Multipurpose Pry Bar

I got one of these pry bars at a Harbor Freight about 10 years ago and have since gotten many more as gifts and spares. Their natural versatility is furthered by expendability (often on sale for $2.50).

I’ve used mine to pry off moulding, pry flooring slats tightly together, widen gaps too tight for a full crowbar, chisel old mortar off bricks, open paint cans, scrape paint, caulk, act as a spacer when decking, bang on various things, and pull nails in tight locations with its cat’s paw.

It’s a great general purpose abuse tool that fits in a small toolbox and won’t worry you if chipped, bent, painted, greased, bespeckled with construction adhesive, or lost.

-- Evanda  

10″ Multipurpose Pry Bar
$4

Available from Harbor Freight



Victorinox Swiss Army Manager Pocket Knife

The Manager Swiss Army Knife has been in my pocket for nearly 2 years. This compact tool has all the useful stuff you expect from the line of Swiss Army knives: blade, scissors, tweezers, file, bottle opener, and separate flat-head & Phillips-head screwdrivers.

What makes it a must-have is the retractable ballpoint pen. It’s smooth writing and hasn’t dried out on me in the past 2 years. I’ve taken meeting notes, written checks, and signed receipts. Just extend the combination Philips-head / bottle opener tool for a more comfortable grip during extended composition sessions.

The Manager comes to the rescue time after time for occasional writing needs and tiny DIY tasks because it’s always in your pocket. (I just changed the batteries in a Nerf gun with the Phillips-head screwdriver.) It’s more comfortable to carry in the pocket than a normal pen and more useful, too.

-- Sean Singh  

[Victorinox also offers a Midnite Manager model that comes with a built-in LED flashlight in addition to a pen. -- Mark Frauenfelder ]

Victorinox Swiss Army Manager Pocket Knife
$23

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Victorinox



Nylon Runners

I started doing bodyweight exercises at home. The pull-up bar I purchased came with handles that I wanted to adapt for other exercises (like “Let Me Ins” around a post, or “Towel Curls”). I didn’t trust my knot-tying ability, and all the rope rated to my weight was bulky. I knew nylon webbing was very strong and so was looking for solidly sewn loops of nylon webbing that could hold my weight.

Thus I came across nylon runners (or “slings”) meant for climbing. These are a loop of nylon webbing with a sturdy dogbone stitch. They are made to support even a falling climber and their gear. They come in a number of sizes (and colors). I use the 30cm runners to loop through my handle ends, then a climbing carabiner to connect these to either the 60cm runner for some exercises (Let Me Ins) and the 120cm runner for other exercises (Towel Curls). I have also successfully hung my pull-up bar from existing holes in the main floor joists in my basement, precluding the adaptation/installation of the provided mounting hardware. Recently, I used two of the 30 cm runners to loop onto my motorcycle front fork to connect to ratcheting tie downs in order to hold the bike upright for beginning of season maintenance (oil change, etc.).

In addition to my uses, other reviews of this product have pointed out a number of great uses for these runners: they can be used in all kinds of load-bearing/load-redirecting uses. One example is to provide a soft-but-strong attachment point for tie downs to a motorcycle or other cargo for transportation. This is a truly versatile, simple, and cool tool.

-- Mike Braden  

Black Diamond Nylon Runners
$4 to $9, depending on size

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Black Diamond

Sample Excerpts:



ClampTite

This clever little tool forms clamps from stainless steel wire. As a commercial pilot in Alaska, I have used this many times over the years in emergency situations. I often operate in remote areas, away from any kind of support. You have to take care of yourself if something goes awry. Fuel lines, brake lines, air ducts seem to let go at the least opportune time. My Beach Truck used in commercial fishing has benefitted from a beachside radiator hose repair using the ClampTite. The hot water system made of Pex tubing in my log cabin has a few wire clamps on it because I didn’t want to endure a leak while flying 160 miles to the nearest hardware store.

The fact that you can customize the size of the clamp to fit pretty much anything makes it invaluable. With a few feet of wire you can quickly replace hose clamps for quick fixes. The tool is tiny, compared to most in my tool bag, and the stainless safety wire that it uses to form the clamp is something I always have on hand anyhow, because it has a million uses as well.

-- David McRae  

[Note: Here is an excellent step-by-step of how to use the ClampTite to form a wire clamp.--OH]

ClampTite
$30 for aluminum model (larger sizes available from manufacturer)

Available from Amazon

Don’t forget to pick up some locking wire as well!

Manufactured by ClampTite Tools

We first reviewed the ClampTite back in 2005.--OH

Sample Excerpts:

clamptite instruction

The video above demonstrates how to use a ClampTite to clamp automotive hoses. (via Filthy Motor Sports)




Seal-A-Tube

This simple, inexpensive, reusable cap for open caulking tubes has saved innumerable partially used tubes of adhesive or caulk from being thrown out and has paid for itself many times over. This cap forms an airtight seal around the entire tip of the caulking tube and the long center spike creates and keeps open a channel for the material to flow out. It has never failed over several years to preserve all sorts of  materials. I have often been left with a partial tube of material after some project or other and this cap has always allowed me to pick up that tube,  even after many months and  to continue to use the contents.

Like all of us, I had tried wrapping the tip in cellophane, shoved a nail down the tip or tried some other solution. None was successful. The other advantage is that the center spike is slender enough to fit down a tip which you have cut with a very fine opening. There is no distortion of the tip and no need to recut it. All in all an elegant solution to a common annoyance and a real money saver.

-- John Bennett  

Seal-A-Tube
Two pack for $8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Prazi USA



Streamlight Stylus

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.

-- Paul Saffo  

Streamlight Stylus
$14

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Streamlight



Sharpie Metallic Permanent Markers

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.

–Norm A.

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]

Metallic Sharpie
$3

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Sharpie



Stanley Compartment Organizer

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.

-- Taylor Bryant  

[Note: This is an alternative to the harder to find and more expensive Sortimo. --OH]

Stanley 25-Removable Compartment Professional Organizer
$16
Available from Amazon

Stanley 10-Compartment Deep Professional Organizer
$25
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Stanley



Sortimo

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.

-- Adam Savage  

[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]

Sortimo T-Boxx
About $86 per tray

Available from Knapheide

Manufactured by Sortimo



Storacell Battery Caddy

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.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Storacell A9 Pack Battery Caddy
$5

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Powerpax