The Elements of Pop-Up

I’ve had this book on Pop-up book design for two years. I have other books on paper engineering but this is the one that I come back to regularly. My copy has been heavily notated with my experiences with each example. Because the book contains miniature pop-up’s demonstrating each element and also because there is some room on the page for notes next to each example, this book has become my go-to for paper engineering.

-- Joel Shepherd  

Elements of Pop Up
By James Diaz and David A. Carter
1999, 18 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:




Uni Jet Stream Prime High Grade Multicolor Ballpoint Pen

I have been using Uni-ball Jetstream pens ever since they came out several years ago. As a left-hander, the fast-drying ink appealed to me right away and I have not been disappointed.

I did break ranks and buy a Cool Tools recommended Parker Jotter ballpoint pen and had trouble with the ink flow almost from the get-go. I contacted Parker and they sent me two new refills, but the problem persisted, so I gave up on Parkers and went back to my standby Jetstream pen.

Then, fairly recently Uni-ball came out with their Jet Stream Prime multicolor pens. The Prime pens are more upscale then their single color brethren, but look much nicer (and, of course, cost more).

I rarely lose pens (just don’t ask to borrow mine), so, without hesitation, I opted for a black three-color pen from the Prime series. These little guys are close to $30 from Amazon, but even at that price I find them a good deal. Most multicolor pens have a less than sleek cross-section and the mechanisms tend to be clunky. Neither of those descriptions apply to the Prime pens. The little sliders for the three colors are barely noticeable and the mechanism is crisp and operates smoothly. I’m a mathematician and I often need to highlight some parts of a derivation, which used to mean circling the parts. No more. Now I just switch from black to red or blue to mark important equations.

I am not sure what the barrel is made of, but even though it’s not textured or soft-coated it is easy to grip and does not slide in my hand. Also, the pen takes standard Uni-ball refills. The Prime pens come in several color combinations and there are even models that include a pencil, but I haven’t tried the pen-pencil combination. If you hang on to your pens for a long time and have need for more than a single color (or even a pencil), I’d highly recommend the Prime pens from Uni-ball.

One caveat I discovered only after using the pen for a while, and it holds for almost all multi-pens: In order to fit all the refills into the pen, they need to either make the barrel very fat, which this one is not, or skimp on ink, which is the case with this pen. It’s not a big deal, but something to think about. I ordered refills later, but I wish I had ordered them with the pen. See photo below for comparison:


-- Jim Shapiro  

Uni Jet Stream Prime High Grade Multicolor Ballpoint Pen

Available from Amazon

Transformer Pencil Case

On returning to university after a 14-year break I needed a pencil case again. I found the Kokuyo NeoCritz Transformer to be ideal as it acts a pen holder in class, at home, or work and when I move around I can just zip it up and walk off without losing pens. Its a really clever solution as the lower half is stiffened so it stands up on my desk.

I’ve has this case for about 6 months now and its holding up really well.


-- Graham Allan  

Kokuyo “NeoCritz” Transformer Pencil Case

Available from Amazon


VIDEO: Milwaukee Inkzall and Sharpie Pro Markers Review and Comparison

What’s the best permanent marker to use on wet, oily, rough, or dusty surfaces? This Tool Craze video tests a regular Sharpie, a Sharpie Pro, and a Milwaukee Inkzall pen on different kinds of surfaces. No single pen is a clear winner (though when it comes to price the Sharpies are about 1/3 the cost of the Inkzall). You should choose a pen based on where you’ll be using it.

Results summary:


1st place: Regular Sharpie (darkest, most solid ink)

2nd place: Milwaukee Inkzall (ink is a little purplish, but adequately dark)

3rd place: Sharpie Pro (a little faded, compared to the Inkzall, but still ok)


1st place: Milwaukee Inkzall

2nd place: Sharpie Pro

3rd place: Regular Sharpie (a close 3rd)


3-way tie (all three smeared)


1st place: Sharpie Pro (did not smear, the other two pens smeared)


3-way tie (all 3 smeared when first applied)


3-way tie (ink dried on contact)


3-way tie (all three aced the test)


1st place: Milwaukee Inkzall

2nd place: Sharpie Pro

3rd place: Regular Sharpie (easily wiped off)


1st place: Regular Sharpie

2nd place: Milwaukee Inkzall

3rd place: Sharpie Pro (easy to wipe off completely)


1st place: Sharpie Pro

2nd place: Milwaukee Inkzall (left a faint mark)

3rd place: Regular Sharpie (left no mark)


1st place: Sharpie Pro (tip very durable)

2nd place tie: Milwaukee Inkzall and Regular Sharpie (worn down to nub)

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Sharpie Fine Point Permanent Markers
$6 / Dozen

Sharpie Pro Fine Point Permanent Markers
$8 / Dozen

Milwaukee Inkzall Jobsite Fine Point Black Permanent Marker
$28 / Dozen

Skilcraft Push Action Mechanical Pencil

I work as a biology field technician. My mechanical pencils live a rough life of being stuffed into backpacks, sat on, left out in the rain, or otherwise neglected.

