My super-favorite pen light is the Streamlight Stylus. Don’t bother with the Pro with fancy housing — go for the simple penlight version. Since the stylus lights are only slightly larger than a ballpoint pen, they go everywhere; in my backpack, my pencil cup on my desk, next to the bed, in my car. Amazingly useful at moments when one needs to look under your seat on an airplane, etc. It’s a great EMT light for looking in eyes and ears, etc. And believe it or not, I find them very useful on official search-and-rescue missions. I always have one within arm’s reach and keep giving them away to friends (they cost less then $12), so I probably buy 10+ year. They run on hard-to-find AAAA batteries, but I generally lose my stylus lights before I need to change the batteries. However, inside a 9-volt battery are 6 4A batteries if you really need some.
I have managed to accumulate dozens of small transformers over the years. Those black plastic “wall wart” things. They get unplugged from the device and usually they are totally generic in their labeling. Whatever they powered has gone away, but the transformer remains.
This morning I set out to install a new DSL modem. Another transformer. As I figured out which transformer powers the old modem, and unearthed a couple others with no apparant use, I rememberd that a couple weeks ago I picked up a 2 pack of these markers, thinking I’d use them for marking on dark metal surfaces. I grabbed one and wrote the product the new transformer belonged to in silver ink on black plastic. I’d tried grease pencils and tags and such stuff before, but they just never worked out. This seems to be the fix. I am so excited about this discovery, I just had to share it.
Most tool bags probably have a roll of black electrical tape and a black Sharpie. I usually have a roll of grey electrical tape, too, to use with the Sharpie to make informal labels, temp or longer term. Way better than using a paper tape…
Anyway, I now also carry a silver Sharpie. It’s silver-colored paint that works similarly to ink – it’s not exactly the same type of stuff, but sure close enough.
Anyway, now we can all easily use that black tape to label stuff. Pulling wire? Taking something apart? Temporary WiFi password? Keeping your spouse’s GPS separate from yours?
As with all Cool Tools, this is just too easy.
– Wayne Ruffner
[Note: KK first reviewed metallic sharpies back in 2003. They remain a classic Cool Tool.--OH]
My favorite compartmented organizer is the Stanley 25-Removable Compartment Professional Organizer. The lid is clear but doesn’t seem brittle, and the compartments are removable (nice if you want to grab one or two instead of the whole thing). Matching this, but deeper and with larger compartments, is the Stanley 10-Compartment Deep Professional Organizer, great for larger bolts and nuts.
Harbor Freight has a similar line – which I was about to say, isn’t that much cheaper, but turns out, on sale it’s about half as much. HF’s version is a little deeper, meaning the two are not interchangeable – you can stick a Stanley compartment in the HF, but not vice versa. I use a flat file cabinet for tool storage (totally affordable at local used office furniture resellers, keep your eyes peeled) and the difference in height means Stanley just barely fits without scraping, where the HF causes the drawer to bind a bit.
Both systems stack well on one another. The other thing I like about the HF is that they have a half-sized model that still stacks well (one full sized organizer will stack fine on two half-sized placed next to each other).
The trade-off with removable compartments is some flexibility. For longer bolts or drill bits, I remove two or more compartments in a row and set them in the negative space created. The other plastic bins (held in place by ridges on the lid) keep this space in one place.
Both types have handles that allow you to carry them, and the hinges, while plastic, have proven robust in use.
[Note: This is an alternative to the harder to find and more expensive Sortimo. --OH]
This is the ultimate sorting box system for small parts. I have a full hardware store’s worth of stuff in my boxes mounted in a rack. Each drawer slips completely out of the rack. The top is clear so you can see what is inside of it, which I love. It’s got compartments, but they’re all self-registering in the bottom, so they are modular which means you can easily mix and match and rearrange them. They come in all different sizes and colors. Because of the clever design, the inserts are separated from each other, so nothing cross-pollinates.
You can pick up the case by the handle and carry it vertically without fear of the contents spilling inside. Lastly, one of the most difficult things about sorting boxes is that you need to bring them over to your work. But with the Sortimo, you merely lift out the handy compartment with the needed parts and bring that over to your bench and then take it back. It’s really brilliant. The boxes are kind of spendy; A tray with inserts is about $60. But I’ll have these for the rest of my life. I’ve never had one of these fail.
