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Home / Features / I spent 20 hours building the 5471-piece Lego Barad-dûr set. Here’s how I survived it

I spent 20 hours building the 5471-piece Lego Barad-dûr set. Here’s how I survived it

An adult's guide to building Lego

LEGO Barad-Dur

I am a grown man. I send meter readings to my energy provider, purchase food that isn’t solely own brand, and have a Sky subscription. I’ve traded JD Sports for Uniqlo, an excessive amount of pints for government regulated pension schemes, and will watch any WW2 documentary there is, even though I already know the ending. These are things that I, reluctantly, have accepted come with age. But there are few things that connect former youth with boring adulthood more than Lego.

The Danish blockmakers have made several films instilling this ethos in cinema ticket buying parents, after all. Lego allows us to build the Eiffel Tower in our living rooms. We can build bouquets of flowers, realise nostalgia in brick-based Simpsons builds, and recreate works of famous art on our coffee table. Whether Van Gogh would have subscribed to his troubled work being distilled into bricks and sold for hundreds of pounds is up for discussion, but still. Lego, I’m told, is not just for kids.

I, however, haven’t really delved into as an adult. For one, I was a K’Nex kid. At the time (the 1990s), K’Nex vs Lego was as fierce a rivalry as any local football derby in my school. Sadly, K’Nex faded away. Or, perhaps more realistically, crushed by Lego with all the might of Thor’s hammer.

As an adult, I personally never saw the appeal in Lego. Between high rents, a tripling of university fees, rising food costs and everything else that has come with entering the adult job market in 2014, a £400/$400 Lego set wasn’t exactly high up on my priorities. But with all that said, I am obsessed with Lord of the Rings, so was pretty buzzed to have the opportunity to spend 20 hours building the 5471-piece Lego Barad-dûr set. Here’s how it went.

Lego Barad-dûr: hours 1 – 3

I start my journey fresh, full of life, optimistic and excited. Much like the Lord of the Rings trilogy itself, I begin with a skip in my step, but know the journey ahead of me is long. Of course, I’m not expecting to battle giant spiders, cave trolls or treacherous enemies trying to steal my jewellery. But still, upon opening the box, I’m met with the sheer magnitude of what I’ve signed up for. 

“Three instruction booklets? Three? That’s insane,” I think to myself as I open up an envelope containing three manuals that are collectively about as thick as a phone book. I flick through the pages and stare at the diagrams, but my brain isn’t comprehending any of the information I’m seeing. It’s like reading a dictionary written in a foreign language. Bricklish, if you will. But still, after my initial concern, I open the first of 40 packs, and begin. 

I quickly learn I’m being introduced to this mammoth set gently. I breeze through the first few packs, building a sort of lava-drenched plinth for Frodo, Samwise and a hunched back, cowering gollum. I quickly become overwhelmingly confident in my Lego skills, convinced that I’m a natural. Maybe even a Lego prodigy, if there is such a thing. 

Like the riders of Rohan, I stride into hour two with poise and grace. I am energised by my confidence. I’m infatigable, and completely sucked in. Like the one ring itself, I know this build will consume me. And I’m fine with that. As hour three arrives, I’ve completed around 10% of this mammoth set, What do I have to show for it? Little more than an orange, black and grey rock. It’s hard not to feel a little despondent at this point, but I remind myself that this is a marathon. A marathon that I complete by sitting down for a dangerously long amount of time, but a marathon nonetheless. 

Lego Barad-dûr: hours 3 – 7

LEGO Barad-Dur

By hour four, my patience is waning somewhat. I’m surrounded by semi-built brick structures without the vision to see how it will all fit together. I trust the process, but it’s at this time I wonder, when will this end? I’m still finding great enjoyment and pleasure in erecting this towering, dark structure, but the sheer scale of it has begun to sink in. I also worry that the dinner table I’m using to put this beast together will be out of action for the foreseeable future. 

Lego Barad-dûr: hours 7 – 9

Time works differently when you’re building Lego. It’s like a vacuum, where seconds, minutes, hours and days simply eradicate like ice in the desert. I am convinced that, given the opportunity, I could happily exit society and devote my life to this craft. Throughout the hours, I find myself in an elevated state, as if I’ve reached enlightenment through a plastic figure of Sauron. 

