Fantastic Ice Scraper: For More Than Just Ice

Ever since reading about the Fantastic Ice Scraper on Cool Tools, it’s been my go-to ice removal device. I liked it so much that I bought them as gifts for several family members. My mother immediately put it to use as a general-purpose cleaning scraper. I was so impressed with it that I now keep one in the kitchen for cleaning counter tops, glass tables, stove tops and any other hard surface that needs an occasional scrape down. I also keep one in the garage for general scraping and cleaning.

The brass blade is softer than glass and most common metals so it tends not to scratch the surface you are scraping. On painted surfaces (like a stove top) scratching may still be a risk, but it’s probably still safer than using a steel razor blade or even a Brillo pad. I don’t use it on cookware and would not recommend using it on non-stick surfaces.

Perhaps the most fantastic thing about the Fantastic Ice Scraper is the price. At less than $6 on Amazon, it’s affordable enough to keep a few on hand in convenient locations. And when the snow falls you’ll always be prepared to scrape a windshield or two.

-- Scott Lyman  

Fantastic Ice Scraper with Brass Blade

Available from Amazon

Cheap Surgical Brushes

Lee Valley tools sells these cheap plastic disposable nail brushes by the pair for a couple bucks each, or in packs of a dozen for about ten bucks. I believe they’re used as surgical prep brushes. I buy a dozen every few years. I have one or two by the sink in the bathroom and kitchen, a couple in the garden shed, and one for when I do intensive clean-out of our chicken coop. As the catalog copy says, they’re fabulous for cleaning out your nails or for scrubbing dirt off of vegetables. Buy a dozen, and I can guarantee that you’ll find lots of uses for them.

-- Amy Thomson  

Available from Amazon

Just One Club Card

I have carried my Just One Club Card around since 2006. This free site allows you to consolidate up to eight different bar-coded store loyalty cards into a single card that you can print out. Just enter the bar-code numbers in the form and select the store from a pull down menu, and click the “Create your Card” button. Instead of carrying around a bunch of cards in my wallet or key chain, I now have all of them on a thin piece of paper that I’ve laminated with packing tape.

Every time I whip it out to make a purchase it never fails to get a comment from the cashier about what a good idea it is.

-- Jason Tan  

[The FAQ section of the website has a template for a folder with a cut-out window so you can slide the appropriate bar code into view for the scanner at the store you are visiting. Also, the "Create your Card" button is hard to find -- it's between two banner ads at the bottom of the page. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Worms Eat My Garbage

Worms convert kitchen scraps into high-potency garden fertilizer. In the process they multiply, and can be used for fish bait or for chicken snacks. The worms reduce your trash load. The fancy name for this is “vermicomposting.” It requires little beyond a modified wooden box or plastic tub in the kitchen, basement or backyard. This perennially best-selling, and now up-dated, book will tell you all. is an all-worms site that sells worms (by the pound) and worm poop fertilizer (by the gallon), and worm-raising information and supplies.

-- KK  

Worms Eat My Garbage
Mary Appelhof
1997, 162 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

>From Worms Eat My Garbage





Whichever you start with, breeders or bedrun, when they produce more worms than the garbage you are feeding them will support, many will get smaller, some will slow reproduction, and others will die. Eventually, no matter how many worms you start with, the population will stabilize at about the biomass that can be supported by the amount of food they receive.


Any vegetable waste that you generate during food preparation can be used, such as potato peels, grapefruit and orange rinds, outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage, celery ends, and so forth. Plate scrapings might include macaroni, spaghetti, gravy, vegetables, or potatoes. Spoiled food from the refrigerator, such as baked beans, moldy cottage cheese, and leftover casserole also can go into the worm bin. Coffee grounds are very good in a worm bin, enhancing the texture of the final vermicompost. Tea leaves, even tea bags and coffee filters, are suitable.


Still another method for harvesting worms is the divide and dump technique. You simply remove about two-thirds of your vermicompost and dump it directly onto your garden’s surface. No digging nor turning; no muss, no fuss. Add fresh bedding to the vermicompost still left in the box. Enough worms and cocoons usually remain there to populate the system for another cycle.





The worm bed is 36″ high (about waist level), reducing stress on the back and legs from bending. This worm bed has four removable partitions for easy access for feeding and harvesting the worms and wormpoop castings (also called Vermicompost). It allows the person working with the worms to do so with less effort. It also helps reduce the workload when harvesting the worms.

Adding Vermicompost to soils aids in erosion control, promotes soil fertility, stimulates healthy root development in plants. This life cycle is the process of things being born, living, dying, and being reborn again. This is nature’s way of recycling and keeping the earth in balance.

