24 May 2016


Dan Benjamin, Founder of 5by5

Cool Tools Show 055: Dan Benjamin

Dan Benjamin is a podcaster, writer, software developer, and ex-corporate stooge. He is the founder of 5by5, a podcast network where he hosts a handful of shows. He is the author of baconmethod.com and hivelogic.com, and has written for A List Apart and O’Reilly. Dan lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their children.

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Show notes:

Staedtler Mars Mechanical Pencil ($6) and Sharpener
“This could be called an architect’s pencil or a draftsman’s pencil or a lead holder is the name that I’ve always used for it. … What’s nice about it is it’s lightweight … but it’s got that nice metal grippiness to it. … Instead of being like a regular mechanical pencil where you click the end of it and it advances the lead millimeter by millimeter out, this thing you can control. When you press down the button end of it, as much lead as you would like to slide out can slide out. … A supplemental item is the Mars Rotary Action Lead Pointer and Tub, which allows you to put the lead holder in there. It presets how much of a point you want based on these two little holes that you adjust it to, and then you spin it. … I encourage people to write and draw with a pencil. It’s the most fun thing in the world.”

Telefunken M82 Dynamic Microhphone ($399) “This is my microphone of choice these days. I have used so many different microphones over the years. I started podcasting back in 2006. … I care a lot about the microphone. … This was maybe the fifth or sixth microphone that I’d tried. When I try one, I tend to try to use it for several months. This one I’ve been using now for about a year, and I just love it. It really meets with my voice I think really well. What’s nice about it is it was originally designed as a kick drum mic. If you were mic’ing up a drum set, you would put this microphone in front of or even inside of the kick drum. As weird as that may sound, some of the most widely used microphones for voice in broadcasting actually were originally designed or designed in part to also be kick drum kind of a mic or a mic for a drum.”

Vitamix 5300 Blender ($430)
“First of all, I have to tell you how I came to have a blender that is this absurdly expensive in my possession … I started getting into the idea of making smoothies in the morning for breakfast … and I said to my wife, ‘I think I want to try making them at home.’ She says, ‘Well, you know we have a blender that could do that.’ I said, ‘You mean like the one we got when we got married, like a million years ago?’ She’s like, ‘No. We have a really nice blender. It’s a professional level Vitamix blender.’ I’m like, ‘Where is it?’ She’s like, ‘It’s in the box in the garage.’ I’m like, ‘Why is it out there?’ She’s like, ‘It was so expensive that I was going to return it. I just bought it not long ago and I felt like there’s no sane reason I should have spent this much money on a blender.’ … I said, ‘All right, let me try it.’ I tried it and the smoothie that I made — the world stopped and everything went dark and a spotlight went down on the smoothie. It was the best thing in the world. I was full. I was full all day. I had energy. I lifted a car off of a fire hydrant in the garage. It was amazing what I was able to do. I said, ‘Don’t you dare return. I’m keeping this thing.’ She’s like, ‘All right. We can keep it.’ A week later I’ve been making smoothies all week long. It’s been the most amazing thing. … Anything blends in this.”

Steelcase Series 7 Height-Adjustable Desk ($1,449) and Mat
“I got this desk is because years ago I started dealing with chronic lower back issues … As a result of that, my doctor said, “One thing you should really consider doing is instead of spending most of the day sitting, you could spend a significant part of the day standing,” but you still want to sit. …. I went with Steelcase because at the time that I got it that was the desk that you get. Now there are lots of other alternatives for sit-stand desks, but I still really like the Steelcase one, because it’s just made so rock-solid. The motors in it are super, super solid and strong. You can have your big, fancy monitors up on top of it. In my case I even have a rack with a whole bunch of audio gear on top of it and a screen. It lifts us up and down, no problem.”

05/24/16 --

24 May 2016



Fizes leaky pipes, broken tools, broken frames, fishing poles, tent poles, etc.

This stuff famously impressed the folks on Shark Tank enough to garner some investments. It’s not different in principle from using fiberglass and resin to patch something, but it’s a lot more convenient and tidier to use.

The package contains a little square of sandpaper to roughen up the surfaces a bit to enhance adhesion (although this is not addressed in the instructions and it’s something fix-it beginners might not know), a nice durable pair of vinyl gloves to keep your hands from getting glued to your garden tools, a sealed foil package containing a roll of the actual product (comes in varying widths and slightly varying lengths, but most readily available in 4″ by 60″ in big home improvement chains, etc.), a strip of vinyl which can be optionally applied to the outside of the fix before it hardens, then removed to leave a smoother surface, and a simple set of instructions.

The fabric doesn’t seem to be fiberglas, it appears to be some sort of polymer. The innovation here is the resin with which the repair tape is impregnated. The developers have managed to find something which is activated by exposure to water, hardens in minutes, is commendably sticky without being annoyingly hard to apply, and cures strong; all while being non-toxic (it says here). Thus, rather than trying to keep a wrap of fiberglass cloth tight with one hand while dabbing on resin with a drippy brush held in the other, you simply rip open the package, submerge the whole roll under water for 15 seconds or so, then wrap it around what you want to fix. It grabs the substrate quite nicely and similarly grabs itself, so that a nice solid repair is easy to make; 15 minutes later, it’s ready to use.

I used it to fix a digging fork which I habitually abuse horribly, whose wooden handle broke off at the end of the metal ferrule. Previous fixes have used a 6″ black iron pipe coupling which happens to be of the correct inside diameter, but that always eventually fails because the slight taper of the ferrule works itself loose from the inside of the pipe, even when epoxied in place.

