DRESSED IN CARGO SHORTS and a loose-fitting green T-shirt, Will Chapman looks nothing like suburbia’s answer to Tony Stark. And yet here he is, standing in the unassuming Redmond office of BrickArms—his international weapons-manufacturing empire—surrounded by a cache of advanced armaments that could make Iron Man’s playboy arms-dealer alter ego giddy. Bins brimming with tens of thousands of sniper rifles and sawed-off shotguns and rocket launchers line three walls of the space, and a machine the size of a compact car is whirring in the workshop out back, cutting the mold for Chapman’s latest custom combat creation. When Armageddon arrives, this is where you’ll want to gear up.
Of course, that’s assuming you’re an inch-tall Lego figure. Chapman designs and sells plastic guns and grenades for fans of the brick-based building system, and he’s obsessive about the details. His Lilliputian pieces are so realistic—you know, aside from the fact that they’re smaller than a paper clip—that he slaps a disclaimer on almost every page of the BrickArms website: “[These guns] cannot shoot bullets and cannot be made to fire bullets in any way. Again, they are a TOY! T-O-Y Toyee!” And as he has for the past three years, he’ll bring cases of them to October’s BrickCon Lego convention at Seattle Center to sell and give away.
Now, lest you think Chapman’s a Guns and Ammo junkie bent on recruiting a young army of Second Amendment supporters, put down the picket signs. He’s really just an enterprising former software engineer who wanted to help his kid build a bigger brick world. “I don’t own any handguns,” he says. “I’ve never even picked one up.” Four years ago his youngest son, Ian—who was already developing a military strategist’s mind set—wanted to create realistic scenes of modern warfare, but Lego’s weapons selection was limited. Chapman drew on his CAD skills and mocked up six Lego-compatible WWII weapons, molded prototypes in his garage, and tracked down a manufacturer to produce the mini munitions in mass quantities. If Ian liked them, maybe other collectors would, too.
They did. Business exploded, and now the entire Chapman family packs and ships orders every night after dinner. Sales are so swift that Will thinks his arms-dealing dough could put all three kids through college. “It’ll still be an in-state school,” he says with a laugh. “No one’s going to Harvard on BrickArms money.”