3M VHB Heavy Duty Mounting Tape

This product is a game-changer. Goodbye glue, screws, nails, rivets and studs. In the right application, it permanently bonds plastic, fiberglass, porcelain, glass, PVC, wood, cloth, concrete and just about any other material you’re likely to encounter.

Mounting a GPS unit on a car dash? Done. Need to secure a circuit board to a metal rack? No problem. Want to stick together tricky space-age materials, like Velcro to a Kydex knife sheath? Forget about exotic adhesives; use VHB tape (it stands for Very High Bond, by the way).

Don’t mistake this stuff for temporary mounting tape. It forms a PERMANENT bond, and trying to remove it will likely remove the finish on both bonded surfaces.


-- Douglas Cawley  

3M VHB Heavy Duty Mounting Tape

Available from Amazon

IKEA Ljusa hand powered flashlight

Over the last five years, I have owned a number of hand powered LED flashlights, some of them using a “direct feed” approach (generated electricity is used directly to power the light), others using a rechargeable battery to store the electricity.

My issue with the direct feed type is, that you need to “keep the motion going.” Stop operating the generator it, and you don’t have any light. This means that — for instance — you cannot put the flashlight down if you need both hands to do a job (replacing a defective fuse comes to mind).

The rechargeable battery type tends to work a little bit better, but I’ve yet to find an affordable type where the battery capacity does not start to diminish sharply after a fairly low number of recharge cycles.

Then, when shopping at Ikea a couple of months ago, I came across the LJUSA flashlight. It’s not the nicest looking or smallest flashlight out there, but it does have a number of things going for it: It’s sturdy, quick to charge (wind lever 20-30 times for 1-2 minutes of light), and fairly bright. Furthermore, it uses a capacitor rather than a battery to store electricity, so no more degrading battery capacity. What really blew me away, though, was the price: at €3.99 ($4.99 US) they are a true steal!

I immediately bought a couple for my kids. While I had some initial concerns about the quality of the lever, both flashlights have withstood months of abuse without breaking, and still function as well as the day we bought them. I’ve since been back to Ikea, and have bought a couple of additional units to keep them handy in our car, near our home’s fuse box etc., and have also recommended them to family and friends.

-- Remko Klaassen  

M-1 Series Snake Tongs

We live on the edge of canyon open space and celebrate sharing our ridge with the local wildlife, including the local Northern Pacific rattler. And a few times/year one of our rattlesnake neighbors curls up right next to the house and thus must be gently moved back out beyond our back fence into the open space.

Efficiency is crucial to this process, both for the sake of personal safety and to minimize the stress to the snake. And of course the right tools: snake tongs, a snake hook and a 5-gallon bucket with proper lid. (snake pros use a pillowcase or equivalent to bag their quarry; I prefer a bucket with nice thick plastic wall between me and my potentially unhappy guest)

My favorite tong/stick combo comes from Forestry Suppliers: the “Gentle Giant M-1 Series Collapsable Snake Tongs (SKU 81086) and Collapsable Snake Hook (SKU 81061). Both also come in collapsable and non-collapsable versions, but I find the collapsable versions easier to store at the ready.

The tongs come in either a 1-inch or 2-1/4 inch wide jaw. Unless you are dealing with very large and heavy snakes, get the 1-inch version, as trying to capture a smaller (5 ft long or less) snake with the wide jaws risks the snake being able to wriggle free in the jaws. Not a good thing when you are on the other end of the stick.

Also one can get either a 40-inch or 52-inch lengths: for our mostly mellow and not-so-big California rattlers, 40-inches is plenty, especially as the longer the tong, the harder it is to manage when one actually has a snake on the end. If I lived in Texas or New Mexico, where the rattlers are bigger and more nasty-tempered, I’d probably get the longer tongs. (Well, actually, I’d just run in the opposite direction.)

-- Paul Saffo  

Available from Amazon


As all cat owners know, dealing with litter box odor is a never ending battle. I’ve tried lots of air purifying products that have promised to keep down odor, and have always been disappointed, until now. The Critter Zone is a small, affordable, and effective air purifier that has really worked to keep down the odor in the room where I keep my cat’s litter boxes.

You just plug it in and let it go to work. The instructions do suggest a fan in the room to circulate the air, but I haven’t found that to be necessary. They have a version you plug into the outlet and a corded one so you can reach areas further from an outlet.

It works so well that my “super-sniffer” mother who is usually bothered by my well-maintained litter boxes didn’t even realize they were in the laundry room. I’ve also used it for managing other odors. I burned a bag of popcorn one night and by the morning all trace of the smell was gone. It also worked fabulously to get rid of the sweaty smell in my bedroom when I was sick with a fever.

