SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap


This is a battery operated cat door that unlocks (going inside) by reading the cat’s microchip. Our cat was chipped at our shelter for around $10, but commercial vets are also able to do it for a bit more. No need to worry about lost collar keys, or magnets. Keeps out unprogrammed animals. The door also has the standard four-setting mechanical overide locking feature of: in-out, in only, out only, locked. If your cat is not chipped, you can also use an RFID collar key (not included).

We previously had a magnetically keyed cat door, but you then have the choice of using a safety collar and losing the (not cheap) key every now and then, or using a non-safety collar and risking the cat strangling itself.

Raccoons eventually defeated our magnetically keyed door. They haven’t defeated this one (yet), although the mechanical parts of the latching action are similar.

-- Bruce Bowen  

SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap

Available from Amazon


Material Libraries

There are thousands of types of materials to make things from. The first impulse for most of us is to use known materials like wood, steel, concrete, and glass. But each of those have hundreds of varieties, each with their own properties. How about metallic ceramics? And every year brand new materials are invented. How can one find out what materials are available?

One way to become familiar with the vast possibilities of materials is to visit a materials library. That’s what professional designers and architectures do when embarking on a project. Maybe what they design can be made of some kind of glass? Or super strong plastic? Or bendable wood? Larger design firms have their own material collection, which they use for inspiration, research and for sharing with clients. Below is an unusually large material library at the New York City architecture firm 1100: Architect. Smaller ones can be found at most design firms.


Not everyone has the space or time to build their own. So Material Connexion is a commercial business operating in 8 major design-center cities of the world. For a subscription fee you can use their extensive material library. They add about a dozen new materials per month. A fair number of university art centers also use them to install and manage their collections.

MaterialsLibrary Home

Art, architecture and design centers in colleges and universities have begun creating material libraries that rival the depth and usefulness of book libraries. Notable collections include Harvard’s Materials Collection and RISD’s Material Resource Center in Providence, RI. At both you can check out a sample to study, just like a book:

To Borrow Items from the Material Resource Center
Select items from the shelves and bring them to the checkout desk.
Materials circulate for 7 days at a time. Please return materials promptly – an overdue fine of .20 per 5 items will be charged.

The Materials Lab at the University of Texas was the pioneer in creating material libraries several decades ago. Their own library contains 25,000 different types of materials. Even better, the catalog of the Material Lab is openly available online. It’s organized by domain and even though you can’t touch them, you can learn a lot by browsing and searching. You can quickly see, say, how many different types of concrete blocks are available, or how many types of metallic glass, or plywood laminates.

Chances are that if there is a art/design college near you, they have a material library that you could at least visit. The local art college in my neighborhood is the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I visited their materials library, which is small, but stimulating. Here the librarian oversees the collection. I was free to browse it.


Even better, it is not hard to accumulate your own collection of materials, or even start a shared library with friends and colleagues. It is not just the pieces of stuff that is valuable, but the information about the stuff — its specs, what it can do, or not do, where it comes from, how to get more of it.

-- KK  

Material Connexion Materials Database
Individual online subscription

University of Texas, Austin Materials Lab
online catalog, free

California College of the Arts Materials Library
openly accessible, but non-circulating
online database, free


Flexible LED Strip Lights

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We installed flexible LED light strips in our kitchen for under cabinet and within cabinet lighting. These are very low energy consumption, cool to the touch, and rated to last for 50,000 hours.


The strips are about 1 cm wide and 2 mm thick. The strips come on a spool with a sticky tape side. You press the sticky side to the bottom of the cabinet (or the sides inside) and the strip gives a very diffuse effective and efficient light. They are so thin, you can’t really see the light strip itself, only the glow. The strip is a circuit of LEDs in a row. They have marked segments about every 2-3 inches where you can cut them to fit. They typically run off of 12 volts; the transformer can sit i a cabinet, attic, or basement. You can also specific different color temperatures (very warm to very cool). The lights are dimmable.



We used them under our cabinets and inside of one cabinet (picture above).

There are tons of manufacturers peddling flexible LED strips now. You can purchase them in meter strips or on 5 meter reels. Here is one supplier with many products and variations: I have no experience in using this outfit. It is a new market so quality varies.

We used a local California-based manufacturer, Aion. Their prices are higher than many of the imports (usually from China), but they had a deliverable guarantee of 5 years. Unfortunately they don’t deal retail, wholesale only through electricians, who can reliably install it.

If anyone has experience with installing DIY LED strips, please let us know.

And these nifty strips can be used for all kinds of other illumination where flexibility and thinness is desired.

