Simple is not always better
In modern design, the trend has been to make things simpler and more stream-lined. That’s a good approach to take, but ultimately the designer has to make something that would actually work. Take this down and dirty panini maker by Adi Zaffran. This little marvel, a mini-oven constructed from rebar, wood, and a cinderblock, looks to be an hefty inefficient fire-hazard; thankfully since it probably wouldn’t work, it’s not liable to burn your house down (or cook your sandwich). Even given the leeway of being more of an “art” project, this design hasn’t really provoked any great and wonderful ideas besides perhaps the not-so-stunning revelation that there’s a good reason why mini-oven manufacturing are left to the pros.
Giving a perusal of the above diagram, you might be left thinking several things. Things like: that doesn’t complete a circuit or if it worked it might catch the wood on fire or having an open hole like that makes it inefficient or even if it did work it would trip your fuse box. Well that’s probably right on all accounts.
Modern electric devices may seem like magic, but heating metals with electricity is real basic stuff. Creating your own mini space heater is pretty simple; just unravel a paper clip and touch each end to a battery (do this with a AA, not a car battery please). In a few seconds, the paper clip will be fire-hot; incidentally, your battery will be dead shortly after. This is a complete electric circuit with a simple power source and an conductive material with enough resistance to output a whole mess of heat. A complete circuit is precisely what’s missing in the above diagram; electricity isn’t like a fire hose of steel loving electrons, and it won’t work just be attaching wires to one end of a rebar grill.
Let’s say this thing does work and the diagram is misleading. The above image shows the rebar in a nice red glow, same as what you might see on an electric range. How hot would steel rebar have to get before it gives off such a radiant color? About 700-800 degrees F or around 400 degrees C. It’s hard to say just how hot the rebar would get since there are no controls on this thing to speak of, so how quickly this toaster becomes a blazing mess of burnt wood and melted concrete is only a matter of time…and how much power it’s leeched from the power-grid.
Assuming it did work, it’s fairly difficult to assess just how much power it takes to run. If given a generous heat-up time of 10 minutes like a standard oven, this cinder-toaster would take as much juice as a 1500 Watt oven. And while those pretty open ovens you see in rather expensive restaurants work just fine, their opening is tiny compared to the rest of the oven. This thing on the other hand, has a whole entire side missing. It would probably still work well enough to eventually melt the cheese inside a sandwich, but it’s not gonna win any Energy Saver awards while doing so.
The fuse box in your house trips when too much power is being drawn from the grid by some nasty appliance in your use. For example, if you stuck a fork into the electric socket and could hold it there without dying, it would eventually trip the fuse (that’s not a challenge, don’t try this at home). You can imagine the same thing happening if you shoved two steel rods into the socket, which is what this design seems to imply. Without some kind of resistor, there’s only the resistance of the steel rods controlling the inflow of electricity (hint: steel is fairly conductive). That just means in a relatively short amount of time, the panini maker would be drawing more power than all the appliances in the house combined; just be thankful that modern electric systems prevent you from operating something so dangerous even if you could make it.
When it comes to design, simple is a good mantra to follow, but it applies to the experience and only to the manufacture when it’s logical. As with any design, simplicity for simplicity’s sake (or aesthetics for aesthetics’ sake, etc.) is a principle taken to a flawesome level.