This story of keeping our old toaster alive spans 11 years. But don’t worry, it’s not as long as it sounds.
Liesl has a toaster she likes a lot - it’s stainless steel, and looking at it makes you think you’re in a mid-90s Windows screen saver. It’s at least 25 years old; it was discontinued long ago, so replacement parts are not available. But back in 2009, the little plastic handle you push down to start toasting broke. One day, I was telling her about this new fad of low-cost 3D printing: “You know how these days things you buy don’t come with manuals any more, you just download them from the Internet? Someday it’ll be like that for physical objects, too! If something breaks you just download a replacement and print it right at home!”
She said, “Okay, if it’s so cool, does that mean you can make us a new toaster handle? It’s been broken for a year.”
“Oh, nonono, I mean theoretically you’ll be able to make new objects, someday….”
I’d never touched a 3D printer before but decided it was a good time to start. I found a 3D modelling program, drew a rectangle, extruded it, put a slot in the back, and embossed it with “L&J” for “Liesl and Jeremy”. I brought the file on a USB drive down to the local maker space that had opened a week earlier (and which, sadly, has since closed again). Success! I was so excited and proud of myself.
Despite my excitement making a toaster handle, I did not really take up 3D printing as a hobby for another 9 years. It wasn’t until my friend Jon helped me with key pieces of the Motorized Christmas Tree Stand that I really got hooked on it. And, as luck would have it, a few weeks after having my first 3D printer in the house, tragedy struck our toaster again: the plastic piece that holds the metal crumb-catcher on the bottom broke. Liesl once again appealed to me to save her beloved toaster using the power of 3D printing.
The broken part was complex and I had no idea how I’d draw it in a CAD program. Back then I had not created a 3D model of anything much more complicated than a rectangle. Its many contours and subtle features seemed impossible for me to replicate. But, I realized I could at least print a little L-shaped piece that would hold the broken part together a little longer. Then we could hot-glue my new part onto the rest of the original. While it wasn’t pretty, it worked! Well, sort of. The thing never quite fit right.
Two more years passed. Many bagels were toasted and covered with cream cheese. Sourdough was browned to perfection and served with garlic butter next to steak. And best of all, the crumbs were safely and efficiently captured by those glorious metal rectangles…
…until two days ago, tragedy struck again. The crumb catcher holder finally broke apart for good. Liesl showed me the broken pieces and asked if somehow the 3D printer might rescue this toaster a third time.
A little L-shaped piece certainly would do no good this time, but I now had two years experience doing a couple dozen 3D printing projects, and my skills had improved. After some initial skepticism, I realized that it probably would be possible to create the entire part from scratch. One thing I’d learned was that it’s not necessary to copy every little nuance of something you’re trying to copy. A trick is to figure out which features are the important ones that define how the part mates with other pieces. Drawing a simple shape with just those essential features is much easier than making an exact duplicate. After a few iterations, and a lot of quality time with my calipers, I finally ended up with a model that fit perfectly!
And that is the Tale of the Toaster. At least until the next repair is required, which I project to be 2026.