Hello, my name is Thomas Thwaites, and I have made a toaster. So begins The Toaster Project, the author's nine-month-long journey from his local appliance store to remote mines in the UK to his mother's backyard, where he creates a crude foundry. Along the way, he learns that an ordinary toaster is made up of 404 separate parts, that the best way to smelt metal at home is by using a method found in a fifteenth-century treatise, and that plastic is almost impossible to make from scratch. In the end, Thwaites's homemade toaster a haunting and strangely beautiful object cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store and involved close to two thousand miles of travel to some of Britain's remotest locations. The Toaster Project may seem foolish, even insane. Yet, Thwaites's quixotic tale, told with self-deprecating wit, helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture, and in so doing reveals much about the organization of the modern world.
Thomas Thwaites is a designer who completed his Masters in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in 2009. His work has received several awards and is exhibited internationally, at galleries in London, Dublin, Rotterdam, and Tokyo. Based in London, he is currently working on a commission from the Wellcome Trust.
Kevin Kelly, Wired:
"The Toaster Project is so cool it is beyond words. It is art and science, history and future, all in one brilliant idea. Although a tiny project, it is mythic in scope. Once seen, never forgotten. "
Michael Bierut, Pentagram:
"Hidden in Thomas Thwaitess deceptively simple story is an epic tale that touches on electronics, metallurgy, sustainability, social history, consumerism, epistemology, and global post-industrial capitalism, among other things. Its also funny as hell. Dare I say it? The Toaster Project is the twenty-first centurys first masterpiece of design writing."
Wired.com, Falls Hottest New Books:
"Big idea: As a DIY exercise, Thwaites details his 20-month mission to build an ordinary toaster, which, in the end, costs 250 times more than a store-bought version of the household appliance.Sample text: "I poked through the furnace with a stick and pulled out a blobby black mass of something heavy.... Using a blowtorch, I heated it up until it turned bright red and hit it gently with a hammer. My iron shattered on impact along with my dream of making a toaster.""
"At once a charming manifesto for the maker movement and a poetic reflection on consumerisms downfall, The Toaster Project is a story of reacquainting ourselves with the origins of our stuff, part Moby-Duck, part The Story of Stuff, part something else made entirely from scratch."
Wired.com Geek Dad gift guide:
"This fascinating book follows the adventures of Thomas Thwaites as he attempts to build a toasterfrom scratch. He molds his own plastic, extrudes his own nickel-chromium wire, and refines iron ore to build the frame. Its an entertaining and well-written book, and I love how Thwaites embraces failure as a part of the story, which is a reality for many maker style projects."
"I particularly admired his can-do attitude and loved his heroic ignorance-is-bliss abuse of a microwave oven.... A most enjoyable one-evening read."
"The Toaster Project raises fascinating questions about our ability to recreate the technology that we take for granted. Expert makers may find themselves squirming at some of the decisions Thwaites made, but ultimately his eagerness to learn and his determination to see the project through not to mention the authors engaging writing and the novelty of the project makes this book a winner."
"Thwaites is a knowledgeable and delightful writer, and he makes his point in the most straightforward of manners: we are incapable of fending for ourselves anymore and really ought to think long and hard about the complicated lives we have boxed ourselves into living. For every family with a tinkering teen this will be the kind of book you long for but never expect to find. That fact that it is funny as well as informative makes it a treat truly worth seeking out."
"Thomas Thwaites's 2009 Toaster Project was purchased by the Design Fund of the V&A! Thomas rebuilt a toaster from scratch during a 9-month period by extracting and processing the raw materials for the construction himself, only to find out that it would cost 1187.54 if sold. Mass-manufacturing beat him with a 3.49 version from Argos. Isn't it absurd?"
"As befits the project, the book is hilarious. I never though reading about iron smelting and descents into mines would be so engrossing."
The Boston Globe:
"Building an electric appliance from scratch, it turns out, is trickier than it sounds. After nine months of toil, during which he abandoned his pledge to avoid using technology, Thwaites produced a bread warmer that cost nearly $2,000 to make--250 times more than the toaster hed originally dismantled (its unclear whether this figure includes the microwave oven he destroyed trying to smelt iron). He also ended up producing a funny and thoughtful book. But that wont mop up a plate of runny eggs--and perhaps this, in a roundabout way, is the point."
"One of the most exciting books to come across my desk in the last while... A hilarious, wonderfully wrought account of how hard it is to really make anything from scratch, much less an electronic device."
"[The Toaster Project] could just as easily be read as a comedic expos, a mad quest towards a seemingly unattainable goal, or a philosophical indictment of the complexities of modern life. "
International Sculpture Center blog:
"Incredibly entertaining and well-written."
Designers & Books / Blog:
"[Thomas Thwaitess] account of extracting iron from rock, hand-carving a wooden mold for forming molten plastic, precipitating copper out of pools of acidic mine waste, and melting Canadian coins for their nickel manages to be both hilarious and sober."
"A project like this says a lot about our industrialized world and the scale of production needed to make a relatively simple device. As it turns out, making a million toasters might not be particularly difficult, but making just one is almost impossible."
"It's fun, and you'll get a little smarter, and maybe you'll appreciate our ancestors and their smarts a little more."
"WIthout a doubt, the English are the kings of eccentricity, and one of them, Thomas Thwaites, design student, proves it once again. With his own hands, he built one of the icons of modern technology: a toaster! But not halfway, since "with his own hands" means that he built it from the raw materials that this everyday object is made from: cooper, plastic, nickel....What a lesson!"
"The books a quick read, and I recommend it. Its not just a story of processing copper and nickel. Thwaites touches on environmental issues of mining and waste and has fascinating conversations with professors, scientists and people who spent their lives learning how to do what Thwaites is trying to do in a couple of months."