If You Wish to Make a Toaster from Scratch, You Must First Invent the Universe


Thomas Thwaites

Carl Sagan famously said that "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." An apple was a bit tough for art student Thomas Thwaite, but a toaster seemed more approachable. We covered the first steps in a post last fall,
but now it is complete. It's ugly but it really works.

Argos Value Range 2 Slice Toaster from Thomas Thwaites on Vimeo.

The £3.99 argo toaster that Thomas is trying to emulate is in fact a remarkable achievement; how can something with so many parts and materials be manufactured and shipped around the world and retailed for so little about five bucks. He calls the one he is building

a toaster that will bear a very imperfect likeness to the ones that we buy - a kind of half-baked, hand made pastiche of a consumer appliance.

Thomas tells Dezeen:

The project is a reaction to the idea that it's possible or desirable to be self-sufficient, but also to the view that having more stuff, more cheaply is better.

"The steel parts in a shop bought toaster probably came from rock mined in Australia. Now they're on my kitchen worktop - for the price of less than an hour's work. Quite amazing," says Thwaites.

"The real cost of objects is hidden. You wouldn't want iron smelted or plastics being melted in your back garden, trust me. Though my neighbours have been quite nice about it," he continues.

"It seems the need to buy more stuff to save our economy and the need to buy less to save our environment are on a collision course. So, we either have to value what we've got a lot more, or spend as much time and effort taking things apart and disposing of them as we do putting them together."

As well as visiting disused mines in the Forest of Dean, England, the Knoydart Peninsula in Scotland and the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, he has consulted experts in mining, oil drilling and recycling (as well as a drunken deer stalker) to turn his vision of a making a toaster from scratch into a reality.

However, the practicalities of the project came as quite a shock when he realised that he'd need to find and process nearly 100 materials to make a true likeness of the Argos Value Range toaster he used as his model. Thwaites' toaster uses just five materials; iron (for the grill), copper (for the pins of the plug and the wires), plastic (for the casing, plug and wire insulation), nickel (for the heating elements) and mica (around which the heating element is wound).

Thwaites started his project with a quote from Douglas Adams:

"Left to his own devices he couldn't build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it."

Most of us are barely into the ham sandwich mode. Thwaites is one of very few people in the world who could do a toaster. I wonder if his next project will be an apple.

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Tags: Appliances | Do It Yourself | Gadgets | Plastics

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