A toaster is a simple appliance, right? Well, maybe not so simple that you could just explain it to anyone. In fact, understanding the toaster and all the parts inside it is quite complex. You need to take a look at the definition of a toaster to understand it better.
But finding a “toaster definition” is a bit more difficult than I thought it’d be when I wanted to write this. Understanding what a toaster actually requires knowledge of the circuit diagram, the word toaster itself, and the slang that comes along with it.
So let’s combine linguistics with engineering and find out more about the humble toast.
Table of contents
- How to pronounce toaster
- Who invented the toaster?
- Parts of a toaster
- A toaster circuit diagram
- How to make a toaster
- Other names for toasters
How to pronounce toaster
Toaster is a common word in English, but different countries say it in different ways. In Britain, you’d say it like this:
But in America, it sounds more like this:
Before I launch into a linguistics crash course, just know that people in Britain don’t say the R at the end of toaster. That’s the biggest difference. Toaster is actually a very common loanword. It appears in lots of foreign languages, such as Japanese (トースター (tōsutā)), Korean (토스터 (toseuteo)), and Russian (то́стер (tóstɛr)).
Even though we all pronounce it slightly differently, it’s interesting to see that we all use the same word to describe this simple appliance.
Other names for toasters
Just like there is slang for any given thing, there is toaster slang that many of us are probably not aware of. According to the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus, popular synonyms for toasters include “broiler”, “fryer”, and “roaster”.
These words can also mean other things, so don’t expect everyone to understand what you mean if you start using slang to refer to toasters. Maybe it’s about time we made up some new slang!
Who invented the toaster?
Alan McMasters invented the first electric toaster in 1893, using nickel to make elements that can conduct electricity. This electricity was turned into heat energy that cooked toast. The basic principle behind the toaster today is very similar and we owe our modern devices very much to McMasters’ cutting-edge ideas.
McMasters’ invention was unreliable and rather dangerous, so years of innovations have given us the toaster we have today. But for an appliance that was developed over 100 years ago to basically have stayed the same really is quite remarkable.
Parts of a toaster
If you asked people to list all the parts in a toaster, they might struggle. Here’s a handy cheat sheet for you in case you ever have to answer a question from a toast nerd:
- Power cord
- Heating elements
- Carriage (or cage)
- Support bar
- Heat level adjustment dial or switch
- Thermal sensor
- Pop up mechanism
Did you get them all without looking? It’s hard. The heating elements have been a central part of the toaster design since McMasters first thought up the electric toaster. In fact, it wouldn’t be a toaster without them.
But innovations like a thermal sensor (to check the temperature of the bread and spit it out when it was done) or the pop-up mechanism (iconic in American cinema for being particularly spring-loaded) came later. These simple additions turned the humble toaster into the modern invention that it is today.
Some toasters have more and some toasters might actually have fewer features than listed above. The way a toaster is built doesn’t generally change much, even for higher end products. There are now digital toasters available on the market, which could potentially be a big jump forward for kitchenware technology. Using smart features, we can now program our toasters to cook for us even when we’re not in the room!
A toaster circuit diagram
Diagrams of the inner workings of a toaster are often very interesting. Even though it only looks like a box with some metal inside, it is actually an intricate piece of engineering and design work. See a toaster circuit diagram below:
Unless you are used to reading circuit diagrams, that might not mean anything to you. What it does mean is that toasters have intricate circuitry that allows them to consistently make us great toast.
How to make a toaster
Before I give you a rundown on how to make a toaster, you should read this fantastic article about a man who was very bored in Britain. He decided that he would make a toaster. Why? Well, he didn’t know how to make one yet, so he was going to learn.
Mr. Thwaites’ experiment started with him tearing about a cheap toaster (it cost him £3.94, which is just over $5 today) and learning how all the pieces fitted together. Here’s the bit that might shock you – he found 404 individual parts from more than 36 different materials.
He did actually make his own toaster eventually, but was it easy? No. Not at all.
With that message of encouragement, let’s start out with our guide on how to build your own toaster.
1. Get a case
You will need to get a case, preferably made out of molded plastic or a strong metal that will resist melting. Toaster elements can reach up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, so this really needs to be able to take some punishment!
If you are insistent on making this yourself, use a mold to get the correct toaster shape. You don’t need to make this more complex than it is.
2. Getting the elements
You will need to get your hands on some nichrome. This is the same metal alloy that has been used since the 1910s to make toasters, so you know that it is worth investing in.
These will need to hang from the top of your casing without touching the metal, so find some heat-resistant metal cages to hold the elements in place. If you can’t find metal, use ceramics. This will obviously be more fragile, but it is very similar to what the first toaster makers were using.
3. Attaching the elements
Whether you are using freestanding elements or you have attached them to ceramics, you need to attach them to the roof and base of your toaster shell. This is best done with bolts. Then you know that the toaster won’t move.
4. Repeat as necessary
You are used to toasters that cook bread on both sides, so you will want to install more than one set of elements. For each bread slot, you will need two elements (but you can double up on the central elements for slots that are adjacent).
5. Insert the carriages
For each bread slot, insert a carriage into the toaster. This should be spring-loaded so that you get the pop-up action that we are so used to with modern toasters.
Pro Tip: Fit a support bar underneath the carriages to help them spring up.
6. Connecting the elements to the wires
Now, this is where you need a traded electrical engineer. Handling wiring is dangerous, especially if you plan to actually use this piece of equipment.
In the interest of safety, we will just say “let an electrical engineer attach wires to your toaster and to a plug”. Don’t try this yourself. It is dangerous. You could cause serious injury to yourself and those around you.
And that’s our 6 step process to making a toaster. I know you won’t be able to make one yourself (unless you’re an electrical engineer), but finding a little help to do the electronics will make your project safe and ensure quality.
And there you have it. Some of the bizarre facts about toasters that you didn’t already know.
Toasters are amazing and life-changing pieces of equipment for some people, yet there’s so much that we don’t know about them. Understanding all the different parts that make up your toaster will completely change your view on what the definition of a toaster is.
If you think you can improve on our toaster definition or think that we have missed something out, leave a comment below. We’d love to include your extra ideas and discuss why you think that is key to understanding what the toaster is today.