The FiberFix, however, molds itself to the taper of the ferrule and doesn’t give it any wiggle room, in addition to adhering solidly to both the metal of the ferrule and the wood of the handle. When cured, the repair is now strong enough that I can’t break it with my overly aggressive levering on the fork; I expect it to last at least as long as the pipe coupling repair, and it was a heck of a lot easier and quicker to do. I was so impressed I went out and got a second package and did a similar wrap on my shovel, even though the handle is not yet broken, as a precautionary measure. (They never make the ferrules on these things long enough for me).

The wrap is designed to be used all at once when opened; exposure to the humidity in the air will activate the resin, so you can’t save half of it for next time. The package has a “best if used by” date approximately three years in the future; the package I used was purchased a year ago and has been sitting unopened on my shelf since then without any apparent degradation, so keeping a package around for emergency fixes of tools and returning them to service within half an hour without having to stop what you’re doing to go shopping is feasible.

The manufacturer suggests it can be used to fix leaky pipes as well, but I haven’t tried that yet.

05/24/16 -- Gerald Zuckier

23 May 2016


Engineers Field Book

Notebook with extra stiff orange hardbound cover

I have been using these books for a little under a year at this point. I am somewhat particular about the notebooks I write and sketch in, and I had been looking for the perfect smallish notebook. I have used Moleskines, Rite in the Rain, and a few others and wasn’t completely satisfied, mostly because they seemed to come apart on me. I suppose I am hard on these notebooks, and they spend a lot of time in studios, around wet clay, hot metal, and in and out of a bag that has god knows what else sitting in it.

The binding on these holds up incredibly well to abuse, this is the point of failure I have found in most other small format notebooks. The covers are thick and hardy, and a lovely shade of orange — easy to spot when you’re hunting around a messy desk or studio.

The paper itself is graph lined on one side of the page and column ruled on the reverse. I find myself using these to draw, make notes, lists, and organize my thoughts. Being a bit disjointed in my thinking, having these rules has allowed me to group drawings, thoughts, and notes giving me better ability to parse back through my scribblings to find specific information.

The note book has a bright orange hardbound cover. Manufacturer details: Ruled light blue with red vertical lines, 160 pages (80 sheets), Page size – 4 5/8″ W x 7 1/4″ H, Grid layout on the left – 6 vertical columns, Grid layout on the right – 8 x 4 to the inch.

The paper isn’t super thick, but it holds up reasonably well. I write mostly in pencil in these, but it does OK with a felt tipped pen as well, though you do see some bleed on the reverse of the page you’re writing on. Elan says that the paper is 50% cotton and has some kind of water resistant treatment on it — light rain beads well and can be wiped off without issue.

Being that these are designed for surveyors, these books also have curve tables, trig functions, and some basic conversions related to that field in the back. Admittedly most of these aren’t useful to me often, but they’re fun and an interesting thing to have on hand.

Overall I have been pleased with these, they haven’t shed pages, and their bindings show no signs of loosening or falling apart. In the past my Moleskines usually start coming apart after a couple months of use. I appreciate that these provide me a standard format to archive and refer to my notes.

05/23/16 -- Michael Lorsung

22 May 2016


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Share your knowledge with your fellow Cool Tools readers.

Wayne Ruffner would like a solution for an effective mosquito repellent application.

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05/22/16 --

20 May 2016


Scrubba Portable Laundry System Wash Bag

A 5-ounce washing machine

When traveling frequently for work, you might expect having to compromise on some everyday things. Not having access to a decent gym, eating out more than you should because it’s more convenient, and showering with tiny bars of soap are all things you can anticipate.

What came as a shock to me was how hard it can be to get your laundry done while on the road. I’ve stayed at hotels where the washing machines are broken or constantly in use by other guests more often than I thought possible, and I stay at some very nice hotels.

I’ve tried washing my clothing in the hotel sink. It works, but it’s not pleasant. Many hotels lack the stopper in the sink, so you have to bring or make your own.

The Scrubba bag has a small “washboard” with little nubs that help to get your clothing clean in a timely manner. All you have to do is add your clothing, the appropriate level of water (listed on the side of the bag), and a small amount of soap of your choice. There is a clear window on the side of the bag allowing you to see how much water you have to add based on the amount of clothing you have to wash.

After folding down the top part of the bag a few times, you clip the buckle together to keep everything contained in the bag. Let out most of the air by using the attached valve, then wash the clothing by rubbing it against the internal washboard for a few minutes. Rinse and hang to dry. Most clothing is dry within 24 hours if you wring it out before hanging.

I’ve used this for a few months now, and it has been wonderful not having to wait on an open washing or drying machine, finding an external laundromat, or (shudder) paying for the hotel staff to do your laundry for you.

It’s a little expensive, but it folds up and takes very little additional room in your luggage. I imagine it would be even more useful for camping.

05/20/16 -- Michael Otte

19 May 2016


SlipIt Sliding Compound

Lubricant for any combination of metals, plastic and wood

Slipit makes wood almost magically slippery. I use it anywhere that wood slides against wood or metal. I’ve put it on old wooden drawers that used to stick horribly. After applying Slipit, it felt like they had slick plastic guides. A couple years later, and the effect is only slightly diminished, still no sticking.

I use it on my carpentry jigs, and it makes wooden parts slide effortlessly. It has less staying power on metal, but it’s better than anything else I’ve tried on table saws, band saws, jointers, hand saw blades and anything else that slides against wood. If applied to a tool, it won’t stain the wood you’re working with like most other lubricants, or repel finishes like oil or silicone can.

If you’re a carpenter or have a house full of wooden drawers, you’ve got to try this stuff.

05/19/16 -- Maxwell Lucas


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