Wink Books

Books are not dead! Books printed on paper have their uses. Printed tomes, vs digital books, are more useful for archived knowledge since they don’t need a reader, and won’t go obsolete. In a thousand years you’ll still be able to read a book (if you learn old English), or just want to look at the pictures. In fact, books full of pictures and illustrations are still a little better today on paper than on screens. This won’t always be true, but for the moment, the large size of high res paper, and the immediate no-lag turning of pages mean that large format, heavily illustrated material is best viewed as ink printed on paper.

One of the most popular sections in the Cool Tools book (on paper) is the 6 pages of visual reference items. These are 50 or so seriously visual books that I recommend for designers, artists, and tinkerers as sources of ideas, tips, and inspiration. On paper they work great. The Cool Tools book itself is one of the best examples of the benefits of paper books — its wide horizon of multi-tasking items that optimize browsing could not be done on a small screen.

Another mode that is superior on paper is a how-to craft book that includes materials, or samples bound in it that can get you started. Sometimes a how-to book in paper offers an unusually handy binding that is better than a dainty screen. Pop-up books with their clever engineering only work in paper. Or an atlas with pull-out maps. I’ve also found that children sometimes prefer a picture book in paper so they can sensually turn the pages themselves. And finally, as good as the best retina screen is today in 2014, it cannot quite match a hardback graphic novel printed on nice paper whose illustrations pop better in ink than in pixels.

For all these reasons, there should be a place that recommends and introduces books that belong on paper. There wasn’t one, so we created it: Wink Books. Wink is a website similar to Cool Tools that recommends and reviews one remarkable paper book each weekday. The books will be curated by Cool Tools editor Mark Frauenfelder, former Craft editor Carla Sinclair, and myself. Each weekday we’ll scour our libraries, used bookstores, flea markets and Amazon for the most cool and unusual books on paper. We photograph sample pages from each book and supply the reasons why we find each one worth your while. Of course, we are always eager to hear your recommendations as well. If you know of a favorite book that works perfectly on paper, clue us in. We pay for suggestions used.

Check out your daily dose of paper here at Wink.

-- KK  


Wirecutter Meets Cool Tools

This is probably the last Hangout I’ll be doing for the Cool Tools book. This Wednesday at 4pm PST.

The Wirecutter is like Cool Tools on steroids. Begun by Brian Lam, this site does deep reviews of popular item categories. Wirecutter writers will spend up to 30 hours researching the best blender, or point and shoot camera, or flat screen TV, and then try to reduce their recommendation to a single item. They don’t review the same wide range of stuff that Cool Tools do, and unlike Cool Tools, they show all their work and research. I am a huge fan of the Wirecutter and its companion Sweet Home, and have often discovered great items that later make it to Cool Tools. Brian Lam is also a fan of Cool Tools. I’d thought it would be great to conversation online about our common pursuits.

This Wednesday at 4pm PST, I’ll be joining Brian Lam, Mr. Wirecutter himself, in a Google Hangout on Air. We’ll take up to 8 folks into the Hangout as participants. Sign up here. At the time of the event, the first 8 to accept the invitation I send out on G+, will get in. Everyone else can watch the event live at this link.

Hope to see you there.

-- KK  


Tim O’Reilly on Makers and Cool Tools

Next Monday, February 24, at 2pm PST I am hanging out with Tim O’Reilly. Tim is the founder of O’Reilly Publishing, and a early promoter of open source everything. At the dawn of the internet, Tim published the Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog, which did a pretty good job of rounding up and reviewing everything of note on the internet at that time (mid 1980s). It was inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog’s “access to tools” mantra, later the inspiration for Cool Tools. Recently, Tim was instrumental in launching the Maker movement and Maker Faires, which further promote tools to make stuff for everyone.

Tim and I will talk about the lineage of Whole Earth, Whole Internet, Cool Tools, and Make. There seems to be a thread of amateur enthusiasm, do-it-yourself and hacker ethic. Or maybe we have this wrong. Tim is a techno-philosopher with great observations on the role of tools in society. I expect it will be an intense conversation.

We’ll go for about an hour.

There’ll be 8 of you joining us in the hangout. You get to ask questions. If you are interested in being one of the 8 sign up here.

About 1:55pm PST on Monday, I’ll send a G+ invite to everyone who signed up. The first 8 to accept at that time will get in.

Everyone else will be the audience. The whole conversation is streamed live and also archived on YouTube for later viewing at your convenience. To watch go here.

-- KK  


Lloyd Kahn, Master Urban Homesteader

In a manner of hours, on Wednesday, February 12, I’m hanging out with Lloyd Kahn in a Google Hangout. Lloyd is one of the coolest people I know. He lives in a beautiful wooden home in Bolinas, California, that he built himself from salvaged materials. He homesteads, heating with wood he scavenges from windfalls along the road, growing organic veggies in his raised beds. He’s kept backyard chickens forever (he turned me onto backyard egg goodness). He eats roadkill. He hunts mushrooms. He makes books about homemade shelters. Runs mountain races.  He visits San Francisco once a week to hear the latest music. He surfs, and skateboards. He is 79 years old!

