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.
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
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:
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