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The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch Paperback – September 28, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This fascinating book follows the adventures of Thomas Thwaites as he attempts to build a toaster. from scratch. He molds his own plastic, extrudes his own nickel-chromium wire, and refines iron ore to build the frame. It's 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" -- Wired.com

"At once a charming manifesto for the maker movement and a poetic reflection on consumerism's 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." -- Brain Pickings

"Funny and thoughtful" -- the Boston Globe

"The Toaster Project raises fascinating questions.... Thwaites's eagerness to learn and his determination to see the project through--not to mention the author's engaging writing and the novelty of the project--makes this book a winner." -- Make online

"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." -- Aaron Britt, Dwell.com

"It's fun, and you'll get a little smarter, and maybe you'll appreciate our ancestors and their smarts a little more." -- Science 2.0

"Incredibly entertaining and well-written." -- International Sculpture Center blog

"I particularly admired his can-do attitude and loved his heroic ignorance-is-bliss abuse of a microwave oven." - ElectronicsWeekly.com

"Easily my favorite book this year, The Toaster Project should be required reading for artists, designers, consumers and anyone who has ever bought or thrown away a toaster. Thomas Thwaites, a graduate student at London's Royal College of Art, sets out to build a toaster from scratch -- not just an object that toasts bread, but one that aesthetically and mechanically replicates the ubiquitous $6 drugstore toaster.... Thwaites is a laugh-out-loud-funny but thoughtful guide through his own adventures, touching provocatively on ideas as far-ranging as medieval metallurgy, sustainability, mass production, and our 'throwaway' consumer culture. You'll buy it as a gift for the title and the concept, but you'll end up keeping it for yourself once you crack the cover -- so take my advice and buy two." -- NPR.org

"As befits the project, the book is hilarious. I never though reading about iron smelting and descents into mines would be so engrossing."-- We Make Money Not Art
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; First Edition edition (September 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568989970
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568989976
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It was not my cup of tea.
Book Lover
The book is an interesting look at how complex even simple, every-day technological devices might be.
Jojoleb
I had a lot of fun reading this book.
J.Carlos

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By 35-year Technology Consumer TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 22, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As one whose elementary school education included tours of a Ford assembly line and the production floor of the Eastern Steel Barrel company in central New Jersey, I've been forever fascinated by what happens between the factory and the retail space. In visits to pre-industrial age museums, I wonder how pioneers or settlers of any age got by in a time and place when you couldn't just go buy a hammer, a screw, or a nail...you needed to have them forged for you. A few years ago, I got hooked on the How It's Made series for the same reasons.

In "The Toaster Project", Thomas Thwaites takes similar curiosity to the limit, as he tries to make --from scratch-- a most mundane piece of modern technology: an electric toaster (a device now into its second century of evolution).

In doing so, Thwaites first deconstructs a common household toaster with a plastic case (the cheapest one currently offered on Amazon (by Rival sells for around $12. He discovers a device containing somewhere between 157 to 404 separate "parts", depending on how you count and how far down you dissect the components. He broadly categorizes these as belonging to either "steel", "mica", "plastic", "copper" and "nickel" subsets and then sets about to fabricate a working one.

The result is an engaging and entertaining mixture of science, economics (especially the economies of scale and distance in the domain of mass production) and consumer technology. Even as Thwaites explores these areas, he never takes himself --or the project-- too seriously.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Mayo VINE VOICE on September 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In The Toaster Project Thomas Thwaites documents his attempt to build a toaster from scratch. This entails a lot of work, money, and research that produces a compelling narrative about a modern device that usually receives little attention.

The project is impractical and "ridiculous," but the author tells the story well, and I feel like I got something out of reading it. I am not sure it was what he intended for me to take away from it, because I don't share his take on the issues he raises in it about our mass consumer culture. I also don't think the project actually provides much support for the agenda he is trying to advance, and he seems at times to be forcing his quirky endeavor to make arguments that it isn't designed to sustain. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable story. I'd also like to add that the photography is superb and the text is arranged beautifully; it's nice to see a book receive so much care and attention in its production.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jojoleb VINE VOICE on September 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Thomas Thwaites' book, The Toaster Project, promises a lot and (nearly) delivers a toaster. The book is an interesting look at how complex even simple, every-day technological devices might be. Thwaites uses the pop up toaster as a springboard to discuss topics from metallurgy to the industrial revolution to our ecological footprint. In the end, the book is a short, quick, and mostly successful read.

A second year postgraduate design student at the Royal College of Art, Thwaites begins a nine month 1187.54 pound sterling quest to build a simple pop up toaster. He doggedly pursues this goal and documents his way through it for his masters project as well as his own personal obsession with the idea.

The book is similar to that genre of cheap but entertaining books where the author decides to document a particularly crazy quest. The master of this genre is, of course, A.J. Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible or The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World). The protagonist goes through the kooky committed motions, but amidst the tongue in cheek prose the author eventually discovers some hidden truths that make the ridiculous romp somehow worthwhile. The writing and the contrived epiphanies keep the reader interested and will thus keep these authors afloat even in the time of a recession.

Thwaites' book is not so different from this genre. His goal is to make a toaster, but refuses to use a kit.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 15, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book relates the story of a design student who attempts to build a toaster from scratch as part of his studies. Thwaites was a 2nd year student at the Royal College of Art in London when he came up with the idea for this project. In this book, he describes the trials and tribulations of purchasing a cheap toaster, taking it apart to examine its materials, then trying to learn how to concoct such materials from raw ingredients. Along the way, he consults with experts from materials science professors to mining historians. He learns a bit about the difficulties of making steel, plastic, and copper wiring at home, and eventually produces a product that might fit in with other 2nd year sculpture projects at his art college.

I found the idea for this book much more engaging than the book itself. When one considers all the products that fill a modern home, their construction and the variety of materials used is both overwhelming and fascinating. What are the raw materials that go into the metals, plastics, and electronics that make up our common appliances? Would it be possible to make even the simplest appliance from scratch? Thwaites attempts to answer these questions, but his investigation is on a rather shallow level. He gets the basic gist of a process, then attempts to make something like the materials that were found in his sample toaster, or something in the same vague category that might have some similar traits. In this book, he presents very little in-depth research of the materials and their sourcing. Instead, he fills out the book with bits of e-mail correspondence with materials science experts or excerpts from transcripts with the experts, or comments posted to his blog on the project. Thwaites approaches the project with a bit of humor that may appeal to some readers, but overall, this is simply the adventures of a young student attempting an impossible project, rather than an informative exploration of materials.
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