Lloyd is a big fan of Cool Tools. He’s written a bunch of reviews for the site, and encouraged me to assemble a Cool Tools book. He worked on the original Whole Earth Catalog, where he was the “Shelter” editor, so he’s seen a lot of do-it-yourself stuff over the years. What I love about Lloyd is his enthusiasm and gumption. He is always learning new things, trying new stuff, and never letting failure stop his enjoyment. He is very young. He is also a compulsive sharer, broadcasting what he is learning for the benefit of others. I get pumped up each time I chat with him.

On Wednesday, at 5pm California time (8 EST) I hope you have a chance to see Lloyd in action. The first eight folks to sign up on this form can join us in the hangout. Anyone else can watch the conversation live stream by going to this Google Hangout link. And later there will be a recorded video on YouTube of the conversation.

We’ll talk about how Lloyd does all these cool things, how he learns so fast, what he knows about urban homesteading, his next book, and what new cool tools he recommends.

Join us one way or another!

-- KK  


The Origins of Cool Tools

Next week (on February 5) I’m going to discuss the ancient origins of Cool Tools with Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand. Brand started the Whole Earth Catalog as a periodical mail order catalog almost 50 years ago in the late 1960s. Aimed at young maker types living on communes trying to re-invent civilization, his catalogs recommended and reviewed handy tools for that job. The Catalogs, in many versions over the years, were a big self-publishing hit; millions were sold. I worked on and published later versions of this book, and this experience was the genesis of the Cool Tools website and its recently published superbook.

When Stewart Brand first opened a copy of the brand new Cool Tools book he exclaimed “It’s the Catalog, only better!” He said he’d love to discuss the contrast between the two publications — Cool Tools and Whole Earth. On February 5, 6pm PST, Stewart and I will talk about the early DIY movement and its connection to today’s Maker ethos. The conversation will roam from building domes on communes to building domes at Burning Man, from user-generated content on newsprint to user-generated content on blogs. From soft basket making to software making. One hour of deep reflection on unleashing amateur enthusiasm.

Our venue will be the experimental webinar platform, Shindig. The idea of Shindig is to create a virtual conference space where an unlimited number of people can both listen to a conversation as well as potentially participate. Stewart and I will stream our conversation from my studio in Pacifica, CA. Readers and the audience can view the conversation from a free account of Shindig. Any viewer can “raise their hand” with a text question, which our moderator will queue up. We’ll answer live on the video stream as many questions as we can in an hour. Half Reddit AMA, half Google Hangout on Air, the technology might be twitchy. Stewart Brand and I will give it a go.

See you at Shindig, February 5, 6pm PST.

-- KK  

Dead tool: Retractable Cable Combination Lock

Regarding the Master 2 Ft. retractable cable lock reviewed on December 27, 2013: More than a few commenters were skeptical about the strength of the lock. Some said it is easy to pull the end of the cable out of the lock. I bought a lock and tried to yank the end out, but failed. Others said the cable could be easily cut. I used a pair of sewing scissors and was able to cut the cable in a couple of seconds. In our view, this lock is not a cool tool. We are unrecommending it and have recategorized it as a “dead tool.”

Let this also be an open invitation to share your experience with anything reviewed on Cool Tools. You can reach me at

-- Mark Frauenfelder  


Cool Tools 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Last Minute Ideas

Here’s the final installment in our 2013 series of gift guides. This time: last minute gift ideas! (Previous gift guide posts: Low Cost Tools, Beautiful Books, Mark’s picks, Kevin’s picks.)

Proxxon Mini Saws For my work building models and automata, I own two Proxxon miniature power tools, and they are both amazing. Not amazing for their size; just plain amazing. Chop Saw $198 | Table Saw $360

SwiMP3 The SwiMP3 consists of swim goggles with an MP3 player using headphones that rest flat on the cheek bones, between your ears and your eyes, so that you hear the music through bone conduction rather than through your ears. $125

Dewalt Random Orbital Sander Random-orbital sanders spin as circles within circles, leaving little discernible pattern of abrasion on the work. The round hook-and-loop paper is magic. These disks securely attachment and detach in a second, and don’t slip. $52

Fiskars PowerGear Bypass Lopper If you think a pruning saw can go through a branch like a hot knife through butter, just try these Fiskars! Not as portable as my little folding pruning saws, but oooh the leverage action is sweet and effortless! $36

500Mbs Powerline Ethernet Adapter Kit Extend your home Internet using electrical outlets. These are basically ethernet bridges. I have my cable router plugged in where the cable comes in and the signal is best, then have my wifi and powerline adapters plugged into that router (it has 4 ports). I’ve not had any problem streaming or even sending files between computers. $86

-- Cool Tools  


Santa Backup Plan B

The Cool Tools book has been a big hit. It’s been a personal delight to find so many fans enjoying it. However, I underestimated how many would sell on Amazon, and so now it is sold out for Christmas. While there is another boatload that will unload copies in the first week of January, that will be too late for Christmas gifts. This snafu has really bummed me out since I worked so hard to get the books on Amazon in time for the holidays. So I offer a plan B.

