Golden Mean Calipers

I absolutely love these things and have used them for a couple of years. Aside from just wandering around with my kids and having them put it up to just about everything (“Dad! this has a golden mean in it as well!” — I’ll never get tired hearing that) you can also use them to bring some simple relational beauty and balance into anything physical that you make.

You can go to this website for some very well made ones (and a little pricey) or just download some plans for a few bucks and make your own.

-- Eric Warner  

Available from Amazon



Victorinox SwissCard

This small, flat, semi-translucent plastic card contains a sharp blade, an even sharper pair of scissors, a file, a tweezers, a toothpick, and a pen. They all slide into the card, and come free of it for independent use. The whole kit is the size of a credit card, and about three times as thick. It lays flat in my pocket and weighs very little. I use it daily. It prompts a smile most every time I do, and it’s a good conversation piece. Highly recommended and undeservedly under-popular.

-- Gru  

Available from Amazon



Huglight

There have been a lot of reading and camping headlights featured on CoolTools over the years. But I’ve not found either to very practical, in so far a reading lights are often limited in their utility by the clip on the back — some are better than others — and their utilization of watch-type batteries; headlamps on the other hand are often expensive, somewhat tricky to fit on one’s head, and dorky.

The Huglight offers the best of both worlds. First, it is cheap. Second, it runs on two AAA batteries, which makes it convenient. The dual lights wrap around your neck and can be angled independently, or bound together with a rubber connection provided with the lamp.

The lights are bright and you can switch them on and off individually. They offer four modes, three white — which, frankly, don’t differ much in intensity — and one red one to help you maintain night vision. The white and red are both plenty bright.

Like headlamps, they leave both of your hands free.

I took a pair of these camping with my kindergartner and they were the most practical tool we took with us. She could put them around her neck, turn them on, and walk around at night. I wore them while cooking and washing dishes at the campsite, and then turned them face up inside the tent for illumination.

I use the red at home in bed for late night reading, as it also doesn’t mess with my sleep cycle (or that or my spouse).

Simple, cheap, and practical. I’ve had them for months and continue to be more than happy with my purchase. They are available at Amazon, but I bought mine at Costco at an even deeper discount.

-- Edward Nawotka  

Huglight
$25/2-pack

Available from Amazon



Tim Jenison, Founder of NewTek [Cool Tools Show #005]

Tim Jenison, Founder of NewTek and star of Tim’s Vermeer, a critically acclaimed documentary about his discovery of a possible tool used by hyper-realist painters throughout history, takes us behind the curtain this week to see what tools made this investigation possible.

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

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

Fadal Milling 4020 Machine (Prices Vary)

“…I just love the interface on it. It’s so simple it’s just brain-dead and it does everything you need to do…They’re extremely simple and reliable.”

“How to Learn any Language” by Barry Farber $7

“A lot of people start out wanting to learn a language and then they realize it’s a lot of work, but the emphasis of this book is how to teach yourself a language, not to go to school but how to do it yourself and he’s got a step by step plan that actually works. Can’t recommend the book enough. ”

Point It $9

“It’s just a bunch of tiny little color pictures so if you can’t communicate with somebody you whip this out and point at a picture. There’s so many pictures in it that you always get the idea across. ”

Fujitsu Scansnap $420

“You just drop the papers in and push the button. There’s really no software to mess with. It just scans them in, both sides of the sheet if it is double sided, in color and it’ll turn it into a PDF or anything else you want.”

evernote

Evernote Free

“You can drag any kind of material to it and it automatically shows up on all your computers and a local copy is kept on your computers. On your iOS or Android device it keeps the index and downloads things as you need them, but everything in synced constantly. ”

Superfocus Eyeglasses (No Longer Sold)

“Right now I’m looking at my computer screen and it’s about fourteen inches away from my eyes, but the whole thing is in perfect focus. Now, if I was wearing bifocals I’d have to tip my head back and try to find the part of the lens that works…There are other people making variable focus glasses, but nothing as good as this, so I really hope somebody takes over and starts making them again. ”

Foursevens Mini MLR2 flashlight $33

“You get incredible battery life because it’s always defaulting to low brightness and you can hold it in your teeth. It’s really small and it’s really handy. As I said, I’ve been through a lot of flashlights and this is currently the cream of the crop.”