There’s no filters to replace, nothing to clean, and no loud noises to get used to. I just plugged it in, switched it on, and forgot about it, until I realized how much less I was avoiding going into my laundry room! I’ve been so happy with it in the three months that I’ve had it that I’ve just purchased a second CritterZone to go in my second litter box area. Even my skittish cat has no hesitation about going near it so I’m able to put it around all the litter boxes. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about this tiny box that makes the stinky side of having fur babies far less painful.

-- Allison Gilson  

[This video explains that the CritterZone uses "continuous charged flow" to break down bad-smelling chemicals.]

Available from Amazon

Oz-Post Instant Post Holes

Last summer, I needed to fence in my 1/2 acre back yard to contain our new puppies. Digging post holes is not a task that I particularly enjoy, even using a power auger, so I decided to try out the E-Z Spike fence post spike, which was carried at my local Home Depot. This consists of a long spike with a sleeve on top that receives a 4×4 fence post.

This worked fairly well. The resulting posts were sturdy, but the spikes had to be driven in with a sledge hammer. This task was perhaps more odious than digging post holes.

Then, I discovered the Oz-Post Instant Post Hole. These are similar in concept to the E-Z Spike but a bit beefier and made from galvanized steel. However, the big difference is that the manufacturer sells a special insert and bit that allow you to drive them into the ground with a jackhammer, which greatly reduces the installation time.

I had never used a jackhammer before, so I entered into this endeavor with a certain amount of trepidation. However, it ended up not being bad at all. I rented an electric one from Home Depot (the heaviest of the three types they rented out), and was able to get almost all of the spikes driven in one day. (I would have gotten all of them, but I miscalculated how many I needed and didn’t get enough.)

I hit rocks and tree roots several times, but just kept hammering away, and eventually the spike went in. It is difficult to keep the spike exactly vertical as you drive it, but there is enough play in the sleeve that I was able to shim all of my posts plumb.

All of the posts ended up being extremely sturdy, and since the posts are treated and not in direct contact with the ground, I expect that they will last a very long time.

-- Clark Case  

Oz-Post T4-600 4 in. Square Fence Post Anchor
$113.20 / case of 8

Backyard Sugarin’

I really like this small guide because the author emphasizes the cheapest possible way to get up and running. While commercial maple sugaring has gone all high tech, with miles of plastic tubing and vacuum pumps, a weekend backyarder can use traditional homemade apparatus to produce a few gallons of golden syrup each season. Don’t need much if you have the minimum trees, scrap wood, outdoor workspace and time. (And BTW, you can get syrup form all kinds of maples in the right climate zone.)

From my few clumsy experiments using an earlier edition of this book, I can tell you it’s a lot of work for a little syrup — but because its your syrup, it tastes like ambrosia.

-- KK  

Backyard Sugarin’
Rink Mann, Daniel Wolf
2006, 96 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

So, let’s sum up the things you ought to be thinking about well in advance if you’re aiming to make 5 gallons of syrup.

So, let’s sum up the things you ought to be thinking about well in advance if you’re aiming to make 5 gallons of syrup.

  • Save up at least 20 plastic milk bottles or other containers to serve as sap buckets.
  • Pick out your trees for tapping and get permission, if necessary, to tap them. You’re going to drill 20 holes.
  • Collect about a half cord of good dry wood, pile it near your planned evaporator site and cover it over.
  • Save up 10 2-pound coffee cans with plastic lids, or something comparable for storing your syrup.

There are other preparations that can be made in advance, too, like designing and collecting parts for your homemade evaporator, and perhaps whittling your own sap spouts, but these things can be done over the winter.




Remember that if you’re standing on top of a four-foot snowbank when making your tap holes at the beginning of the season, those taps may be seven feet off the ground near the end of the season when the snowbank has melted. It’s hard to collect sap from buckets seven feet off the ground.




Apart from eliminating the high cost of buckets, the Idlenot Dairy Low-Fat Sap Bucket has some very real advantages over conventional buckets. For one thing, except for the 3/4″ hole, it is completely enclosed, so you don’t get any debris or unwanted predators in the sap. For another thing, it’s semi-transparent, so you can see from a distance whether or not it will be worth slogging through the snow to empty it. And, maybe best of all, when the season is over, you don’t have to go to all the bother of washing and storing your buckets. You can just drop them off at your local recycling center and start with a fresh set of buckets next season.




Canning maple syrup presents the same problems as the hot canning of cooked vegetables, with at least one important (and happy) difference. If a jar of canned tomatoes goes bad, you’ve had it. With syrup, if it gets moldy, you can scoop off the mold, bring the syrup back up to a boil, and you’re back in business.



This is what syrup looks like when it’s about to boil over. Quick! Someone lift the pot off the burner (or touch the syrup with a bit of butter).