The Toaster Project : Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch
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Where do our things really come from? China is the most common answer, but Thomas Thwaites decided he wanted to know more. In The Toaster Project, Thwaites asks what lies behind the smooth buttons on a mobile phone or the cushioned soles of running sneakers. What is involved in extracting and processing materials? To answer these questions, Thwaites set out to construct, from scratch, one of the most commonplace appliances in our kitchens today: a toaster. The Toaster Project takes the reader on Thwaites s journey from dismantling the cheapest toaster he can find in London to researching how to smelt metal in a fifteenth-century treatise. His incisive restrictions all parts of the toaster must be made from scratch and Thwaites had to make the toaster himself made his task difficult, but not impossible. It took nine months and cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store. In the end, Thwaites reveals the true ingredients in the products we use every day. Most interesting is not the final creation but the lesson learned. The Toaster Project helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture and the ridiculousness of churning out millions of toasters and other products at the expense of the environment. If products were designed more efficiently, with fewer parts that are easier to recycle, we would end up with objects that last longer and we would generate less waste altogether.
shave a bit more off the side involves a lot of jiggling, rocking, squashing clay, swearing, and so on. Still, it happened to be nice weather, and carving outside beats sitting in front of a screen, drawing a toaster with 3D-design software. It’s a classic case of tools determining outcome. With software it’s easy to make things smooth and straight, and a total hassle to make stuff rough and irregular. As I discovered, when you’re carving it by hand out of a bit of tree trunk, it’s rather easy
Another failure. London to Manchester, 173 miles This situation requires some lateral thinking. In the discipline of geology, a debate is currently raging over whether or not to declare the beginning of a new epoch—the Anthropocene—a geological age of humanity’s own making. This would be quite a big deal in geological circles, as epochs don’t begin every year—generally more like every few million. The reason a new one is being considered is that geologists in the far future, without any
area—probably being nothing more than a stick with a piece of bread on the end of it held over a fire. In ancient Rome toasting was a popular way of preserving bread; tostum is Latin for burning. Fact. Toasting really took off, however, with the invention of the electric toaster at the beginning of the 1900s. The years before had seen electricity begin to change people’s way of life. The Edison General Electric Company established the first central power station in New York in 1882 to power the
industry, he finds himself in the position of late-medieval man with a limited repertoire of skills and expertise. His most effective guide to the task of smelting iron from ore is, for instance, not the latest issue of International Journal of Material Sciences but De re metallica, a sixteenth-century treatise. Modern myths of omnipotence come to seem like hubris when Thwaites is defeated by the task of smelting metals, something first practiced eight thousand years ago. We know more now, don’t
and the flat sheets for the structure. Using a blowtorch, I heated it up until it glowed bright red, and hit it gently with a hammer. My “iron” shattered on impact, along with my dream of making a toaster. I had failed the first hurdle. My project lay in ruins, as did my furnace. The faux-antique ornamental chimney pot I’d used for my furnace had literally melted itself with the heat and burst apart, and bits of the Vermiculite loft insulation I’d packed around it had fused together. According