Freelance Writer, Bob Parks

Freelance writer Bob Parks delivers a handy inventory of tools for home improvement and renovation projects in this week’s episode of the Cool Tools Show. Be sure to check out Bob’s website to see some of his most recent articles for magazines like Popular Science and Bloomberg Business Week.

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

SawStop 10-inch Jobsite Table Saw $1500
“SawStop has lowered the price of their table saws. These are the saws that have an electrical system that automatically stops the blade once your finger touches it. It stops in 5 milliseconds, so that you only get a little nick on your finger.”

Ellipse Half Mask Respirator $32
“Super low profile on the face, you can put your glasses or your hood over it. It doesn’t feel like anything. And I also hate when I’m using a good respirator, the feeling of the straps pushing into my safety glasses, and this one seems to have solved that ergonomic challenge. I love the feel of it on my face.”

Fernco Wax-Free Toilet Seal $4
“Typically, it’s very awkward when I’ve got the wax seal on the floor, I’m grabbing this incredibly heavy toilet, my knees aren’t that great, so I’m swinging this thing over the hole, trying to land it in the middle of the wax ring…the first time I usually miss and crush the side of the wax ring, and have to start again. This is a different process. You turn the toilet over and you press this wax-free ring, the adhesive, into the toilet drain. And now you’ve got this long, 4-5 inch plastic throat and this adhesive piece stuck to the toilet. So it’s completely stuck, you can basically lift the whole toilet with the plastic throat. And so it’s really in there good.”

Sawyer Mini Water Filter $17
“This is an example of where technology and design completely recreates the market. Water filtration while camping used to be a huge pain in the butt and the devices cost from $100 to $400. And now this little device, that is now 1.9 oz, fits right in the palm of your hand, and can filter 100,000 gallons of water.”



Millions  suffer in silence as the freakin’ MagSafe magnet in Mac notebooks turns out not to be strong enough, so every time you shift on the couch it falls out. I don’t know if you have this problem, but many of us are very frustrated that the magnet is not as strong enough as it was in the old days.

There was a successful Kickstarter thing called a Snuglet. It’s a shim, it looks like a staple. This tiny  liner for the MagSafe jack, through some miracle of physics, amplifies the magnetic grip of the power plug so that it does not fall out unless you really kick the power cord or trip on it or something, which was the original idea.

-- David Pogue  

[This is from the Cool Tools Show podcast with David Pogue. See all of David's picks here. – Mark Frauenfelder]

$13 for 2 (includes remover)

Available from Amazon

Adhesive Rulers

I make lots of stuff, and measuring is integral to making stuff right, so I like having rulers everywhere. Several years ago, someone gave me an adhesive back measuring tape that I stuck to the edge of a table, and from then on, I wanted more.

I loved always having that ruler there, never having to go look for a ruler or a measuring tape, or go get a longer-than-needed yardstick because I had misplace my 12-inch ruler in some other measuring episode. I thought it would be great to put rulers like that on the edge of the kitchen counter, inside my desk drawer at work, on the edge of any table I’m doing work at, and on the outside of my knitting bags.

(I once thought pretty hard about getting dots tattooed on my index fingers, half an inch apart, so I’d always be able to measure things.)

About 3 years ago I did some research online, and found a company that manufactures all kinds of measuring equipment just across the river from me, in Oregon City, Oregon. I had to go visit after I read that “Oregon Rule specializes in adhesive backed rulers” in the Google blurb.

The company owner was there the day I visited, and he showed me all kinds of rulers, for things I had not even imagined. When I told him what I was looking for, there were an overwhelming number of options available: I came away with several rolls of ruled tape, enough adhesive 18″ metal rules to give one to each my co-workers for the pencil drawers on their desks, and an 8 foot adhesive back polyester ruler to put down the middle of the table in my craft room.

I can’t say that the rulers Oregon Rule makes are in any way better than other rulers, but the ability to put rulers everywhere I want them has made it easier for me to measure things accurately and quickly.

-- Kathy Warner  

Adhesive Rulers
$6 and up

Available from Amazon

Gerber E-Z Out Jr Knife

This has been my daily carry knife for 16 years. It is a small light weight belt clip knife with a serrated blade that lets me cut anything from paper to rope and straps. The thumb slot in the blade allows you to open the knife one handed. The lock release makes it easy to fold the blade back in one handed. The belt clip is handy but secure.

-- Peter Lucas  

Gerber E-Z Out Jr Knife

Available from Amazon

Skilcraft Push Action Mechanical Pencil

I work as a biology field technician. My mechanical pencils live a rough life of being stuffed into backpacks, sat on, left out in the rain, or otherwise neglected.

I have looked for the perfect mechanical pencil for years. Most mechanical pencils on the market have one fatal flaw; the metal sleeve (the very last tiny piece of metal pipe that the lead comes out of) is delicate and sharp. They are prone to snapping off or bending when you sit on the pencil and they also tend to poke through backpacks, puncture waterproof bags, etc.

