Rediscovering “Lost Knowledge”

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design Technology
Rediscovering “Lost Knowledge”

In 2009, in support of Volume 17 of Make:, an issue that I guest edited, we launched a semi-regular column, called “Lost Knowledge” (the name and theme of the issue). The magazine was basically about the growing steampunk movement and the significant role that makers were playing in it.

For the column, I wanted to cast the net a little wider. The opening description read:


Lost Knowledge explores the possible technologies of the future in the forgotten (or marginalized) ideas of the past. We look at retro-tech, “lost” technology, and the make-do, improvised “street tech” of village artisans and tradespeople from around the globe.

Over the next year, I wrote 23 columns. Here are ten of my favorites.

Wood Engraved Illustrations

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A chance discovery leads a letterpress printer on a journey to preserve a lost form of engraving, wood-engraved dictionary illustrations.

“Artistic Printing”

In this column, we looked at a book exploring a gorgeous, short-lived Victorian-era style of letterpress, called artistic printing.

Cable Lacing

This was far and away our most popular “Lost Knowledge” column. Rediscover the lost and lovely art of cable and wire organizing known as cable lacing.


Wire-wrapping is an old electronics wiring technique for circuit prototyping and assembly that still has its enthusiasts.

Magic Lanterns

A look at the 17th century precursor to the slide, and then movie, projector, the magic lantern.

Wood Gas Vehicles

Vehicles powered by wood gasification were popular during WWII. Could they make a comeback? Enthusiasts think so.

Stick Chart Navigation

We look at a type of ocean mapping and navigation technology used by Pacific islanders known as stick charts.

Timbrel Vaulting

A 14th century method for creating vaulted ceilings with tiles getting some modern study, love, and application.


We couldn’t have done a column on steampunky retro-tech without covering airships! In this installment of “Lost Knowledge,” we looked at some of the airships of the past, a few in the skies today, and some high-flying fantasies for the near future.

Manual Typewriters

Typewriters are enjoying a comeback, as collectable antiques, and as a welcome relief from overwhelming digital distractions.

You can see all of the Lost Knowledge columns here.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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