RCA Student makes Toaster from Scratch

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Photo Credit: Daniel Alexander

Loving this press release, so I’m pretty much going to republish it verbatim.

A design student at the Royal College of Art in London has made a toaster – literally from the ground up. Thomas Thwaites has travelled to mines across the country to get the raw materials for his toaster. Processing these raw materials at home, (for example he smelted iron ore in a microwave), he has produced a ‘kind of half-baked, handmade pastiche’ of a toaster you can buy in Argos for less than five pounds (for those non-UK readers, Argos is like walmart, except everything is hidden underground and accessed via a combination of small slips of paper, small pens and trolls that guard the booty). Thwaites’ toaster has cost 1187.54 ounds and has taken him on a 9 month quest around Great Britain. The project web-site is here http://www.thetoasterproject.org/

Why?

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.

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Photo Credit: Daniel Alexander

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).

Step 2:Smelting Iron Ore in a Leafblower Furnace from Thomas Thwaites on Vimeo.

Steve Furlonger, the former Head of Sculpture at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and Director of Windsor Workshops, described Thwaites’ project as “disguised information“, adding, “Under his toaster making project he is saying profound things, of a different order. The ‘failures’ he encounters, during his toaster making, point to the success of his real message; that we have become disconnected from how our world is supported and sustained.

Thwaites completed the project as part of his MA in Design Interactions from the RCA and will be displaying his toaster (and making toast with it) at the RCA Show Two, the College’s annual graduate showcase for new designers from 26 June. He is also working on a short film and book which documents the toaster project in full.

The Toaster Project will be displayed at RCA Show Two, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU – 26 June – 5 July, 11am – 8pm daily (closed 3 July, closes at 5pm on 30 June, 1 July, 5 July) – admission is free.

Step 2, Attempt 2: Smelting Iron Ore in a Microwave from Thomas Thwaites on Vimeo.

Simply wonderful eh? I think while this is an interesting and from my perspective, very amusing story, there’s a salutary lesson here about consumption of materials and sustainability. I’m just not entirely sure I know what it is.