The Skilcraft Fidelity sliding sleeve mechanical pencil solves all of this by allowing the user to retract not only the lead but also the entire metal sliding sleeve back into the pencil when not in use. To retract the lead and sleeve, push down the clicky eraser cap and then push the lead and metal sleeve back into the pencil as you slowly release the clicky eraser cap. These pencils are dead simple and not over-engineered. I was first given one of these pencils from an employee working for the department of fish and wildlife and still use that same pencil today.

-- Heron  

Silcraft Push Action Mechanical Pencil – 0.5 mm Lead Size
$24 /doz

Available from On Time Supplies

Husky 3.5 Lb Landscape Axe

The Husky Landscape Axe (a version of a “Pulaski”) is a versatile tool for use in the garden, especially for removing stumps, chopping roots, and to break up compacted soil.

The axe head has two faces, a conventional axe bit with the edge in line with the handle and a smaller mattock-style blade at right angles to the handle. It is mounted on a 34″ fiberglass handle that is sturdy and the assembly is much lighter and easier to handle that the maul I had been using.

The tool can be used to chop thick roots near stumps and roots that interfere with digging holes for planting bushes and small trees. The blades are effective and can be used to loosen soil while digging. Hooking the mattock end under a root or stone and using the tool as a pry bar is also very effective. The mattock is also useful for digging narrow trenches for burying pipe, for example. The more I have it with me, the more uses I find.

-- Mark Barry  

Husky 3.5 Lb Landscape Axe

Flexi Freedom Retractable Cord Dog Leash

First off, this leash is incredibly comfortable to hold. You wouldn’t think so by looking at it but I have walked, run, skied and bushwhacked with it in every season and you hardly know it’s there. Part of it is the soft rubber coating on the handle but it’s mostly the moulded shape that snugs right into your palm.

Next, it is very strong. When my 65 lb male Samoyed goes after a squirrel, the half inch wide, spring loaded belt pays out until it reaches the end and whammo: full stop, no problem. I haven’t cracked the case to see how the end of the belt attaches to the reel but it has stood up to this punishment nearly every day for several years now. Of course, this also speaks to how the spring-loaded, stainless steel D clip is fastened to the dog end of the belt: it’s looped through, folded back and crimped with a plastic clamshell. 

The leash has an elegant locking-mechanism that works reliably and intuitively by pushing a button with your thumb and then engaging a switch. This locks the belt at whatever length you want, and yep, it holds firm when charging dog meets end of leash. The belt is released just by pushing the switch again. Both setting and releasing the length are easy to do with one gloved hand.

When you run, walk or ski with your dog, the reel constantly pays out and retrieves slack (unless you’ve set the lock) so the belt rarely gets tangled the way other leashes can. This adjusts for both human arm swinging as well as for various dog movements. I sometimes clip the Flexi onto my belt, which frees up both hands for hiking or ski poles, or for carrying stuff.

Finally, it is almost completely silent. Impressive that in all seasons, with the belt getting wet, dirty and freezing, it has not developed the slightest squeak.

-- Tam Stewart  

Flexi Freedom Retractable Cord Dog Leash

Available from Amazon

I’m on a lot of mailing lists that I did not subscribe to. And every day I get added to a half dozen or more unwanted lists. These spamlike subscriptions are usually from PR flaks who want me to write about their clients. It’s almost always for things I don’t care about (like an insurance company announcing the appointment of a new regional vice president). It’s annoying to sort through this garbage in order to find email I care about.

Then I discovered, a free mailing list management service that works with Gmail, Google Apps, and Yahoo Mail. It does a great (but not perfect) job of finding the mailing lists you are subscribed to and presenting them as a list, allowing you to instantly unsubscribe to them by clicking with your mouse. As of today, I have used to unsubscribe to 1,601 mailing lists. It’s a dream come true.

What about the mailing lists that I actually signed up for and like? is great for dealing with those, too. Instead of receiving the newsletters one-at-a-time in my inbox, I’ve added my 114 mailing list subscriptions to a “Rollup.” This is a daily digest prepared by that contains email from the subscriptions I care about (my bank, my health insurance provider,, my kids’ school, James Altucher’s essays, etc.) You can click on any of the items in the Rollup email to see the full email.

Here’s what the Rollup looks like:

rollup is something I would happily pay money for. It is free, but you need to pay with a tweet or a Facebook like.

-- Mark Frauenfelder

Looney Pyramids

Looney Pyramids (formerly known as “Icehouse Pyramids”) are a system of plastic board game playing pieces. They come in a variety of colors (10 are commonly available) and 3 sizes and are sold in sets. The pieces can be used like a deck of cards for boardgames with the rules for over 300 games utilizing them already published online.

The publishers, Looney Labs, also greatly encourage their fans and customers to create their own games using the pieces. I have created a few myself and entered design contests that are fan run and intended to expand the Pyramid game world. As a means for creating your own boardgame or just a versatile system to playing hundreds of games, they are a fantastic investment of your entertainment dollar.

-- Sam Zitin  

Looney IceDice

Available from Amazon