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.
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.
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.
I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan