Rolgear Bit Driver

I’ve had this ratcheting bit driver for over seven months, and love its smooth action. It uses roller bearings instead of gears and has a great feel. Its magnetic bit holder takes standard 1/4″ hex-shank bits (such as the new Makita Impact Bits and the handy Bosch P2+R2 Combo Bits. Its cam mechanism provides left, right, and locked operation.

-- Gordon DeWitte  

Wiring Complete

The clearest, most intelligible, most up-to-date, step-by-step instructions of how to wire most household electrical jobs. Heavily (1,000 photos), smartly illustrated. Besides unraveling the complexities of 3-way switching (I always need help with this), this second-edition deals with other wiring besides electrical power: cable, phone, ethernet. Despite the wireless era, I’ve got more wires in our home every year, and this book has encouraged me to tackle them myself. The guide is supremely practical, full of great tips for working with real wires in real walls. It helped me figure out how to tap a power outlet inside my house for an outdoor line. I can’t think of anything it misses.

-- KK  

Wiring Complete
Michael Litchfield, Michael McAlister
2013, 272 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

In some old houses, the neutral wires — rather than the hot wires — may be attached (incorrectly) to receptacles or switches, in violation of code. So when testing existing receptacles, switches, or fixtures, test /all/ wires for voltage.




Each multimedia connector is to the left of the cable It terminates. From left: RG6 F-connector, dual-shielded RG6 coaxial cable; RJ-45 (eight-pin) jack, Cat 6 UTP data cable; RJ-ll (six-pin) jack, Cat 3 phone cable; two RCA audio jacks (sometimes called banana jacks), 14-gauge low-loss audio cable.


A nut-driver bit speeds up splicing, but be careful not to over twist wires.



They then use a plumb laser to transfer marks to the ceiling.



Logitech Anywhere MX Mouse

Okay, okay, I know. A mouse is a mouse is a mouse, right? It’s true — once it points and clicks, anything else is luxury. Which is where the Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX comes in.

I’ve been using the Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX now for about two years and I couldn’t be happier. The Anywhere MX is designed to work on almost any surface, making it prime for use with laptops, though I use one as my primary desktop mouse as well. It has a good, solid weight and an extremely responsive wheel that spins with what I can only describe as a perfect momentum. In one mode, its movement is unfettered and it spins smoothly, undamped, with a single stroke — useful for flying through large documents and lists. By pressing the wheel in, you can switch to a stepped motion for more precise scrolling.

As a left hander, I have had difficulty with contoured mice. The MX is mostly symmetric, but includes two buttons presumably designed to be operated with the thumb of the right hand. I find that side of my left ring finger works just as well. The included software allows you to easily remap any of the buttons, which I use for fast switching music and windows. It conforms to the excellent Logitech Unifying standard, meaning that only one tiny USB receiver is needed to connect up to six mice or keyboards.

This is a mouse anyone can pick up and feel immediately comfortable using. I have large hands and haven’t felt any of the cramping I’ve previously experienced with other wireless mice, which often tend to be on the small side. It takes two AA batteries, and power on/off is controlled by a well-machined sliding switch that covers the laser lens in the off position.

My biggest complaint is that it makes using other mice frustrating.

-- Alexander Parkinson  

[We reviewed this a couple of years ago, but I wanted to run Alexander's review, because he's left-handed and has figured out a way to use it. -- Mark]

Logitech Anywhere MX Mouse

Available from Amazon

Scotch Tear-by-Hand Packaging Tape

My family ships a lot of boxes during the holidays, and we go through a few rolls of packaging tape. Large pistol-grip tape dispensers don’t work well on smaller boxes — I have never been able to get the hang of using the serrated blade to cut off the tape.

I was happy to find out about Scotch’s Tear-by-Hand packaging tape. I (and more importantly, my wife) can easily tear off strips with our hands. It’s easy to get the length you desire, and the tear is perfectly perpendicular. Also, it’s easy to find the end of the tape on the roll by running your fingernail along it. This stuff is like magic. I never want to use any other kind of packaging tape.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Scotch Tear-by-Hand Tape, 1.88 Inches x 50 Yards
$20 / 4-Pack

Available from Amazon

The Owner-Built Log House * Log Construction Manual

owner-builtLog homes are fashionable. You can order one pre-manufactured from a catalog. Or you can make your own crude log shell for under $5,000 (see the previously reviewed How to Build This Log Cabin for $3,000).

Or you can use the system featured in these books to make a log home so finely crafted that it is more like living in a gigantic piece of dove-tailed furniture. Called scribed-fit, this method produces handcrafted joints thinner than a piece of paper. You won’t save any money this way, but you’ll live in hand-made shelter of utmost craftsmanship. That joy can be worth the trouble.

And trouble it is. Building with logs this way is similar to post-and-beam construction: the scale and details are beyond a single individual. You need a team, and you should try something small first. Your path is made much easier by either of these two books.

