Manual The Toaster Project: Or A Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

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Perhaps the nature of our consumer culture makes us averse to them. Consumer goods play a clever game of hide and show with us: they call our attention, promising to satisfy our wants. Yet, at the same time, they veil their origins. Appearing to have no history or past, they materialise on the shelves of our shops as if by magic. This is what Walter Benjamin described as the phantasmagoria of commodity culture. Modern societies, it seems, not only forget the material and practical origins of the commodities they consume, they seem to have elevated them to minor deities.

The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

In The Toaster Project Thomas Thwaites set himself the task of making one of the most commonplace consumer goods from scratch. This meant not assembling this modest appliance from other existing components but extracting and processing the materials from which the parts of a toaster are made.


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This book records his major failures and minor triumphs. Thwaites begins his mission by dismantling the cheapest toaster on sale in the shops. This is an exercise in reverse engineering, the dark art practiced by military engineers trying to learn enemy secrets and copyright lawyers attempting to track down patent infringements.

Acting alone and eschewing the armoury of techniques available to modern 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.

The Toaster Project: Or A Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

Yet, at the same time, we are also reliant on the knowledge they produced. This is pointed out by the philosopher Michel Serres, in Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time , when he asks us to consider a new car:. It is a disparate aggregate of scientific and technical solutions dating from different periods. Not to mention that the wheel dates back to neolithic times.

The ensemble is only contemporary by assemblage, by its design, its finish, sometimes only by the slickness of the advertising surrounding it. Submerged in our toasters are layers of hard-won and deeply practical knowledge—if only we could tap it. In the spirit of many recent endeavours to limit the techno euphoria of twenty-first-century modernity, Thwaites set some sharp restrictions on his project.

Famously, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg called for filmmakers to return to first principles in their Vow of Chastity. The obligation to shoot on-site with actors, using natural sound and handheld cameras, would, they argued, ensure a cinematic purity that has been lost in the age of CGI computer-generated imagery and lowbrow cinema.

Making a toaster on his own means not employing other people, but in the world today, can anyone ever really be entirely independent, forgoing the expertise and services of others? The Toaster Project —over time—becomes a social one: in the course of his quest, Thwaites makes willing conscripts of professors, press officers, and even amiable drunks. Making a toaster from scratch is surely an impossible task, but not a pointless one. Actually, this is just a version of the truth. An alternative version would be that I tried and failed to make a toaster.

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The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

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Christian Rudder. Hans Rosling. The Daily Show The Book. Jon Stewart. Bill Nye. The Gene. Siddhartha Mukherjee. Work Rules! Laszlo Bock. Newsletters navigate down. Thomas Thwaites's finished toaster in the Toaster Project. Photo: Daniel Alexander.

The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites - Read Online

Credit: Dave Hendley. More about Thomas Thwaites's project: After some research I have determined that I will need the following materials to make a toaster. Copper, to make the pins of the electric plug, the cord, and internal wires. Iron to make the steel grilling apparatus, and the spring to pop up the toast. Nickel to make the heating element.

Mica a mineral a bit like slate around which the heating element is wound, and of course plastic for the plug and cord insulation, and for the all important sleek looking casing. The first four of these materials are dug out of the ground, and plastic is derived from oil, which is generally sucked up through a hole … The practical aspects of the project are rather a lot of fun.