17 January 2018



Multipurpose craft tool

My microspatula is one of the tools I reach for most often in my house. As an archivist, microspatulas are standard issue tools in my profession. They are useful for a variety of careful, fine-motor tasks that come up when handling manuscripts, photographs, or rare books. At this point in my career I rarely have an opportunity to do to the detailed, careful work that requires a microspatula, but at home I’ve used one several times a week for over a decade. It’s a perfect tool for situations that require something strong enough to apply a little force but gentle enough not to break stuff. A microspatula has two blades, one more tapered, the other snub-nosed. Both are useful for scraping, prying, turning, and adjusting things that require delicate persuasion. Whichever blade you use, the other becomes a convenient handle. The more tapered blade is perfect for loosening small, Phillips head screws, and the narrow shaft makes it easy to turn the microspatula quickly in one hand. I use mine frequently to open battery compartments on toys and electronics.

It’s also an ideal letter opener and crease maker. These days my favorite use for my microspatula is prying apart small Lego pieces — a not infrequent task in my house with three young boys. The narrow blades can get between two pieces without either marking the plastic or slipping and jamming into my palm.

The combination of strength, delicacy, and versatility provided by a microspatula has made me reach for screwdrivers, scrapers, and knives less often, knowing they are often too large for a particular task. It took me by surprise when I looked for microspatulas online and saw that their advertised use is for measuring and transferring powders in a laboratory context. I’m certain they can do that ably, but that’s not something I’ve ever used one for. I can’t say exactly which model microspatula I have – mine was a required purchase back in a grad school book repair class. But an apparently identical version on Amazon looks the same and has the same measurements. For just a few dollars I’d replace mine without hesitation were I to lose it.



-- Mike Rush 01/17/18

17 January 2018


LED Pixel Physics [Maker Update #67]

The latest maker tools and projects

This week on Maker Update, simulated gravity pixels, the HowToons Kalimba kit, an automata art bike mashup, and building your own B-MO from Adventure Time. This week’s Cool Tool is the DeWalt Right Angle Attachment. Show notes.

-- Donald Bell 01/17/18

16 January 2018


Beaded Cable Tie

Easier than a twist tie

I came across beaded cable ties at my local hardware store, figuring maybe it was some common thing I just didn’t know about — and maybe it is — but I cannot find more than a single video about this stuff online. So I figure I can at least right that wrong here.

Think of this as a cross between a zip-tie and a velcro or hook & loop strap. It’s cheap and plastic like a ziptie, easy to reuse like velcro, but also kind of it’s own thing.

Let’s say you’ve got a cord to tie up. You wrap it around, thread it through the bottom hole, and then when you go back through the top hole you get a loop you can use to hang this up.

If you have multiple cords to bundle together, you can also use that second loop to wrap another cable.

Depending on the cord you’re wrapping, you could also wrap one notch just on the cord, and use the other notch for wrapping the entire bundle. This helps keep the wrap with the cord when you undo it.

If you have something big to wrap and need a longer cord, you can chain these together until you get the size you need. They also just sell bigger and smaller versions of these if you already know what kind of job you want them to handle.

Best of all, these come undone with just a little gentle encouragement. I feel they’re easier to undo than reusable zip ties, but not so easy you have worry about them falling apart.

Compared to a hook & loop strap, the hook and loop looks nicer and is more intuitive to manage — but they’re not cheap, you don’t really get the secure chaining feature, and you don’t get the built-in loop for hanging.

I’m not saying they’re perfect, but I’m glad to have them around, and they’re cheap.

-- Donald Bell 01/16/18

16 January 2018


UV Window Tint

Protect your skin from sun damage while driving

I spent a lot of my early working years outside, all day, mostly in the south. I didn’t worry much about the sun damaging my skin, so long as I avoided a sunburn. Now, however, my dermatologist tells me that was a mistake. Though she really doesn’t have to tell me that, it’s pretty obvious. And we all know about sunscreen, though I bet most of us who should use that stuff don’t — unless we’re going to the beach or something. What’s surprising is that the left side of my face is more affected than the rest of me. Driving around in North America gets the left of our faces much more sun than we realize. She tells me that they see this a lot.