And then I realised, I had made a mistake. 

A simple right angle block scuppered me for a good half an hour. But, having realised I would have to go back through several pages of instructions to find the potential issue, I gained clarity. I said no, just no. I said to myself ‘there is no way in hell I am doing that’ so fast I almost got whiplash. So I just left it empty, a choice that would become pretty habitual.

It was around the eight hour mark where I started to have what I would call a brick-based breakdown. My thumbs have started to callous, and I’m pretty sure my dog has eaten several of the pieces. At around 8pm, the light begins to fade as nightfall comes. I’m listening to ‘The Best of…Sade’ to get me through. My eyes are tired, my spirit waning. It is time to call it a night. Four hours later then pass without me really realising it. Now, at midnight, it is actually time to call it a night.

My main predicament is to keep it away from my dog for safe, overnight storage. I tentatively carry my Lord of the Rings Lego set to my bedroom, which is a sentence I never thought I would type, let alone publish on a public website for all to see. But here we are. 

LEGO Barad-dûr: hours 12 – 15

I start my second day of building with little more than a coffee, some toast and the sheer will to get this finished. By now, I’m on the second booklet of instructions, and make the foolish mistake of flicking through it to see how much I have to do. I once again wonder why I started this thing.

By this point, I’m running on little more than caffeine, ramen, and some sort of British blitz spirit. But I’m pleased with how the set is taking shape. I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment, even though I’m doing little more understanding basic instructions. I’ve made it to the second tier of the tower, and take a few moments to appreciate the sheer level of detail in this set.

There’s a banquet table littered with chicken legs and silver goblets. Secret compartments contain gruesome spiders. There are spiralling staircases, weapon stores, and barrels of Orc grog. The set also makes a great reference to what might be my biggest Lord of the Rings mystery. “It looks like meat’s back on the menu boys,” says Ugluk after his army had “had nothin’ but maggoty bread for three stinking days.”

It’s a throwaway line I’m sure Peter Jackson didn’t think that much into. But for me (and large portions of Reddit), it’s different. I’ve long had several questions about this simple line. Do menus exist in the world of Orcs? And if so, are there Orc restaurants, cafés, bistros and takeaways? Is there an Orc version of Pret a Manger and if so, does that mean Orcs commute to work? How? Why? Anyway, that reference was a very nice touch.

Lego Barad-dûr: hours 16 – 20

As I reach my 3000th piece, I believe I have become time itself. Glaciers melt in an instant in the landscape that is my mind as I attach black brick to black brick. I fail to remember my life before this Lego set existed, much like Frodo fails to remember his former life in the Shire. I open the third, and final, instruction booklet. “221 pages?” I gasp to myself like an offended Victorian nanny.

The next couple of hours are a bit of a haze. As I erect the tower, the build starts to become a little repetitive. I just want to get this thing done, sit back and gaze at my work like a proud father would his newborn child. But instead, much like the ring itself, I want to cast it into the fire.

But before I know it, I’m on the last bag of pieces. I rip open bag 40 and there it is. The eye of Sauron, and the purpose of these past 20 hours. Much like how Sam carries Frodo to the peak of Mount Doom, I’m running on nothing but sheer determination and will. Each piece that clicks into place is another step towards freedom.

Finally, I hold the last piece in my hand, my own One Ring. I click it into place, and appreciate my work. This towering symbol of evil has consumed 5471-pieces and 20 hours of my life, but the experience has been a great one. Growing older means that dedicating such time to ‘childish’ pursuits is rare, but important. Will I repeat the experience? Not at all. It won’t be displayed on a shelf or join an existing Lego collection. Rather, I’ll simply appreciate the rare opportunity to relive some childhood joy.

But now, this tower of doom is gone. It’s done. Back to the real world.

Profile image of Jack Needham Jack Needham


A writer of seven years and serial FIFA 23 loser, Jack is also Features Editor at Stuff. Jack has written extensively about the world of tech, business, science and online culture. He also covers gaming, but is much better at writing about it than actually playing. Jack keeps the site rolling with extensive features and analysis.