Spud Bar

First, I don’t own this specific model, but this is most like the one I do own. The one I inherited three years ago was referred to as a pry/spud bar. I’ll be referring to it as a spud bar in this review. I wouldn’t recommend trying to dig a post hole with just a spud bar, I imagine it’s possible, but it’ll take you awhile and you’ll look silly. If you’re doing any kind of landscaping or burying any kind of post that isn’t supposed to be moving for a good deal of time, I’d make sure you have a spud bar at your disposal.

So what’s the purpose of a spud bar you ask? Well, if you’re digging in an area that has a fair amount of clay, your typical post hole digger is going to struggle to break up the clay to remove from the hole. But, if you force the wedged end of the spud bar into that clay a couple times and pry, should be a lot easier to remove the clay from the hole.

I’ve also use the spud bar to help clear gravel, roots, heck, I’ve even used it to help clear some concrete. My personal favorite use was when I used mine to pry/roll the ~300 lb. odd shaped rock to a new location in my back yard, friends still don’t believe I moved it myself. The flat round end allows the spud bar to be utilized in coordination with a mallet or sledge hammer to help wedge/drive it wherever you intend.

When it comes down to it, it’s just a shaped steel bar, a simple tool that if utilized correctly, can quite effective.

-- Samuel Sanders  

True Temper 69-Inch Post Hole Digging Bar
$27

Available from Amazon



Currie Ezip Trailz Electric Bike

This is the electric bike I recommend for anyone on a tight budget. The Ezip Trailz is a bargain in terms of how much it can affect your life on little dollars. It is by far the best selling electric bike in the United States, for good reason: For less than $500 it is a decent electric bike with reasonable performance.  At this price point if you just ride the bike regularly it will pay for itself quickly.

It uses a sealed-lead-acid battery (SLA), which is heavy and has a short life expectancy, but… is extremely inexpensive compared to lithium (and more fire safe).  The Trailz weighs in at a hefty 72 pounds because of this SLA  battery.  It comes with step-through model, which I favor because it is much easier to get on and off the bike, which is a big factor on a 70-pound bike.

The Trailz is perfect for anyone who either wants, or needs, a way to get to work without a car or public transport, or for anyone who can’t drive a car for some reason (for instance it makes great transportation for anyone who has lost their license due to a DUI or traffic tickets).

The Currie Trailz is a simple electric bike that rarely fails and is easy to work on. Any bicycle shop should be able to fix 80% of the problems you will encounter. Probably the biggest electrical issue you will ever face is the battery gradually dying if you don’t care for it properly. However its easy enough to buy a new battery from Currie and switch it out — or better yet upgrade to the Currie lithium battery.

The lithium battery will offer slightly more range than the lead acid version, it will be better for climbing hills, and it will lower the weight of the bike by nearly 20 pounds. The lithium battery is pricey, in fact it’s as almost as much as the price of this bike ($359 shipped). It is possible to install 2 of these batteries on the rear rack if you want to double your range.

The Currie Trailz is not the fastest, lightest, or sexiest electric bike on the market, but it is the cheapest, and is therefore a great entry electric bike for those who need a little electrical push to get back on the saddle and out riding.

-- Eric Hicks  

Currie Ezip Trailz Electric Bike
$500

Available from Amazon



Mastrad Orka Silicone Oven Mitt

The modern method of roasting a turkey calls for roasting breast-down for the first hour, then turning the bird. “Turn the bird using tongs” the instructions say. (Yeah, right. Tongs. Sure, I’m going to try to pick up and flip a 20 lb piece of hot, moist meat using tongs. Not!)

Fortunately, I have Mastrad Orka oven mitts instead.

With these silicone mitts on, I can just pick up the turkey with my hands, and turn it over! Solo! No tongs. No worries about dropping it. And even though the oven was at 400 degrees I did not feel any heat on my hands, not when taking the roaster out of the oven nor when picking up the bird and turning it over.

With a quick swish with soap and hot water, toss them into the drying rack and they are clean and ready to be used again.

I did not buy these mitts, they were purchased by a former housemate. I would not have bought them, I thought traditional quilted style oven mitts did everything I needed. I had no idea I’d ever need these silicon mitts. But they are here in my kitchen this morning, and I’m ever so thankful on this Thanksgiving that I have them! I’m going to recommend them to everyone now.

