Free Range Technology, Hack-It-Yerself

It Takes A Village

To make a toaster. You see, any piece of technology — whether it be a $10 toaster or a $1 million supercomputer — can’t be created by one person. It requires a host of materials and expertise that would be impossible for one person to acquire on their own. From ore to iron to steel. From oil to plastic. From 1s and 0s to a useful program. None of us can do this on our own.


This is a video from TED about one man’s journey to make a toaster from scratch inspired by the Douglas Adams quote from Mostly Harmless, “Left to his own devices he couldn’t build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it.” Thomas Thwaite finds that it really is true. Mr. Thwaites eventually does build a toaster that, he claims, worked for 5 seconds. But in order to do it, he had to rely on other people’s knowledge and experience. He also had to use a leaf blower, a garbage can, a microwave, a train, and probably automobiles and subways. All created by others.

So, the next time you click on your computer, or start your car, or even flick the light switch to your bedroom, think about how even the simplest convenience of our modern world takes a host of people to make it and make it work.

Hat tip to Jo Schmo for sharing the link to the video! If you come across anything that interests you or that you think we should rack our brains to come up with a post about, send it along to

[Image and Video Credits: Used under the Creative Commons licence.]

  • skitter

    I really respect the idea of reinventing the wheel. Afterwards, you understand the wheel much better. And I admire his dedication to a truly DIY ethic. However, I take issue with not trying each step several times for improved results. Had he done that, he might have a working homemade toaster on his counter. And that would have emphasized individual potential, rather than ceding the win to the corporate hive-minds.

  • Feds_II

    Somewhere I have a Peter Egan article where he talks about his youth, and checking a kids crafts book out of the library in his youth. It gave plans on how to build model steam ships, and smelt your own metals, etc., and how even as a kid in the '50's, he was totally unable to do most of it. We've really lost sight of what we are capable of.

    It really does go to show what is accomplish-able when your day consists of feeding the cows, then staring at your life partner, rather than commuting 2 hours, watching tv, and playing on the intertubes. We have lost a lot of our DIY ethic. Things are too easily available too cheaply.

    I had a little DIY tractor fetish for a while, and there are amazing popular mechanics articles out there: build your own tractor in 14 easy steps. Of course 7 or 8 of those steps involve creating running fit machined parts using a hand file and a hack saw, but that didn't seem to stop anyone in the depression.

  • dwegmull

    I fancy myself as a scratchbuilder. I do build steam engines from not much more than metal. But, of course, the devil is in the details: I tend to buy cast wheels. I do buy ready made copper pipes to make boilers. Nuts and bolts are usually (but not always) off the shelf.
    With some friends we have been toying with the idea of casting our own parts in brass. So far the most "elemental" tasks I've performed are metal forming (with copper), machining (copper, brass, aluminum, steel and some plastic) and silver soldering.
    In order to do any of these tasks, I regularly use tools and materials that come from all over the world…

  • Feds_II

    Oh also: do you think I could use a modified toaster element to sipe an off-road tire?

  • I made a toaster by accident. It was supposed to be an amplifier. All it ended up being any good at was getting hot.

  • Sometimes it takes a village, but sometimes it just takes one man– provided that man is Dr. Seeling Zero.

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