I have looked for the perfect mechanical pencil for years. Most mechanical pencils on the market have one fatal flaw; the metal sleeve (the very last tiny piece of metal pipe that the lead comes out of) is delicate and sharp. They are prone to snapping off or bending when you sit on the pencil and they also tend to poke through backpacks, puncture waterproof bags, etc.

The Skilcraft Fidelity sliding sleeve mechanical pencil solves all of this by allowing the user to retract not only the lead but also the entire metal sliding sleeve back into the pencil when not in use. To retract the lead and sleeve, push down the clicky eraser cap and then push the lead and metal sleeve back into the pencil as you slowly release the clicky eraser cap. These pencils are dead simple and not over-engineered. I was first given one of these pencils from an employee working for the department of fish and wildlife and still use that same pencil today.

-- Heron  

Silcraft Push Action Mechanical Pencil – 0.5 mm Lead Size
$24 /doz

Available from On Time Supplies

Rhodia Pad Holder and Pad of Paper

I have a dilemma with most notebooks: for me either they are pocket size and affordable but get shredded in my pockets (the spiral bound ones you get at the drug store), or they are too expensive and nice and I don’t want to write in them or tear out pages (Like Moleskine and similar).

When I found the Rhodia Pad Holder and Pad, I realized I found the right balance of durable and affordable.

The holder is made of black leather, and sort of looks like a wallet. It has a front and back pocket. I have found I like to keep two note books in it, but I’ve also carried one note book and some business cards. It’s size and shape fit easily into a pocket. The holder is just bigger than the pad: so it takes a beating, while it keeps its notebooks looking fresh.

The pads that they make for it are great as well. The are backed with stiff cardboard, bound with a staple, thin plastic cover to keep the elements off, pages perforated. Lined or grid: your choice. And, their color scheme is orange and black! They are just nice enough that you want to keep them around, but no so nice you don’t mind marking them up.

Another thing: it includes a pen loop that fits a Fisher Space Pen perfectly, but I’d very much recommend adding a pen clip to your pen. Because what good is a pad with no pen? It’s easy to pull the writing part of the pen out to make a quick note, or to pull the pen and cap out to make a full pen and do some writing.

One added bonus: this sort of looks like a mini version of the pad that the transit cops use in the NYC subway. If you pull it out and start writing in it, it is sort of fun to watch which people move away from you, and which ones give you side eye.



Rhodia Pad Holder and Pad of Paper

Available from Amazon

Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter

I use the Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter to round the corners on gimmicked playing cards I make to perform magic tricks. The cutter can also be used to round the corners of postcards, business cards, photos, and any other paper or card stock (as long as it isn’t too thick – it resists when I try to cut two playing cards at the same time).

It has three slots, labeled S (3 mm), M (5 mm), and L (8 mm). The 3mm is perfect for Bicycle playing cards. To use it, insert the corner of the card into the slot until it stops, then press down on the handle until it clicks. The cuts are very clean.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Sun-Star Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter

Available from Amazon

Bic 4-Color Ball Pen

I work at a French school here in San Francisco, and our French teachers require students to use these pens for editing purposes. Apparently they are quite popular in France, their origin of manufacture. In fact, many of our American teachers have begun using these pens for their utility, and I myself have found the four colors useful for taking notes, as they allow me to differentiate between the types of notes I am taking. Funny enough, I recently ran across an homage to these pens in the New York Times, so it appears they have attracted a cult following.

-- Jason Sellers  

Bic 4-Color Ball Pen
$5 for 3 pens

Available from Amazon

Rubber Finger Tip

I have been using a rubber finger tip for about 4 months, 5 times a week, 2-3 times/day for approximately 5 minutes a session. It enables me to flip through a large stack of pages quickly.

If you want to flip through a large stack of matte paper, your finger just won’t do. The oils on your finger are not enough to grip letter paper and licking your finger to improve grip gets tiring, is messy, and leaves you… parched. This tool leaves no mess, is cheap, and highly consistent in its usefulness. Different sizes available.

-- Josh Miller  

Rubber Finger Tips

Available from Amazon


There have been a lot of reading and camping headlights featured on CoolTools over the years. But I’ve not found either to very practical, in so far a reading lights are often limited in their utility by the clip on the back — some are better than others — and their utilization of watch-type batteries; headlamps on the other hand are often expensive, somewhat tricky to fit on one’s head, and dorky.

The Huglight offers the best of both worlds. First, it is cheap. Second, it runs on two AAA batteries, which makes it convenient. The dual lights wrap around your neck and can be angled independently, or bound together with a rubber connection provided with the lamp.

The lights are bright and you can switch them on and off individually. They offer four modes, three white — which, frankly, don’t differ much in intensity — and one red one to help you maintain night vision. The white and red are both plenty bright.

Like headlamps, they leave both of your hands free.

I took a pair of these camping with my kindergartner and they were the most practical tool we took with us. She could put them around her neck, turn them on, and walk around at night. I wore them while cooking and washing dishes at the campsite, and then turned them face up inside the tent for illumination.

I use the red at home in bed for late night reading, as it also doesn’t mess with my sleep cycle (or that or my spouse).

Simple, cheap, and practical. I’ve had them for months and continue to be more than happy with my purchase. They are available at Amazon, but I bought mine at Costco at an even deeper discount.

-- Edward Nawotka  


Available from Amazon