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“No orders accepted after February 28.”

It’s the end of an era, folks.

I think I was fourteen or fifteen when I received my first Lindsay’s catalog, ordered from a print ad in the back pages of Popular Science or Popular Mechanics—I don’t recall which. “Build Lightning Bolt Generators!” it trumpeted. “Melt Metal! Rediscover Lost Technology!”

I clipped along the dotted line and sent $3.00, cash, through the US mail. I’ve been a regular buyer ever since.

Though the marketing, at times, had a (deliberate) whiff of tinfoil-hattery about it, Lindsay’s books always delivered on the miraculous claims. Lightning bolt generator? Turns out it’s a thing called a “Tesla Coil.” Melt metal? Sure: all you need is a popcorn tin, an iron pot, some charcoal, and an old hair dryer. Rediscover lost technology? Absolutely! From the ins and outs of designing locomotive boilers, to the forgotten art of hand-scraping a metal surface until it’s milling-table flat, Lindsay made a living resurrecting the books that the industrial revolution was built upon.

Here’s a random sampling of Lindsay titles I’m pretty sure I need to buy: Navy Foundry Manual, Marine Coppersmithing, Neon Signs, Woodworth Hardening & Tempering, A Thousand and One Formulas, 1880 Firearms Manufacture, Gear Cutting Practice, Electrostatic Lightning Bolt Generators, and Melting Iron in the Cupola. That was just ten. The complete Lindsay catalog has more than three hundred titles.  If you get a chance to look through it, you may find, as I have, that the list of books you don’t want is a lot shorter than the list of those you do.

The late great Dave Gingery’s classic build-your-own-machine-shop series.

Among the most famous selections from Lindsay’s catalog is maker patron saint Dave Gingery’s seven-book series on building your own machine shop from sand-cast scrap metal. The first book covers the assembly of a simple charcoal-fueled foundry capable of melting aluminum in an iron pot, as well as basic sand-casting skills. The second book shows you how to build a small lathe using these castings, and the series builds upon itself from there:  metal shaper, milling machine, drill press, a dividing head for the lathe, and a sheet metal brake.  Working my way at least through book 2 has been on my bucket list for years, and over the decades these books have inspired hundreds of thousands.

Lindsay’s first Popular Science ad.

Incorporated in the state of Illinois as Lindsay Publications in 1984, Thomas J. Lindsay’s book business is in fact much older than that. I dug through the online archives of Popular Science and found what I believe is Lindsay’s very first ad in their pages, from October 1973, a bit more than two years before I was born.

I have never lived in a world without Lindsay’s Technical Books. I’m sure not looking forward to it.  Whether you’re a Lindsay old-timer, or just hearing about him now, this is a chance you don’t want to miss.  Let’s all do our part to help him go out with a bang.

Thanks, Lindsay, for all that you’ve done to inspire and educate us over the years.  You will be missed.

Lindsay’s Technical Books

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Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. johngineer says:

    The Gingery books are iconic tomes. While I never actually built any of the tools he describes in them, reading those books made me feel empowered as a tool-using primate — the savviest of cavemen. And I mean that in the most wonderful way possible.

    The book on English and American lathes is another favorite, along with the South Bend projects book.

  2. JR Hagan says:

    Still remember the first book I ordered from them “the boy mechanic” I think I was about 10 when I found the catalog in my brother’s books. I was amazed at the knowledge in that book and it shaped who I am. I have at least a dozen of their books on my shelf.

  3. A visit to their website isn’t offering me much info — are they going out of business or just stopping the paper catalog? Will these books be offered for sale elsewhere?

    1. rbean says:

      Lindsay is retiring. One of his employees might buy out his remaining stock, details yet to be determined. The website has always been kind of an afterthought.

      Some of the books he sells (including the Gingery books) are available elsewhere. The ones he prints himself are not.

  4. [...] the piece Lindsay’s Technical Books Ships Last Catalog, Facebook user Beck Dalton [...]

  5. Charles says:

    The first book I ordered was the Boy Mechanic too! I still have my copy, I think I bought it more than 25 years ago.

  6. rageahol says:

    i got a catalog from them recently, and as far as i could tell, most of the books (other than gingery’s) are reprints of public domain works.

    1. Sean Ragan says:

      Yes, that’s true. But for decades before Google made all those old public domain works freely available to anyone with an internet connection, that service added real value.

      1. I bought the Secrets of Lead Acid Batteries from them when working on a home photovoltaic system. It basically boils down 100+ years of chemistry into a slim volume in layman’s terms. That book is a gem.

  7. Brad Arnold says:

    I too started getting his catalog as a teenager. I’m 38 now. I was saddened to see the last catalog arrive and realize it would be my last. Having those catalogs arrive always brought me joy, along with reading his comments on each offering. He always seemed like a man I could trust even though I never met him. I did email him, though, a couple times about book ideas I had, and he always responded. Though this might sound over the top, I’m having my last catalog framed and put on the wall of my shop office. He will be missed here.

  8. Robert Nansel says:

    I was busy with end-of-term craziness in November, then I was full on preparing to fly back to the States first part of December, then five weeks away from Australia. Unless I’ve ordered I don’t get the catalogues because I’m overseas. Only last night, by chance, I came across the notice here on Make. I was heartened I might still get one last order in before the 28th, but they’ve already shut down. I’ve ordered hundreds of books from them over the last fifteen years. Maybe the links they provide on the site will fill the gap, but I’m not optimistic.