— KK


Carpenter Pencil and Keson Sharpener

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I have been a carpenter for thirty years or so. I started out as a framer on single family homes, where I used the flat carpenter’s pencil. Its sturdy lead stood up to marking rough lumber but was a little tricky to sharpen. You want a flat chisel point not a conical point. This is accomplished quickly and easily with an inexpensive Keson pencil sharpener.

My framing days are long gone, thankfully. I have worked in many aspects of the field, from general carpentry to boatbuilding to cabinetmaking and am currently installing interior doors and high-end trim. Through it all I have held on to that flat pencil. It never ceased to amaze me how many employers (and I’ve been through a few) have told me to lose the flat pencil and get with the program and use a round pencil. To my mind, the only thing a round pencil is good for is taking a lunch order or making out the bill. The point breaks easily when marking wood and is difficult to sharpen unless you have an electric sharpener under your chopbox, which many guys do.

-- Paul Francy  

Keson Carpenter Pencil Sharpener

Available from Lee Valley

Also available from Amazon

Manufactured by Keson


Smart Light Switch

We just had a new light switch installed in our bathroom, the Lutron Maestro Occupancy Sensor. It is smart and cool, but it needs a user manual! Yes, a manual for a light switch!

Because of new building codes, bathroom gear needs to conserve energy by keeping electricity use to a minimum. One way of low use is via LED lights; the other is via a smart switch that has a motion detector built in, which will fade the lights after X minutes if no one moving inside. And it will turn them on when you enter. It also remembers what level the light was last when you turn it on. The downside is that you have to PROGRAM the light switch — what levels, when, and how long it takes to go off. It comes with a dense how-to-manual. But the default settings seem fine and the device is pretty cool. Here is a shot of the instructions, which also cover the other side of the paper.


It costs about $36 from places like Amazon.

— KK


3M Scotch-Weld EPX Applicator

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I always used to buy epoxy locally in disposable dispensers that are supposed to dispense equal ratios of the components. The dispensers never work that well: one side always starts to move first and then to get a reasonably equal mix I have to mix up a lot more than I need.

The 3M duo-pack adhesives are sold separately from the dispenser. Because the dispenser is not disposable, it can be a decently built tool, like a caulk gun for epoxy.

The way it works is that you slip on the adhesive cartridge. The applicator has a plunger that pushes up the adhesive cartridge. Think caulk gun. The epoxy comes in double tubes like a doubled tube of caulk. When an adhesive has a different mixing ratio the tubes in the cartridge have different diameters. And there is a different plunger that fits in the tube. The supported mixing ratios are 1:1, 1:2 and 1:10 because those are the ratios of adhesives available. When you buy the system you get the first two plungers, but the 1:10 plunger is sold separately as it is used only for DP-8005 and DP-8010, I think. Just like a caulk gun you can, but you need not remove the adhesive cartridge between uses. The gun stays clean. There is no need to clean it. (Unlike a caulk gun, the adhesive doesn’t leak out the back and get on the gun.)

In fact, if you’re not so worried about waste there’s even a further convenience: static mixing nozzles. These nozzles attach to the end of the epoxy tube and do all the mixing for you so that it really works like a caulk gun: what comes out is ready to use, completely mixed epoxy.

But even if you don’t use the somewhat wasteful mixing nozzles you can still use the gun to extrude the correct ratio mix of 3M adhesive products and then hand mix. I have been able to mix up just the amount of epoxy I need when with the old system I would have mixed ten times what I needed. (No exaggeration here.)

I first got this system because I was trying to glue zinc-plated magnets to polyethylene. I tried regular epoxy. It doesn’t stick well to either one of these materials. There are two adhesives that I think are of particular note in the 3M lineup.

The DP-190 (which I have only used a tiny bit) is supposed to stick to everything except the “low surface energy” plastics. I saw that it is recommended for use with the zinc-plated rare earth magnets (by the magnet sellers). The DP-8005 is designed to stick to low surface energy plastics. I got it for my application.

I also got a small mat made out of teflon because nothing is supposed to stick to that. This was great for repairs using epoxy. I repaired something and laid it on the teflon and it peeled right off after it was cured.

According to 3M, epoxy shelf life is less than a couple years, so you don’t want to buy a lifetime supply at any given time. The shelf life of DP-8005 is only 6 months. The shelf life of the previously reviewed Scotch-Weld Two Part Urethane is 1 year.

— Adrian M.

McMaster-Carr sells a very similar product much cheaper, half the cost, for $23. It does not use 3M cartridges. I have had good experiences with Lord adhesives that this gun does use.

— KK


3M Scotch-Weld EPX Applicator

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by 3M

Duo-Pak Dispensing Gun
Available from McMaster Carr

Squeak No More

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This tool is a system for eliminating squeaky floors. There are several versions available; I used the Squeeeek-No-More for carpeted floors.