So I’ve gotten some new 20% window film for my side windows of my vehicle. It’s an old SUV with the whole rear of the thing equipped with smoked glass; the tint guy tells me that’s not UV rated, so besides just attenuating sunshine I can’t say how much UV is blocked, but all densities of the film are rated at blocking 99% of the UV spectrum; that’s what’s right next to me now. A little night time adjustment, NBD. My tint guy tells me that the cheap purple tint that bubbles up (we’ve all seen that stuff?) does not do anything significant to block UV, and that stuff blows anyway. Anything better should show the UV rating in the product datasheet.

There are some UV films for homes that are otherwise clear. Dunno how well they work on curved vehicle windows. The law here in Colorado says window film “must allow more than 27% of light through”. (Mirror-style-tint is against the law on vehicles as well as just wrong anyway.) Check your laws, of course. And winter sun is lower, getting UV into the vehicle better. Consider that too. I wish I had been aware of this face-frying effect 30 years ago, it might have saved me trouble now. Oh, and wear a dang hat and use sunscreen if your skin belongs a lot further north…

-- Wayne Ruffner 01/16/18

14 January 2018


Home building/Cryptocurrency videos/Best of 2017

Recomendo: issue no. 77

Advice on building a home
Over many decades, homesteader Lloyd Kahn has built his three beautiful homes by hand, and is the author and publisher of books about building personal homes. Lloyd lives in a fire-prone part of California. He compiled a useful list of hints for people rebuilding homes after fires. The tips are so helpful they would be useful to anyone building a home anywhere. — KK

Free Princeton video series on cryptocurrencies
The Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies Online Course is a 13 hour video series from Princeton. After a very brief introductory video, they get right down to business with a video about hash functions that’s easy to understand. You can also download a companion textbook. — MF

Good podcasts
You’ve finished all the episodes of This American Life and Cool Tools. What podcasts should you listen to next? This is a curated list of great podcast episodes airing in 2017, mostly from podcasts you haven’t heard of, but should. — KK

Best stories of 2017
This chart of the 100 most engaging stories of last year is worth adding to your read list. The top story, My Family’s Slave, was a powerful personal account of being raised by a Filipina woman who the family kept as a slave for 56 years. It stayed with me for months. — CD

Online typing tutor
After decades of being a hunt-and-peck typist, I’m finally forcing myself to learn touch typing. After trying a bunch of different typing websites, I’ve settled on How To Type as my favorite. It’s not fancy, but the drills have helped me to become more accurate. — MF

Keep track of whose glass is whose
My mother-in-law had these metallic markers on hand during the holidays to keep track of whose glass is whose. We had a full house of more than 10 people staying overnight, so this was perfect for keeping track of our wine and water glasses, and coffee mugs. — CD

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 01/14/18

13 January 2018


LED Light Weight Magnifier with 5 Lenses

Wearable LED lit magnifying glasses

For this week’s Cool Tools video review, I’m going to show off these wearable magnifying glasses. These run around $14 on Amazon, and by using the link in the video description you help to support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

I bought these a year ago looking for a way to get a better look at soldering up small stuff. They really are perfect for those times when you’re wiring or painting or glueing up something tiny and delicate. Plus there’s a little LED on the front that helps put a little extra light on things.

These come with an interchangeable set of lenses. The most powerful one gives you 3.5 times magnification and is the one I leave on all the time. I honestly wish these went up a little higher, as the lower lenses really don’t do much for me.

The lenses are plastic, so they can get scratched if you’re not careful, which I’m guilty of. On the upside, compared to glass these are lightweight and can be worn for long periods without hurting your face. The lens also flips up and down so you can kick in the magnification just when you need it.

But by far my favorite use for these is put these on and surprise people. They make you look so super nerdy. They should really file these things under birth control. They are quite possibly the unsexiest pair of glasses ever made.

-- Donald Bell 01/13/18

(Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews — editors)


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Nonstreaky Lens Cleaner

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Ultra lightweight water bottle

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23 February 2017



We Refreshed Our Website

If you read Cool Tools via RSS (which is the way Kevin and I read blogs) then you probably don’t realize we updated our website design today. We took your feedback seriously and tried our best to simplify the design and make it more legible.

I’m sure we got some things wrong. If you find a mistake or have suggestions about our current iteration, please let us know in the comments.

Thanks for reading Cool Tools and being part of the community.

If I’ve still got your attention, I’d like to remind you that Cool Tools runs reviews written by our readers. Please recommend a tool you love.


Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.