The Toaster Project

Task description
Individually choose a design project (see list for inspiration) and reverse engineer a project proposal for it (outlined below), searching, collecting and finding as much information about your chosen project as possible.

The Toaster Project

Field of Study
In this project, I would like to deconstruct society and explore the provenance of things that we buy and throw away so easily. Can a product made through a processing chain be made by a single person with tools of pre-industrial time? How far is it between the theoretical technology and the practice?

Since the industrial revolution, the progression of the technology allows mass manufacturing products at very low cost. The contrast in scale between the products we use and the industry that produces them also seems absurd.

As a matter of fact, people throw away things so easily. Therefore it raises the issue of environmental protection and sustainability.

The DIY culture was considered a counterculture in the mainstream of mass production, however, as the electronic waste accumulates, DIY in fixing electronics by hand seems to become a solution to it and gradually becomes the mainstream culture.

The grand-scale processes hidden behind the smooth plastic castings of mundane everyday objects is often ignored. I would like to use this project to connect things with the ground they are made from.

At a moment when the effects of industry are no longer trivial in relation to the wider environment, the throwaway toasters of today seem unreasonable.The provenance and the fate of the things we buy are too important to ignore. I would like to use this project to bring the small scale of our daily usage of the toaster to the wider context of industrial activities needed to produce one simple product like this.

I would like to carry out detailed research and analysis on toaster history and all the industrial processes needed in making key components of the toaster.

I would like to conduct a partial auto-ethnography of the whole process with video and research writings.

I would consult with an expert for advice on raw materials collection and industrial processes needed to make it happen.

I would test and iterate with a variety of methods and compromise when necessary.

Primary and secondary research include but not limited to:
Secondary research
toaster history and how it’s made
Deconstruct the toaster and
how the material used are made
where those materials can be find

Primary research
Interview an expert as he needs some guidance
Go to the mining field, looking for raw materials and try extracting with them

predictated resolution:
I intend to make a toaster at a domestic scale using tools that are already around before the industrial revolution. I would like to connect people with the ground and environment of materials needed to make key components of the toaster. I would like to confront people with the large scale of processing chain could be involved in making some product that is so cheap and be easily thrown away.

The outcome will be a toaster that I imagine will bear an imperfect likeness to the ones that we buy – a kind of half-baked, hand made pastiche of a consumer appliance.
It will serve as a vehicle through which questions about economics, helplessness, and life as a consumer can be investigated.


Deconstruct: deconstruct the toaster bought from Argos at the price of £ 3.94 ($ 6.10)
Decide on the parts to be built
Research for how a toaster can be built, what materials needed and how to obtain then.
Go to places and mine the raw materials:
Steel: for the steel grilling apparatus, and the spring to pop up the toast
collecting raw materials
melt mineral and turn it into iron using a hair drier. Tried with a leaf blower and then used mother’s microwave and china to finally obtain iron.
Mica: around which the heating element is wound
extracting oil to make plastic
process it to make pins of the electric plug, the cord, and internal wires
Nickel: for the heating elements
Go to places to obtain nickel

Time frame: 9 month
Budget: There is no way of knowing how much he intended to spend, but it turns out it takes £ 1187.54 ($ 1837.36).

Through reverse engineering the toaster project, I’m able to grasp the basic structure of a proposal and the processes involved for a successful project. It provides some valuable insights on creating one of my own.

I also realized in framing a project, it’s important to connect it with a greater context and create something of a meaning, not just for fun’s sake. It should send messages or become a voice for some people or create a debate for something bad to reveal itself, or something good to grow upon. I might sound a bit ideal but I would like my project to be some sort of that kind.

-Thomas Thwaites, The Toaster Project : Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch, Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. (ISBN 978-1568989976)

What is reverse engineering
The reproduction of another manufacturer’s product following detailed examination of its construction or composition.

Douglas Adams’ citation in the book Globally Harmless : “Left to his own devices, he could not build a toaster. He could just make a sandwich and that was it. ” Expressing Arthur Dent ‘s mindset after he realized that despite his theoretical technological superiority over the inhabitants of his new planet, he could not claim to rule them for lack of practical skills.

An essay by Leonard Read
A famous economics essay features a pencil (yes, a pencil) arguing that “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.” Is the pencil just bragging? In any case, what can the pencil teach us about our global interdependence — and the proper role of government in the economy?

Unabomber Manifesto

Vow of Chastity
Jorgen Leth, filmmaking under five impossible conditions, failure is guaranteed, but what made the project worthwhile is Leth’s resourcefulness and imagination as well as his attempts to stretch the rules.