19 September 2018



Multi-use warmer for heads, hands, neck

Recently Paul Saffo and Stewart Brand were raving about the Buff, the all-in-one garment. I am picky and a minimalist when it comes to clothing, but the Buff, in addition to being a shape-shifter, also weighs almost nothing, so I thought I should try it. It’s pretty neat, now part of my pack. — KK

Here is what Paul Saffo wrote:

Y’all probably have known about Buff forever, but in case not, this thing is way cool. Described as “the original multi-functional Seamless Wear”, it is a stretchy microfiber tube that can be a neckerchief/neck-scarf, headband, wristband, foulard, bandit-mask, hand-warmer, balaclava and more. I mostly use it as a neck-scarf when biking, and on hikes when it turns cool. Because it is microfiber, it has great thermal and wicking properties — and it is a great glasses-cleaner.

Stewart Brand adds:

Do see their online movies of the ways to rig a Buff.


(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2003 — editors)

18 September 2018


Best trauma shears under $10

Best penny cutters

I don’t think you can ever have too many trauma shears, also known as penny cutters. These are all under $10.

The first thing you should know is that these come in different sizes. The biggest here are 7.5 inches, the middle are 5.5 and these tiny ones are 3.5. Those measurements aren’t exact, but just know that if you specifically want these bigger ones, you need to confirm that they’re the 7.5 inch type. Otherwise, these 5-inch ones are the cheaper, more common ones you’ll come across.

Let’s start off with my favorite pair. These are the 7.5 inch fluoride-coated shears from Prestige Medical. I’ve had these for about a year now and they’ve held up well. The blades have a non-stick coating so they don’t get gummed up easily when you’re cutting tape.

Now, despite the size difference, the actual cutting jaws here are about the same length as the 5-inch ones. The difference is that the bigger ones offer more leverage. And at least in this case, the serrations on both 7 inch pairs I have are a little deeper and longer than the smaller options.

Now I’ll show you why that kinda matters. Here are the 5-inch pair. The grooves are a little less pronounced than the others, and they have a harder time biting into cables and zip ties without slipping down the jaw a little.

Still, they do a decent job, they can fit a little better in a pocket. The blunt tip on all these helps so they don’t rip a hole in your pants. And these ones also come in a Fluoride coating so they don’t get gummy.

Going back up to these 7.5 inch shears. These cut just as well as the black ones but have this extra carabiner clip on the handle. The clip makes it easy to hook on a bag or a belt loop, but I also find that it does a good job just hooking onto a pocket. The tension on the latch is just enough to resist slipping over the stitching on the top of my pocket. It makes it easy to keep on me, especially if I’m using them for gardening.

These ones don’t have the non-stick coating on them, but like all these, they’re made from stainless steel and they’re autoclavable. Which, in practical terms, means that you can boil them or run them through the dishwasher if you need to give them a good cleaning.

Finally, there are these itty-bitty ones. The cutting jaws on these are just an inch long and the teeth are much finer than the other options here.

You definitely don’t have a lot of bite or leverage with these. And I also have to say that the finishing on the edge of these is rougher than the others and worth filing down. But with all that said, these are an extremely pocketable pair of scissors that won’t poke you when you walk around. For opening packages, chopping through zip ties, or getting into stubborn packaging, having something like this is super useful, and much less likely to accidentally cut you than a knife.

One reviewer on Amazon mentioned that she uses these as a nurse and keeps them on a retractable badge holder, which sounds like a handy option.

So there you go. Those are four options worth considering when you’re shopping for trauma shears. I love having all of them around the house, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with the first pair I showed off. You can find links to all the options in the video description. I highly recommend picking up at least one.

-- Donald Bell 09/18/18

18 September 2018



Super easy rust removal

Getting rid of rust on tools, antiques, or old junk has always been an irritating and unsuccessful chore for me. But out in the Tube-osphere, guys restoring antiques all swear by Evapo-Rust ($23/gallon). They submerge the gnarly rusted object in this clear liquid overnight and the next day it rises up clean as a whistle. I got some, and by golly, it works like magic. As it eats away the rust, the liquid turns black (which is the reduced iron) as it depletes, but a gallon of it cleaned far more than I expected. The manufacturer claims one gallon will eat ½ pound of pure rust, or 300 pounds of moderately rusted iron. If you can’t dunk the rusted piece you can brush it on and keep it moist with towels. It claims to be non-toxic and biodegradable. It sometimes leaves a somewhat grayish film, but that’s no problem for anything being painted. It’s not cheap, but man, it is well worth it.

