ProActive Disc

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The best lumbar support I’ve found is Fitterfirst’s ProActive Disc. The primary purpose of this inflatable disc is to give a “Swiss Ball” experience to ordinary chairs. It also works very well as a highly-portable lumbar support for flying and driving. The device was designed by this specialty shop. It’s made by Cascade Designs and has the same wonderful oversized valve used on the Therm-a-Rest mattress pads.

The way to use the disc is to fully inflate it, position the pad where you want it, and crack the valve until it’s deflated to the desired level. It’s pricey but should last forever if treated well. If you do happen to mistreat the pad, you can use the Cascade Designs repair kits to fix it. I also use it when going to events at a stadium for cushioning and to boost my height a bit (yes — I was that guy sitting in front of you). One option that’s a bit less expensive is the Ledraplastic Overball: a little ball marketed as a play toy about 20 years ago.

The balls inflate to a diameter of 7 to 9 inches; they’re springy and remarkably strong. Some Pilates instructors started using them as a substitute for Joe’s Magic Circle. The Pilates Mini Ball workout is a classic (here’s a sample). Colleen Craig’s “Strength Training on the Ball” uses a mini ball in tandem with a Swiss Ball for multi-directional destabilization — a fantastic strength/balance program in a book.

After getting noticed, many different manufacturers are making their own balls now: the FitBall Mini, the Fitterfirst Mini Ball, the Franklin Air Ball, and even Leslee Bender’s Bender Ball (promoted on infomercials). All of these little balls are are well-made; they are interchangeable. If you hurt after a flight, lying on the floor with an Overball (or one of its imitators) in the small of your back is tremendously relaxing.

-- Phil Earnhardt  

Fitter First ProActive Disc
$40

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Fitter First



Dishwasher Rerack

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Dishwasher racks are made of cheap metal coated in a thin layer of plastic.  Over time, that plastic gets worn away and the metal beneath quickly rusts. Your dishwasher rack looks old and shoddy, and soon your spouse is demanding its replacement. You COULD replace the rack. However, try calling the manufacturer and you’ll find the price for replacing the dishwasher rack is outrageous; most are well over $100.

For less than $10, Rerack is a plastic coating you can just brush on to restore the plastic coating.  It comes in a 1-ounce bottle with a brush built onto the cap and is very easy to use. Just paint it on where the rust is showing through and let it dry. It is dry to the touch in about half an hour, but you should wait overnight to use the dishwasher.
rerack.jpeg Here are a couple of tips:

1.  Don’t get it on your hands. It drys quickly and is difficult to remove.

2.  If you’ve got a lot of those stick-up tines on your rack that all have the tips worn down on them, I found the easiest way to get a good result was to suspend the rack upside down about a foot over some newspaper. Then just hold the bottle upright under each of the spikes (which now point down) and raise the bottle up, dipping the end of the spike into the bottle. You can quickly go from spike to spike that way and by dipping you ensure a fairly uniform coverage. Gravity helps the end form as a nub of thicker coverage at the end as well, which has proved very effective.

The product is white, so if you’ve got a colored rack you just have to deal with that, but it is better than rust showing through.

By the way, I know there are many other plastic-dip products out there, often cheaper by volume, for doing things like dipping tool handles into and so on. Those may well work for this application, but Rerack is purpose made to withstand the environment inside that dishwasher. For under $10, it’s worth the price.

-- Andrew Pollack  

Plasti Dip Dishwasher Rerack
$8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Plasti Dip



Ikea Prickar Bibs

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I’ve been using these bibs for over a year, and they are the best of the dozens I’ve had and the only ones I use now. They are cheap; a pack of two costs $5. They go on easily with a sturdy velcro closure on the back. I’ve washed them countless times and they’re still like new. The long sleeves and total coverage keep clothes 100% clean.

They are water repellant and even have a flap on the bottom to catch stray food and liquids. They can be wiped clean of small messes with a wet sponge and be ready for reuse right away. For big messes they can be taken off inside out to contain the spill. I always keep some in my bag and find them to be one of the things I can’t go without.

