Shapeways, The Community

A short interview with Thomas Thwaites: The handmade toaster builder

Thomas Thwaites is trying to build a toaster from scratch, by hand, by himself. As I tried to explain in the previous post I think that this is just about the coolest art project ever. Luckily for us he thinks Shapeways is, “totally great, bringing on of the future!” and so he answered a few of my questions.

On the Toaster Project web page he details all of his challenges. He has videos of smelting iron ore in a leaf blower furnace and lots more on the project website. Everyone’s favorite video seems to be the one of him trying to smelt iron ore in a microwave. My personal favorite is the one of the Argos toaster that he is trying to ‘replicate.’ It is embedded below and fantastic.  

Argos Value Range 2 Slice Toaster from Thomas Thwaites on Vimeo.


He takes a simple cheap every day household item the “Argos Value Range 2 Slice Toaster” and bombards it with all the fetishism and bombast usually reserved for more ‘deserving’ things such as cars. It shows us that he is serious about his subject, his challenge. 

Joris: What was the most difficult thing to do so far?

Thomas: Making the iron (originally i was planning on making steel, but as iron
was so difficult i realised that steel for now, is well out of reach of
‘the common man’).  My first attempt at smelting in a furnace burning
coke melted the ore – and i think i refined it to some degree, but the
black hard, magnetic, metallic tasting lump that i got out at the end
wasn’t workable into toaster shapes.  I therefore resorted to the
microwave smelting – that took a lot of experimentation with different
times, crucibles, mixtures of coke and partially refined ore, etc.  I
got workable iron in the end though, but it was a long process.

Joris: Are you bored with mass production?

Thomas: I think mass production is quite amazing as a system, the look of most
products is quite boring… and
even highly ‘designed’ stuff by ‘designers’ I find a bit dull;  I went
into one of those
‘design’ shops in Rotterdam and was just quite bored by the kind of
witty takes on objects that it was filled with. I think the aesthetic
of ‘products’ needs to become a bit more raw – less smooth cases
covering everything. I also think that the authenticity of making
something yourself is extremely important.

Joris: What made you take on this project? People getting out of touch with technology and divorced from it because of its complexity?

Thomas: I was curious to see if I could do it, but I also wanted to add
something to the debate around the environmental/economic crisis  The
need to buy less stuff to protect the environment, and the ‘need’ to
buy more stuff to maintain the economy seem to be on a collision
course.  There’s a feeling in some circles that we should retreat to
self-sufficient ways of life – I wanted to investigate what this would

Joris: Could I buy your toaster?

Thomas: Yes, but it would cost A LOT more than the £3.94 ‘value’ version on which it was based!  It is after all, unique…

Congrats to Thomas for his now working toaster and this fantastic project! He is basically doing by himself for one thing what Shapeways, in due time, wants to do together with you for all things. I’m now off to convince my girlfriend that his toaster is a household appliance that we need. 


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