Flex 6700 radio $7500- $8000

“Ham radio is kind of a niche. I just had to mention it because I use the thing every day and it’s just a totally different experience to knob turning Ham radio. ”

Leatherman Skele-tool CX $67

“Y’know it’s amazing how much time has been saved by everybody having a multi-tool in their pocket because you’ve gotta run and rummage around this toolbox and that’s what we always used to do, but it’s a new world.”

Xcelite R3323 Steel Slotted Pocket-Clip Screwdriver, 3/32″ Head, 3″ Blade Length $6

“…there’s one tool that a nerd cannot be without and that is the “Green Tweaker,” the Xcelite R3322, which is a tiny little flat-blade screwdriver that every tech head has to have to make adjustments on things. Actually, the 3/32″, 3″ is the better one to have because it’s a bit longer. ”

Jenison Comparator Mirror (Not Sold)

“This extremely simple elegant device, it’s just a mirror on a stick and you have to put the mirror in exactly the right spot. If you spend enough time, you end up with a hyper-real photographic-looking painting.” (In the podcast, Tim shares some building tips that were not included in the documentary.)

 

Available from Amazon



Rubber Stamps Unlimited, Inc.

Back in the 90s, I did a lot of mail art (small scale and one-of-a-kind artworks, letters, collages, and post cards exchanged through the mail). I’ve recently gotten back into it (and believe it’s making a comeback).

Part of the fun of mail art is creating your own custom rubber stamps to embellish your artwork. In the 90s, stamps were expensive and took weeks of production and turnaround time. Today, sites like Rubber Stamps Unlimited make it quick and easy. And cheap (averaging around $10-$20/stamp). To get a stamp produced, all you do is upload your art (up to 3.75” x 6”), choose the stamp type you want (rubber or self-inking), and place your order. Stamps arrive in just a few days. I’m also using rubber stamp artwork for packaging on some limited-run product kits, something other professional makers/kitchen table business moguls should consider.

-- Gareth Branwyn  



Korg nanoKey2

Only 20 years ago, it was almost unimaginable to have the ability to easily carry around an entire recording studio’s worth of high-end music production equipment on a laptop computer, but that is exactly where we are today. Pros and hobbyists alike can create any type of music, anywhere, at any time, by just pulling out their laptop, setting it down on a flat surface in front of them, and digging into any number of the great Digital Audio Workstations out there. Now, one thing that hasn’t changed is that notes still need to be input by hand. If you’re not working with a touch screen or, reasonably so, have a distaste for trying to enter notes on a QWERTY keyboard, a portable MIDI keyboard is a must have.

The Korg nanoKEY2 is a highly portable USB MIDI keyboard that can easily fit into a baggy jacket pocket, or be tucked into a backpack/messenger bag, taking up the same volumetric space as an average paperback. At only about 13″ wide, 3.25″ deep, and .75″ thick, there’s not much of a footprint to keep a mobile composer from having a keyboard on their person at all times. The nanoKEY2 has basic midi functionality, like Octave up and down, Pitch up and down, Sustain, and Modulation, all with back-lit buttons featuring varying levels of intensity to indicate how many steps up or down it is, a great feature to keep things simple but clear. Its 25 keys are organized like a piano, but a clear concession to portability set the sharp/flat (black) keys on a distinct row above the natural (white) keys, which will be odd to piano purists. The keys themselves feel more like laptop QWERTY presses than a natural piano key touch, but are still pressure sensitive. Finally, for connectivity, it has a micro USB port to get it connected to your laptop, simple as that.

Korg’s nanoKEY2 may handle strangely at first touch, but the fact that it can so easily be taken anywhere make it an excuse breaker. There’s no excuse to miss an opportunity to get a musical idea down with this really cool tool tucked into your laptop bag. At about $50, it doesn’t crush the wallet either.

-- Josh Eyre  

Available from Amazon



Cool Tools New RSS feed

Google has gotten out of the RSS game. They’ve recently stopped supporting Feedburner and killed Google Reader. Kevin and I are RSS junkies, and we both used Google Reader. We switched over to Feedly, which is as good or better than Google Reader was (the free version is excellent, and I have no plans to upgrade to the Feedly Pro version for $5/month unless they offer something I can’t live without).

If you used to read Cool Tools on Google Reader, or you have had trouble with our Feedburner Feed, try our new feed!