-- Maria Piccolo  

Klad Prickar Bibs
Pack of two
$5

Available from and manufactured by IKEA



Cool Tools Gift Guide Contest

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Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone and gift buying has gone into overdrive it’s about time we announced our Cool Tools Gift Guide Contest. In previous years (2008, 2009, 2010) we’ve had people list what great tools they were buying as presents in the comments. This year we are offering two prizes from our prize pool for the two best reviews: the first for the best review of a new tool, and the second for the best update or re-review of an older tool in our archive. Given that Cool Tools has been around for eight years there are plenty of fantastic gifts and tool reviews already tucked away that need updating, and we want to hear what you think deserves to be highlighted again this year!

So what cool tools are you going to be giving as presents this year? Tell us what you’re giving, and why. It can be anything useful, playful, or practical; but always cool. We want to know your gift ideas, and will be publishing the best new and updated reviews in a guide that we will publish in early December.

Remember, a great Cool Tool review consists of the following five parts with an extra for good measure:

1) a succinct description of what the tool is,
2) how it changed your behavior,
3) why Cool Tools should run the item,
4) why it is superior to other things,
5) why we should believe you,
6) and why you’re giving it as a gift

Submissions (submit as many as you’d like) will be accepted until Tuesday, December 8th, and the winners will be announced later that week. So tell us what you love to give and why!

And a hearty congratulations to Matthew Perks for his winning review of Fatwood for the Fall and Winter Tools Contest.

-- Oliver Hulland  



Silicone Pinch Bowls

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I’ve been using these little Norpro silicone pinch bowls for about a year now. I picked them up on a whim at the grocery store and they are now easily one of the most useful and well loved items in my kitchen. Tiny, colorful and versatile with a seemingly never ending number of uses.

My family uses them for prep work in cooking (their intended lot), but also as dipping cups for any variety of condiments. I also use them to hold small servings of dried fruits or nuts to snack on, to hold screws in while doing simple housework, to mix spice blends in or when I need to ingest small amounts of liquids for taking medicine. They’re flexibility of form allows them to fit into tight spaces and their durability allows them to be used without fear of breakage or wear. They are simply more attractive, versatile and easier to use than other small bowls of their small size.

-- Shad Miles  

[For those looking for a larger version of silicone bowls check out the previously reviewed Guyot Squishy Bowls.--OH ]

Norpro Silicone Mini Pinch Bowls
$7

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Norpro



Vinyl Zipper Wallet

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A clear vinyl bank bag is a great and inexpensive way to organize tools or materials. I’ve been using these for years in the field, and I love them. Yes, they stiffen up in the winter, but none of mine have ever been damaged, winter or not.

These are better than the typical canvas bags because it’s easy to see what’s in them. I use a bunch of these for very different purposes, and the old Klein bags I had were frustrating because I didn’t know which was which – unless I wrote on the blank side, and then the bag was kinda locked into that purpose forever more.

These things are just too easy. A perfect Cool Tool.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Vinyl Zipper Wallet
11″ x 6″
$7

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by MMF Industries



Razor-Back 4-Inch Ice Scraper

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When you should have shoveled but didn’t get around to it you’re probably going to need an ice chopper/scraper. If you don’t catch a snow before the first melt-freeze cycle, or the first few hundred people walked by, what you end up with is a two inch thick layer of ice that laughs at your snow shovel.

After breaking numerous shovels, garden hoes, and edgers I finally bought a good, heavy scraper. The sharp edge slips under the layer of ice, and the wooden handle mutes some of the eventual wrist pain from slamming the end into the concrete/ice interface a few thousand times. The Razor-Back scraper I use has a heavy, narrow forged head for maximum energy transfer. Save your shovels for pushing snow and get a heavy-duty ice scraper.

-- Ry4an Brase  

Razor-Back 4″ Ice Scraper
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Razorback



LG HX350T LED Projector

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Recently, a friend of mine blurted out upon seeing the size and array of inputs on my LG HX350T projector, “This is the SMC Barricade of projectors!” The SMC Barricade was a great wireless router. Hackable, cheap, simple, versatile. Nothing like high-end, but a reliable piece of gear that did far more than its size and price implied. It’s a fair description of this projector. It’s easily portable (1.7 lbs), has thoughtfully arranged inputs and menus, and comes with a nice full-size (not membrane-keyed credit-card sized) remote control.