They are not so easy to find. Sortimo is a German company that actually builds these tool systems for ambulances and work vehicles in Europe. They have one US distributor who really hasn’t worked very hard to get the word out. But I am constantly raving about them.
[This is a German product with a old-world shopping interface. You can't order directly online. You can download a PDF catalog --without prices. You select what you think you want and call the US distributor, who gives you a quote for your system. Most of their customers are companies who are outfitting fleets of trucks or other service vehicles. In fact, they have very cool rigs to hold their trays in different vehicles. --KK]
These battery holders are a clear winner over other cell containers. Mine’s loaded with Eneloop AA & AAA cells (and a Duracell 9V), in my tool kit, ready to keep me moving. Regular Alkaline cells fit in there too, of course.
I’ve got a lot of small equipment that use these small batteries. Being prepared to change them when they’re low is easier than Periodic Preventative Maintenance like charging everything monthly or something. And less time consuming than zooming off to get replacements when something quits. Better for the cells, too, than charging them when they don’t really need it.
I don’t know yet if these will survive a winter, but the plastic seems of a type that should fare well. Certainly better than the other types of plastic battery boxes that seem to explode when the temps drop. A pretty good variety of shape/combos and colors are available.
While these do a good job of protecting the cells from shorts, they’re not absolute, so be careful about jamming them into spaces with other things that could lead to short circuits. Like my tool bag. And in a camera bag, no problems.
I have searched for years for a really handy, safe, convenient marking knife for use in woodworking (knives give a finer, clearer line than pencils). Snap-off utility knives are nearly perfect. The blade is thin enough to hug a straightedge, and since the blade is sharpened on the long edge instead of the short bevel edge, it is easier to bear down while making a cut. The blade retracts, making the knife pocketable. The blade also locks, making it safe to bear down on. Moving the blade in and out is fast and fluid, making it easy to use. Lastly the blade is always sharp, since you can easily snap off a dull section and expose a sharp new point.
However, most snap-off knives have cheap plastic bodies which can break, and their locking mechanisms are not very sturdy. I always wanted a nicer, more durable version. And Olfa’s SVR-2 is it.
The knife is quite slender, though it is slightly heavier than it might appear, being made of stainless steel. It is almost exactly the length of a Sharpie, and has a clean, modern, almost luxurious look. I could see engraving them for gifts or corporate swag. The clip is springy and sturdy, and pops off to act as a blade snapper. Nifty!
The SVR-2 is auto-locking, meaning that once you extend the blade out with the black slider, it is locked in place until you actually move the black slider back. Ordinary pressure on the blade will not make it retract. It is very easy and fluid to use.
The slightly cheaper SVR-1 does not lock automatically. To lock the blade you move the slider backwards just a bit (those cheap plastic ones work the same way.) To me that is a somewhat less safe option
– Karl C.
The Kobalt Stainless Steel Snap-Off Utility Knife is basically the same product, complete with autolocking feature, but less than half the cost ($3). I keep two of these in my car at all times. One as a seatbelt cutter, and the other for everyday tasks. I usually buy 1 or 2 whenever I’m at Lowes, and have one in almost every room in the house. The blade is durable, and I usually end up losing them before I snap the entire blade down.
– Eric Kuck
This hanging digital scale is great for weighing odd shaped things quickly. In our workshop we use it all the time for weighing bicycles, bags, components, things we invent, things we need to ship. Rather than drag the work to the scale, you bring this light scale to whereever you need it. You can easily grab hold of the scale in one hand. You hang the object from the bottom. For very heavy stuff, hook the scale on something solid. This one is ranges up to about 45 kilogram (99 pounds), detecting a minimum of 50 grams (.1 pound). It’s perfect as an inexpensive general purpose “good enough” scale, especially for things that aren’t compact. Also it’s a fantastic baby scale if you wish to chart growth. Just put baby in a sling then weigh. There are smaller versions, too.
Watch battery replacement is not a dark art, left only to hunched-over jewelers. Most watches I owned had a small notch between the case and the back where you could pry off the back and access the battery. A tedious operation, but anybody could do it.
But this tool isn’t for those watches. This tool is for a watch has a back that screws on.
For years, I took my Citizen watch to a jeweler, and paid a little bit of money to get a new battery installed. I was not aware that the magic tool was this easy to use, and so affordable.
