If you’ve just used your toaster, it’s likely that you’re not particularly concerned with this question most of the time. “How does a toaster work?” is a question that I wonder about though. Toast can be very distracting, but sometimes you must wonder how these simple parts work together to make this contraption.
There are really only two mechanical parts to a toaster. When we know how they work, we know how a toaster works. They are the lever and the toaster timer – not exciting pieces of technology, but very functional and a mainstay in all homes that need delicious toasted snacks.
We’re going to explore how a toaster works and really focus on the mechanical aspect. If you want to unleash the engineer in you, may you’ll use this article as a springboard for tearing apart and reassembling your beloved toaster.
Table of contents
- How does a toaster work?
- How do toaster elements use electric energy?
- How does a toaster time work?
- How does a toaster push-down lever work?
How does a toaster work?
In a short explanation, toasters work by taking electrical energy and turning it into heat. They received electricity through the power cord and this is sent through the device, eventually cooking the bread. This is done through superheating the elements with electricity. They then give off high temperatures to cook the toast.
When energy comes off the power grid, it is electrical energy. This is what comes out of the socket and into the toaster through the plug. This electricity wants to flow through a circuit in the toaster, but it can’t most of the time as the circuit is broken. This means that the ring of wire that is in the toaster is not connected together.
When the circuit is incomplete, nothing should happen. The toaster has power, but it can’t do anything with it. (Top Tip: This also means that putting anything metal into your toaster, such as a knife, is an incredibly dangerous thing to do when it is plugged in. Touching the elements with a knife can lead to explosions and fires.) To use that electrical energy, you need to connect the circuit together with the push down lever.
When the lever is pushed down, the circuit is completed and the electricity starts to flow to the elements. Nichrome elements (just like the ones in your toaster) are used to dealing with high levels of electricity and are actually specifically designed for it. They absorb that energy and begin to turn it into something different.
How do toaster elements use electric energy?
Electrical energy wants to flow through any circuit it can. When it is concentrated in a single spot, it heats up. This is due to it creating a lot of “movement” at an atomic level. This is why lightning seems to move so quickly – it is full of energy.
As the electric flows through the elements, they begin to heat up. This heat can reach up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit and is the toaster converting electrical energy into heat energy. This is the main function of the toaster – getting heat energy.
Your toaster can have an electrical current flowing through it, but if it can’t convert it into heat energy, it isn’t worth a penny. You need a device that receives and converts energy!
A side effect of the electricity flowing through the elements is light energy. As they heat up, the elements start to glow bright red. This light is a byproduct of heat energy and doesn’t actually help with cooking your toast. It looks very impressive, but it’s not useful.
When the elements are heated, the air next to the bread starts to heat up too. As the elements are over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature, the air quickly heats up to around 350 degrees. This is more than enough to cook our toast.
As the toast cooks, the thermal sensor starts working. This clever piece of equipment measures the temperature of the bread. When the bread reaches optimal temperature for excellent toast, it turns off and the toast is ejected.
This is a simple process, but one that relies on a circuit being completed, electrical energy being transformed, and a thermal sensor telling the mechanism that it needs to stop. It’s a very clever design for a piece of equipment that seems so simple.
How does a toaster timer work?
You’re asking 2 questions here – how does a conventional toaster time work and how does a timer attached to the thermal sensor work.
Firstly, a conventional timer. These are rare in modern toasters, but you do find them in especially cheap appliances. The device is simply on a timer. If you set it to one minute, then it will cook for one minute. If you have an appliance that works like this, you need to replace it. It’s not worth the materials it’s made out of.
Secondly and mainly, the thermal sensor time. A thermal sensor measures the toast’s temperature. As the toast warms up, it will reach a certain temperature (this will depend on the toaster’s settings) and the thermal sensor will stop the toaster from working.
How does it do this? Well, the thermal sensor flicks the section of the circuit that was connected by the lever. This means that the circuit is now broken and the lever pops back up. In a clever piece of engineering, the thermal sensor both stops the toast cooking and throws your snack upwards.
Your thermal sensor may be the most important part in your toaster. It tells the elements when to stop cooking and releases the lever to actually stop the flow of electricity. It also means that we don’t have to always watch our toast cooking.
How does a toaster push down lever work?
The push lever is key to starting and stopping any cooking job with a toaster. If your lever is broken, you won’t be able to make your toast work and will need to get it fixed.
Top Tip: if you can get your toaster to work with a broken lever, we advise you don’t. There could be a weak connection between the rest of the circuit and the lever; if this is the case, it is possible that there could be a faulty connection which could lead to a fire or electrical surge. If it’s broken, get it fixed.
When the lever is pushed down, it completes the circuit. The circuit is necessary for letting electrical energy flow from the socket on your wall to the toaster’s heating elements. When the lever is pushed down, it is locked into place so the toaster gets all the energy it needs.
After the toaster’s thermal sensor says that your toast is cooked, a mechanism released the lever from the circuit. This cuts off the power to the elements and stops the toast cooking. Because the lever is also free, it pops back up.
Your toast is designed so that the two mechanical parts (the lever and the thermal sensor) work together. If one doesn’t work, you either can’t toast bread at all or everything you cook comes out burnt. These are very important pieces for getting the perfect toasting.
Hopefully you have seen that the mechanical parts help a toaster work by completing and breaking the circuitry when it is necessary. The mechanical parts react to the rest of the toaster and make sure you have a delicious, toasty snack.
If you break either of these parts, you should get them repaired quickly. Your device will not work at all with a broken lever as the bread will just pop back out. If you have a broken sensor, it will stay in too long.
FAQ – #How does a toaster work
How does my toaster know the toast is cooked?
The thermal sensor will go off and tell the toaster to stop cooking. It causes the lever to pop back up and break the circuit. If your thermal sensor is broken, this doesn’t happen and you just get burnt toast.
Can I use a toaster without a lever?
Technically yes, as long as the internal part of the lever is still intact. The internal part completes the circuit in the toaster, which allows electrical energy to flow through. If this circuit cannot be completed, your heating elements won’t get hot and you won’t get toast.
When was the toaster timer invented?
The original timer was first introduced in 1925 by the Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster. It allowed users to leave their toast and walk away during the cooking process. A thermal sensor was also used by the Model 1-A-1, meaning that it could detect heat as well as run off a timer.
When was the first pop up toaster invented?
Charles Strite patented the first pop up toaster in 1921 and it has been a standard feature on toasters pretty much ever since. Strite claimed that he first invented the pop up mechanism in 1919.