The Cuttlebug is a non-electronic die-cutting and embossing tool for paper crafts. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and able to use embossing folders and dies from most manufacturers. I am an avid papercrafter and scrapbooker, make all my own greeting cards, and I use my ‘bug more than any other tool.

Youtube shows lots of ways to use it for various techniques, including letterpress. I’ve had mine for about 10-12 years, use it at least weekly, and am still using the same cutting plates it came with. It’s more intuitive to use, more compact when folded up than competing brands I’ve tried and works just as well. Dies and embossing folders are available in any craft store, but you can also create your own embossing designs with leaves, lace, etc. using rubber mats made by the Spellbinder and Scor-Pal companies.


Card made from Cuttlebug by Paris Estates

-- Polly Robertus  

Cuttlebug Embosser and Die Cutter

Available from Amazon

Yes! Paste

For pasting paper to paper (or other materials to paper or cloth) Yes! Paste is economical and does a good job. A plastic pot of this will last most of us for years. It’s water soluble so clean-up is easy, and if, over the years, it gets thicker than you want, it can be thinned with water. Spread with a finger or brush.

I’ve used it for mounting paper items for public display, and appreciate that it doesn’t wrinkle even on large items. Glue sticks are handy, but one pot of this has as much goo as 57 glue sticks at .28 oz, and saves all the plastic waste of the sticks.

-- Lynn Nadeau  

Yes! All-Purpose Stik Flat Glue, 1-Pint

Available from Amazon

Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook

Meant for prop builders in theater or film, this how-to book is the best overall guide for making molds and castings for any reason. Casting is a handy skill for any craftsperson — dollmaker, restorationist, Halloween fan, furniture maker, or handyman. This guide treats the many different modern substances you can use (about 30), educating you on what’s good for what, and taking you through the particulars for each kind of casting process. The guide assumes an ease with general shop skills and a willingness to deal with messy chemicals (and clean up!). Once you are comfortable with making molds and casts, you’ll find all kinds of creative problems can be solved with it. (Watch an episode of Mythbusters.)

-- KK  

The Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook
Thurston James
1989, 238 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:


The mold-making materials include plaster, two kinds of alginate, two forms of silicone rubber, latex, and hot-melt rubber.



Moulage is a better molding material than plaster for this job because it is flexible. A hard plaster mold would most likely break — either when you attempted to remove the original pattern, or when you tried to release the copies (also made from a hard material).



We added Plasticine, sculpting the pattern to make it look a little more like an oil lamp and a little less like a teapot. The addition of the pedestal to the finished casting will also help to convey this illusion.


Hot-melt glue (ethylene vinyl acetate or EVA) is a thermoplastic with qualities much like those of other hot melts: it becomes fluid when heated, and is ruggedly solid when it cools to room temperature. In fact, it has enough of the “right” characteristics to make it a useful casting material. We will demonstrate casting with hot glue as we construct a crown from scratch.


The filigree headband of this crown was made of a standard lamp part, called “brass banding.” The finials are twenty repeated castings of EVA (hot-melt glue).



When you can use an authentic item as a vacuum forming mold, the thin plastic casting will be very realistic. This mold is a pattern of real roofing tiles, caulked with plaster.

Taurus 3 Diamond Ring Saw

I own two of these saws — one at my home in upstate New York, the other at my winter home in Jamaica. A diamond ring saw enables me to cut intricate shapes in ceramic tile, and allows me to create wonderful mosaics. I’ve been using my Jamaican saw the longest, spending a good part of my winter on the endless project of tiling the entire outside of my house.

The saws are mostly sold to stained glass artisans, and using it to cut heavy tile pushes it pretty hard. The ceramic dust is quite abrasive, and wears out the bearings in the saw fairly quickly. Fortunately the replacement parts are readily available, and regular cleaning of the saw keeps it in tip-top shape.

They sell a variety of blades for the saw — my favorites for tile work are their mega-blade and the recently added speed-cut blade.

-- Tom Dimock  

Taurus 3 Diamond Ring Saw

Available from Amazon

Make a Chair from a Tree

When a tree is felled, its green wood is wet and easy to work with simple hand tools. As the wood dries it becomes hard and difficult. Old timers would shape chair parts from green wood cut from a small tree nearby, assemble them without nails, and as the wood dried it would shrink into a tight, strong, beautiful chair. This lost art was rediscovered by the author of this book, John Alexander. But now the book itself is long out of print, and used copies go for $350.