This case opener tool works with watch backs that have even or odd spaced notches, and has an assortment of tips to fit differently-shaped notches. Simply fit the appropriate tips into the tool, adjust for the number and spacing of the notches, press the tool down into the notches, and turn. It was surprisingly easy.
I have no idea whether jewelers have access to a better-made tool, but for my purpose, it was sufficient to do the job. I wish I had discovered this tool sooner, because it would have saved me time and money. The last time I tried to get my battery replaced, some jewelers said didn’t have this tool, while one told me theirs was broken. It took me a few shop visits to find somebody who had one.
The purchase price was only $4.99 (cash and carry from a retail store near my home, no shipping involved), and the battery for the watch was less than $5.00. In just one use, I saved money and time, since I have been charged close to $12.00 the last time I took my watch to a jewelry repair shop for a new battery.
I look forward to the next opportunity to use this tool, not because it will lay idle for a long time, but because I will be saving time and money. I also feel somewhat empowered, capable of handling a task previously handled by somebody else.
[We first reviewed the Pittsburgh Watch Case Opener back in 2009. --OH]
With the ubiquity of super bright LED lights it might seem strange to recommend one-time-use glowsticks. But these Cyalume Chemical Light Sticks, and their ability to function in almost any condition, have earned a spot in my emergency kit.
My obsession with alternative light sources really kicked in when I started caving with increased frequency. One of the main tenants of caving is that you never go into a cave without three sources of light. This is because subterranean activities are particularly brutal on electronics, especially lights. No matter how weatherproofed a light source may be, the dust, water, and physical strain will eventually cause it to malfunction. This explains why super simple carbide lamps and plumbers candles were the go to light source for ages underground (it didn’t hurt that they could also keep you warm, with the main downside being the occasional explosion).
While a glow stick won’t keep you warm, it will provide light in emergency situations where other lights might falter, and it’s exactly this reason that I throw one or two 12-hour glowsticks in my pack. At 6″ in length, they are not the traditional glow stick you see at concerts, but instead are significantly brighter, and depending on the model, produce longer lasting light.
As with most tools in my emergency kit, I’ve never had to use these in an emergency. But I have had the pleasure of playing around with them in other situations and I’ve been impressed. They provide ample amounts of light for navigation, and they last long enough that they’d be an asset in many scenarios, especially during a rescue. Unlike LED lights, these glowsticks provide ambient 360-degree light which is especially useful when working in larger parties where direct sources of light can unintentionally blind, or while sitting around a campsite.
While I’m not thrilled about the one-time-use nature of glow sticks, their low cost has become an asset. I keep a few in my trauma kit in my car as a means of attracting attention in an emergency (as they are a safer alternative to roadside flares), or during those times when someone I’m with needs a loaner light source that I’ll likely not see again. While their ubiquity is great, it’s important to remember that due to their reactivity they have a limited shelf life. The industrial grade Cyalume SnapLight model has a shelf life of around four years, while the military model (built to DOD specs) is slightly less. That’s not to say these won’t work after four years, but that you should expect a reduction in chemical luminescence as it ages.
Outside of being a functional source of light, I must admit that there is something special about the chemical light they produce. I find it impossible not to experience a certain amount of child-like glee when I crack one and see the light radiate out, erasing the darkness. It’s just cool.
[Here is the Cyalume SnapLight MSDS (PDF) for anyone interested, however, this may be out of date as it appears this model is phthalate free. --OH]
This knife is designed by firefighter Rick Hinderer for the working Firefighter, EMT or Medic. It has a serrated stainless steel blade, a window punch and a foldaway seatbelt cutter. But what tempted me, and what gets used the most, is the built in oxygen tank wrench. It is a deceptively simple slot in the handle, but it has time and again come in handy switching out portable oxygen tanks while on scene. No more sending someone running back to the rig because someone on C-shift forgot to replace the oxygen wrench back in the bag! The over-sized thumb studs make it workable even with bunker gloves on and it comes with a 9-piece kit of screw bits.
– Jesse Hinds
I’ve used this knife for two years, and found that it has served me well in all my field work. For me the knife is exceptional because of its appropriate sizing and ergonomic hold. It’s easy to use with gloves on. The strap cutter on the back side is excellent and I end up using it a lot. The rubber strip with different tools have been useful for hard to access spaces. It does not replace a multi-tool, but is a great compliment to it.
– Jason DeJong