A history of Technic axles (1)

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Following on from last week's riveting article about Technic pins I thought I'd tackle axles this week. There's a lot of them so I'll do so in two parts: normal axles in this article and modified ones in part two.

I don't think that they are as exciting as pins but nevertheless it's interesting to look at their evolution and the exotic colours they were produced in during LEGO's 'wild west' years of the 2000s.


3705: Cross Axle 4M (1970 - )

The first four axle lengths were introduced in 800 Gears. Motor and Bricks, in a 'milky white' which is presumably the colour of the undyed polycarbonate.

This was changed to black for the first Technic sets of 1977. It first appeared in red in a few sets in the 2000s before red was adopted as a standard colour for this length of axle in 2016.

It's also been produced in green, first for 8479 Barcode Multi-Set in 1997, white, brown, in 3451 Sopwith Camel, and both shades of light grey. The rarest colour would appear to be old light grey which appeared only in 4726 Quidditch Practice. It was last produced in an exotic colour in 2006.


3706: Cross Axle 6M (1970 - )

The standard colour for the 6l axle has been black since 1977 but like the 4l, it's now also available in red, although red examples are not as prevalent as black.

Red first appeared in 1999 in a couple of Technic sets. Two white ones were used in 8009 R2-D2 in 2002, tan in 7468 Saturn V Moon Mission, for the lunar lander's legs, and light grey in a few sets in 2001-2002, which was before that colour became the standard for odd length axles.


3707: Cross Axle 8M (1970 - )

Again, the standard colour for the 8 length axle is black but like the 4 and the 6 LEGO decided that red would also become a standard colour for it in 2016

It's also been produced in white, first in 1996s 8480 Space Shuttle, dark grey in Znap set 3582 Super Constructor Set, brown in 3451 Sopwith Camel and light grey in a couple of 2002 sets.


3708: Cross Axle 12M (1970 - )

There's a risk that this article is becoming boring already...

Like the three above, this too was primarily produced in black until 2016 when red became an alternative standard colour.

Vying for the title of rarest axle ever is the green variant, of which one appeared in 8479 Barcode Multi-Set, although there are a good number available in BrickLink. It's also cropped up in white in a few sets, most recently in 10244 Fairground Mixer and 7191 X-wing Fighter has four in light grey.


3704: Cross Axle 2M (1977 - )

The 2 length axle was introduced with the first Technical Sets in 1977 and has only ever been made in black.

This early version, without grooves, was phased out in 1996 due to it being difficult to remove from some parts as it's almost impossible to get a grip on it.


3737: Cross Axle 10M (1977 - )

Completing the lineup of even length axles is the 10, also introduced with the first Technical sets in 1977.

The first red examples appeared in 8653 Enzo Ferrari 1:10 in 2005 before red became an alternative standard colour in 2016, as it is for all even length axles.

Seven green ones can be found in 8479 Barcode Multi-Set.


4519: Cross Axle 3M (1983 - )

The 3 length axle was initially produced in black before light grey became the standard colour for odd-numbered axles in 2003.

The first yellow ones appeared in 2015, in 21303 WALL-E, before the colour became more widespread the year after.

A few red ones cropped up in four sets in the 2000s, before that colour was a standard for even lengths, and the Znap set 3552 Hover Sub contained one in white.


? : 10M Cross Axle, Threaded (1984 - 1990)

This threaded axle first appeared in 8851 Excavator in 1984, and was used to hold the body onto the chassis which used a normal System turntable to provide rotation. A pair of threaded nuts at each end prevented the body from becoming detached from the chassis in play.

This method, and these parts, became redundant when Technic turntables were produced.


? : 4M Cross Axle, Threaded (1986 -1990)

A shorter version was also made and, with the exception of service packs and Dacta sets, appeared in just one regular set: 8094 Control Centre, in 1990 where it's used to clamp a pen into some of the models.


