24 February 2018


Pocket Caliper

Accurate measurements up to 1/32"

This yellow plastic caliper is lightweight, reasonably durable (I lose it before it wears out) and pocket-friendly (only 4 inches long). I use it frequently during house or auto repairs to ensure the right size replacement part (such as nuts and bolts, or o-rings and sealing washers) comes home with me from the store or junkyard. I find this easier, quicker, and more accurate in many cases than using a small rule. It is not a precision machinist’s instrument. However, in most of the work I need to get done, measurement to the closest 1/32 of an inch or 1 mm will get the right part or a fit which is good enough to work.

-- Ken Johnson 02/24/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)

23 February 2018


J.D. Roth, Get Rich Slowly

Cool Tools Show 112: J.D. Roth

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $365 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


Our guest this week is J.D. Roth started blogging in 1997, before “blog” was even a word. In 2006, he founded GetRichSlowly.org, a site devoted to common-sense personal finance. He sold Get Rich Slowly in 2009 then bought it back in 2017. His mission in life is to help everyday people master their money and achieve their financial goals.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

National notebook ($6)
“I am a writer, and I do most of my writing on a computer like most writers do nowadays, and that’s not very exciting. Everyone has their favorite computers. But I also do a surprising amount of writing by hand, and I have my own favorite cheap notebooks. I use a couple of the models from a company called National Brand, and basically there’s this legal supply store here in Portland, and I go down there and I stock up on these notebooks. They’re a little more expensive than Mead spiral notebooks, but they’re also a heavier quality paper. And then I buy Dixon Ticonderoga pencil and BIC Cristal ballpoint pens. I buy them by the case from Amazon. … So those are kind of unsexy tools, but they’re very much tools that I use every day.”

Hobonichi Techo Planner ($33)
“It’s a Japanese calendar. It’s A6 size. … It’s by a company Hobonichi, and it’s just a big … Instead of having all sorts of lines and times and all that, it’s basically just a big blank slate. Each page has a date, and it shows noon, and it shows dinnertime, and other than that it’s just squared paper for you to jot down your thoughts or to jot down your schedule. And for me, it works like a charm. Until my girlfriend convinced me to go digital, this was my source. I carried this with me everywhere.”

The Maker’s Bag ($130)
“I am a bag nerd. I have probably a dozen backpacks and messenger backs, and I use all of them. I like Filson bags, but they’re expensive. For the past two years, my daily bag is the Maker’s Bag from Tom Bihn. … I like it because it’s not overly complicated, for one…. It’ll hold a 15-inch laptop but not much more than that. And then it will hold several books and magazines, plus there are maybe a dozen pockets. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems like there’s tons of different pockets and zippered places so that I can tuck all sorts of different stuff in there. I tend to travel a lot for work, and so on the plane I want to be able to have all of my stuff compartmentalized, and with the Maker’s Bag I’m able to do that, and yet it’s not overwhelming.”

SleepPhones ($40 – $100)
“So, this is something I originally got for travel. So what SleepPhones are is if you can imagine an elastic headband that inside is a set of earbuds, but they don’t actually go in your ear, they just kind of rest outside ear. That’s what SleepPhones are, and the kind I have are wireless. You do need to plug them in to charge them, although I think they have a model now that uses induction charging. So at night, when you’re getting ready to go to sleep, if you want to listen to something you put the SleepPhones around your head like a headband — or I actually use it to double as an eye mask to keep out light — and then you listen to whatever you want to listen to. And like I said, I originally got them for travel, but because my girlfriend and I both have trouble sleeping, we now both use them to listen to stuff at night.”

Icebreaker Merino wool clothing
“I am a HUGE fan of Icebreaker merino wool clothing. I discovered this stuff in 2010, and have been hooked ever since. It’s warm when it’s cold and cold when it’s warm. It itches, but only a very little. The best part? Wool does NOT retain odors. That means you can wear an Icebreaker shirt (or a Smartwool shirt) over and over and over again without washing it and there are no consequences. This makes wool clothing ideal for travel. I know people who travel for months at a time with only two Icebreaker shirts. They take two because it does help to alternate them, to air one out after you use it — especially if you’ve been running in the shirt. No specific Icebreaker item to recommend. Just love their stuff.”

Also mentioned:

You Need a Budget
Personal Capital
New Retirement


23 February 2018


Magnetic Drive Guide

Eliminates wobbling and slipping while driving screws

Long ago a contractor friend of mine turned me onto a simple fixture for a power drill. It’s an inexpensive gizmo that allows anyone to drive long screws in straight and fast. That’s a huge plus now that sheetrock screws have replaced nails for most homestead projects. The guide fits into any chuck. You slip the screw head-first into the extended tube. A magnet at the bottom holds it. You place the loaded guide with the tip of the screw poking out over the place where you want to screw and the tube collapses as the screw goes in. The result: no muss, no-hands, quick, straight-in screw first time. Kids and newbies really love it. I keep one permanently affixed to my drivers. I use it for short as well as long screws. In fact I had forgotten how dependent I had become on the guide until I misplaced one recently and had to work without it. Now I have multiple backups. I don’t think the brand matters; I use a $5 one. Make your life easier: keep one on your driver.

-- KK 02/23/18

22 February 2018


Speed Square

Combo tri-square, miter square, protractor, line scriber, and saw guide

This is the best tool for drawing lines, guiding saws, and basically all carpentry that requires a 90 degree angle. One edge is set perpendicular to the rest of it so you can quickly push it up against a straight side and have a 45 degree angle and a 90 degree angle to mark or saw with, etc. Hard to explain, but once you have one, you won’t know how you lived without it.

— Peter Lawrence

A good metal square is an essential tool for home building, especially framing. It helps you figure out rafter cuts quickly and easily, and it also has a ruler for quick measurements.

There are a number of different models of square out there, but Swanson’s Speed Square is the best. Why? Well, sturdy aluminum alloy construction makes it nigh indestructible, and the recessed tick marks and numbers are colored in black so there’s good contrast for legibility.

The metal construction also makes it super-handy for making square cuts on lumber. Just snug it up and use it as a guide for your circular saw. Plus, all this utility fits in the pocket of work pants without any trouble.

-- Keith Pelczarski 02/22/18

21 February 2018


Floating Water [Maker Update #72]

The best maker projects, tools, and tips of the week

This week on Maker Update, levitating water with LEDs, 3D printed skull buttons, servos on Pi, a game of Twang, Arduino animatronics, and project talk with Becky Stern. This week’s Cool Tool is the EBL 18650 Rechargeable Battery.

Show notes

-- Donald Bell 02/21/18

21 February 2018


Post Level

Levels posts and beams

If you’ve got a bunch of 4×4 posts to install on a deck or fence or whatever, this tool is *sooooo* useful. It is a simple thing that wraps around two sides of a 4×4 so that you can level two planes at once. Big ol’ rubber bands attach it to the side and wrap around it four inches or so, and it has three levels built into it so you can level in two directions at the same time. Guys I know who do this for a living carry at least a pair of these, if not several pairs. You just leave one strapped onto the far pole, or each post/corner of a deck, to make sure it remains unchanged while you jiggle the near one. I use one if I’m building shelves in a vertical position, or for anything that requires leveling on two planes at once. It’s in that “why didn’t I think of that?” category.

-- Paul Hoffman 02/21/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)


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Cool Tools Show 112: J.D. Roth

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23 February 2017



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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).

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