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A Guy Tried To Make A Toaster From Scratch And It Failed Beautifully

He wanted to extract the raw materials, refine the ore, forge the metal, and cast the plastic case.

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Tom Hale

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

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A silver electronic device saying "Hot SURFACE" on a toaster.

Never take your toaster for granted again.

Image credit: Andrew George/UnSplash

Humans of the industrialized world don’t realize how easy they have it. Sure, there’s glaring wealth disparity, rampant heart disease, prolific depression, and a ravaged ecosystem, but you know how fortunate you are to purchase a new electric toaster for just a few dollars? 

While studying at London's Royal College of Art, Thomas Thwaites set out on a mission to build a toaster from scratch – and he really committed to the task. The young designer aimed to craft the device using raw materials he had sourced himself, a feat that would involve mining and refining the ore, forging the metal, and making the plastic from fossil oil products.

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Through this creative endeavor, Thwaites wanted to make a point about an individual’s place in our deeply interconnected, hyper-consumerist society. He was inspired by a quote from Douglas Adams' 1992 novel Mostly Harmless, which reads: "Left to his own devices he couldn't build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich, and that was it." 

The challenge quickly proved much tougher than he first imagined. He bought the cheapest toaster available for £3.49 (around $4.50) and took it apart, intending to reverse-engineer the device. He came across 400 components made out of over 100 materials, although he managed to simplify these parts to just a few ingredients: copper, steel, nickel, plastic, and mica (a silicate mineral used for insulation).

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Things didn’t get any easier from here, however. After all, would you have any idea how to make plastic?

His hilarious and insightful exploits were detailed in the book The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch. Thwaites also delivered a brilliant 11-minute TED Talk about the project, which you can watch above.


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technologyTechnology
  • tag
  • Engineering,

  • design,

  • metals,

  • TED Talk,

  • weird and wonderful,

  • toaster

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