The Toaster Project

“Hello, my name is Thomas Thwaites, and I have made a toaster.”

“I’ll not try and reproduce it here, except to answer some questions and criticisms.”

In ‘The Toaster Project’ book, Thomas Thwaites 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 about the difficulties of making steel, plastic and wire at home.  Most interesting is not the final creation but the lessons learned, The Toaster Project raises fascinating questions.The Toaster Project helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture and the ridiculousness of churning out millions of toasters and other products at the expense of the environment, for example you aren’t aware of the iron being carved out of the mountain or the oil being drawn up from the earth.  If products were designed more efficiently, with fewer parts that are easier to recycle, we would end up with objects that last longer and we would generate less waste altogether.   Similar to buying a toaster, we tend to focus on the final product and fail to recognise the many processes leading up to it. Foreword by David Crowley, head of critical writing at the Royal College of Art and curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

 The project is to explore how cheap, everyday items are dependent on sophisticated global supply chains that are invisible to consumers. (Dezeen review on The Toaster Project, 27.06.2009)
I understood that we as a consumers are like the smallest and most insignificant of cogs in giant mechanical wheels.




Toothbrush_20050716_004.jpgThe Five Stages of Every Plastic Product/Design is: Prototyping. Testing and Iteration. Tooling. Moulding.


This toothbrush was handmade in a concentration camp by a prisoner called Lily Fischl

Object Name: Handmade toothbrush. Date: 1944. Catalogue number: 1990.207. Material(s): Wood, String. Size: 13 cm x 1.5 cm. On display in the Jewish Museum? Yes

Lily’s toothbrush tells us a lot about how badly people were treated in the camps and what they did to try and stay feeling like themselves. The wooden stick and brush are tied tightly with a piece of string.  She used these basic materials and a simple design to make something to help her try and stay clean and tidy. The toothbrush is actually really small, only about the length of your hand. This was so she could keep it hidden from the guards.

Toothbrushes today are made from plastic and rubber, the base material for the plastic comes in small plastic pellets which are formed into brush handles using an injection moulding machine, rubber pellets are later moulded onto the handles using the same process.  Bristles are produced using nylon fibres, pressed, cut and automatically inserted by machine into the brush heads.  A single brush head can contain as many as 1300 individual bristles.

The benefits of producing toothbrushes at large scale in factories are because of precision and speed, much faster than a human can do it, and

the toothbrushes go through a quality control process which ensures the bristles are securely attached.

Personal hygiene is important to us as humans and especially for keeping good health, due to the hygienic characteristics of plastic it is unlikely we would return to using natural animal bristles in our toothbrushes because the natural bristles absorb germs and are not hygienic.


story of Toothbrushes

Toothbrushing tools date back to 3500-3000 BC when the Babylonians and the Egyptians made a brush by fraying the end of a twig. Tombs of the ancient Egyptians have been found containing toothsticks alongside their owners. Around 1600BC, the Chinese developed “chewing sticks” which were made from aromatic tree twigs to freshen breath. The Chinese are believed to have invented the first natural bristle toothbrush made from the bristles from pigs’ necks in the 15th century, with the bristles attached to a bone or bamboo handle. When it was brought from China to Europe, this design was adapted and often used softer horsehairs which many Europeans preferred. Other designs in Europe used feathers. The first toothbrush of a more modern design was made by William Addis in England around 1780 – the handle was carved from cattle bone and the brush portion was still made from swine bristles. In 1844, the first 3-row bristle brush was designed.  Natural bristles were the only source of bristles until Du Pont invented nylon. The invention of nylon started the development of the truly modern toothbrush in 1938, and by the 1950s softer nylon bristles were being made, as people preferred these. The first electric toothbrush was made in 1939 and the first electric toothbrush in the US was the Broxodent in 1960. Today, both manual and electric toothbrushes come in many shapes and sizes and are typically made of plastic molded handles and nylon bristles. The most recent toothbrush models include handles that are straight, angled, curved, and contoured with grips and soft rubber areas to make them easier to hold and use. Toothbrush bristles are usually synthetic and range from very soft to soft in texture, although harder bristle versions are available. Toothbrush heads range from very small for young children to larger sizes for older children and adults and come in a variety of shapes such as rectangular, oblong, oval and almost round. The basic fundamentals have not changed since the times of the Egyptians and Babylonians – a handle to grip, and a bristle-like feature with which to clean the teeth.

Over its long history, the toothbrush has evolved to become a scientifically designed tool using modern ergonomic designs and safe and hygienic materials that benefit us all.


References:,,, 06.12.2006


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