I’ve played with the Kaleidograph Pattern Design toy for two years.

Simply: It allows me to be creative. It’s like a paper kaleidoscope. You can learn about composition, movement, color theory, pattern, geometry. It’s a design toy AND tool. It’s a quiet diversion. It’s open-ended. It’s relaxing. Almost meditative at times. It claims to make billions of designs with the 12 cards.

I don’t think there’s anything else like it. It’s for kids and adults.


-- Amy  


Available from Amazon

Ask Cool Tools Public Beta Extended

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Ask Cool Tools public beta test over the weekend. Your suggestions were very helpful. We are going to continue to run it as a beta product, and I’m asking for your help.

If you  experienced trouble registering, please try again. (We are going to streamline the registration process described below, but it’s still pretty easy to sign-up.)

How to register:


1. Click the “Or, register” button at the bottom of the Ask Cool Tools home page.


2. Click the “Register” link on the WordPress log in page.


3. Create a username and enter your email address. You will get an confirmation email. Click the link in the email and then log-in.

You are now able to ask and answer questions. If you need help, or have comments, please post them in the comments section.



Feedly is a great way to read Cool Tools

A couple of years ago, hundreds of thousands of our readers read Cool Tools using Google Reader, an RSS aggregator. But when Google pulled the plug on Reader, tens of thousands of our readers didn’t bother to resubscribe by using a different RSS reader.

Kevin and I are both RSS junkies. It’s the way we read all our blogs. And the reader we use is Feedly. It’s evolved over the years and now it is better than Google Reader ever was. The free version is excellent (I have no reason to pay $5 a month for the premium version).

I recommend reading Cool Tools via Feedly. We offer the full text of every post, not just an excerpt. Give it a try and I think you’ll understand why 46 thousand people read Cool Tools readers through Feedly.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Twister Fruit Picker

This fruit picker blows away any other one we’ve had.

Most fruit pickers use a “hook and basket” which requires you to pull the fruit to remove it from the tree. The problem with this system is fruit that is notoriously difficult to pull. On more than one occasion, the basket detached from the pole and was then stuck in the tree. As a rule, the basket designs are not very good and there’s really no way to definitively attach the basket to the end of the pole so that it WON’T come off.

This one works very differently. It’s like actually having a hand with two 4-inch looped fingers at the end of the pole that grips the fruit (there’s a very ingenious cord system that controls the opening and closing of the jaws of the picker) tightly, but not so tightly that it injures the fruit. This then allows you to twist the fruit until the stem snaps and frees the fruit.

We have avocado and pomegranate trees. These are NOTORIOUSLY difficult to pull using a conventional “hook and pull” basket picker. This picker made short work of picking both of these types of fruits/veggies.

The design is ingenious and works REALLY well.

I have it attached to a 12-foot telescoping pole that I use to change light bulbs. The great thing is that if you already have a pole with a standard threaded end (the same end you might have on a push broom or mop), you can attach this picker easily.

My feeling is that if you wanted to use a longer pole (say 20 feet) the picking might be a 2 person job which has nothing to do with the picker and everything to do with “targeting” a piece of fruit with a 20 foot pole.

Compared to the other fruit pickers I’ve tried, the design, durability, and ease of use can’t be matched.


  • Picks even difficult to remove fruit/vegetable varieties.
  • Ease of use
  • Ingenious Design

  • Cost
  • You have to bring your own pole
  • Set up is a little tricky but well documented
-- Fred Raimondi  

The Twister Fruit Picker

Available from Amazon

Snirt Stopper

I installed this item on my sixteen foot garage door about a month ago. It’s snowing outside today here in Denver, but my overhead door is snugly sealed, despite a two inch gap on one side of my door. What is a Snirt Stopper? From the website:

We have designed a garage door bottom seal and threshold seal that mounts to the inside face of the door instead of the bottom, this gives you the ability to adjust the seal up or down allowing you to match any unevenness (up to 2 inches) of shifting floors and garage doors.

Snirt Stopper is the inventor’s euphemism for stopping “snow and dirt.” Actually, it also stops rain, leaves, grass and anything else that might otherwise blow inside your man cave.

There is nothing else like this “tool” on the market, and I found it buried fairly deep on the web by deep searching “garage door gap solutions.”

-- Eugene Pummill  

Snirt Stopper
$52 – $99

Ask Cool Tools Public Beta

We’ve been working behind the scenes to redesign Ask Cool Tools, which has suffered from registration problems and a confusing interface. Beginning tonight (around 11pm ET)  we are going to turn on the switch for the redesign. We’ll let it run over the weekend, to see how it does. It will undoubtedly have problems. I’d like to invite you to take it for a test drive by asking real questions, and providing real answers. Try it out tonight or over the weekend here. You can leave feedback in the comments here. Thank you!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  


Black & Decker Gyro BDCS40G

When I first heard about this tool, I was already looking for a small, lightweight driver with a rechargeable battery. Now that I’ve had and used the Gyro for several months (and there are now a few similar tools on the market), I can honestly say it’s just what I needed.

This is not something to replace a proper drill/driver, it’s not for high-volume use, and probably wouldn’t be great in a situation where a lot of speed or torque is needed. But it’s great for the home hobbyist who will occasionally drive a few wood screws, and for certain other situations.

The Gyro has one button, a large pad that your palm engages naturally when grasping the driver. Twist right to tighten, left to loosen; twist further to speed up or back off toward neutral to slow down. “Neutral” here is whatever position you started in: the Gyro doesn’t care which way you hold it, just which direction and how far you twist it. A small white LED on the front comes on automatically as well and does an okay job of lighting the area around the tip of the tool.

