Cool tools really work. A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. All reviews on this site are written by readers who have actually used the tool and others like it. Items can be either old or new as long as they are wonderful. We only post things we like and ignore the rest. Suggestions for tools much better than what is recommended here are always wanted. Tell us what you love.
One of the biggest challenges posed by living in Seattle and bike commuting year round has been keeping my glasses clear of rain while riding. I have a small visor that came with my helmet, but it isn’t long enough. This visor, which can be attached/detached via velcro, is the best resolution I’ve come across so far. While my glasses still get wet when it is very windy out (or very misty), the visor drastically increases visibility on most rainy days, keeping my glasses dry.
Although it is designed for kayak helmets (primarily to keep out the sun I assume), it has served me well on my bike helmet and the velcro attachment means I can easily take it off and store it in my pannier on sunny days. Best of all it is cheap at $10 and made by NRS, a company with a strong reputation for quality gear.
I’ve collected quite an assortment of logo emblazoned pens, mousepads, stress balls, and other tchotchkes at professional conferences, but far and away the most fun and useful (as in, it gets used) item I have picked up is the pocket kite. The pocket kite is a small sled-style kite that is kept in a small zippered pouch attached to a key ring that also contains a little reel loaded with kite string.
The kite is very easy to fly, but doesn’t have any wooden supports or anything else that could break. The pouch is barely 3 inches across and weighs next to nothing, so it is easy toss into a backpack for a hike. I keep mine in the courier bag that goes with me everywhere. It is really fun to bust it out when unexpected kite flying opportunities arise. Day at the beach; reaching a summit; dull company picnic. Unless you are a hardcore kite nut, you probably aren’t hanging around waiting for a windy day so you can drop everything and go fly a kite. A pocket kite is ready when you are. And it’s cheap, so when it inevitably gets stuck in a tree, it’s not the end of the world.
f.lux is a free piece of software that slowly shifts the color temperature of your computer monitor throughout the day in order to adapt it to the natural rhythm of light. I first downloaded it after reading about Seth Robert’s self-experimentation involving sleep. As Roberts points out, research indicates that certain color temperatures stimulate wakefulness and affect circadian rhythms. This is why people with Seasonal Affective Disorder use blue light devices that supposedly mimic the blue sky of summer. By using f.lux to shift the temperature of a computer monitor away from blue light and towards red after natural light has faded the idea is that it will diminish the unintended wakefulness caused by the screen and allow for a more restful sleep.
While I am not as careful a self-experimenter as Seth Roberts, I have noticed that when I use f.lux not only do I get sleepier sooner but that I also awake earlier. By simply disabling the program for an hour (an option that is built into the software) I also notice an immediate sense of renewed wakefulness. The shift in color temperature is significant and immediately noticeable when I use my computer at night, but not in a way that negatively impacts the quality of the image on screen (and when it does, or if I need to edit photos, I simply disable it).
The program is available for Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7. A similar program called Redshift is available for Linux users.
I’ve spent about two years in these work pants and believe they offer the most utility for anybody needing to carry a lot of equipment while staying comfortable on the job. They are the perfect pants for anybody in construction. My current pants are six months into their life and are going strong. I’ll need to get new ones for aesthetic reasons long before they even start to wear out.
There are pockets on the knees to insert kneepads into that don’t scratch, cut off bloodflow or bind leg motion in any way. I really don’t even think about having kneepads as they’re just always there. The pads are sold separately for about $10.00.
The most useful pockets (for construction) are the nail bag pockets. They’re located right over your normal hip pockets, and can be tucked in when not in use so they look just like normal pants. You can put nails, screws, tape measure, chalk line, etc. in these pockets and not get poked or feel bulky in any way. The other pockets I use the most are the three pencil pockets (mine are located on the left leg which is perfect for me because I’m left handed). I keep at least two carpenters pencils at all times (I hate looking for a pencil, or not having a backup when I’m on a ladder and drop the one in my hand). A nail punch goes in one pencil pocket, and in front of the pencil pockets is a buttoned pocket about two inches wide and four inches deep where I keep my Leatherman multi-tool unfolded (in plier mode) and securely buttoned in. Above these pockets is a wide button closed pocket that is about five or six inches deep. I keep a bandana in there, and it’ll hold much more if I need it to. The right leg has three long slender pockets that will hold a torpedo level, a pocket T-square, and other similar sized and shaped tools. I keep a speed square in my right back pocket, and a hammer holster and utility knife pouch are attached to my belt.
You may put things in different places, but these will hold pretty much everything a large, bulky, heavy toolbag will hold. These pants keep the weight spread out too, so the perception of the weight is reduced. You can even buy accessories designed to work specifically with the pants if you need extra pockets for anything.
Oh, and you probably want to know how much all this costs. These retail for a whopping $60!!! Probably less than you pay for your Carhartts.
-- Nathan Sharp
[Note: The Skillers pants are very similar to the previously reviewed (but more expensive and difficult to find) Blaklader Work Pants and so we felt it appropriate to recommend this cheaper U.S. made alternative in addition. -- OH]
Skillers Super Canvas Work Pants
Model # 5696
$38 (while supplies last)
If you happen to live in a brick house as I do, you are painfully aware of how difficult it is to change the layout of any feature that is part of the external wall. However, if you need to move your clothes dryer exhaust (or other round pipe), renting a diamond core saw makes for quick and easy work. Diamond saws are often horribly expensive (for obvious reasons) — but renting one for only an hour would be enough time to make a wall into Swiss cheese. A typical hole takes a couple minutes at best, and is perfectly round and smooth — not at all like the result one often gets with a hammer drill, masonry bits, and chisel — it is well worth the trip to the rental office and fees. (And if you have neighbors with brick houses, be sure to ask them if they need any neat holes in exchange for a few dollars/beers!)