I have a personal stash in my garage of books I’ve been sending to friends. If you are a fan of Cool Tools and really want one by Christmas, I may be able to mail you one. Here is the deal.

Fill out this Google form within the next day or two, and we will email a request for payment via PayPal. Once payment is received, we will begin mailing out books on Wednesday via Media Mail, which is the only affordable way. In our experience they will reach the west coast in a few days, and the east coast in a week. We CANNOT guarantee they will get to you before Christmas. For the book and shipping we charge $35 by PayPal, which is still $5 less than the list and bookstore price. (I have no idea how Amazon sells shipped books as cheap as they do. I suspect they don’t make any profit selling books.) This is for US addresses only.

If that is too uncertain for you, some bookstores have it in stock, but I’d call before you went, since relatively few copies of Cool Tools made it to bookstores; most went to Amazon.

I really do think that this Cool Tools book is an ideal gift, particularly for the young at heart, and it upsets me that we sold out at the peak of the gift season. There will be lots of copies available in the new year, but I will do my best to get one out to fans right now if at all possible.

To do that: Fill out this Google form and we will email a request for payment via PayPal for $35 per book. If you have any questions, email

Or wait for the next round in early January.

-- KK  

Cool Tools 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Kevin’s Picks

In the days leading up to the holidays, we are presenting a series of gift suggestions. Today: Kevin’s picks. (Previous gift guide posts: Low Cost Tools, Beautiful Books, Mark’s picks.)

Brock microscope After several years of looking for an everyday microscope suitable for a busy family I found one. There is no fussing, no adjustments. The viewing field is amazingly bright and clear. And best of all it is practically indestructible. $145


Perplexus This is a cool 3-dimensional maze that is easy to get started and hard to finish. You need to steer a small metal ball along an ingenious obstacle course by rotating the clear plastic globe. Because it’s like a 3D video game without the electronics, the very physical nature of playing — turning it this way and that — is very satisfying. $21


Fuji Instax Mini A surprisingly useful instant picture camera. $95


Travel Clothesline On long vacation trips when we wash our own undies, socks, and whatnots in our hotel room sink, this nifty braided rubber clothes line is the thing we use to dry them. It weighs a mere few ounces. $16


Heifer International For fifty years the Heifer Project has been providing families in developing countries (and parts of the US) with breeding pairs of animals. It’s hard to imagine a better gift, or a more practical, proven lever in making a difference in communities of need.

-- KK  


Cool Tools 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Mark’s Picks

In the days leading up to the holidays, we are presenting a series of gift suggestions. Today: Mark’s picks. (Previous gift guide posts: Low Cost Tools, Beautiful Books)

Sugru is a moldable silicone rubber compound that air cures and sticks to everything I’ve ever applied it to, including glass. I’ve used it to mend suitcase zippers, two pairs of headphones, a dishwasher, and many other broken things around the house. It comes in a variety of bright colors, as well as black and white. $18 for an 8-pack

Make: Electronics is the best book on learning electronics I’ve come across. It assumes zero knowledge and teaches you the function of components and common circuits through well-explained projects, many of which intentionally push components beyond their rated limits so that you end up frying them. It’s a great way to reduce your anxiety about making mistakes. Charles is an excellent photographer and charming illustrator, and puts both talents to good use here. (I’m editor-in-chief of MAKE, which is owned by the same company that published Charles’ book.) $23

Illuminated Multipower LED Binohead Magnifier. I’ve used mine to remove splinters, solder small components, check my kid’s hair for lice, remove gunk from a camera’s USB port, and lots of other tasks. They are more powerful than reading glasses, and the LED illumination is excellent. $8

An Island to Oneself
In the 1950s, a 50-year-old New Zealander named Tom Neale moved to a tiny island called Suwarrow (aka Suvarov) in the Cook Islands. He was the only human inhabitant, and his story of survival is absolutely fascinating. I read Robinson Crusoe and was disappointed; An Island to Oneself is the real deal. Neale eked subsistence out of a garden and by fishing, and carefully used his supplies of spices and tea (he used the leaves over and over again). He had zero contact with the outside world, and since Suwarrow wasn’t in a shipping lane, visitors were very rare. I wish the book had been longer — I loved every word of it. $24

Fagor 3-in-1 Multicooker Unlike most pressure cookers it has an electric browning feature, which lets you brown beef, fish, or chicken right in the pot before you pressure cook it, greatly improving the flavor. The Fagor is also a slow cooker and a rice cooker. Because it is so versatile, I use it almost every day. The throw-everything-in-the-pot-and-push-a-button approach has broadened my cooking horizons. I’ve made rib roast in the slow cooker that had my in-laws coming back for thirds. I’ve made mouth-watering chicken stuffed with sun-dried tomato pesto, basil and goat cheese in a matter of minutes. I’ve made salmon with spinach and lemon sauce, fennel and Italian sausage, creamy risotto, and spicy Bolognese sauce. Thanks to an online army of pressure-cooker devotees, I’ll never run out of recipes. $90

-- Mark Frauenfelder