The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites



Royal College of Art graduate Thomas Thwaites has built a working toaster from scratch, extracting raw materials and processing them himself in an attempt to replicate a mass-produced toaster he bought in a shop for less than £5.00. Update: this project is included in Dezeen Book of Ideas, which is on sale now for £12.


Thwaites, a student on the RCA's Design Interactions course, used the project to explore how cheap, everyday items are dependent on sophisticated global supply chains that are invisible to consumers.


The Toaster Project is on show at the RCA Show 2009, which opened this week.


At the show, Thwaites presents his toaster and some of the home-made implements he created to process and mould raw materials (above).


Above: a suitcase of iron ore from Wales.


Above: smelting iron ore in a microwave oven.


Above: smelting iron ore in a leaf-blower furnace.


Above: the toaster Thwaites tried to replicate -  an Argos Value Range two-slice model.


Here's some info from Thwaites:



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.

Thwaites’ toaster has cost £1187.54 and has taken him on a 9 month quest around Great Britain.


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).

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.

Posted on Saturday June 27th 2009 at 11:49 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • MAX

    Dear Deezen…
    just because is coming from Royal College of Art???

    I would like to know WHO and HOW you choose the material to post in here!


  • Booh

    I would appreciate that toaster a lot more if it were more sustainable… (( laugh )) one could reduce the carbon emissions of that thing easily, simply by using a bike to power it :D

  • it’s brillant because i dunnot read the english text and may be i see an other product : a toaster to eat ….

  • I’m a brilliant no designer producing no product for non consummer on blogs and i have no toaster…

  • tanya telford – T

    max,, i had a look at this post a few hours ago, and i didn’t know what comment i could make about this project because it brings to the forefront so many subjects & topics of concern etc, i dont believe its been chosen just because its RCA graduate work, & i can’t help but think the guy must have been through alot to get this work done, & then to arrive at the conclusion that he sounds like he has arrived at?, by making this work……….personally id like to see one the big industry/manufacturing company’s buy this whole project and use it for inspiration to start finding better answers to some topical questions, even if slowly,

  • Cliff

    MAX, pull yourself into line and bow down to anything that ‘RCA’ produces…

    They are not a bunch of rich-kids at nursery paid for with Dady’s money! Honestly!

  • hj

    great project.
    it makes you think, doesn’t it?

  • Jo

    Hi Cliff,
    I think your comment is very insulting. The RCA has people from all walks of life. Not everyone who is talented and smart is rich. Not every one who is rich sits around playing. People are accepted to the RCA based on talent demonstrated through a portfolio of projects and an interview. If you read the blurb you will see that Thomas has worked incredibly hard to do this project, he also made a documentary film and book. He has invested his own money and time and believes 100% in his own work. Would you prefer he sat in front of a computer generating more slick blobs waiting for a rich client to discover him? Comments like yours and Max’ make me think that while nearly every other profession is questioning it’s role in society, and how it can adjust to the new reality, design, like the dunce in the class, hasn’t even noticed something is wrong. Design as we know it today is culturally, socially and economically unsustainable., we need more projects like this that help us think our way out of this mess.

  • OLGV.

    maaaaan, that’s ugly…. :| … and don’t tell me about the esthetic of ugliness…

  • lmnop

    this is fantastic, congratulations on a fine project! lets see more!

  • Matt

    If the only thing somebody gets from seeing this project is that…”, 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”… then it’s a bloody great project. One day we will not be mining the raw materials the earth has provided, we will be mining the garbage dumps that we created and that will be a lot more difficult than carefully re-using what we already have. // I’d be interested to see the short film, sounds like he worked really hard on this project with considered thought, well done

  • roel

    Hi Jo
    What in your opinion is “working incredibly hard”? When you make these kind of things you can expect reactions like in this page. And by publishing your work on internet you will see these comments. They are opinions, artists should be able to live with that.

  • Keith

    Those who posted negative comments seemed to have missed the point of this project entirely. Did you even bother to read the text? It certainly was not about creating a “beautiful” design. The fact that this guy was able to fabricate something that even resembles a toaster from raw materials and home-made equipment is amazing in itself. I think this summarizes it best:

    “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.”

  • Jo

    hi roel

    when i saw the project /film/book in the show i was very impressed with the amount of work that went into pursuing it on so many levels: research, planing, travel, technical experimentation, building equipment, film making, writing, communications, and so on.

    the project is clearly intended to create debate and i am sure the designer is enjoying it. but i don’t think anyone should expect comments like those from cliff and max, regardless of the work, but sadly, that’s design for you, some great commentary, but still, some very juvenile reactions as well.


  • They should teach this in schools!
    If consumers knew more of what it takes to make products they might start to question their disposable lifestyles, especially with cheap electrical products and their WEEE implications (which I bet your readers are not even aware of – which is what the retailers want!!).
    Good products should not just be about recycling – they should have a long healthy life first. If they are made to last for generations then they also become good value.