I’ve been watching LED projectors for a while. This is my second, and the first I’ve actually bought (the other was a demo unit). While at 300-lumens it’s no longer the brightest LED-based projector in its price class (Optoma now has one with slightly better resolution claiming 500-lumens ), as far as I know this is the cheapest LED option at this junction of brightness and resolution to feature a built-in tuner. The tuner works well enough, though I’ve tried it only briefly and with conventional (non-HD) resolution. For $50 less, you can also go tuner-free.

Besides the coax input for cable signal, there are inputs for a composite TV signal, VGA, and HDMI signals, as well as a USB slot. You can plug in a USB key with video files in any of a fairly wide array of supported formats, and play them straight from there. It’s not the very smallest LED projector on the market, but it’s hard to see how it could be much smaller and still have so many input options.

All the inputs in the world don’t matter if the output doesn’t look good though, and I’m happy to report that, to my eye, it looks great. On any white (or even light-colored) wall, the image is sharp enough for my taste; on a screen, though, it’s even better. (I’m using it with an Epson Duet 80” screen, selected for portability, and for having a wide-screen mode.) Realism dictates that a 300-lumen projector be used in a room that’s not brightly lit. In a dark room, it has no problem providing a 6-8 foot 720p movie screen. You’ll never mistake the output for that of a multi-mega-lumen high-end projector. This is a game of trade-offs. For my purposes, computer demos, home video screenings, late-night movies, and projecting scary scenes for a home-made haunted house, it works fine so long as I can control the lighting. In a room that’s merely dim, it still looks great in the 40″ range, which is a pleasant way to use it as an adjunct computer monitor.

Speaking of which: this projector is very nearly plug-and-play on my laptop, which is currently running Linux Mint (Debian Edition). I had to click on the “Monitors” control widget to specify its spatial relationship to the laptop’s own screen, but that’s about it. Even for this perpetual newbie, it was blessedly trivial. I plugged in the HDMI cable, and suddenly I had my first dual-monitor setup.

The sound is an understandable weak point in a tiny projector. Rather than harp on this, I accept that the output of the miniscule in-built speaker is on the wrong side of mediocre, and choose to adopt the attitude of “You mean it has *sound*?!” If you want better sound, or surround sound, bring your own. (There’s a stereo minijack on the back, which can be connected to a stereo, or computer speakers, or headphones; you could instead hook up your video source itself to whatever sound system you’ve got on hand.)

My only other niggles with this device: the first is that the focus wheel doesn’t have much throw. I haven’t actually had any trouble getting acceptable focus, but I wish it had more room for fine-tuning. The second is that there’s no zoom lens, so you must figure out a physical arrangement of projector / screen / source that works for you. A cheap camera tripod might be in my future.

It comes with a fairly nice carrying bag and cables for VGA and analog signals, but not HDMI. My advice: go mail order, and save the big-box store markup on an HDMI cable.

The Optoma I mentioned beats this one on most specs, but weighs (a bit) more and does (slighly) less, so I remain happy and declare this a very cool tool. And I’m looking forward to its successors!

-- Timothy Lord  

LG HX350T LED Projector
$650

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by LG



PFERD Chain Sharp

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We heat our home with wood, and this has made my favorite fall/winter tool a Stihl MS260 chain saw. But if the chain isn’t sharp, the saw is tiring and dangerous. The best tool for keeping a sharp chain is the Pferd Chain Sharp: a device that files both the saw teeth and the depth gauges in one operation.

It’s not only time-saving, but it also makes sure the depth gauges are at the right height. This is something that’s easy to ignore since most chain saw sharpening are designed to hold only the saw tooth file. But if the depth gauges are too high, they’ll prevent sharp saw teeth from engaging the wood correctly.

I’ve been using the Pferd Chain Sharp for 5-years, sharpening my saw chains every second tank of gas. Since I’ve started using the Pferd, I have never had to take a chain to be sharpened “professionally.”

-- Terry Beck  

[Here is a PDF that illustrates the best sharpening technique.--OH]

PFERD Chain Sharp File and Guide
$22

Available at Bailey’s