-- KK 09/18/18

17 September 2018


Eagle Creek All-Terrain Money Belt

Cash stash

Although you can certainly get cash in plenty of places overseas, in a good many others ATMs just do not exist. You gotta plan ahead: the Eagle Creek All Terrain Money Belt ($23). is pretty much exactly what I’ve always been looking for in a money belt, because it’s actually a belt. While traveling in Asia for six months, and on trips to Mexico, I’ve used a standard money “belt” that’s really more of a pouch you tuck into your beltline. You then subsequently appear to have either a distended abdomen or a money belt tucked into your pants, which obviously contradicts the goal: fly under the radar. I can keep my documents and passport safely hidden elsewhere, thanks much. But for carrying cash through pickpockety or banditry-prone places, this belt with a slim, zippered pocket is a real winner. I happened to see it at REI just before I left for a three-week trip to Nicaragua. I did have some trouble getting people to accept my origami-style folded bills (I really loaded up the belt), which is ironic because I didn’t find a single dry Cordoba in the entire country! Still, from now on, I will always travel with this belt.

— Mathew Honan

The Eagle Creek money belt has another great feature — the buckle is plastic, unlike many others with metal buckles, so it doesn’t have to be removed during airport screening. Keeps your cash right where you want it, not on a conveyor belt disappearing into an x-ray machine and not out in the open where someone with a sharp eye might notice it.

— Evan Marks


(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2008 — editors)

16 September 2018


Everything is Alive/100 Fantastic Articles/FineScanner

Recomendo: issue no. 112

A fantastical factual podcast
I am thrilled by this new quirky podcast, that is both fictional and factual. In “Everything Is Alive,” the host interviews inanimate objects, like a pillow or bar of soap. By any logic, this should be flat-line boring, but unexpectedly, each episode is brilliant, funny, informative, and remarkable. Other than the fact the objects talk, everything they say is true. Just listen to the can of cola talking about his life in the first episode and you’ll be hooked. — KK

100 Fantastic Articles
I’m working my way through this outstanding collection of over 100 articles from around the web, curated by Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic. He included an article I wrote for Wired about losing my bitcoin password. — MF

Quickly scan pages using your phone
The FineScanner app ($9.99/year) makes it so easy to scan and share documents using only my phone. Batch mode auto-captures and crops pages in seconds turning them into a readable, black & white PDF that I can immediately upload to my iCloud or Google drive. There’s a lot more features and more ways to share that I haven’t explored yet. — CD

Favorite natural destination
My new favorite US national park is Zion. Like Yosemite (my former favorite) it is a walkable valley enclosed in sheer vertical steepness. There’s a spectacular view each time you turn, or turn around. Hot in summer, it can be cool-ish much of the rest of the year, and has lots of trails around it. Like Yosemite, they restrict cars, so you get around on shuttle buses. It rewards repeat visits. — KK

Advice for talking to new people
I came across this piece of advice pertaining to job interviews, but I find it’s a helpful tip when dealing with bouts of social anxiety: Pretend the stranger you are talking to is an old friend and you’re catching up. Imagining this makes me feel more comfortable and confident. My go-to question with new people is usually a variation of “So what’ve you been up to today?” It takes the pressure off of me to talk about myself and creates a more natural conversation. — CD

Hand Vacuum with batteries that hold a charge
I’ve owned ten or more portable hand vacs in my life. The batteries in all of them did not stand the test of time. After six months or so, they couldn’t hold a charge. But I bought the Black and Decker Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum in 2015 and the battery seems to be as powerful now as the day I bought it. It’s also the priciest, at $55. In the long run, it’s also the cheapest, since I have not had to replace it. — MF

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.


15 September 2018


Oblique Strategies

Useful dilemma prompt cards; a portable oracle

How to get unstuck. Pick a card at random and either 1) do what it says or 2) let it lead you to another idea. It’s amazingly effective. This handsomely boxed stack of cards was created by the lateral genius Brian Eno and good friend Pete Schmidt in 1975 to get themselves and other musicians unstuck in the studio. It’s been through four updated editions since.

I use this tool in any design situation to think differently. In life I’ve found it more productive than throwing the I-Ching or staring at the wall.

This fifth printed edition on heavy silky stock will pop your rut.

More than you wanted to know about Oblique Strategies in its various editions and forms, plus links to digital versions are available at this amazingly complete fan site: Oblique Strategies

-- KK 09/15/18


img 09/13/18

The Shape of Life

Presents the full diversity of life

img 09/12/18

What’s new in Donald Bell’s Tool Box

Interesting tools for $10 or less

img 09/12/18

SOLE Ultra SOFTEC Insoles

Oven-baked, supportive orthotics

img 09/10/18

The Klutz Book of Knots

Mastering the few knots you need

See all the reviews


img 08/19/13

Weber Rapidfire Chimney Charcoal Starter

The best way to start a charcoal barbecue

img 07/24/17

Stretch Wrap

Quick self-binding wrap

img 04/9/04

Analog Atomic Wall Clock

Constant automatic accuracy

img 06/7/11

Photon Microlight II

Ultralight and bright

img 09/22/17

Gaffer’s Tape

Duct tape without the residue

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 140: Bran Ferren

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 139: Adam Fisher

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 138: Steve Lodefink

Picks and shownotes

23 February 2017


Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.