Product Design

Designs Exposed: The Fascinating Gutted Gadgets of Things Come Apart

When is the last time you saw a teardown of a Zenith CH 650 aircraft? Unfortunately, the iFixit teardown room isn’t large enough to accommodate a small plane (yet…), but that’s where Todd McLellan’s book Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual For Modern Living comes in handy.

Don’t be fooled by the title—the book isn’t a step-by-step manual on how to disassemble objects. Instead, it’s literally an inside look at what McLellan calls “fifty design classics,” ranging from the everyday (mechanical pencil) to the forgotten (push lawnmower).

Todd McLellan prepares photographs for his book, Things Come Apart

McLellan painstakingly photographs an orderly mess of internal components—each piece arranged and displayed like some new form of object archeology. Add five essays on repair and disassembly from various voices in the repair world, and you have a book that finds a unique way to advocate for the importance of disassembly, investigation, and reuse.

It’s clear that McLellan’s book is more than just interesting pictures. “It fascinates me that older objects were so well built, and were most likely put together by hand,” he writes. “These items were repaired when broken, not discarded like our devices are today … I wanted to get inside these once-treasured, now rejected objects and show the world their quality and beauty.”

And his photographs do just that. Each disassembled object is photographed twice. One photo presents a carefully organized scene shot from above, similar to how we photograph iFixit teardowns. A second photograph of the same pieces is shot as the objects fall from a platform near the ceiling with the help of strobe-lighting technology.

The result is an interesting juxtaposition. Featuring the same object in two very different styles makes the teardown process less sterile, less surgical. For McLellan, the first photograph is “quite precise and formal, almost like a family portrait.” The second photograph, with internal components raining down from above, is a chaotic, unexpected view of what makes objects tick—and surprisingly whimsical, too.

The five essays—one from our own Kyle Wiens—argue for repair as a crucial part of our everyday lives. From Gever Tulley’s work with his Tinkering School to Penny Bendall’s interesting take on art disassembly, these voices are anchors to the real world, reminding readers why disassembly and repair are a good thing—in part, because they inspire creativity and new ways of thinking. And if we want to save the planet, those are qualities we need to be celebrating.

If nothing else, Things Come Apart is a visual feast. From an exploded Nintendo to a crashing 1912 upright piano, the images will inspire you to grab a screwdriver and discover the secret, suprisingly beautiful insides of your stuff. We hope you find it as rewarding as McLellan does.

Things Come Apart is available for pre-order. It will be released next month. We’ll be selling copies at as well—pick up a copy!