Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Creating a Toaster From Scratch

Want to know what civilization does for you?  This video is one man's account of trying to build a toaster from scratch himself starting from raw materials (iron ore, oil for the plastic, etc).  I mean, you already know how that's going to turn out, right?  Still, it's pretty eye opening to follow the details.

Hat tip Ran Prieur.

5 comments:

kjmclark said...

Geez, you don't have to go that far. Try to make a hammer or screw driver from scratch. (For that matter, a nail or a screw!) Or try a bicycle. Good luck with those metal tubes and bearings.

Don't have time to watch the video right now. Did he try to make an electric toaster? Did he try to make the electricity from scratch too? As some of the comments at the video point out, it's pretty easy to make toast from bread if you use some wire and a fire. Of course, where'd you get the bread and the wire?

Stuart Staniford said...

Yeah - he tried to make a $6 electric toaster with a plastic case - just kind of a generic cheap consumer durable.

Hal said...

Kind of silly. He defined "make toaster" as "replicate a modern, cheap plastic toaster." It would have been a lot more doable if he had defined it "construct something that can toast bread using electricity." It would still be very difficult to smelt copper and other metals from ores, mainly because it is very hard to find high-content ores. I think if one were allowed to recycle, it wouldn't be a very difficult exercise at all. Metals for the structure, parts, and wire resistance, and glass or ceramic for insulators. What am I missing?

Stuart Staniford said...

Well, if he was allowed to recycle, he could just find a broken toaster and fix it!

I think the point of the project was to graphically illustrate just how hard it would be to make a modern consumer good by oneself. And I think it certainly illustrated that.

Hal said...

I guess my uneasiness with the presentation is that if that is the point, then it wasn't much of a point. The "modern consumer good" is a product of the very specific economic and technological conditions for a specific model of mass-production and marketing at the current time. There's nothing inherently pertinent about that sort of product, other than its mass availability. What it illustrates is that modern products require technology and an economics of scale that would be cost prohibitive at a personal scale. We all have lots of groovy toys we wouldn't have if not for modern technology. This is news?

I just think he went overboard in trying to exactly replicate the cheap toaster. For instance, instead of asking himself, "Gee, what could we make the body of this thing out of?" or, "Does this thing really need to be designed with a body like this?" he tried to make his own plastic to mimic the $6 one he bought. That's just silly.

There are a lot of ways to toast a piece of bread: even if you grant that it should use electricity and be spring loaded, and pop up when done, there would be a lot of ways to skin that cat.

In the end, they all would toast a piece of bread. Obviously, it makes a lot more sense to buy the mass-produced one rather than try to make your own from scratch. Mine appears to be mostly metal, BTW, and to have fewer parts. I was talked into buying it after Katrina, and right now I'd rather have the 10 bucks. That, of course is the point he didn't make: do we really need all of this cheap mass-produced consumer stuff?