I use it in my work installing low-voltage (data/phone) cabling. Most of what I do is retrofit work, and I typically need to drive four long, low-torque screws per wall plate. Doing this by hand takes too long for my patience and stresses my wrist. Instead I carry the Gyro and make short work of those screws with precise speed control — slow to get it started, fast to burn through most of the length, then slow again to finish and tighten.

The Gyro accepts any standard hex-shank bit, so if you are really in a pinch, you could actually drill a hole with it. I’ve found it to hold a charge well, even when it sits for days or weeks between uses. It comes with a proprietary charger (of course) but one plus for me is that the battery is integral – no separate charger, cord, and removable battery to keep track of. As fast as battery technology and tool form factors change, I don’t see an upside in having a removable battery – for this type of tool.

Just two minuses: I wouldn’t mind some cleverly designed on-board storage for an extra bit or two, and I don’t rely on the LED work light to really illuminate… well, much of anything.

Lightweight, packable, holds a charge well, and does just what it advertises — and doesn’t try to do more. Simple and highly functional at one specific thing.

-- Kyle Wayman  

Black & Decker 4-Volt Gyro Screwdriver

Available from Amazon

Adidas Weighted Vest

This is the best exercise device I own. 10 pounds of weight perfectly distributed on front and back of chest, in an elastic black vest with orange piping that actually “looks cool.” I strap this on, put my iPhone into the extra front pocket thoughtfully designed in front, and easily walk up to two hours without even feeling the weight. I work up a great sweat, have built up my stamina and strength, and now have four of these stationed for me in locations I often visit: Seattle, Singapore, Boston, Australia.

-- Ron Kaufman  

Adidas Weighted Vest

Available from Amazon


Erik Knuzten, Author and Podcaster [Cool Tools Show Episode #21]

This week Erik Knuzten, co-author of Urban Homestead:Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World joins us with a list of must have tools for self-sufficient, DIY home living. Check out Erik’s Root Simple website and podcast (which he runs with his partner, Kelly Coyne) for more on how to build yourself a sustainable DIY lifestyle.

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

KoMo FlicFloc $170

“What it allows you to do is you throw basically raw oat seeds into it, you turn a handle – it’s manual -, and you get flaked oats which then I’ve been using mostly for muesli, and it’s totally changed my breakfast life. It’s easy to use and delicious and very, very nutritious.”


KoMo Fidibus Classic $621

“This one is a dove-tailed solid wood on the outside. It has two stone mills inside of it and a very powerful electric motor. I’m a real avid whole-grain baker. Again, it’s just like rolling your own oats, is you can keep the grains on hand and mill them as you need them to make bread. Now, what this does is it opens up a whole world of grain…When you have your own mill, you can choose the grain, the variety of wheat that you want to mill, and what I think a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s a huge biodiversity in wheat and rye and other grains and when you have your own mill you can select different grains to work with.”


Whirley-Pop popcorn popper (for roasting coffee) $20

“With the Whirley-pop all you do is put it on the stove top and one of the tricks is getting the heat right. That’s some amount of trial and error in that. Throw a half pound of green coffee beans in there, turn it, and in about nine, ten minutes, you’ve got roasted. It’s just that simple.”


Sweet Maria’s coffee roasting instructions Free

“Even with the mail order charges from Sweet Maria’s, I’m basically getting $20 a pound coffee for $10 a pound. Again, being able to select the green beans that I want to use has just totally changed my life actually. It made breakfast exciting every morning.”


Xtracycle Electric version $3500

“Sometimes called a long-tail bike. It’s like having pannier sacks on steroids or kind of like having a bike for two that instead of the second person it’s all cargo. Unlike a lot of cargo bikes, the European style that are kind of big and broad, this one’s narrow so you can squeeze through traffic in L.A. on it, gracefully. I can easily put four bags of groceries on that thing.”


Cambro Camtray Cafeteria Tray

Cafeteria trays, and this one in particular, are a favorite for creating a work surface that I can easily move around and keep things contained. In the kitchen I find them indispensable, but it is helpful whenever I am working on anything with small parts (like working with an Arduino board) or make a mess (anything with glitter). I got my trays 20 years ago they still hold up nicely!

Major benefits:

  • The tray has a raised lip around the entire tray, so any liquid or small pieces doesn’t go right off the surface.
  • I think it makes a great cutting board. You can put a bunch of veggies to one side (and they don’t roll off because of the lip), chop them up, and the juices don’t flow off the board.
  • While fiberglass isn’t the best surface for your knife, it is way better than doing it on most counter tops! Just put a cutting board on the tray if you are concerned. (The flexible ones are great)
  • I’ve also used it under crock pots that I think may boil over, filling flasks when I don’t want any liquids to be lost, and as a place to roll out dough.
  • It’s also helpful to use these when working with small pieces, like when assembling components on an Arduino board. The lip provides a bit of a barrier when a screw or a capacitor tries to make a run for it.
  • The tray is a perfectly reasonable work area, and is rigid. And, if you too have a small kitchen, you’ll appreciate the ability to quickly pick up the tray’s task and be able to get to an empty counter. Or shuffle it off to another counter entirely.
  • It also means that you can take the entire surface to the sink, and scrub it there, rather than having to clean all the items and then the counter.
  • I like trays that are smooth on top and bottom. Some trays have a texture on top and ridges on the bottom, to provide a better friction. I find that the texture makes moving things around on the tray a bit more difficult, and the ridges on the bottom keep them from being a good sled when it snows. I like the faux wood grain as well, as it blends in with my other cutting boards, but they come in all sorts of colors to suit your aesthetic.

And, of course, these are really helpful when you are moving dishes and food from the kitchen to another part of the house!

Cambro Camtray
$6 and up depending on size and style

Available from Amazon