5:6:12 The Toaster Project, a book review

The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites is a personal odyssey into consumer goods about us, represented by one modern convenience--the electric toaster. We no longer will take such a ubiquitous, humble appliance for granted after reading how Mr. Thwaites built a toaster from scratch.

Yes, from scratch.

When Thwaites says he made a toaster, he means he really made one, digging out of the ground such raw materials as iron ore to process and then work into the many parts of his simple toaster, modelled after the Argos Value Range 2-Slice White Toaster. The Argos version retails for £3.94. His project took nine months and his version of a toaster cost a grand total of £1187.54, no value assigned for his time.

[toaster project]So who would attempt such a quixotic, seemingly mad goal and why?

Thomas Thwaites is a second-year postgraduate design student at the Royal College of Art in London. But as to why ... You could say Thwaites wanted connect to a toaster--beyond walking into a shop and saying, I'll have one of those, taking it home, plugging it into an electrical outlet. What most of us do.

So Thwaites expanded his awareness of what it takes to make a toaster. First, he took apart the Argos version, and catalogued 157 separate parts. Then decided to make each part from scratch. He went to a mine near the Wales border for iron ore to make the steel parts. More travels for original sources of mica, plastic, copper, and nickel (alas, he punted a bit on the latter). Then he put together a working toaster. If that isn't sweat equity to earn your toaster in the material world, I don't know what is.

His nine-month odyssey took Thwaites the distance (literally) and exuberance from meeting a personal challenge gives the narrative a delightful mix of entertaining anecdotes and educational esoterica like bubble technology to reduce copper solutions and what down-cycling means for efforts to recycle plastic streams that invariably become "polluted."

The Toaster Project is chockfull of color pictures showing steps along the way in Thwaites' odyssey. Some hilariously poignant: A trashcan, vermiculite-insulated foundry Thwaites built to smelt iron ore, glows orange at night in a London parking lot, its oxygen liberally supplied by a leaf blower!

A book like no other, The Toaster Project lets us vicariously connect to where an humble toaster "comes from" and from that transcendent understanding, we gain a reverence, of sorts, for a nothing-special kitchen appliance to boot!

The Toaster Project, Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance From Scratch by Thomas Thwaites, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-56898-997-6

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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