The Owner-Built Log House is geared to the dedicated individual willing to do as much as this hard work as they can themselves, from peeling logs, to hoisting them using pulleys, to carving notches and chinking. It presents the task of building a log house as part construction project and part lifestyle — since it will consume your life. Remember, a shell of a house is only a fraction of the work. This guide is good about detailing the ways to finish it off, and the tricks need to say, get wiring in the logs.

logAt the highest end of quality is Log Construction Manual, the Ferrari of log homes. These aren’t houses as much as wooden jewel boxes. Most guides are based on the personal experience of the author building their own house (see above); this one is based on the author’s experience teaching thousands of others to build theirs. You get a comprehensive course, laying out the steps, the logic of the steps, and much hard-earned wisdom anticipating your problems as you learn how to scribe-fit logs into a house. But to be honest, the precision and energy needed to build this way demands you hire contractor help. You’ll probably end up working alongside the pros, perhaps teaching them some new notching skills.

In many ways, building a fitted-log cabin is like building a wooden boat in your backyard. Many will begin, few will finish on their own. The magnitude of this quest should not be underestimated.

-- KK  

The Owner-Built Log House
B. Mackie
2011, 248 pages
Available from Amazon

Log Construction Manual
Robert Wood Chambers
2002, 272 pages
Available from Amazon
Book’s website

Sample Excerpts:

From The Owner-Built Log House:


Cutting the groove while standing on the wall. You need a steady hand and a good sense of balance.






A true and accurate cut may be obtained with a chainsaw equipped with guide pads. These are now available commercially, or they can be made.


From Log Construction Manual:

Log Homes Don’t Waste Trees

One of the most widespread and damaging myths is that log homes use extravagant amounts of wood. It does appear that “you could build a couple homes out of the logs that go into one log house,” as I’ve heard people say. But, an average log home uses about the same volume of trees as a conventional, stickframed house of the same size.



On each wall, we alternate the direction that tips and butts point every time we add another log. This helps keep walls from becoming tipped.





I recommend you build walls so that the centerline of each log is plumb above the center of the wall. Trying to make one side of a wall more or less plumb can be difficult, unattractive, and perhaps unstable.



A tightly-fitting round notch. Note that there are no saddles, so it is not a saddle notch.



Top: Husqvarna 362XP with 24″ bar.
Middle: Husqvarna 354XP with 18″ bar.
Bottom: Jonsered 2016 electric with 16″ bar.

I have taught more than 1000 people to cut notches, and I have seen chainsaws of almost every model, age, and condition. I’ll be blunt — an average student with a great saw does a lot better than a great student with an average saw.

Husqvarna and Stihl are the saws that I recommend. Most chain saws are not suited for log building. And, buy a professional model saw, not one designed for homeowners. Stihl and Husqvarna both have a “pro” line of saws, and you should choose from these. Expect to pay $550 to $725 USD (in 2011).

Every saw has its own feel and character. These differences are not easy for beginners to recognize, but they are real, and important. Stihls are easy to start — when cold or hot. They have a distinctly softer suspension than Huskys — the handles have a more flexible attachment to the motor, and the bar also has a softer connection to the motor. Stihls drive like a Cadillac. My choice for heavy ripping is a Stihl: the big Stihls (bigger than 80cc) have power, are easy to start, and have soft suspension.

Husqvarna saws are more difficult to start than Stihls, especially when they are hot. Huskys also have a harder feel to their suspension. I have more control over the bar and chain — it’s like there is a more direct link between what my hands are trying to do, and what happens. Huskys drive like a Ferrari. My choice for notching is definitely a Husky: great power-to-weight ratio, high chain speed, finesse, and superb control.

Cellphone Credit Card Pocket

I’ve recently been doing a lot of traveling to places like Kathmandu and Capetown, which are pretty well known hotspots for pickpockets. When you’re in a place where pickpocketing can be an issue, standard policy for men’s wallets is to remove them from your back pocket into your front pocket.

I’ve discovered that between my wallet, my phone, keys, and my everyday carry Skeletool, I just have too much stuff to keep in my front two pockets. It becomes bulky enough to attract attention, which defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.

I thought I’d found a solution in the Card Ninja, but the price is a bit much — it’s just a pocket that adheres to the back of your phone that you stuff only your wallet necessities into. It shouldn’t be $20.

So I went searching and found this on Amazon at $6.99 for 3 (share with your friends, or keep a spare for when you trade in your cellphone, I guess!).

Most cellphone wallets are clamshell cases that you have to open whenever you want to access your phone or your wallet; with a pocket on the back of your phone, you have access to both without having to open anything.

The pocket is snug enough that cards don’t fall out but I can also easily jam 12 cards and some cash in there if I have to (the slim design really encourages you to carry only what you need, which is a feature rather than a downside in my opinion).