In the 35 years since the first edition of the book, the author has kept refining his process (while undergoing a gender change; John is now Jennie) and has produced a video of her highly refined process. In many ways the video is even better than the book. Sample excerpts of the video can be seen here. Alexander promises a third edition of the book.

If the idea of making a chair from a tree interest you, the Greenwoodworking website is worth checking out.

-- KK  

Make a Chair from a Tree DVD
Available from Greenwoodworking

Sample Excerpts:





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Making Handmade Books

While traditional paper-book publishing declines, personal paper-book making ascends. Books have gone from industrial commodity to precious hand-made artifact. There’s a renaissance of handcrafted book-making by enthusiasts and Alisa Golden has played a key role in documenting and teaching this makers’ art. I have a number of book-making books, and this one by her is by far the most complete and thorough. Her diagrams and instructions are very clear. This hefty how-to manual gives directions for creating over 100 different types of books, book bindings and book-ish things. It incorporates her previous two how-to manual, adds new material and will guide anyone through the process of making a paper book by hand. Even better, it will prompt you to experiment with your own book-making designs.

-- KK  

Making Handmade Books
Alisa Golden
2011, 256 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:


Watercolor pencils

Second row:
Colored waxed linen, natural linen thread and bookbinding needle, beeswax, binder clip, Japanese screw punch

Third row:
Bone folder, archival superfine black pen, pencil, stencil brush, assorted papers, craft knife, awl, scissors

Metal ruler; cutting mat under all






Magic Sculpt

I have used Magic Sculpt to put a zombie face onto a mannequin, to make a model of Dracula’s castle for the movie Van Helsing, and to make small sculptures and other props for Star Wars. Magic Sculpt is a two-part epoxy putty with the consistency of clay. You have about an hour to work with it and then it hardens like a rock. Carves beautifully and smooths with some water. It is better than Fimo, Super Sculpey, and other polymer clays that need to be kept small so the pieces are heated evenly when you cure them in an oven. This stuff cures chemically (not with heat or air) which means you can make pieces as large as you want — as big as a life-sized statue. It does not crack or shrink. You can also add more Magic Sculpt to a already hard piece, which you can not do with polymer clay, building a complicated sculpture in pieces. After it cures you can drill it, sand it, and paint it.


-- Tory Belleci  

[I've found Magic Sculp and Magic Sculpt online. They appear to be the same thing. If you know the difference, please tell us about it in the comments. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Magic Sculpt
$26 per lb.

Available from Amazon

New Complete Guide to Sewing

When a struggling new fashion-designer needs to hone their sewing skills, Project Runway guru Tim Gunn steers them to this Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing. It’s got the best, clearest, and most complete introduction to 95% of the sewing skills you’ll ever need. It’s practical and methodical in its instructions. Not as good as grandma, but anyone will be able to pick up stitches, cutting and machine use from it.

-- KK  

The New Complete Guide to Sewing
Reader’s Digest
2010, 384 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Hemming stitches, blind
These stitches are taken inside, between the hem and garment. In the finished hem, no stitches are visible. The edge of the hem does not press into the garment.

Blind-hemming stitch is a quick and easy stitch that can be used on any blind hem.


Blind-hemming stitch: Work from right to left with needle pointing left. Fold back the hem edge; fasten thread inside it. Take a very small stitch approximately 1/4 in. (6 mm) to the left in the garment; take the next stitch 1/4 in. (6mm) to the left in the hem. Continue to alternate stitches from garment to hem, spacing them approximately 1/4 in. (6mm) apart. Take care to keep stitches small, especially those taken on garment.



Woodworker’s Hand Tools

This guide by Rick Peters is an exceptionally fantastic review of great hand tools, particularly those for working with wood. Here I discovered cool hand tools I didn’t know about (after all these years!), and I learned a lot of useful tricks for tools I did know about.  Peter’s aims his advice at just the right level of intelligence and detail, telling you exactly what is most useful, and nothing more.

This is smartly illustrated book is really a bunch of cool reviews of woodworking hand tools.

Sample excerpts:


A flexible curve is basically a lead rod that’s covered with a vinyl sheath. This clever lay-out tool can be bent into small, graceful curves and is especially useful for reproducing a curve from an existing part, such as pressing it around a cabriole leg that you want to reproduce. Flexible curves can be found in most woodworking catalogs and at most any art store.