32073: Cross Axle 5M (1997 - )

The 5 length axle, like the 4 and 6, was originally produced in black which meant telling them apart in a pile was difficult. From 2002 it was produced in light grey and from 2016, in yellow.

7194 Yoda has a single white one, where it's used as part of the whites in his eyes.


32062: 2M Cross Axle W. Groove (1996 - )

The old version of 2l axle was replaced in 1996 with this one with grooves which provide some purchase to make it easier to remove.

It's produced in both black and red, and white examples appeared in a small number of sets in the 2000s.


44294: Cross Axle 7M (2003 - )

It seems that LEGO was not in a hurry to introduce longer odd-length axles. Presumably there was a specific need for a 7l one in a 2003 set, although it was used in about 20 of them.

It was originally produced in light grey, and then yellow from 2016. There's a brown one in 4195 Queen Anne's Revenge, and red and black in 8653 Enzo Ferrari 1:10.


50450: 32 M Axle Ø 4.75 W. Cross (2004 - )

I believe that this, and the 16l axle below, are made from a different material to the shorter axles. They are slightly more flexible and therefore less easy to bend and break.

It was originally produced for a number of sports sets, such as 3578 NHL Championship Challenge in 2004, where it was used as a control stick for the players.

Yellow ones have been used for Fireman's poles in 7240 Fire Station and 60004 Fire Station.


50451: 16M Axle Ø 4.75 W. Cross (2004 - )

This one was also first used in 2004's Ice Hockey set 3578 NHL Championship Challenge. White and black ones continue to crop up but they are not common


60485: Cross Axle 9M (2009 - )

As I said, LEGO was in no hurry to release long off length axles: the 9l surfaced 6 years after the 7l and it would be 7 more years before the 11l was produced.

This has only ever been produced in light grey and, from 2016, yellow.


23948: Cross Axle, 11 Module (2016 - )

46 years after the introduction of the first Technic axles, every length from 2 to 12 is finally available in 2016. I suspect a specific need in one of the 2HY 2016 sets, probably 42055 Bucket Wheel Excavator, led to its introduction.

Again, it's produced only in light grey and yellow.


So, there you have it. As I said, axles are not quite as exciting as pins (!) but it was fun to research them anyway.

Have you been keeping track of which axles have been produced in what colours? If I have done so correctly it's as follows:

  • Green: 4, 10, 12
  • Brown: 4, 7, 8
  • White: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 16, 32
  • Red: 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12
  • Tan: 6
  • Yellow: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 32
  • Black: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 16, 32
  • Light grey: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12
  • Dark grey: 8

The current standard colours are shown in bold.

Finally, I'll leave you with this image that LEGO posted on social media a while ago. There does not seem to be a standard for which even lengths are red and which ones are black. Red is becoming more prevalent but black seems to be used when it suits the model.

The same is true for odd lengths: there seems to be more yellow than light grey ones in current sets but, again, grey ones of all lengths continue to crop up.

I suspect, however, that we won't see exotic coloured axles produced again...


Let me know if you found this interesting by liking the article or commenting. I'll write part 2 if there's demand.

47 comments on this article

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By in Germany,

Another fun fact: 4M axles were at some point more expensive than 5M axles for a designer to use in a set, since they came from an older mould that made fewer parts per injection cycle.

I don't know if that's still the case or if they've upgraded since.

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By in United States,

Thanks for doing these, Huw. Learning about the history of these is great.

I've thought about doing something similar for LEGO hinges. Maybe you'll get to it first.

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By in United Kingdom,

I am enjoying these articles and they are a nice change from the usual set release and review articles (although these are still good).

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By in Netherlands,

So after the post about pins, I started working on a blog for Rebrickable.com about axles... Luckily I hadn't invested much time in it yet, I only made a list of all existing types, to later fill in the info. I'll find an other subject from the rich history of LEGO.

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By in United Kingdom,

"riveting article" oh dear me what a terrible pun...

These history lessons are very interesting indeed, which is making me wonder if I should re-evaluate my life choices.

