Last weekend the family and I made our monthly trip to the Lego store. My wife and son browse the shelves and look at sets. He changes his mind a lot, overwhelmed by the choices, and she enjoys putting sets together. The trip is a little different for me. My first stop during most visits is the Pick-A-Brick wall.

If you’ve never been to a Lego store, I would highly recommend it. It can be pretty awesome to see all of the sets in person. Even if you follow the new releases online, it is more tangible to be able to feel the heft of the boxes and imagine all of those tiny plastic pieces inside. When there aren’t any new sets to drool over, there is always the wall of plastic bins in the back, filled with bricks.

This is one of the coolest features of the actual Lego stores, a selection of individual bricks that are available for purchase. They sell them in little bins (that themselves resemble Lego bricks) and price them by the size of the bin. That means that you can cram it full of whatever goodness you can find and pay a flat rate by volume.

The selection changes some every time I go, offering up new treasures. I like the discovery aspect of finding oddball pieces and speculating about what I could use them for. I drop small handfuls into the little bucket while I browse, tamping it down to make sure that I get as much as I can.

Recently I have discovered websites that list the contents of the Pick-A-Brick wall at any given store. It is taunting to see how many bins a German store has and how many interesting pieces live there. Some odd part of me knows that no trip will be complete without a quick trip to any local Lego stores.

My favorite of these sites is wallofbricks.com. Their content is all crowdsourced, so it is up to fans to update the database. Unfortunately there are a lot of stores where no one is updating, presenting a grid of tantalizing blanks. I’d encourage anyone who can to pitch in and make updates, as the Pick-A-Brick wall can be a great, inexpensive alternative to the various 3rd party brick sources.

Interestingly there is a whole contingent of eBay sellers who are just reselling bricks from their local Pick-A-Brick wall. It’s an oddly sleazy practice, but then again, eBay is full of questionable business.

So go visit your local Lego store. Check out that wall and maybe find some cool bits to inspire your next MOC.