For large saws (like a crosscut or rip saw), the easiest way to protect the teeth is to cover them with a short length of garden hose. You can buy this by the foot at most home centers. Make a slit the full length of the hose with a utility knife, and slip it over the teeth. You may need to temporarily attach the hose to the saw blade with duct tape until the hose straightens out.



Originally designed to shape spokes for wagon wheels, spokeshaves still find a home in many shops today. I use mine when I shape cabriole legs, add a chamfer to a curved edge, or need a round-over on a curved part. In use, a firm grip is essential, and the tool may be either pushed or pulled. I generally prefer to pull because this gives better control.



Sandvik files (and other abrasive tools, like their sanding block), are all faced with a special steel plate that has a series of holes punched in the surface to replicate a variety of abrasive grits. What makes this work is that the holes are punched in the metal with great accuracy. And unlike sandpaper, which wears quickly, the sanding plates last considerably longer. When they do wear out, you can purchase a replacement plate.



-- KK  

Woodworker’s Hand Tool
Rick Peters
2001, 192 pages
Technically out of print, but used copies available from Amazon

Available from Amazon

Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing

3D printing allows you to make a small complex object from a digitally composed file using a 3D printer. However 3D printing technology is changing so fast that Cool Tools can’t recommend a specific printer. The best we can do is to point you to people who are seriously tracking this corner of the technium.

By far the best guide to the rapidly emerging world of 3D printing is this special issue of Make magazine. This timely guide will spell out the differences in 15 home printers now available, and steer to you the best stock materials to use, the design software options you have, and even how to use 3D print services instead of buying your own (soon to be outdated) machine. Included is a whole chapter on the brand new art of how to scan existing objects so they can be replicated. Their comprehensively researched and test 3D printer buyer’s guide is worth thousands of dollars in savings. The 114-page guide is impressively well done, brilliantly illustrated with diagrams and instructive photos, tons of tips and inspiring projects, and will answer 99% of the first questions any beginner will have, while constantly pointing you to the websites and experts generating even more recent information. I hope they keep this excellent tool updated. (Mark Frauenfelder, now editor of Cool Tools, was editor-in-chief of Make).

– KK



A Strandbeest mechanism by Theo Jansen, printed in nylon on an EOS selective laser sintering (SLS) machine at Shapeways headquarters in New York. Dust it off and it’s ready to walk.


A word of warning: when buying a turnkey printer, be wary of “razor vs. blades” business models. 3D printers exist that are seemingly cheap, but which require proprietary filament cartridges, where the consumable filament costs two to three times the going market rates.


Generating STL files – STL files are the lingua franca of the 3D printing world. If an application can export a 3D model as an STL file, then that STL file can be sliced and printed. STL files can be generated using a CAD program. SketchUp is quite popular, as are a number of open source 3D modelers. On Mac OS X, Autodesk has released Inventor Fusion, which combines significant power with a relatively easy-to-use package. Both are free.


Ponoko offers 3D printing in a wide range of materials, from plastics and ceramics to stainless steel, gold plate, and Z Corp plasters. They also offer laser cutting and CNC routing in a huge variety of materials, so you can supplement your 3D-printed project with other custom parts. Prints from Ponoko are generally very good quality and reasonably priced, but their pricing structure and system for uploading models are confusing. They do have a very good support staff who will go above and beyond to help you with any questions. Ponoko operates several regional production facilities, so printing and shipping times vary.


PLA (polylactic acid or polylactide) is a biodegradable plastic typically made from corn or potatoes. PLA filament is extruded at a lower temperature of 160°C–220°C and does not require a heated bed (painter’s tape is just fine). When heated, PLA smells a bit like sweet, toasted corn. PLA tends to be stiffer than ABS. While PLA does not require a heated bed, it can warp a bit during cooling, something that a heated bed can greatly improve. Note that there is a “flexible PLA” variant that, while trickier to use, will result in objects that are squishy.

Slicing/CAM Software — Once you have a manifold, error-free 3D model, it must be converted into specific toolpath instructions that tell the printer where to move the hot end, when to move it, and whether or not to extrude plastic along the way. This process is sometimes referred to as skeining or slicing. The standard format for these instructions is a simple programming language called G-code. Historically, most printers have relied on the open source Skeinforge engine for preparing G-code from model files. Recently, however, alternative slicing programs have started appearing, most notably Slic3r, which has been slowly overtaking Skeinforge as the tool of choice.




-- KK  

Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing

Published by Maker Media