Grill Daddy Pro Grill Brush

I’ve been using this all summer to clean my outdoor grill. It is by far the best tool I’ve discovered for cleaning the actual grill surface—the steel bristles do an excellent job scraping the grill, the double-handed body makes it easy to apply some extra muscle to the process—and the use of the heat from the grill and the steam created by the water that is released through the brush itself both cleans and seems to sterilize the surface.

The best part is that you can clean the grill surface immediately after you are done using the grill—no waiting for it to cool down, forcing you to come back to it later. Using the grill is so much more convenient because you heat it, use it, clean it, and close it up until the next time. Efficient and effective.
I wish the reservoir held a bit more water, but other than that, no complaints or suggestions for improvement.

-- Ray Tetz  

Grill Daddy Pro Grill Brush
$20

Available from Amazon



Dark Sky

As a co-worker and I were leaving a cafe, we looked and saw it was threatening to rain. “Should we walk?” I asked. He smiled and showed me this app: Dark Sky.

Dark Sky is a weather app that focuses on letting you know how long until it starts raining or snowing where you are, based on your exact GPS coordinates. Or, if it is already raining, it tells you how long it will rain and how hard. Very handy if you are about to run out, but could also give it a few more minutes to let the weather move past.

Of course, it gives you all of the other relevant weather info as well in a very understandable way: current temperature, the hourly forecast for the day, and the weekly forecast.

What makes this my go to weather app is that it anticipates my needs: the first screen tells me what is the weather near me right now and gives me all the details I need to react right away, the next screen is what the rest of the day will be like, and the next screen is what the rest of the week is like. All done in a clean and easy to understand way.

You could say what I like about this is what it doesn’t include:

- You don’t enter in location, because by default it tells me the weather where I am. (You can search for other locations or indulge your sense of schadenfreude and be shown info for interesting storms!)

- The interface is mostly grey scale and simple icons, so it is easy to read.

- Also, the app isn’t free, so that means there aren’t ads.

It’s a small thing, but as I travel, I’ve also liked how it tells me the address it thinks I am near. Convenient when you call for a cab.

These are the same people who do forcast.io – while you get most of the same information with the same simple design, you don’t get the precipitation information. If you use an iPhone, they made their site into a web app: visit the site on your phone, and follow the instructions on the bottom banner. It’s sort of like getting a “lite” version of Dark Sky.

-- Mark Krawczuk  



Gripster Nut Starter

If you’ve ever tried to apply rotational force to a small part held with tweezers, then you’ve probably also spent time on the floor looking for that part. Get off the floor and buy the Gripster Nut Starter. It does a fine job of holding small nuts so they can be threaded on to parts and into hard-to-reach spots. Pushing a plunger on the back end causes four spring steel fingers at the front end to extend and spread. When pressure on the plunger is released, an internal spring causes the fingers to pull in and close, allowing you to hold small objects. I’ve found it’s also great for starting wood and machines screws, as well as for threading tiny washers. It’s particularly useful for fishing through containers of small assorted parts and grabbing just the right one. Congratulations, your fingers just got smaller.

-- Dug North  

Available from Micro-Mark



Wink’s remarkable book picks of the week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed books about Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens’ beautiful comic book art, unusual maps of an ordinary neighborhood, the history of economics told through comics, visual representations of history, a visual guide to psychology, and hundreds of excellent optical illusions.

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Adventure Cycle Maps

For over two months my teenage son and I rode our bikes down the Pacific coast from Canada to Mexico. We followed a route mapped out by Adventure Cycling. The 2,000-mile route is broken into about 80 sections, each annotated with the kind of info you’d like to know on a bike: where the next camp sites are, grocery options, bike shop locations, mileage counts, and most important — elevation contours for the upcoming hills! These maps are printed with full clarity on waterproof paper. The set is extremely well designed, sized at the right scale, and kept current with frequent updates. It was the best bargain of our trip.

