Grip-On Locking Pliers Clamp

A few days ago I needed to clamp something and none of my clamps were the right shape, so I went to the local hardware store and got one of these clamps. At the time I didn’t know what it was for — all I knew was that it was the right shape for me.

After I finished using it, I noticed that it had a model number on it, so I looked it up online to find out what it had been designed for. It turned out to be made to hold a pair of locking (Vise-Grip) pliers firmly to the edge of a table.  I tried it out with my Vise-Grips, and sure enough, it was a perfect fit.

This is something I would have bought years ago and used all the time if I’d known it existed. Enclosed is a picture of it in action (something I couldn’t find online). I think just about anyone who uses Vise-Grip pliers regularly could use one of these.

[Update: A commenter pointed out that they are available for different sized locking-pliers.--OH]

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Grip On

Sample Excerpts:

Duluth Firehose Work Pants and Suspenders

Duluth’s Firehose Canvas Work Pants are made of strong stuff.  I have been using them on my farm for 12-months and have found that they are comfortable and durable.  They have a generous cut so I have room to move when I am crawling around the tractor.  They have wide and numerous belt-loops, velcro-flapped cargo pockets and hip pockets, and a handy loop for a tape measure, as well as a long pocket for a wrench or screwdriver on the thigh on each side (so they suit lefties and righties equally).

I hang them from Duluth’s wide side-clip suspenders so I can load up the pockets without losing the lot around my ankles. These suspenders have two inch wide straps and just two clips; the front and back straps meet at your waist (or where it once was) at the side under your arms.  Normal front-and-back suspenders like to catch on stuff when I am crawling around, and often let go. The side-clips have never come unfastened. Great clothes.

-- Russel Day  

[We've previously reviewed Duluth's suspenders as well as their brass button kits for easy suspender attachment.--OH]

When it was time to teach my kids to ride bicycles, I first started with the traditional method of holding the back of the bike while running along behind them.  That did not work well for either my children or my knees.  In the search for a better way, I landed on using the method found at

This site sells you a relatively short video to watch online.  The video demonstrates a non-intuitive but effective method for children to become acclimated to balancing on a moving bicycle.  In my own experience with my non-athletically-gifted children they all learned to ride using this method in 10-minutes or less.  I have since helped other neighborhood children learn in a similar amount of time.

Arguably, a method such as this might be considered more of an intangible “hack” than a tangible “tool” – but for me it was very cool either way.

-- Daniel Barenholtz  

[Given the cost and nature of the training, Pedal Magic offers a straight forward guarantee if you're not satisfied with the video. --OH]

Pedal Magic Video
$20 for 48 hours access

Available from

The Backstage Handbook

backstage handbook.jpg

I bought this book back in college when taking stagecraft. I still look through it and refer to it every now and again when doing woodworking projects at home. For a do-it-yourself person this book has a lot of useful shop math, sizes of stock nuts/bolts, strength and properties of various materials like canvas or rope, diagrams of wood joints, doors, chairs and ramps, and loads of tool and fastener drawings.

It won’t tell you how to build a chair or use a fastener, but it will help you identify things quickly. It is a fine reference and everyone I show it to is blown away at the amount of information it holds.

-- Rob M  

The Backstage Handbook: The Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information
Paul Carter and George Chiang
Third Edition
1994, 310 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Image via flickr/hodgepodge

Garlic Twist

We’ve always used a standard, run-of-the-mill garlic press, probably just because it was what was in the drawer. It only used half the clove. It was a pain to clean. And stinky hands were hard to avoid. It’s a device whose engineering is outdated.

We were downtown recently, just having finished brunch, and decided to walk around the square. Just a couple of doors down we have a cute little kitchen store. It’s always a fun place to cruise, and as I’m checking out, with a brand-spanking new garlic press in my hand, there at the register is a box labeled Garlic Twist. It was the same price as the garlic press so I swapped.

This thing is awesome. Give the cloves a whack with the bottom of the press (it’s nice, sturdy acrylic). Remove the outer layer and toss them in the garlic twist. Slip the lid on and twist the top and bottom in opposite directions. Stop twisting when the garlic is the desired consistency. It works equally well with a single clove or a handful.

The package says you can also do ginger or olives or cherries. I haven’t tried that, but it should work just as well.

-- Melissa  

Garlic Twist

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Garlic Twist


Independence Day Call For Submissions

We’ve had some excellent submissions as of late, and I’m hoping to extend the trend!

Best introductory, weekend welding gear?
Need a starter set of most common nuts, bolts, screws. Any good deals?
An economical home windmill? Small-scale hydropower for streams?
Affordable, high-functioning walkie talkies?
Best mechanical stud finder?
Best introductory guide/setup for beekeeping?
Backyard smoker?
Predator proof chicken coop?
Introduction to hydroponics?
Automatic chicken plucker?
The ultimate walker for an elderly person?
A decent vacuum-cooking cookbook for amateurs?
The best digital critter cam?
Updated graphics tablet?
Best dehumidifier for a moldy basement?
Best pressure cooker for canning?
Rain barrel?
High BTU propane stove?

We’re also looking for tips!
What are the essential things to do before moving into a new house or apartment?
How can one safely remove an ant infestation?