If you’re interested in minimizing your everyday carry weight, you really can’t do better than eliminating your wallet for one of these. I’ve also stripped down my keys and have only one ring that I keep in my Skeletool’s carabiner, so I have only two objects to remember when I leave in the morning — my keys and my phone. Everything else takes care of itself.

-- Jonny Dover  

Cellphone Credit Card Pocket Pouch
$7 / 3-pack

Available from Amazon


We live in a world where its very easy to go to the store or online and purchase everything new. While I enjoy this convenience, there are many things that I just don’t need to buy new. For this, I like to go to auctions. Attending auctions can be a very fun (and even exciting) way to get something you need, and save money at the same time. However, finding an auction that has some of the items I am looking for can be tricky. hat’s where comes in. allows me to search for local auctions by specific things I would like to purchase. It helps me sort through the good and bad quickly. There is a simple tool that allows you to search for auctions, by category, within a specific distance of a zip code. There is even a premium service that will even have auctionzip send you automatic updates every day or week for the type auctions you are looking for.

I have bought all types of tools, housewares, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, antiques, and all manner of other things at great prices by finding auctions with that I couldn’t find information on even in local papers.

-- Mark Yount  

Free service

Post It Labeling Tape

I found this product over a year ago. It comes in yellow, green, pink, and white, on a dispenser similar to scotch tape. The paper feels like the same paper used for the original Post It notes, and works well with a Sharpie pen for labeling. The back of the paper is fully-covered by the adhesive (unlike Post-It notes, which have a strip of adhesive only along the top).

I can label anything, remove the label and reuse it. I do this frequently with food storage as I shift things around from one container to another. The labels don’t roll up at the edges or fall off after a few months. I first used the tape when I was moving, because I was using a lot of plastic storage boxes, which I couldn’t write on, and the tape (I bought neon green) was so much easier to use than masking tape.

3M has terrific products in their Post-It line, (including a Post-It glue stick, which I used to use for gluing appointment and business cards into my Day Runner), but this is my favorite product for around-the-house. (Not that it wouldn’t have a million uses in an office, classroom or lab.) They also put thought into designing the dispenser: the tape tears easily and cleanly, and it isn’t such brittle, cheap plastic that it cracks if you drop it. I have used Avery removable labels, but they come on sheets, which are cumbersome and can get bent, come only in white (as far as I know), and require finding a pair of scissors if you need a small label. The tape is far more convenient.

-- Joan Blindsight  

Post-it Full Adhesive Roll, 1 x 400 Inches

Available from Amazon


Originally published as Systemantics, the pun in the title carries the important message that systems have “antics” — they act up, misbehave, and have their own mind. The author is having fun with a serious subject, deciding rightly that a sense of humor and paradox are the only means to approach complexity. His insights come in the form of marvelously succinct rules of thumb, in the spirit of Murphy’s Law and the Peter Principle. This book made me 1) not worry about understanding a colossal system — you can’t, 2) realize I can change a system — by starting a new one, and 3) avoid starting new systems — they don’t go away.

The lesson is that whatever complexity you are creating or have to work with — a website, a company, a robot, a tribe, a platform — is a system that will over time exhibit its own agenda. You need to understand the basic laws of systems, which this perennial book (now in its third edition) will cheerily instruct you.

-- KK  

The Systems Bible
(3rd Edition of Systemantics)
2003, 316 pages
$7, Kindle
$18+ (used), paperback

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:





A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The parallel proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.


We begin at the beginning, with the Fundamental Theorem: New systems mean new problems.


The system always kicks back — Systems get in the way — or, in slightly more elegant language: Systems tend to oppose their own proper functions.


Systems tend to malfunction conspicuously just after their greatest triumph. Toynbee explains this effect by pointing out the strong tendency to apply a previously successful strategy to the new challenge. The army is now fully prepared to fight the previous war.


Wirecutter Meets Cool Tools

This is probably the last Hangout I’ll be doing for the Cool Tools book. This Wednesday at 4pm PST.

The Wirecutter is like Cool Tools on steroids. Begun by Brian Lam, this site does deep reviews of popular item categories. Wirecutter writers will spend up to 30 hours researching the best blender, or point and shoot camera, or flat screen TV, and then try to reduce their recommendation to a single item. They don’t review the same wide range of stuff that Cool Tools do, and unlike Cool Tools, they show all their work and research. I am a huge fan of the Wirecutter and its companion Sweet Home, and have often discovered great items that later make it to Cool Tools. Brian Lam is also a fan of Cool Tools. I’d thought it would be great to conversation online about our common pursuits.

This Wednesday at 4pm PST, I’ll be joining Brian Lam, Mr. Wirecutter himself, in a Google Hangout on Air. We’ll take up to 8 folks into the Hangout as participants. Sign up here. At the time of the event, the first 8 to accept the invitation I send out on G+, will get in. Everyone else can watch the event live at this link.

Hope to see you there.

-- KK