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By in Germany,

Seconding the appreciation for the "riveting" pun and looking forward to the second part - the modified axles are sure to offer a more varied topic.

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By in United States,

Another highly informative articles thanks Huw! Please keep up the great work! Personally I am looking forward to many more similar articles. Lego may have released a few books over the years covering general Lego history, but you are covering details that they generally tend to glaze over. Plus you have been writing reviews for out of production sets recently too! Please continue this trend of delving into Lego's history!

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By in United Kingdom,

The 32l is also available in black in 42009 Mobile Crane Mk II.
Interestingly, despite technic turntables replacing the need for a threaded axle, 8854 Power Crane uses both.

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By in Canada,

I have never had a green axel, what era were they in? Perhaps time to seek out some info via brickset parts search.

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By in Netherlands,

No 'modified' axles? The 3M with stud; the 5M with end stop; the other 5M one with stop, but still having a 1M axle end; the --M with the smooth part in between...

We were spoiled with the level of completeness that the article on pins had, sorry!

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By in Switzerland,

Interesting article.
The groove in the 2L axles makes them easier to take apart, but it can also be used to transmit motion with a rubber belt.
My 42009 comes with both 16L and 32L in black (they seem to exist in this color in other sets too).
In the summary you've forgotten the red 2L axle.

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By in United Kingdom,

Huh... it's still weird to me that they seem to have ditched the standard (and practical) black and light grey colours for the axels in favour of bright red and yellow. I didn't even know they had done that, in fact; when I dropped out of buying Lego frequently, only the 2s were red and the others still maintained the more useful colours.

But yeah, had a load of these, too. When you collect Bionicle sets for nine years, you're guaranteed to end up with a tonne of them xD

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By in France,

Love it! Keep on writing these articles about Lego history. I really enjoy learning about my favorite hobby thanks to your work and the comments. Thank you!

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By in United Kingdom,

Modified axles will be covered in part 2, as explained in the introduction, which surely you read? :-)

I was not aware of the Duplo ones but they are out of scope anyway.

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By in Norway,

16L and 32L are available in black.

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By in United States,

Part two would be great!

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By in United States,

I really love that LEGO has expanded to having two color options each for odd and even axles! Not only does it make finding the right length axle easier in any given set (since they alternate between red and black or grey and yellow with every two modules in length), but it means more possibilities for both set designers and builders. The railings in #42055-1 really demonstrated how even when the alternating colors rule is followed to a T, the axle colors can still be used as part of the design/color scheme and not just as a way of simplifying the build.

Also, any inconveniences of axles no longer all being the same neutral colors is diminished even further thanks to the current variety of modified axles, which can often be used in place of a standard axle if the requisite red or yellow would be too obvious or garish. Though personally, I don't mind occasional spots of color on a model, and there are usually plenty of ways besides color changes to cover up or otherwise diminish the visual impact of pins and axles on a finished model.

Even in my MOCs on LEGO Digital Designer, I've started following the same kind of alternating color rules that LEGO often does, since it makes it much easier without taking the model apart or individually selecting parts to remember what size axles I've used on what parts of the build.

Good article overall! I particularly appreciate that you don't glamorize the wildly inconsistent axle colors in the late 90s and early 2000s when LEGO did not exercise the kind of careful control over the number of elements they had in production as they do now. As nice as that kind of entirely unrestricted variety could be for MOCists getting their parts via the aftermarket, it was part of a much larger problem LEGO had keeping their costs in check at that time.

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By in Netherlands,

@Huw Oh wow, that wasn't very bright of me, was it? Skimmed the intro and read the rest thoroughly... Needless to say I'm looking forward to part 2. ;)

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By in United States,

I kinda wish they produced axles in more colors to help blend in with sets better, but I appreciate that evens and odds are color-coded, I'd never noticed that before!

I've also never seen a green axle in person (and while I knew there were a few, not as many as we see here.)