While this Pacific route is very popular, Adventure Cycling offers about 20 other long-distance bicycle routes in the US as well. If you are making a long-distance bike ride in America, chances are Adventure Cycling will have a set of maps for you. These maps are miles better than any automobile road map, and in most ways better than Google maps. Ordinarily, I’d shy away from a well-travelled trail, but in this case, the availability of set of Adventure Cycling maps would entice me to follow it.

Their web-based video gives a great overview of the maps’ benefits, and also serve as a manual for using them.

Bikemap

-- KK  



Power Cord Winder

I use several corded power tools around the yard and garden such as a chain saw, leaf vacuum, hedge trimmer, etc. Many’s the time I would put off a chore using them because I would have to uncoil the 100′ of power cord and probably have to untangle/unkink it before using it. After the job was done, it would take another few minutes to coil up the power cord and try not to tangle it in the process.

A couple of types of cord reels I tried didn’t work particularly well. So I bought this weird looking cord winder a few years ago. After installing the wall mount near the power outlet in my garage and winding my cord into the basket, I was quite surprised to discover I could pull out the 100′ of power cord, tangle/kink free in about a minute to the end of my driveway. I would do my chore (usually the leaf vacuum for lawn clippings and leaves) and, in another minute or two I could wind up the cord, detach the cord winder from the wall mount and put it on the shelf. Those chores now get done when needed instead of being put off since the cord unwinding/re-winding takes so little time.

-- Jim Service  

Wonder Winder Hand Crank Extension Cord Winder
$21

Available from Amazon



Long Handle Shoe Horn

You can get a long bamboo shoe horn at any Asian market for $3, or the previously reviewed one from IKEA, but I have one I really like that is sturdy and long-lasting and expensive. But it is SO worth it. Because of the spring at the bottom it is more maneuverable than regular long shoe horns, ending a lot of frustration. Over the lifetime of the shoe horn, the price is justified in my book.

-- Olivia M. Brown  

21″ Shoe Horn
$22

Available from Amazon



Schlage Keypad Deadbolt

I have had this lock on my front door for three years. The advantages are numerous: one less key on the key ring, illuminated keypad, never lock myself out, easy to give the code to relatives, friends, dog walkers or anyone needing access to your house without you present. But, most importantly, when my wife has to run back in the house to get one last thing, I don’t have to turn the car off so she can use my key.

When the 9-volt battery start to go the keypad blinks, so you don’t end up getting locked out with a dead battery. (It will also accept a key).

-- Steve Haslet  

Schlage Camelot Keypad Deadbolt
$103

Available from Amazon



Eco Brick

I love heating my house with my fireplace and wood stove. Its carbon neutral, it targets the heat where I want it, and somehow it just feels warmer then forced air heat.

I don’t love dealing with firewood. I don’t like storing it, trying to keep it dry, and I especially don’t like going outside when it is freezing cold to bring an armful inside.

That’s where Eco Bricks come in. They are compressed hardwood sawdust bricks that you burn in a fireplace just like logs. They are kiln dried and bug free, so they can be stored inside. Since they are kiln dried, they always light easily.

BTU wise, the company says that a pallet of Eco Bricks are equivalent to a full cord of hardwood firewood. Where I am, a pallet runs $235, which is roughly the same as a cord of firewood.

Since these things are so dense and dry, some care must be taken not to over-fire your fireplace or stove. I’ve been using them for three winters, and haven’t had any problems yet.

I’ve got about a half pallet in my basement queued up. I’m looking forward to my first fire of the season.

-- Clark Case  

Eco-Brick pressed sawdust fireplace fuel
Find a local retailer here

Sample Excerpts:

[Enjoy this video of a one-hour Eco Brick burn. - Mark]




Wink’s remarkable book picks of the week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed books about excellent optical illusions, the events of one day in WW1 told in the form one long continuous pen drawing printed on a fold-out scroll, Ernest Shackleton’s brave yet disastrous attempt to cross the Antarctic continent, hundreds of science-themed tattoos worn by working scientists, the sketchbooks of artists from around the world, and the greatest comic books ever published in a bound slipcase.

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink.

-- Mark Frauenfelder