Help us find the best stuff out there and submit some reviews!



Nest Learning Thermostat

Last year I replaced my old-looking but perfectly functional programmable thermostat with a better looking, WiFi-equipped model. The remote aspect of it was good. We could set “away” temps, and restore normal temps on our way back home. And the programmable part was always good – cool at night, not working so hard when we’re at work, etc.

But even though the thing was from a “major name”, it was a true PITA. While it worked most of the time, any time we wanted to tweak things, ugh. It was miserable. Then Nest came out with their Learning Thermostat.

I  recently put one in and it’s well beyond what I was hoping the other might be. Superbly easy installation and activation, beautiful to look at, and as user-friendly as anything can be. It’s still in learning mode which basically means it is figuring out our daily schedules. But so far they’ve thought of everything, and this has given me complete confidence in its long term purpose.

Nest also provides apps that allow you to control your thermostat from your iOS or Android phone or tablet. You can also track energy usage history, etc. At $249 it’s a lot more than other thermostats, and so maybe not suited for everyone’s budget. But I’ll say it’s more than suitable for any home. It’s a beautifully designed and exceptionally functional thermostat that continues to do its job very well.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Nest Learning Thermostat

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nest

A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers

This book is a tome of body science for yoga teachers weighing in over 1000 pages. I purchased it a few months ago. While I’ve skimmed the entire volume, I’ve spent the most time on the appendix related to balance in yoga postures.

Most yoga instructors can tell you a handful of things that improve balance such as a gazing point, engaged muscles of the standing leg, and mental concentration. Mel Robin has written 80 pages on this subject. He covers gravitational effects on yoga postures; aspects of mechanical metastability; generating counter-torque when falling; balance sensors, and neural repatterning among many, many other topics. This one section alone has changed the way I practice balancing asanas and how I teach them to my students.

With the recent publication of William Broad’s controversial book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards it’s more important than ever for yoga teachers to understand if and how science backs up claims related to the medical benefits of yoga. Robin’s book does just that. It looks at the science behind the asanas.

I understand that he is working on his newest edition…

-- Michele McGinnis  

A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers
Mel Robins
First Edition, 2009, 1000 pages

Available from Amazon

Mommy’s Helper Electrical Outlet Covers

I began installing these outlet covers over a year ago when my twins started crawling around the house. They were fascinated by standard outlet button covers, and learned how to pry them out. These sliding outlet covers are much simpler to operate (simply place plug tines in slots and slide to the left to engage actual outlet slots), and require a level of coordination that the boys cannot defeat even at 1.5 years.

The covers also solved an existing problem I had with loose outlets. You know the sort where you plug in your vacuum and with the slightest tug on the cord it pops out of the outlet. These sliding covers act as an anchor and hold the plug in tightly.

My house was built in 1991 and has what appear to be completely average outlet plates, and every one has accepted one of these covers perfectly. They screw in neatly, have a foam gasket for insulation, and the plastic is sturdy enough not to bow at all when firmly tightened with the screw. There are several brands of similar slide-type covers, but I can’t vouch for their fitting capability.

-- Sarah Brown  

Mommys Helper Safe-Plate Electrical Outlet Covers

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mommy's Helper



Years back, in CS Lewis’ essay ‘On The Reading of Old Books,’ I encountered a suggestion that has stuck with me ever since. Lewis posited that each generation of humanity takes certain things for granted: assumptions that go unexamined and unquestioned because they are commonly held by all. It was Lewis’ opinion that reading books written by prior generations would help us to see around these generational blind spots.

In her new book, Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything, FS Michaels suggests that just such a blind spot has, over the course of generations, come to dominate the narrative and values that our society lives by. From education and the arts to how we eat, think, and play, Michaels asserts that we have been steeped in a single point of view, the economic, where value is reduced to what can be sold and worth is determined by financial expediency. Michael’s writing is clear and sharp as she brings the impact of this pervasive global philosophy down to the personal level, showing how it affects our lives in the everyday.

Michaels spent years researching this book and it shows. This book is packed full of observations and opinions from a wide range of economists, artists, philosophers and scholars, and Michaels introduces each new section of the book with a concise historical context outlining how things once were, how they developed, and how we arrived where we are. Michaels presents a clear argument without resorting to soapboxing, emotional appeals, or badgering. There is no guilt trip here, just a careful deconstruction of philosophical assumptions that too often go unquestioned. And while it is intellectually satisfying, Monoculture is no overbearing academic tome. Michaels’ writing is engaging and accessible for readers with a wide range of ability and interest. This is not a pounded pulpit, but a door opening into a discussion that we as a society badly need to have.

In a time of seemingly constant budget cuts and belt-tightening, this book is a valuable tool in provoking thought and discussion about how we as a society value the arts, education, and health. This is a book I have found myself recommending and lending out time and again as I talk with friends about what constitutes quality of life and what we each seek to gain from life and the world around us. Regardless of your political or philosophical point of view, Monoculture is a valuable discussion-starter in considering the shape of our world.

-- David Shepherd  

Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything
F. S. Michaels
2011, 202 pages

Available from Amazon