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By in United Kingdom,

Didn't think I'd have any interest in this but I have been sat on the toilet at work for 10 minutes now reading it...

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By in United States,

Thanks Huw! These articles are great.

Coincidentally, I've spent 50+ hours sorting parts recently (almost done thankfully) so have been paying closer attention to smaller parts that I might not generally see as often.

As @chicks said up there, hinge type things might be interesting as well. Their design has improved quite a bit over the years if you compare the modern, robust 'clicky' type to the old school loose interlocked finger type that reside in my drawer of broken pieces.

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By in Netherlands,

Yes, I also like these articles, please keep em coming as you can!

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By in United States,

@Huw -- yes, do a part 2, please

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By in Canada,

Yes, I'm looking forward to Part 2!

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By in United States,

Definitely thank you for the write up Huw! I do find research like this and the article on pins to be quite interesting!

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By in United Kingdom,

Thanks Huw. I have enjoyed both of these articles.

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By in Netherlands,

Nexo Knights has a "Technic" AXL, with 2 technic pin arms.

Bad joke aside, this is a great article.

The alternating colors on Even and Odd is an interesting concept.

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By in Australia,

I would read a part 2

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By in Ukraine,

Thank you! It is interesting article, like the previous one (about pins). I will wait for the second part!

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By in United Kingdom,

So it seems black is only missing a 9 length one for the whole set.

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By in United States,

I liked this quite a bit, much more than I anticipated. I think it's nice to have such knowledge about a product that I deal with on a daily basis. I'll be set for Jeopardy if Alex Trebek throws out the question!

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By in United Kingdom,

These are great articles Huw, please keep them coming! Is there any chance that TLG could provide further insight? I'd be very interested to learn the process behind designing new parts, how, when and why they come up with a new design, and how colour decisions are made.

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By in United States,

Regarding the 7L axle, Bionicle and Star Wars seem like the two themes that had the most clout to get a new axle into production, though Technic seems most likely to have come up with an unavoidable need for one. Without insider info, or doing a deep dive on all the first year's worth of sets, though, it really is hard to say which one it was. My gut, however, says it's probably the Mars Exploration Rover, just on the basis that it required a whopping twelve of them and was based on a real-life design.

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By in United States,

well now I'm curious about those duplo axles Ortwin linked to. might look good on really large Bionicles.

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By in United Kingdom,

The 1970 axles had notches close to each end. These engaged with a spring mechanism embedded in the gears enabling a stronger fit.

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By in United Kingdom,

Are you sure about that? BrickLink considers them to be the same as the later ones.

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By in Germany,

Now that JQW mentioned it I think I remember these notches. Must dig up some of my older Technic sets to check.

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By in Norway,

@Huw. The 8L was milky white back in the 70's before the dawn of Technic.
I have the Formula 1 Hobby set car with some of those. You wrote that this was black from the start.
If i understod you right.

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By in Japan,

@Huw - I very much like these articles and appreciate the time and effort you are putting in to do the research.

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By in Russian Federation,

I didn't know there's color code. All my technic sets had black bars.

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By in United States,

Not quite as interesting as the article on pins, but still very informative. I would very much appreciate a part 2.

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By in United Kingdom,

The milky white axels did indeed have notches; not deep, but just enough for the metal spring in the gears to grip.

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By in United States,

this article piqued my interest on 8479-1: Barcode Multi-Set. Can you do an article on that - it would be a wonderful follow on to this as it was so unique with that green axles and all!

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By in Mexico,

I've always thought colour on the axles also indicates the friction power, you know, just as the pins. Black ones are the thoughtest of all, followed by gray, all the other colours and the smoother are the white ones. I actually use a white L12 white axle to dissassamble some Technic and BIONICLE sets, since it moves smoother through the axle holes of the pieces, you can feel it at assembling the masts of Queen Anne's Revenge, they use a white axle instead of a black one.

I do believe both colour indicates lenght and friction power, but only based on exprience.

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