LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler review

LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler is packed with functions, and is a welcome return for pneumatics, but there’s an elephant in the room.

Technic sets that use pneumatics are few and far between. Since the revised ‘Pneumatic V2’ system was introduced back in 2015, we’ve only had four models that relied on air pressure, rather than a battery box, to power their various functions. 42144 Material Handler is a welcome addition to that small but select group.

A generic LEGO mobile crane, rather than a licensed model from the likes of Mercedes, Volvo or CLAAS, the Material Handler is a mid-sized set that contains a number of elements that can be operated, either by hand or via the pneumatic system. Indeed, it’s how you view the complex system of tubes and pumps that is likely to be the deciding factor – or one of them, at least – in whether this set goes on your ‘want’ list or not.

– LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler set details –

Theme: LEGO Technic Set name: 42144 Material Handler Release: August 1, 2022

Price: £104.99 / $149.99 / €119.99 Pieces: 835 Minifigures: 0

LEGO: Available August 1

42144 Technic Material Handler 1

LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler Build –

Emptying out the box gives eight bags – seven of familiar LEGO Technic elements, and one containing the pre-cut hoses for the pneumatic pump and the various cylinders. Alongside these are the manual, with its now-familiar rendering of the model on a simple grey and white background, plus a sheet of 13 stickers.

The bags are numbered one to three and they correspond with the three major elements of the vehicle. Bags one create the mobile base, bags two, the body of the Handler, and bags three the large, articulated arm. The first section is completed quickly, resulting in an agricultural, almost skeletal running chassis. The front wheels can be steered by a hand-of-god gear at the front of the vehicle and there are outriggers at each corner. These are operated individually by small gearwheels, which put sturdy legs down at each corner with a satisfying clunk, raising the wheels clear of the ground and giving the vehicle stability when being used as a crane.

The second batch of bags builds the body of the vehicle, the interior of which is given over to the hoses and control valves of the pneumatic system, plus the hand-operated pump. The whole structure sits on a turntable that allows 360-degree movement of the cab and arm, meaning that fully extended, the crane has a reach – from front to back – of around 90cm.

The driver’s cab is then built and attached, and it’s nice to see that rather than just dropping a simple cab on to the front of the body, it replicates real-world vehicles insomuch as it can be raised up to give the crane operator a better view of the job at hand when the crane arm is extended. This is achieved with a hand-turned worm gear driving a gearwheel, which raises the cab in simple but effective fashion. The cab interior contains little more than a seat, a Technic pin for a control system and some flexible rods to suggest a windscreen, but it has an opening door and, overall, is appropriate for the set.

The last set of bags create the arm and this is where – pardon the pun – much of the heavy lifting is done. The extremely robust arm is articulated at two points, firstly where it attaches to the crane body, and then further up at the ‘elbow’. Each section is built separately and then attached in turn, and both utilise a hefty pneumatic cylinder, which, being grey, appears to be a recolour of the yellow element we’ve seen in sets like 42128 Heavy-Duty Tow Truck.

The arm is finished with the four-pronged grab hook – a terrific build in and of itself – that opens and closes via a smaller cylinder. All that then remains is to hook up the various tubes to the cylinders and control valves, close up the bodywork and start lifting things.

LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler Characters –

There are no minifigures included in 42144 Material Handler, as is normal for a Technic set. However, the model is of a scale that a minifigure wouldn’t look out of place in the cab.

LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler Price –

Ah, the price. This is where the problem lies. As we were building the set we took a guess at what the price might be and settled at ‘about £80’. Then we took into account the impending price rises and decided that £90 would be unwelcome but likely. So to find that 42144 Material Handler will retail at £104.99 in the UK was something of a shock.

Some people like to consider the ‘price per piece’, which on this side of the Atlantic is 12.6p. That’s bad enough, but our American cousins will be looking at 18c per piece which is, frankly, eye-watering. There’s no doubt that it’s a well-designed set and it makes for an enjoyable build. For younger builders it has the dual benefit of being both a good introduction to how pneumatics work, in both the real world and the LEGO world, and having considerable play value. But it’s hard – if not impossible – to recommend it at full price.

LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler Pictures –

LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler Summary –

42144 Material Handler is certainly a great set overall and has an enjoyable, if only moderately challenging, build process. Those that already have collections of Technic machinery will appreciate the red beams in a change from the more common yellow bodywork and experienced builders will admire the skill of the design. Pneumatic-powered sets can all too easily become a rat’s nest of tubing, but in this case the hoses are routed neatly and enhance the look of the model.

Pneumatics has the power to divide Technic builders. Some like the ‘old-school’ realism of pressurised air being converted into kinetic motion. Others point to the linear actuators that are the usual LEGO alternative, and argue for the fine control that that option offers. It’s true that the pneumatic control valves don’t actually give that much in the way of control – it’s more of a binary thing. Turn the valve lever an nth of a degree too far, and all the air pressure rushes out (or rather, a vacuum rushes in) and the arm comes crashing down. 

Younger builders looking beyond the challenge of the creation process to a model that can be played with may well become frustrated with the inconsistent controls. It’s a short jump from ‘fascinating introduction to pneumatics’ to ‘why can’t I get the arm to go where I want it to?’ Speaking of which, would it have been too much to ask to include some ‘material’ for the Handler to move? 42139 All-Terrain Vehicle had some brick-built logs – surely a few rocks could have been put in the box.

It’s a model that has much to recommend it: the complex way in which the grab handle opens and closes; the raising and lowering cab; the steering and outriggers; and of course that pneumatically-operated arm. But it’s destined to join relatively few collections as unfortunately, no matter how good it is, it can’t justify the asking price.

Be patient and if you can find 42144 Material Handler at a sizeable discount then this will be a fine addition to any Technic collection, but at full price it’s for the completist only.

42144 Technic Material Handler 18

This set was provided for review by the LEGO Group.

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LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler FAQs –

How long does it take to build LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler?

Set aside around four hours to build LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler. Along the way you’ll add 13 simple-to-apply stickers. While they do undoubtedly enhance the finished model, many are simply decorative, so those who are sticker-phobic could conceivably leave them off. You will need to apply the large sticker on the body of the machine though, as it shows the indicators for the three pneumatic control valves.

How many pieces are in LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler?

There are 835 pieces in LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler, distributed across eight bags.

How big is LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler?

With the outriggers extended, LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler is 19cm wide. With the crane arm fully extended vertically, it is 49cm tall and approximately 32cm long. If the arm is stretched horizontally, and the cab is in its lowered position, then the set is approx. 57cm long and 20cm tall.

How much does LEGO Technic 42144 Material Handler cost?

42144 Material Handler is released on August 1, 2022 and is priced at £104.99 in the UK, $149.99 in the US and €119.99 in Europe.

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