ZeroWater Water Cooler Bottle & Stand

I wanted to learn to love to drink water. I had never developed a taste for plain water, favoring sugary drinks of coffee. Plain water always seemed more of a chore or an annoyance, rather than something I looked forward to. I was jealous of all of the people enjoying their water bottles!

I had tried using several of the popular brands of water filter pitcher, but found the filters secured by friction suspect. I always expected them to pop out and float away. Also, something about the form factor of pitchers or “bins” kept in the pitcher didn’t work for me: out of sight was out of mind. And when I did remember that they were there? They were never full.

I came across the ZeroWater system. One of the things I like a lot about the filters is that they screw into the base. A real secure connection and no mixing of the filtered and unfiltered water. The filters also come with a little gizmo that tests the number of particles in the water. It’s fun to do a taste test with it, showing people the difference between tap and the filter.

While Zero makes a number of form factors, the one I chose looks like a traditional water cooler bottle: it holds a lot of water, is easy for me to fill, and I think is rather handsome.

The filter needs a base, and the ceramic one does an admirable job. Being ceramic, it keeps the water just a little bit cooler than room temperature (what I think is the perfect drinking temp), all without electricity. You just place the filter on top of it, and fill it up. (Which is a nice way of avoiding having to swing a full water bottle up on to the dispenser.) The base also comes with a wooden stand, which allows you to put a glass on the counter, and fill up without holding on to the glass.

Another thing I like about it: it makes water that generally tastes better to me than bottled. (Although New York has great tap water to start with.) I generally like to bring water with me, and that helps cut down on my creating more plastic and having more fuel burnt moving the water around.

And, it worked: I now drink water. Love to drink it, in fact. It is a handsome thing on kitchen counter which reminds me to drink. It is easy to fill, easy to see when it needs filling, and always a good temperature for me.


-- Mark Krawczuk  

ZeroWater ZJ-003 Filtration Water Cooler Bottle with Electronic Tester, Filters Included

Primo Products Llc Ceramic Water Dispenser

Available from Amazon

Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter

I use the Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter to round the corners on gimmicked playing cards I make to perform magic tricks. The cutter can also be used to round the corners of postcards, business cards, photos, and any other paper or card stock (as long as it isn’t too thick – it resists when I try to cut two playing cards at the same time).

It has three slots, labeled S (3 mm), M (5 mm), and L (8 mm). The 3mm is perfect for Bicycle playing cards. To use it, insert the corner of the card into the slot until it stops, then press down on the handle until it clicks. The cuts are very clean.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Sun-Star Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter

Available from Amazon

New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, Robray wants to find a multi-purpose thermometer.

I’m always curious about the temperature of things such as; my coffee cup, the inside of my car, a slice of pizza (so I don’t burn my mouth), the surface of my solar panels, the battery in my laptop, etc. What would be the best thermometer for these sorts of tasks? I assume I would want something that measures fairly quickly as sometimes peak temperatures only last a few seconds. Would one of those pistol grip surface temperature thermometers work well or would or something more like a multimeter probe be better?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Bucklehead Belt Buckle Knife

I’ve been using this belt buckle/knife for about five years now. Although the vendor’s web site gives the impression its main use is for knife fights in bars, I have never used it that way and cannot attest to its efficacy.

However, I do use the knife quite often in my vocation (librarian) and avocation (sailing).

People who know tell me the steel is of excellent quality. It holds a very sharp edge for a long time. My only complaint is the blood gutters sometimes make it difficult to cut thick lines. I asked the proprietor if he could remove the serration. This is what he said, “Our buckle is a tool. The serration, it works well for many other purposes. A tool is a weapon only when you use it as such. If you are attack by man or beast you will be glad you have our buckle. Believe me on this one.”

-- Liam Hegarty  

Bucklehead Belt Buckle Knife
$70 and up

Blair Antenna and Access Holcutter

The Blair Holcutter provides a way to make clean holes in sheet metal. The antenna Holcutter in particular is useful for drilling an antenna mount on a vehicle. The main advantage of this tool over a regular hole saw is that it creates a clean hole. Also, there is a shoulder on the Holcutter to prevent cutting too deep into the metal. It is carbide metal, and should last for a long time.

