Square Shopping Pail

Four-gallon rigid-plastic square buckets can often be found for free (although sold online for $5 and up). Try local restaurants, as they often buy frozen fruit or other foods in these containers. I’ve found these to be super useful for carrying groceries. For several years, they’ve been my regular totes. Unlike canvas or other sacks, these can’t leak, stain, or tip over easily in the car. They have a handle. You can load them up with heavy bottles or cans and still easily carry two pails. If there’s a spill, they rinse out. Not in use, they stack. In the store, a nested pair fits on the lower level of the shopping cart. I shop fairly often, so I usually don’t need more than fits in two pails, but one can always drop a couple cloth bags into a pail, for additional carry space, using the pails for the heavier items.

On car trips, they make efficient use of space, packed with rainy-weather gear or various other categories of supplies. They are easy to move around when rearranging things or carrying to and from the car.

They often come with square lids, a little fussy to snap on and off, but not necessary for shopping. With a lid on, the container is weatherproof for use outdoors. I’ve camped with a small tent, and stored things in these buckets outside the tent.

My suggestion is to get some for free.

-- Lynn Nadeau  

4-Gallon Square Pail

Isopropyl Alcohol Liquid Cleaner 99.9%

By now most people have had the unfortunate experience of getting their phones wet and had to wait while it sits in a bag of rice to see if it survived — if you haven’t, consider yourself one of the lucky ones! The best thing to do when this happens is immediately take the battery out of your phone and put it in a bag of rice and wait a few days to see if it will be able to dry out enough to function again.

Recently I dropped my iPhone in a swimming pool and found out the hard way you need a special tool called a Pentalobe screwdriver to remove the battery cover, since I didn’t have one the current and water mixed causing the circuit board to start corroding.

But you still have hope. With a little patience and this video you will be able to take your iPhone apart and scrub the board with a toothbrush and some isopropyl alcohol (90% or better) to remove the corrosion. For a few extra bucks I opted for the purest Isopropyl I could find (99.9%), which has a faster drying time and less residue than the diluted stuff available at most pharmacies.

-- David Dale  

99.9% Isopropyl Alcohol Liquid Cleaner
$5.95 / 100 ml Bottle

Available from Amazon

Flap Wheels and Flap Disks

Anyone working with metal should be aware of these two tools. They make finishing metal a smoother experience. I prefer these two attachments over composite disks, belt sanders, or orbital sanders.

I learned about them as a construction worker while prepping process pipe for welds on oil refineries. Both tools are standards in the steam fitting trade. I’ve since used them on robot creations, blacksmith projects, and anywhere else metal is involved.

Flap disks are more forgiving than standard composite grinding disks. (Use grinding disks and stones to grind, but use the flap attachments to finish.) Flap disks allow the user to treat a work piece like a sculptor. There’s a sense of touch and shaping involved. Less likely to gouge while still smoothing at a fast rate.

The flapper wheel has similar qualities but gets inside tight spots and is excellent on irregular surfaces. Attach it to an end grinder, drill, or set one up on a bench grinder.



Here are before-and-after photos of a railroad spike knife that was ground with a flap-disk. (Actually it is the un-ground side of the knife vs. the ground side). Doing this took less than 2 minutes.

Railroad Spike Knife from Dustin Firebaugh on Vimeo.

-- Aaron Nipper  

Flap Wheels and Flap Disks
Around $10

Available from Amazon

The Losable Knife

I have a lovely little classic Swiss Army knife gifted to me by a former manager who gave them to every member of our team a few years back. It lives in my purse or pocket and gets used almost daily for a variety of tasks — the small scissors, blade and file come in handy. Since it’s on my person most of the time, I’m always worried that one day I’ll forget about it until emptying my pockets at the airport, and then it will be gone (many of my colleagues lost their knives this way).

The Losable Knife is intended to address this problem; it has most of the same features as my brand-name knife (though no toothpick or tweezers), but given that a box of 5 knives costs less than two good cups of coffee, I worry much less about it going astray. After using one for a few months, I have no complaints about the quality of the blades/utensils, and at this price I can afford to spread a few around the house so that I always have one at hand.

-- Ellen Grove  

Vaughan Mini Pry Bar

As a locksmith, holding open a door while working on it (or preventing it from relocking) is a daily event at least, for me. This little bar will jam neatly under most, holding it solid. (In one direction at least. I also carry a 160mm version which will jam it in the other direction too, if needed, or, of course, a second door.)

It turns out it has many other uses, many of them things I’d either not have bothered with or would have (ab)used something else to do the same task. Now I miss it whenever I misplace it.


-- Nigel K Tolley  

Vaughan Mini Pry Bar 5-1/2″
$6, or $32 for a 10-pack

Available from Amazon

Polypropylene tie-down cam straps

As a whitewater kayaker, I am a frequent user of 1″ wide, polypropylene tie-down straps for easy and secure tying of boat to roof rack, but over the years there have been many instances where I have been glad to have them in the car for other purposes. This week, I used them for securing an Ikea bed frame to the roof when it didn’t fit inside the car. Past uses include strapping up a falling-off bumper, tying bundles of firewood, and as a guy-line for a tarp. Just about anywhere a rope will do, a cam strap will do better.

I got my first set of straps as a giveaway with a paddling magazine subscription 7 years ago. They’ve been in continuous use and are just about as good as new. I’ve never seen or heard of one failing.

Sometimes, I’ll see new paddlers trying other systems: ratcheting buckles, ropes, etc…but they always end up with simple, not-too-tangly, no-knots-required, versatile cam straps.

The old standby comes from NRS and runs $4.00 to $7.75, depending on length, but you can get all kinds of custom options from strapworks.com. My unreasonably organized and clever friend got various colors in lengths equal to the number of letters in the color: 3′ red, 5′ white, 10′ camouflage, etc.

Oh, and you can open bottle caps with the cam. What else do you need?

-- Jordan Yaruss  

NRS 1-inch Tie Down Strap
$4 and up depending on length

Available from Amazon

Understanding Wood

Wood is one of the most versatile materials known. You can coax it into uncountable forms. However It exhibits extremely complex behavior, as if it were still living. This tome dives deep into woodology, and returns with great insight into what wood wants. It is essential understanding for anyone wishing to master working with wood.

-- KK  

Understanding Wood
Bruce Hoadley
2000, 280 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:


A knot is the basal portion of a branch whose structure becomes surrounded by the enlarging stem. Since branches begin with lateral buds, knots can always be traced back to the pith of the main stem.





Various shapes of red pine have been dried and superimposed on their original positions on an adjacent log section. The great tangential than radical shrinkage causes squares to become diamond-shaped, cylinders to become oval. Quarter-sawn boards seldom warp, but flat sawn boards cup away from the pith.



A wafer cut from a kiln-dried plank of white ash shows no symptoms of stress (left). Another section from the same plank, after resawing (center) reveals the casehardened condition (tension in core, compression in shell). Kiln operators cut fork-shaped sections that reveal casehardening when prongs curve inward (right).



Most of the boards in the drying shed at left are restrained by the weight of the others. At right is a similar, simpler setup, where the wood is protected by a sheet of corrugated plastic. In both cases, the boards are stacked in the sequence they came off the saw.



Red oak end grain cut with a ripsaw (right), which mangles the cell structure, and with a crosscut saw (left), which severs the fibers cleanly.

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

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

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: