Bless !

Brio is the cute wooden toy train set much favoured
set much favoured by the under-fives. The wooden engines
and trucks with chunky little magnetic couplings and the
birchwood tracks which interlock. Brio is one of the most
expensive wooden toys ever conceived, but that's OK ...
because the kids love it.

Sweet, or what ?

Not all the parents love Brio. A lot of parents search out the Brio-compatibles either because their wallets are hurting or because they want all-wooden trains without those cute plastic bits. Some people take it to extremes, like the toyshop owner who squatted on and to attract the unwary. That was clearly illegal and in bad faith, though I think he would have been able to make a case for his behaviour if he had stuck with - which could clearly only attract those looking for an alternative to Brio.

For myself, I have nothing against the coloured plastic bits, I don't even object to the high prices. What I object to is Thomas the Tank Engine. Now, I have nothing against Thomas the Tank Engine, Annie, Clarabelle, or even the egregious Henry who refused to come out of a tunnel. But the Brio Thomas is problematic. It takes a 1.5 volt AA battery (once you have managed to unscrew the European Child Safety Standard battery cover) which is barely enough to power the engine - let alone Annie and Clarabelle - over the hokey Brio bridges. And, as the axle set accumulates cat hair and a mulch of plasticine and carpet balls, Thomas grinds to a halt. Well, mending the children's toys is a part of fatherhood. No, not if you're a Brio father. Thomas's chassis is held together with screws that have heads that will not fit any of your screwdrivers.

Brio's Thomas the Tank Engine

Tamper-proof screws are an unfortunate facet of unbridled capitalism. We all, long ago, got used to the difference between Pozidrive and Phillips-head screws. Now the screw-heads can have recesses in the shape of hexagons, stars, squares, bulgey triangles, triangles with wings and - if you've found bits to handle most of these - most of the same with pins in the middle. And that's without the one-way screws that can be inserted and need a kit to unscrew them, and the screws with the devilish reverse thread. But capitalism is pretty neutral on these things and, what do you know, the same firms that supply the tamper-proof screws also manufacture screwdriver bits to handle them. And they're all there for you to find, on the Web.

The Third Way

How they do it in Sweden.

Not so with the Nordic version of capitalism. Thomas the Tank Engine is held together with truly unique Fuck You screws. The significance of the triangular recess in the head of these screws is that nobody apart from Brio has the tools to unscrew them. Like I said, Brio Sucks.

Thomas's chassis

I suppose the Nordic solution would be to send Thomas back to the manufacturer for servicing. But, hell, all we're talking about are furballs and carpet hair. And I do so object to not being able to clean it myself.

The implications of the Open Source revolution have quite bypassed Brio. No product is quite so cool or quite so sophisticated that the manufacturer should have the sole rights to the after-sales service. While Brio goes to extreme lengths to prevent you mending or servicing the toys you buy from them, they put pictures on their web-site like this:

picture from

Eat your heart out, McDonalds. This is the truly unacceptable face of capitalism.

All professions are conspiracies against the laity

George Bernard Shaw
The Doctor's Dilemma

If GBS had seen Microsoft, he wouldn't have wasted his breath on the doctors and the lawyers. And if he had had any children, bug-eyed toy-demanding emotionally-blackmailing children, he would have recognised the commercial power of the proprietary control the toy-making industry tries to exercise over the toy-purchasing strata of parent-slaves that lies at its feet.

The Brio Sucks Howto

There's not a great deal we can do about Brio. They already own But if you have a Brio engine and you can't undo the screws with the Fuck You heads, this is what to do:

Figure 1

The Allen key.

The Allen key

Figure 2

The precision adjustment tool.

The grinding wheel

Figure 3

The Allen key after precision adjustment.

The Allen key after precision adjustment

Figure 4


Those bloody screws

A correspondant adds

The Japanese have now created a screw driver just for these pesky screws (and some mobile phones). AUD 16.50 from Just Tools in South Melbourne. I bought one today and serviced two Brio engines that my grandson decided to take to the sand pit. Actually both had more hair and carpet fibres than sand but the sand won on the basis of jamming the gears. I noticed that Brio also used other maintenance unfriendly techniques like gears falling out if you aren't careful and gears falling off axles (which way was that?). The best was the little red dot switch that must be held in postion with sticky tape on reassembly. No I lie, the best was the pesky screw that also is an electrical connector!

Stop Press

Another Australian reader, this one from Newtown NSW, tells me that a number 7 Torx screwdriver bit will fit these screws perfectly. Sorry, Brio.