-- Noah Chanin  

Blair Junior Antenna & Access Hole Cutter Kit

Available from Amazon


Mike Evans, Musician and Blogger [Cool Tools Show Episode #23]

Children at heart rejoice! Mike Evans has a list for you (and your kids) that will have you playing and learning with a selection of entertaining guides and tools. Mike’s picks reduce the initial learning curve of trying to get into a new activity so you and your kids can jump right in and start having fun! To see more of Mike’s toys, tools and projects, be sure to head over to his blog, Secret Dad Society.

Show Notes:

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

Comic Life $15

“I’ve been using this for the last seven years. It’s a fantastic app that’s really easy to use. I can’t stress enough that kids can get a lot out of it. You basically have templates. You pull from your iPhoto or whatever your photo items you have, and you just import your photos right into the panels. There’s panels that are templates that are pre-made, but you can also customize it. The photos automatically size to the frame, and you just drag and drop word balloons.”

Headblade Sport Ultimate Head Shave $6.20

“I feel like it’s my obligation to get this information out there. I’ve been using this for 10 years straight daily. It’s so easy to use. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but anyone that does shave their head, I have to tell them about it.”


The Mad Art of Caricature!: A Serious Guide to Drawing Funny Faces, by Tom Richmond $20.60

“I love how, first of all, it empowers you to just start doing it. I think that’s a cool virtue of a cool tool. It makes you want to use it. When you look at the book and then you go out in public, you can’t help but look at people differently. You’ll see somebody and you just look at their brow line or their nose anatomy and you’re thinking, “… I would love to draw that person.”

MMX Plus Juggling Balls $10

“…[W]henever I walk by these, I can’t help but pick them up and use them for a few minutes. I think that’s why they’re so cool. I immediately got better when I started using these balls. I definitely would say these are worth it.”

Kite Tool Ballbearing Blue Plastic Reel Line Winder $7.10

“It’s basically like a fishing rod without the rod. It’s a reel. It’s got ball bearings in it…There’s a few other varieties out there.. You can get your kit out up really fast and you can bring it in really, really quickly…”


iMagnet Phone Mount

You don’t want to mess with your phone much while driving, period. But because we depend on our phones for driving directions, music, calendar appointments, etc… and, oh yeah, talking on the phone, this car mount provides the most straightforward way to keep your phone accessible in an environment where you really don’t want to pay much attention to your phone (mount).

It holds your phone, securely, where you can see it – and without fuss and fidgeting to get it in our out of the mount. Hold it up to the magnetic surface and it grabs and holds firmly (I’ve been down some pretty bumpy dirt roads without a single slip).

Need to remove your phone quickly? Just lift it off – no clamps or clips to mess with. The mount face swivels and tilts easily for view adjustment and the sticky-cup suction has stayed firm on my dashboard for nearly a year (and still going). The only downside for me, is that my phone case now has a thin, rectangular metal plate stuck to the back of its case for the magnet to contact. This plate hasn’t caused any phone usage issues – it still slips in my pocket fine – it’s just not as aesthetically pleasing. Another option is to try to place the thin metal plate between your phone and its case, and if the case is thin enough the mount face can grab it. The package includes two of the rectangular stick-on plates and another smaller round plate for the under-case option.

-- Janna Kryscynski  

iMagnet Phone Mount

Available from Amazon


What’s in My Bag? – Heron

I work in the subalpine regions of Washington state studying high elevation amphibians.  My work schedule is usually 5 days on in the backcountry, 2 days off in town to resupply and catch up on email.

On any given work trip into the backcountry I’ll walk up to 20 miles per day, visit up to 50 wetlands, and carry 10 extra pounds of research gear.  Over the past several years the amount of research gear that I’m required to carry has increased, driving down the weight and number of other things in my backpack.

Here’s what’s in my bag:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Porter Pack, $310 – It fits me well and its weight is reasonable at 33 oz. It’s waterproof and white so you can see the down inside.