  • nothingbutcode

    who knew the headline “student makes a toaster” could be so inspiring? :) which is why this project is so compelling. and that’s the whole point, right? definately good work.

  • kasorp

    this is an absolutely incredible piece of art…in contrast to most of the stuff being sold as ‘art’ today.
    finally something that addresses a really true problem…i often make the experience that most of the people have no idea (and no interest) about how difficult it is to realize even the smallest (nonsense) product in our consumist-society.

    congratulations to this demonstration of true intelligence!

  • Cliff

    I stand by my comment… all too well supported by what comes out of RCA… a line of spoilt kids with questionable tallent yet attitude much greater.

  • s

    It’s possible for anyone with talent to be accepted to the RCA, but what is impossible for anyone is to pay tuition, especially if you’re an international (overseas) student. So whether you’re daddy’s rich or not is actually an eliminating factor in this equation.

  • MAX

    Still waiting for a professional, polite and moderated answer
    to my question for an adult conversation.

  • Jeroen

    Great work! It’s not so much the social comment or ‘lesson’ on itself which makes it so good to me, but that fact that seeing the actual product (and thereby almost feeling those raw materials and their treatment) evokes in a great way the sense of what he wants to convey. And that is much more than just an intellectual understanding of the social comment, that’s art.

    And btw, the toaster looks cool.

  • Pony the Trap

    It would be more interesting to see how many perfectly good second hand toasters could have been bought for a fiver from charity shops and boot sales? Complete with a film in the style of the old Fairy Liquid adverts.

  • This is a really profound and ingenious project and must have taken the kind of dedication that would put most people off from even trying.

    And, by the way, 20 years ago my wife went to RCA on the Vehicle Design course. She was a relatively old student, got a standard (for those days) grant for fees but otherwise paid all her own expenses etc. We both come from council estates and were definitely not spoilt rich kids even back then.

  • For all the continentals who would like to see the Toaster and meet Thomas Thwaites: The Toaster Project will be presented at V2_’s Test_Lab event in Rotterdam – the Netherlands, July 9.

  • Peter

    Seriously… I just don´t understand artists… if they think that this is art or some kind of expression, well, there are tastes for everyone, but to spend arduous hours to make this kind of conclusion, well, no more to say.

  • Indi

    Of course, if you just have a fire . . .

  • toby

    love it.

  • Cat

    When I first saw this project i thought ‘what a lot of wank’ but after reading the text and other peoples comments I agree it does have some purpose, and well done to Thomas for making his point heard.

    BUT I do still agree a little with Max and Cliff…I have liked very little of what I have seen come out of the RCA, I wish we could see more design like Min-Kyu Choi’s folding plug, and less of the bullshit.

    You still couldn’t pay me to eat toast out of that thing though.

  • This is excellent work. Provoke a debate. Real experimentations, with conclusions.
    I love it. Want more.

  • Nice project. Some things don’t need to come out of the sketch book – this one does – and did. It makes people think. Which is why it was made.

    oh – and:

    Cliff Says:
    I stand by my comment… all too well supported by what comes out of RCA… a line of spoilt kids with questionable tallent yet attitude much greater.

    You really don’t know what you are on about. The RCA fees are capped the same as any other national college / university. That is – they are exactly the same as say Manchester / Brighton / Galsgow etc.

    The wierd reality is that if you go to some rubbishy private college you can pay three times the tuition fees – but then you are guaranteed entry. So the idea that the ‘rich spoilt kids’ go here is wrong. It’s actually just harder to get in due to the massive numbers applying and the exceptional quality of competition.

    I think you might have some completely unfounded chip on your shoulder. Perhaps best to reapply next year?

  • duff

    It’s great that schools now encourage students to be critical of design, manufacturing and consumerism. Whilst it doesn’t really offer any answers, the project still has value as a study on the design and manufacturing process and all the parties involved. I’d love to see more of the research and info that substantiates the fun/making bit, and I think an investigation on a macro/micro scale like this could provide useful intelligence for anybody wanting to have a stab at offering alternative or revised methods of producing goods.

  • pete

    its so true about this project not seeing the light of day if not for the source..
    Gotta feed the beast.
    its still pretty good however, and the documentation is the biggest pile of ‘support’ i have ever seen. I think doing all of that research to justify your desire to fuckaround and have fun is great and makes you elite and better then kids doing the exact same thing only better in places like Detroit or Berlin, Keep it up.
    Oh and by the way, you will more then likely be working for those kids someday, cause they didnt need permission to fuckaround and make cool shit, they just did it.

  • chrisR

    ok so we realize making a toaster is really hard and wasteful….. now what do we do?

  • Frizz

    “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.”

    If you want to be self sufficient you toast your bread on a stick over a fire.

    Being self sufficient involves thinking laterally also.

  • mrswoo

    What’s wrong with a toasting fork?