24 May 2018

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Klein Switch Drive

Handle fits any driver with a ¼” power tool accessory shank

Screwdriver bits: Most people seem to love those itty-bitty insert bits, the 1/4″ hex drive magnetically-kept bits for all sorts of screw heads. A huge assortment of these bits are available for pretty much anything appropriate. However, insert bits (small & usually only kept by a magnet) are easily popped out and, for me, tend to roll away. Get lost, too. And, being so short, the driver end is thickened up – sometimes too much to end up being useful in all situations.

So rather than those frustratingly too small insert bits, I’ve been using power bits. These are, in one sense, the same as insert bits with the same wide assortment of useful ends, but with the significant difference being that they *lock* into their chuck. Also, they can be much longer; some I use are a foot long and really reach in past a lot of stuff. A great solution. Really. Power bits don’t cost a lot more, and getting good ones isn’t difficult (most of mine are from Wiha). They can reach further and there’s no worry about leaving the bit in a fastener or wondering where it rolled away to. All mine were collected with the intent to use them with cordless drills &/or impact tools. For manual use, my tool bag still had a thorough assortment of traditional screwdrivers.

The rub: All those driver handles add a lot of weight. Finally, it popped into my head that I needed to find a handle that fit all my Power Bits. While I can use the machines, I can also not carry any machine with these bits and still put them to use, saving myself the weight of those gizmos and losing the weight of all those handles. There are different versions of these handles by different manufacturers. I prefer the Klein Switch Drive for its “manly” size and how its locking mechanism works: Just press its washer-slim disk against the handle to swap bits. Again, any Power Bit will fit this handle. (It’s not appropriate for insert bits though a Power-Bit-based insert bit holder can be used.) It’s a good product that really lightens up my tool bags & adds flexibility.

-- Wayne Ruffner 05/24/18

23 May 2018

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Digital Shower Thermometer

Battery free real time shower and bath water temperature monitor

I recently had to replace a shower handle, and at the time I thought about getting one with the built-in digital thermometer. But due to time limitations and budgetary constraints, I opted to go with just a basic functional model. But, just this past week I stumbled across this cool tool, a low-cost and easy to install alternative. The best part? It is powered hydraulically! That’s right, no battery to replace, ever. The force of the water moving through the unit spins an internal generator, powering up the illuminated LED display. This device is super easy to install; I was able to do it with no tools at all. It’s easily adjustable for readability, it seems to be accurate, and it reacts instantly to changes in water temperature. This is not only a great safety device to prevent accidental scalding, but it also makes it so nice to always have the water temperature pre-adjusted to your optimal comfort level before you step into your shower. And at 15 bucks, you really can’t go wrong with this cool tool. But, be aware that this model only displays in Fahrenheit, not Celsius. There are other models available, in the same price range that do display in Celsius.

-- Randy Cantu 05/23/18

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.

-- Andreas Orphanides 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)

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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.

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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.