-- JC Dill  

Mastrad Pro Silicone Oven Mitt 11-Inch
$25

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mastrad



Kelvin 23

I travel a lot, and I don’t always check a bag, which means the vast majority of multi-tools are verboten due to the knife/saw/other bladed instrument that they all seem to have.

The Kelvin 23 is different. It’s a 23-in-1 tool that’s compact and lightweight. I bought it on a splurge several years ago, and I’ve been happy ever since.

At around $25, it includes everything you need while you’re out and about:

  • A screwdriver, with 16 screw bits, Hex, Flat, Phillips, Square. It also locks at 90 degrees to give you more leverage when you need it and is magnetized to help keep screws in place
  • A hammer – while the ‘hammer’ part is nothing more than a flat round part on one end of the tool, it works surprisingly well for basic hanging needs
  • 6 foot tape measure
  • LED light
  • A level – being that the tool is only 5.25″ long,it’s not the most accurate level, but it does work in a pinch!

While it doesn’t have a pair of pliers included, other than that it covers about 90% of the stuff I do at home or need when I’m away. I’ve used it to hang pictures, put together Ikea furniture, tighten squeaky hotel beds, hammer things back into place and more.

I don’t end up using it often, but I do feel better just knowing I have some kind of multi-tool with me when I’m traveling!

-- Jeremy Pavleck  

Kelvin 23 Multitool
$25

Available from Amazon



Mann Lake Beekeeping Starter Kit

This is the least expensive kit for starting beekeeping. It has everything you need to raise some honey, except 3 things. You’ll need bees; order them by mail separately, or find a swarm. You’ll need to add at least one “upper” story of frames to store your share of the honey, and you’ll need access to an extractor – extracting honey by hand from this upper is possible but extremely messy. With care the equipment included should last many decades. You need only keep adding boxes of frames.

Used bee equipment is not advisable these days because of rampant bee disease. A beginner should start with new gear. There are a few sources with cheaper kits, but their shipping costs — between costs $60-$90 – will kill any bargain. Mann Lake offers free shipping, a fantastic deal with such bulky stuff. Also, their boxes and frames come fully assembled, which is also not the norm. That can save you several hours, and for a beginner, it provides assurance everything is right. Get the unpainted option; that’s easy enough to do and you can choose your color (they don’t have to be white).

If you have Amazon Prime you can get the same deal through Amazon.

-- KK  

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The Basic Starter Kit Includes:

  • Assembled Hive Bodies or Supers
  • Assembled Frames with Rite-Cell® Foundation OR
    Waxed Standard Plastic Frames
  • Assembled Telescoping Cover w/Inner Cover
  • Assembled Bottom Board w/Reducer
  • 9 1/2″ (24.13 cm) Hive Tool
  • Economy Leather Gloves (Large, color may vary)
  • Alexander Bee Veil
  • Dome Top Smoker w/Guard
  • “The New Starting Right With Bees” Book



 

Make 12 Cool Parent-Child Projects

projects

Next week (August 4 and 5) my 11-year-old daughter Jane and I are conducting a free 2-day live video workshop produced by CreativeLive. We’ll show you how to make 12 cool projects, ranging from electronic musical instruments to balloon videocameras.

You can watch the live video of the workshop for free, or if you live in the SF Bay Area, you can come into the studio and participate with me and Jane. (If you want to come into the studio and have a 9- to 13-year-old, let me know in the comments.)

Here’s the link to RSVP to the free live class, and to learn more about the class: http://cr8.lv/markfdiy

Please forward this link to anyone who might be interested. Thanks!

 



Handleband Smartphone Mount

The Handleband straps to the handlebars of bikes, motorcycles, strollers and anything else with a set of handlebars and enables you to carry any kind of smart phone. As a cyclist and motorcyclist I now have GPS on my rides at all time. When I’m on my road bike it is connected to strava, on my mountain bike I can follow routes on mapmyride and on my motorcycle simply follow directions on Google maps. The best bit? The built in bottle opener to crack open a cold one at the end of a long ride.

