22 May 2018

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42 in. Off-Road Farm Jack

Multipurpose design for lifting, pulling and spreading

Homesteading involves lots of pulling, prying, yanking, and tugging on things — everything from ripping out stumps, moving structures, to dismantling fences. Mechanical advantage is a must. There are a lot of tools out there that can give you the needed leverage, but one of the humblest and most versatile is the farm jack. The farm jack is a lot like any other jack you might have used, reduced to its simplest form. The entire thing has about seven parts, and it works with a simple spring loaded ratchet-and-pawl system that is nearly indestructible. I’ve had the Pittsburgh farm jack for a year and I’ve used it for a variety of tasks that would otherwise have been either a big nuisance or just plain impossible, including moving a 400-pound chicken coop, pulling stubborn U-posts out of the ground, and lifting equipment into an elevated position for repair. This jack is rated to 3.5 tons and has a maximum lift of 42 inches. The base has bolt holes in case you want to mount it to a board for better weight distribution, and the jack prong is just the right size to hook under a 2×4 to prevent marring whatever you are jacking up. You’ll also often see farm jacks strapped to the hoods of Jeeps among those who go off-roading — if your vehicle flips, it’s useful to have something available to help flip it back. As a testament to the value of this particular jack, it’s one of the few pieces of equipment at Harbor Freight that almost never goes on sale — but with a 20-percent coupon you can get it for under $50.

-- Multipurpose design for lifting, pulling and spreading 05/22/18

22 May 2018

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Midland ER310 Emergency Radio

Best emergency radio

I picked this up for around $60 on Amazon. I never thought I’d pay that much for a radio, but I’ll show you why I did, and if you want for yourself, the Amazon link in the description helps support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

Chalk it up to paranoia or the fact that I live in earthquake country, but I’ve recently been bolstering my emergency supplies. Browsing through an emergency prep guide on The Wirecutter, I came across this radio as a clear, standout pick, and something I didn’t have anything like.

What you get is this relatively light, plastic brick with a ton of features, all of which can be run from an included rechargeable battery that you can recharge from the sun using the built-in solar panel, or by cranking it, or with a USB charging input. AA batteries can also be used as an alternative. The rechargeable battery is rated at 32 hours.

For features, you get an AM/FM radio, plus a National Weather Service radio band that can tell you about current and upcoming weather conditions. With that, you also get a weather alarm you can turn on that’s tied to the weather service. So if a weather alert goes out, this thing sounds an alarm.

There’s a nice, sturdy antenna here that gets good reception. I also like that there’s a bright Cree brand LED flashlight on one side, which is also powered by the rechargeable battery. It has two brightness settings and an SOS flash mode.

Below that there’s this ultrasonic dog whistle, which you activate with a long press of the flashlight button. You can’t hear it, but if it works, it’s supposed to help rescue teams locate you.

Finally, on the other side you also have a USB output so you can use the radio’s battery to recharge other things, like your phone. There’s also a headphone output if you want to be able to listen to the radio without bothering anyone else.

All-in-all, it feels like a well-constructed, well thought out device. I keep mine set up in the window so it stays charged. And, I sleep better knowing that I have it. For me that’s $60 well spent.

-- Donald Bell 05/22/18

21 May 2018

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Oyster Mushroom Growing Kit

Easy way to grow fresh mushrooms

Over a year ago, I received a mushroom-growing kit as a gift. Since I often find that novelties like this can require time and attention to detail that I didn’t have, I kept putting it off until finally last week I decided enough was enough. The thing was causing unnecessary clutter in my life, so I thought I’ll just throw it out. But before tossing it, why not at least open it up and see what happens.

The kit is a cream-colored log-shaped object encased in a plastic bag. The instructions say it needs an environment where the temperature varies by about ten degrees through the course of a day, and it must be not be in direct sunlight. Springtime in the Northwest certainly meets that requirement, so I cut off the top of the plastic wrapping with a scissors, hand-sprinkled a little water on it, and set it outside under our front doorstep. That’s it.

I forgot about it until a week later my son happened to be under the steps again and noticed that the thing was covered in mushrooms! The mushrooms share a single root, so I simply grabbed the base and pulled out the entire flush, and then separated them into smaller strips. A little olive oil, pinch of salt, a couple teaspoons of sugar and soy sauce and five minutes later we were eating enough mushrooms for our family of four. I can’t believe how easy this was. The instructions say that I’ll get multiple flushes if I continue to feed the log. I haven’t tried that yet, but even if I don’t, that one single meal was maybe a pound of fresh, organic mushrooms that at a farmers market probably would have cost me close to the $16 price of the kit itself.

-- Richard Sprague 05/21/18

21 May 2018

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Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs

Durable steel hands

As a former cook in four restaurants, I’ve found these simple tongs to be an indispensable utensil day in and day out. Stirring, cooking and tossing pasta, flipping steaks, and grabbing anything hot including pans. They become an extension of your hands. I continue to use them in my own kitchen. I often see a lot of inferior, cheap and just plain useless tongs included with BBQ sets. They are usually too long or poorly designed to be effective. Get these: Williams-Sonoma Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs, or a pair of OXO Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs.