I rented from a small local shop (which is sadly now defunct) in my neighborhood of Seattle, and paid $50 for 4 hours’ use of a drill and bit. I just called “Pacific Rim Equipment Rental” where they unfortunately don’t have half-day rates: it is $65 for the drill, and $35 for the bit. I would guess that many Home Depots that do tool rental would carry the drill and bit.
Given the success of the twocontests we held earlier this spring, we have decided to continue the tradition and are pleased to announce our third Cool Tools contest.
Now that summer is finally upon us many of you are no doubt preparing to head into the wilds. Whether you are hiking, backpacking, or car-camping, having the right tools at hand is of the utmost importance. That is why our third Cool Tools contest is seeking reviews of indispensable tools you use while hiking, backpacking, or camping (or preparing to do any of those things).
Send us a recommendation of a cool tool you have used while exploring the great outdoors (or even your backyard), and include a bit about your experience using it, and why others might want to know about it. We are looking for tools that are tried and true; submissions should be for tools that the reviewer has been using for a while, the longer the better.
The world of camping/hiking/backpacking is overwhelmed with new products every year. Here at Cool Tools we aren’t necessarily interested in those products that shave off an ounce or two but cost a fortune (unless, of course, you can justify the added cost). We are interested in utility and how the tool improves your experience. Also, don’t limit yourself to tools you use in the woods; we are also interested in books, websites, or sources that have improved your outdoors experience.
Remember, A great Cool Tool review consists of the following five parts:
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, and
5) why we should believe you.
Back before wire ties, cables were bundled with lacing cord — a flat or round waxed nylon string (flat vs. round require different knots). To this day, lacing cord is used in certain situations where a more flexible bundle is needed, when wire ties are too bulky, or when you need to pull another cable alongside and the lumps of the wire tie would cause problems. Depending on the job, lacing cord comes in a variety of different coatings, materials, strengths and lengths.
Other advantages of lacing cord are that it’s cheap; there isn’t a specific size (cut to any length needed); and it’s good strong cordage that can be used for other things. The main disadvantage is that it takes a bit of skill with knots. You have to be able to tie a clove hitch for the flat cord, or make a slip knot for the round ’12 cord’ and then finish with a half-hitch knot.
I’ve been using lacing cord for over 20 years. As for brands, one brand is pretty much the same as another.
Most tech products are a battleground: you want to get in, but the manufacturer wants to keep you out. To do this, they use odd-sized screws that require exotic screwdriver heads to undo. This set of driver bits is the most comprehensive I have found, and includes all of the unusual sized Torx heads that Apple likes to use, plus more unusual ones like square heads and tri-wings. This selection of 54 driver bits should allow access to the internals of pretty much any piece of small electronics that is held together with screws, although you will also need a set of larger cross-head screws for the bigger screws that are present on larger electronic devices.
Also included is a small screwdriver body and a flexible extending neck that makes it easier to work with more concealed screws. The screwdriver and heads are also magnetized, which is handy for keeping the screws attached to the driver bit as you try and put them back in.
Overall, this is an excellent all-in-one screwdriver set for the curious tinkerer who would rather replace their own hard drive than pay the manufacturer to do it, or for anyone who wants to find out exactly what is hiding in there. And at $20 for the set, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a complete set of individual screwdrivers.
I’ve owned this generator for two years and it’s great for light field work. Turn all your electric tools (weed trimmer, hedge trimmer, leaf blower, even electric chain saws) into gas tools. This generator is OEM’ed to a lot of distributors, who then put their own facade on it. The cheapest version appears to be available at Harbor Freight for ~$99.
It’s very robust and endures overload gracefully (it just peters out without any damage.) It’s the antithesis of the previously reviewed Honda EU Series. You could wear out and throw away a lot of these generators for the price of one of the Honda inverter generators. And the electronic Honda’s don’t take even a momentary overload gracefully. A momentary surge from a power tool will trip the Honda’s breakers even if the nominal power of the load is within spec.
-- Bruce Bowen
Chicago Electric Generator 800 Rated Watts/900 Max Watts Portable Generator
Available from Amazon
Steele Products SP-GG100 1,000 Watt 1.5 HP 2-Stroke Gas Powered Portable Generator
Available from Amazon
I like this new telescoping tree pruner from Fiskars. It is much better than the old tree pruner I used to have that was just a long wood stick with a pulling string attached to the blade. Not only was it heavy, but the string easily tangled. The new one from Fiskars is made with aluminum and is much lighter. The best feature is the pulling mechanism built into the handle. It is convenient, easy to use, and doesn’t tangle. It also comes with an attachable saw for branches that are too large for the pruner, but I have yet to try that out.
I use the tree pruner every summer to keep the branches from growing too close to the power lines in my garden in order to prevent fires.
-- Horace Chan
Fiskars Telescoping Pruning Stik Tree Pruner
Model # 9240
12 feet long