Sleeping items:
A homemade down quilt, comparable to Nunatak Arc Specialist, $479.
A homemade shelter, comparable to Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp, $120 and Serenity Shelter, $145.
Thermarest Neo-Air Small, $110 – I have had a few small holes in it over four years, but they were patched easily with Gorilla Tape.
MSR Groundhog Stakes, $16 for 6

Cooking items:
Evernew 1.3 L Titanium pot, $60 – I’ve met folks who have used this pot for 20 years. Just be sure to get the version which is NOT non-stick. The plain titanium will last much longer.
Vargo Titanium Spork, $12 – Short enough tines to not loose all your liquid when used as a spoon.
Super Cat Stove, Free or $2 – The lightest stove on earth. Make your own at home in five minutes.
Denatured alcohol for the stove in an old soda bottle.
Stuffsack for food, $10
LiteTrail NyloBarrier Odor Proof Bag, $5 for 3 – Food goes in here, then in the stuff sack, which prevents rodents and bears from being too interested in my pack.
Aquamira Bottle, $20 with Sawyer Mini filter, $17 – The most convenient way I’ve found to filter water in the backcountry. Get the Sawyer filter though, the one that comes with the bottle is awful.

Clothing items:
Arc’teryx Phase SL T-shirt, $46 – Not all polyfiber shirts are created equal. This is one of the only ones I’ve ever used which actually moves sweat away from my skin.
Gramicci Men’s Rocket Dry G Pants, $36 – Simple, light, quick-drying pants. No gimmicks.
Darn Tough Socks 1/4 Ultralight, $13 – This company will replace your socks when you wear holes in them.
Ibex Hooded Indie Wool Shirt, $80
Patagonia Capilene 3 Long Undies, $55
Feathered Friends Daybreak Jacket, $240
Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody, $150 – This windbreaker is my favorite clothing item.  I wear it for sun and bug protection.  When working with amphibians, we do not use sunscreen or bug repellent and instead must cover up our skin.  I wear this, long pants, and a head-net for bug and sun protection.
Headnet, $15 – You can probably find this cheaper off-line.

Small items
Leica 10×25 BCA Binoculars, $500 – The lightest, quality binoculars I have found.
Suunto Core Watch, $233 – Combine this with a topo map for dead simple navigation.
Belomo Triplet Loupe, $35 – The best-quality cheap loupe.
Rite-in-Rain Notebook, $8 – We use larger versions of these for work. Personal notes go in this one.
Zebralight 52W Headlamp, $64
Platypus 2L Soft Bottle, $10 – I try to never carry more than .75 L of water, but when I need to, I use this.
Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide Drops, $13 – A backup to my water filter, repackaged in smaller drip bottles.
Whistle, $1
Suunto  M-3 Compass, $25 – Adjustable declination is my guilty pleasure.
Bic Lighter $1
Leatherman Squirt PS4, $30
Kiss My Face Sunscreen, $7 – Used occasionally on my nose.
Canon S100 Camera, $400 – I have had three of these. It’s my favorite camera.  The most current version is the S120.
Skilcraft Pencil, $27 for 6 – My favorite pencil. It’s very hard to find though.  The steel lead sleeve fully retracts into pencil body to avoid breaking the tip or punching holes in your clothes/pack/body.
Skilcraft Ballpoint Pen, $13 for 12
Maps printed from, Free – A free alternative to topo map software. No account necessary. The advanced features are there if you need them but don’t get in the way.

-- Heron  

[Cool Tools Readers! We will pay you $100 if we run your "What's in My Bag" story. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service to upload the photos, and email the text to -- Mark Frauenfelder]

New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, Sylvar has asked about the best way to digitize several shoeboxes full of photos:

I’ve got several shoeboxes full of photos, mostly 4×6 size, and would like to get them scanned so I can upload them into Flickr and discard the originals. Is there a reason why I should buy a bulk-feeding scanner and spend my time supervising the scanbot, or should I just ship them all off to some service and let them handle it?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Humistat #3 Musical Instrument Case Humidfier

Unlike many guitar or case humidifiers that use a sponge or other absorbent material to hold water, this clear plastic disk is filled with water but uses a special material that swells up to regulate the rate at which moisture leaves the device. You can see at a glance when it needs refilling, it refills in seconds, and to a degree you can regulate the amount of moisture in the case. Very cool. They recommend the use of distilled water which you can buy at the grocery store and keep in a corner — I guess a gallon will last nearly forever.

-- Jeff Williams