-- Ben Idle  

Available from Amazon



 

Cool Tools Show 007: Lloyd Kahn, Editor-in-Chief of Shelter Publications

On the latest episode of the Ask Cool Tools Show, Kevin Kelly and I interviewed Lloyd Kahn, editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications. He shared with us many useful tips, ranging from how to get the most out of your camera lenses, to alternative activities for the senior surfer. Lloyd has spent much of his life researching the best possible tools and products for any purpose and doesn’t disappoint with this lineup of excellent picks.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3

Show Notes :

Shelter Publications Website

Surfmatters Website

Some of Lloyd’s books:

The Septic System Owner’s Manual

Shelter

Tiny Homes on the Move

Here are Lloyd’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:

Olympus OMD EM-1 Mirrorless Camera $1299

“It got me to put away my Canon cameras which weighed five pounds. This one is just so much smaller and it’s one of the mirror-less cameras…The mirrorless part is what, I think, saves on the weight…When you look at it, if you’re a Canon or a Nikon guy, it’s going to look just like a miniature of one of those cameras.”

 

Fourth Gear Flyer Surf Mat: $139-$199

“It’s inflatable. So instead of lugging this surfboard around and worrying about getting it smashed up on the airplane or paying a hundred bucks to have it shipped, you just fold up this surf mat in your backpack…and when you get there blow up your surf mat and go surfing.”

DaFINS $62-$66

“I have fins called DaFINS…that are made in Hawaii. They’re smaller than the normal fins you see and more flexible and they’re touted as being preferred by world class body surfers.”


10mm Twin-Wall Poly-carbonate 4′ x 12′ sheet $140

“It’s expensive, but it’s double walled so you get some insulation and it’s clear like glass. It has a ten year guarantee and I bought four by twelve sheets…we tore off the fiberglass and put that on the greenhouse so everything in the greenhouse is much happier now. I’ve washed it once since we installed it. I just take a soft brush and a hose and wash the dust off the roof.”

Makita 18 volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Variable Speed Impact Wrench $206

“It weighs less than the typical drill that you see. There are really no controls on it other than a trigger, like you can’t set it for different speeds or different torque. What it does is it backs up a little bit. Each time it goes forward it goes back a little bit, so it kind of chatters. It’s just really great for grabbers and screws.”

 



Ubiquiti NanoStation and Picostation

I wanted to add Internet to the building my kids’ ski race team operates out of, but the nearest point to the building we could get service was a good 400 yards away. It was not feasible to use cable.

We tried using consumer-grade product to set up a wireless bridge, with very poor results. Someone gave us a pair of Ubiquity M5 Nanos, and I can’t believe how good they performan. Once I found the tutorials, they took less than 10 minutes to set up, and about a half hour to mount (most of that time setting up my ladder). They use Power Over Ethernet (POE), so the only cable running to the device is the ethernet cable. The best part is that they are very inexpensive – $60 each from Amazon. We are only bridging 400 yards, but these devices are reported to work very well up to several kilometers, as long as you have line of sight. Speed tests showed absolutely no noticeable degradation in speed.

Since we were so happy with the first setup, I also used a PicoStation access point to broadcast wifi at the building. The range is easily 3-4 times what you will get out of a consumer grade wifi router. It takes a few minutes to set up, but the performance is so worth it.

Since then we have added bridges to two other buildings 600 meters away, and set up several outside access points to provide wifi on our training venue and to provide live timing of races.

The best part – they just work.

nano

-- David Thickens  

Available from Amazon



Boarding Area

There’s a small cottage industry of avid travelers exploiting loyalty and frequent flier programs to earn maximum free “miles.” The best moderated forum I’ve found for their tricks, tips, and hacks on how best to fly free, or almost free, is a group of bloggers called Boarding Area. They all share great stuff but I am particularly fond of Gary Leff’s blog, View from the Wing. He specializes in maximizing miles for free trips.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

Here’s what I believe to be the current 10 best credit card signup bonuses on offer: 1 Chase Sapphire Preferred offers no fee the first year, 40,000 points after $3000 in spend within 3 months, no foreign currency conversion fees, double points on travel and dining, points transfers to United, Hyatt, Southwest, Amtrak, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Marriott Priority Club, and Ritz-Carlton. Probably the best all-around credit card, and with a great signup bonus. There was for a few days a similar offer with just $2000 rather than $3000 as the required spending, but that was pulled rather quickly.

*
Six tips for folks just getting started with miles and points. The basics are:

  • Start with a goal, that motivates you and also helps your choice of program. Nothing worse than finding out you want to go to French Polynesia, but United miles only let you get there flying to New Zealand first.
  • Never pass up miles, always sign up for frequent flyer programs even when it’s not your primary program. The miles add up eventually. Lots of programs become easily manageable at a site likeAwardWallet.com.