain enough, the 3x3 chairs are quite unique and feature quilted seat pads. Black axes make up the chair backs. I do like the look of these chairs; I can imagine them being made by the blacksmith, but if so, they would be impossibly heavy. The 3-wide size is quite large, it fits ok.

A barrel of ale sits nicely under the stairs, which do take up about one sixth of the room. Two candles, on simple sconces, adorn the back wall window. A butter churn is tucked away next to the stove.

Like the first floor, this one is bare studs as well. Brown tiles would have made a great wood floor, as in the original proposal.

In Clemens’ proposal, this floor also housed a large bed, night stand and small dresser. The bed has been moved to the third floor in the official set.

Third Floor Exterior

Third Floor Windows
Third Floor Windows

Ignoring the roof and choice of reddish brown, from the outside, the proposed model and final set are structured the same way, including the dormer window (moved due to the chimney placement) and box bay window.

Dormer Window
Dormer Window

The dormer window technique is fairly simple, using a hinge brick/plate to hold the roof tiles on, but looks terrific. The gaps around the window and its roof are minimal, but discernible. While the roof under the window stands out a bit due to the square shingles, the gaps are nonexistent. The decoration at the peak is simple but effective.

Box Bay Window
Box Bay Window

The box bay window under the eves is less impressive The gaps around the window, particularly on the roof, are large. The decoration at the peak is the best part, the use of the triangle piece is terrific.

Next to the box bay window, two stacked brown 1x2 rail plates make a great substitute for 1x2 tiles.

Chimney Comparison
Chimney Comparison

While the chimney size remained similar in the final set, the top decoration was changed significantly. The large, ornate stone steeple has been replaced by ceramic tubes with iron hats. I have no idea which design is historically accurate. While I like both designs, the original is more ornate. The final version does seem to use pieces (the hats) a blacksmith might produce.

Third Floor Interior

Third Floor Interior Comparison
Third Floor Interior Comparison

The third floor interior houses the bedroom for the blacksmith and the archer. While the original proposal had a third floor, it did not appear to have an interior. Daniel’s 2002 set had a tiny attic. The final model allows access by removing the back roof piece. Like the other floors, the ground is bare studs, except for a bear skin rug.

Adding a third floor was a great alteration to the original proposal. It came at the cost of adding a stair way to the kitchen/dining area, but it was worth it. While the ceiling is low, there is much more space for the two inhabitance to move around - everything feels spacious and comfortable at the same time.

My biggest gripe is the use of arches to support the peak of the roof. This certainly would have been accomplished in real life with a large wood beam spanning the room. If that was not sufficient, support under a vertical support beam would have been needed in the second and first floors. From a MOC point of view, it does make the room crowded and hard to access the back of the room.

Desk and Fireplace
Desk and Fireplace

One one side of the room, there is a writing desk with a simple stool, side table and oil lamp. A fireplace is also attached to the chimney.

The desk and table are nice touches. The oil lamp is necessary to cast light in this dark corner, as the window is on the other side of the slanted desk.

Bed and Bear Skin Rug
Bed and Bear Skin Rug

The other side of the bedroom features the bed and bear skin rug as well as a chest with compass and backpack.

The bed is terrific. It gives the look of carefully carved wood and would surely be a piece of furniture passed down generations. The quilt on the bed makes these plastic bricks look more comfortable than any other MOC I’ve seen. All the bed is missing is a night stand or two, and there is room for this if the trunk were moved out from under the dormer window.

Also missing from the proposal is a wardrobe, or dresser substitute. While the (treasure) chest fits the low ceilings well, I do wonder where they keep their clothes.

The bear skin rug is an excellent addition to the set. Not only does it break up the ugly studs-only floor, but adds some back story to the archer’s abilities.

My last complaint about the third floor interior is the visible pins that hold the outer roof rakes. The whole technique looks great from the outside (see more in the next section), but leaves ugly bley bushings protruding from the interior walls.

Roof

TODO

TODO

find a place for these thoughts:

  • Instructions are on a white background, much easer to read than black!
  • Great horse
  • Amount of minifigures
    • Soldiers great, how to add more that ‘fit’?
    • Child would have been nice, but bed?
  • parts
    • List?
  • Two-set MOC?
    • Tile floors
    • Third floor - single beam across the top
    • Retile roof (no sand green?)
    • Night stand(s) for bedroom (move bed over 2 studs? bear over 1?)
  • How it comes apart

Conclusion

The highest praise I can give this set is to say it looks like a MOC and AFOL would build. It was a day one purchase for me and I recommend anyone who likes LEGO castle to pick up a copy.

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