Essentially, the kit inclues the following: a tool for finding joists under the floor; a tripod depth stop and square-drive driver bit for the drill; and square-drive screws which are grooved at the top of the threads.

First, you locate the joist by chucking the joist finder, which is a long screw threaded only on the end and has a hex end for the drill/driver. Pick a place and go for it. If you are over a joist, once the screw is down a couple inches, when you back it out it will push itself out. If you’re not over a joist, it spins freely. It’s pretty easy to tell even when the screw goes in if you are on a joist.

Then you set the tripod stand over the joist and drive a screw through the center into the floor. The screw goes through the carpet, through the sub-floor, and into the joist. Once a few screws are in place, you can use the side of the tripod to rock the screws back and forth to break it off where grooved. The screws’ depth is set by the tripod so that they break off slightly below the surface of the sub-floor.

After a little brushing with your hand, the carpet reveals no evidence of the screws.

After seeing an add in the back of a magazine, I bought a set. When I saw it, I did not expect the system to work, since I was expecting a dual-pitch screw that would pull the subfloor to the joist. The screws are just like wood screws with a groove. We had a large area about 1′ x 3′ in our bedroom that squeaked a lot. You could feel the give in the floor.

I put about 15 screws into the area, about every 4″ in three different joists. Now it is almost completely silent. This was only a few days ago, so I’m not sure of how long it will last, but so far so good.

-- Jason Melvin  

Squeak No More Kit

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by O'Berry Enterprises

Sample Excerpts:

A cutaway view of one of the screws after it has been embedded in the joist.

Youngstown Waterproof Winter Plus Work Gloves

waterproof work gloves.jpeg

I received these gloves about six years ago from my wife, in one of those rare intersections of need and availability. It was Christmastime and I needed to shovel, so I broke these out and went to work. I never gave them a second thought, until I realized I had done a fair amount of ice chopping, opening the garage, and manipulating other things without ever removing the gloves. This is somewhat of a rarity for me since I usually cannot work in gloves. Fast-forward to spring, and I used them to protect my hands when chopping and stacking wood; working on the car; working in the garage. I *far extended* the prescribed use of these, despite the fact that they were winter gloves and waterproof. In a pinch, I’ve even used them when moving flaming logs in an outdoor fire pit.

A short word about the waterproofing: I tend to agree with other owners in that these aren’t strictly waterproof. If I was a long-line fisherman I may not use them. However, as a north Jersey resident who works on his cars, shovels snow, and builds snowmen for the kids, I can attest to their warmth and utility in the cold and wet.

With respect to function, they fit my slightly larger hand size well, and the back strap does seal in against cold and snow. The palms and fingers are textured and I am able to pick up bolts, thread nuts, small tools and sockets, and work with wrenches rather easily. The fingertips are boxed, not tapered, but in some ways the fingertips work to my advantage in picking up things on the ground.

When they get *really* dirty, you can toss them in the wash. The construction is such that the inner glove liner is not sewn to the shell, but it is a huge pain in the posterior to re-fit the glove components back to original fit. I used a wooden spoon and patience to eventually restore it to normal comfort.

You can kill them. Eventually, I wore them down at the seams where the fingers meet the palm, and the palm itself. I hung onto them as long as I could but until recently could not find them. I hung onto the wrist strap tag so that if I ever found them online, I’d be ready. I rediscovered them on Amazon not too long ago and will be re-ordering soon. I plan to look at the normal work ones in addition to the winter ones; the capacitive thread ones look intriguing, since they have a conductive thread sewn into the fingertips and thumbs for smartphone use.

-- Christopher Wanko  

Youngstown Waterproof Winter Plus Glove

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Youngstown Gloves

Homemade Hot Pad


When I need to make a hot compress I put dried beans (preferably lentils) in a pillowcase and heat in the microwave for a minute or two. It’s cheap, easy, doesn’t smell horrible, and retains heat for quite some time. Reusable, too. If you want a pretty one, there are some nice ones available from etsy, including scented ones.

— Courtney Ostaff

I also make hot compresses at home, but with rice in a long sock. Same method: microwave for a minute or two to enjoy around 10 minutes of heat. After several uses, the rice will eventually start to breakdown and you’ll need to replace it. The heated rice does emit a very faint smell, but I actually find it to be comforting. This might be a problem, though, if you’re using the heat to treat migraine pain.

I tried using a rubber hot-water pouch recently, but I found that the thick rubber walls weren’t transmitting heat very well, so I went back to rice in a sock.

— Camille Cloutier