— Alan Hachey

I learned how indispensable a decent pair of tongs can be around the campfire while working as a river and ocean kayak guide. We cooked as much of the meals as possible on a grill over the fire to conserve fuel on multi-day trips. I still cook this way whenever possible and use these OXO Stainless Steel Locking Tongs to not only move food around on the grill, but also to move hot coals or briquettes! These tongs lock closed for easy storage and have a ‘hook hole’ for hanging up. The non-slip rubber grip has held up for years in the dishwasher. Available in 9-inch, 12-inch, and 16-inch models. For obvious reasons, I would suggest the 16-inch ones for outdoor cooking. Buy one of these for that unfortunate soul still using — gasp! — a fork at the barbecue.

— Lewis Duffy

05/21/18

(Readers Adam Fields and Lisa Williams also recommend the OXO Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs. These sport handy rubber grips, lock closed for storage, and are the ideal surrogate hands in the kitchen. It's the pair we have. -- KK — editors)

20 May 2018

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Chrome tips/Favorite coffee maker/Repair holes in shirts

Recomendo: issue no. 95

Chrome tips
Title of this article says it all: 27 useful things you didn’t know the Chrome browser could do. Pretty neat. — KK

My favorite coffee maker
I drink coffee every day, and I use the Bialetti 6-Cup Espresso Coffee Maker($40) more often than any of my other coffee making machines (I have a few). I fill the lower chamber with water, add ground coffee in the funnel, screw on the top, and put it on the stovetop. In about three minutes I pour a cup of strong, delicious coffee. — MF

Fix holes in shirts
This hack for repairing holes in shirts worked! I have a few shirts that fit really well on me, but the cotton is so thin that it easily gets holes. I followed the video using this fusible interface and now the hole is gone. It looks a tiny bit bunched up, but I don’t mind. — CD

Metal prints from Costco
Everyone is now a photographer and our audience is on the small screen. But there’s a real joy in seeing a large image on a wall. The best way to do that is via the Metal Print from Costco Photo. You send a digital file to the online Costco and then you pick up the piece at your local store. Your image is printed in gorgeous quality on a thick piece of aluminum sheet so that it is perfectly 100% flat and glossy – much flatter than can be done by framing. No glass or plastic cover required, which makes this style very light weight even for big pieces. And since it is frameless, hung with an internal French cleat, it is cheap. A huge 24 x 36 inch picture, printed and ready to hang in your room, or gallery, is $120. A large 11 x 14 is only $34. These show pieces really wow; even a decent shot from a new phone will work. — KK

Send yourself a future email
FutureMe is a tried and true free service for sending yourself letters in the future. I use it to remind myself of goals I have or enlightening quotes I want to be reminded of. — CD

Netflix viewing activity
Netflix bases its recommendations on what you watch. If you want to change what its algorithm sees, or if you are just curious to see everything you’ve watched on Netflix, go here. You can delete a show from the list by clicking the X next to it. I was surprised to see that the oldest item on my list was Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, which someone in my family watched on 12/12/11. — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 05/20/18

20 May 2018

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Paint Roller Cleaner

Paint Roller Cleaner

This is the best way I have found to clean paint rollers.

After squeezing and/or scraping as much paint out of the fur of the roller as possible, it only takes the Roller Washer about a minute or two to blast water deep into the roller and rinse away the remaining
paint.

I usually then give my rollers a “shampoo” with some liquid soap, and moving the roller up and down inside the Roller Washer until the soap bubbles disappear. This is followed by spinning the roller on the frame with an air compressor blow gun to remove the water and fluff the fibers.

-- Andy McConnell 05/20/18

ALL REVIEWS

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Lodge Pan Scraper

Food and stickers scraper

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Solid Ribbon Epoxy

Epoxy putty in solid strip cures when kneaded together

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Finger Pro Self-Adhering Safety Tape

finger protection from cuts, burns and abrasions

img 05/17/18

Beyond Bullet Points

How to give good slides

img 05/16/18

Natural Sea Wool Sponge

Better than a washcloth

See all the reviews

EDITOR'S FAVORITES

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Murphy Bed

Next generation of hideaway beds

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iFixit Magnetic Project Mat

Magnetic DIY repair station

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Fiskars Post Hole Digger

Best post hole digger

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Haws Watering Can

Fine-tuned watering

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Knipex Pliers Wrenches

Rapid, safe, strong pliers wrench

img 06/7/11

Photon Microlight II

Ultralight and bright

See all the favorites

COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST

05/11/18

Cool Tools Show 122: Kari Byron

Picks and shownotes
05/4/18

Cool Tools Show 121: Talin

Picks and shownotes
04/27/18

Cool Tools Show 120: Grant Thompson

Picks and shownotes

WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
23 February 2017

ABOUT COOL TOOLS

Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.