Here’s the direct Cool Tools sign-up for Feedly, and here’s the link to the RSS file.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



15 x 18 Craft Sheet

From online discussions and reviews, it seems that nearly everyone who buys one of these non-stick, heat-resistant worksheets has the same initial reaction: “I paid $14 for THIS?” Quickly, that skepticism turns to appreciation, if not outright tool evangelism. I am one such skeptic. For too long, I’ve taken the “self-healing” billing of my cutting mat far too literally, subjecting it to paints, glues, epoxies, clay, heat — all sorts of indignities from which it never heals. Besides cutting, every other crafting/hobby activity should happen on some other surface, and for me, I now don’t want to use anything but one of these heavy duty (5 mil) PTFE (Teflon) sheets.

The Craft Sheet first seems rather fragile and insubstantial, but it’s virtually indestructible. Almost nothing sticks to it. And besides it acting as a protective surface, you can also use it for techniques like low-brow paper marbling (mix some paints on the sheet and swirl paper through it). To clean the sheet, you just wipe with a rag – good as new. You can buy direct from sealersupply.com for cheaper (and larger sizes), but you’ll have to pay for shipping.

-- Gareth Branwyn  

Available from Amazon



Farm Show Magazine

Farm Show has been the DIY magazine of rural North America since 1977.  While MAKE magazine may have fantastic coverage of 3D printing and home-built drones, it’s a whippersnapper wet behind the ears compared to the depth of ingenuity contained by this tabloid magazine published 6 times a year.  They’ve been hacking in a parallel universe, and this periodical offers a window into that world for those who may not regularly come into contact with the <2% of the population that is involved in farming.

Don’t be put off by the name — even if you don’t have a farm, there is a surprising amount of useful data in each issue. I suspect someone living in an apartment would not find it particularly good for their lifestyle, but even urban gardeners with the tiniest of plots would find value in some of the firsthand experiences that are passed along by contributors.

Crop and plant wisdom, clever fabrication hacks, new alternate energy company experiences… it’s a wide and unpredictable mix of information.  One of my favorite areas is custom farm equipment modification that shows off what can be done with spare time and few dollars.  Some of the machines and mods are astoundingly practical, and some of which are head-shakingly bizarre or even dangerous (200HP lawn mowers?)

Much like Cool Tools, the content is driven primarily by contributor/subscribers. Included are tool reviews on pretty much anything used in agriculture, or in a farmhouse, or by someone who is self-sufficient.  Some of the reviews are long prose with photos and diagrams, but many reflect the “make-what-you-say-matter” ethos of the rural readership and are just short write-in messages with pros and cons in a few brief sentences or less.

Farm Show takes no advertising in their regular issues, and publishes reports about tools and companies for good or ill — mostly verbatim from people writing in. There are many articles that are clearly contributed by vendors, but they tend to be on the short side and are more announcements than advertisements, and are edited by the staff to have more content and less marketing noise.

I look forward to every mailing, and even review the back issues frequently since I often find that some new problem I have is addressed by past articles to which I didn’t pay much attention on the first reading.  And with the subscription typically comes a “Best of Farm Show” booklet, which is a compilation of some of the best hints and hacks.

I will also admit to having a soft spot in my heart for anything that comes on newsprint paper, perhaps from early mental pathway imprinting from the Whole Earth Catalog.  I really don’t like glossy magazine formats, and the cheap paper allows for more content at the same price. They have electronic back issues for subscribers dating back to 1977 and even offer a searchable back issue DVD for only $40, which in my opinion is incredibly reasonable given the content value.

Here’s the top of the list from around 140 articles from the first issue of 2013:

• 4-Speed Drill Press Works Great
• 4-WD Articulated Deere Tractor
• Abandoned Silo Sprouts Elm
• Ag Professor Helps Revive Churro Sheep
• Air Tool Organizer Rack
• Air-Powered Australian Water Pump Works
• All-Wood Brush Mower Built For $125
• Allis Chalmers “B” Gets A Low Profile
• Animal Hair Adds Life To Ceramics
• Articulated Case Garden Tractor

-- John Todd  

Farm Show
Yearly cost: $23.95/yr (6 issues)

Sample Excerpts:



75 Questions About Science and Other Great Books

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology – A handsome collection of this little-known art form

The Where the Why and the How – 75 questions that can’t be conclusively answered by an iPhone


Letter Fountain
– A stunningly well-crafted bible of typography

Adventure Time: A Totally Math Poster Collection – Featuring 20 Removable Frameable Prints


Stencil Republic
– 20 laser-cut, brown-paper stencils bound on perforated pages


The Good Life Lab
– Moving from a high-powered life in New York to off-the-grid living in New Mexico

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder