01 December 2022

Giving Thanks/Bites of History/Crazy Cap

Nomadico issue #28

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

Giving Thanks
Today is Thanksgiving in the USA. Seth Godin released The Thanksgiving Reader back in 2015 to focus on gratitude as a group project, kind of like a Passover Seder but without all the references to suffering. If it’s too woo-woo for your family, you might just want to listen to his podcast episode on how we got socially engineered into buying so many cranberries and turkeys. Meanwhile, thank you for reading this newsletter. We are grateful.

Trivia and World-Changing History
If you’re interested in historic stories and often ask, “Why is it that…?” out loud, then here’s another podcast you might like: the Everything Everywhere Podcast. Host Gary Arndt was an original world-circling travel blogger, which made him a sponge of information and curiosity that now leads well to short daily explanations on the history of playing cards, where Alexander the Great is buried, Rapa Nui, and what we know about the legend of Atlantis. (And yes, the history of Thanksgiving.)

Easy Water Purification on the Road

Plastic bottles on the beach are a scourge around the world and the big gyres of them floating around the oceans unseen are even worse. Avoid buying single-use bottles in places where you can’t drink the water by using the rechargeable tech of a Crazy Cap one. This is basically a Swell-type insulated bottle but with a cap that lights up with germ- and bacteria-killing UV rays, rendering that tap water perfectly drinkable. It’s like a SteriPen, but since the light is already attached to your bottle, super-easy to use. Easily pays for itself in the cost savings too.

Thailand Is Still a Deal
So far I’ve been in Bangkok, Phuket, and Koh Lanta on this trip and am finding Thailand prices to be only slightly higher than they were the last time I was here in 2015. Part of that is because I’m pulling from a U.S. dollars account, with the exchange rate mitigating some of the inflation, but it still feels like a terrific value–coming from a guy who lives in Mexico much of the year. Tourism has roared back fast, by the way, with busy airports, hotels, and ferry terminals.


29 November 2022

Force Conversion Calculators

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #139

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here.

I want to grow my subscriber base. To aid in this, I’m announcing a Holiday Giveaway Challenge. I’ll be giving away a bundle of inscribed copies of both of my tips books (Vol. 1Vol. 2) and three of my favorite everyday tools: The Williams ratcheting screwdriver, the Canary cardboard cutter, and a plastic razor blade. To be eligible for the drawing, you need to convince three people to sign up for my newsletter (and then email me their names). If you sign up 5 (or more), you get two entries in the drawing. Contest ends Midnight, Dec. 11. Sorry, but this contest is US-only!
Force Conversion Calculators
On Digi-Key’s website, they have a set of calculators for converting between various units of physical force (newtons, gram-force, metric ton-force, and others). So, the next time you need to covert between Sthène and Poundal
Torture-Testing Bench Vises
Bench vises are one of those common tools where people rave about the cheap ones available at Harbor Freight. I’ve always wondered how true this was. So, seeing this Project Farm video, I was anxious to know how the Freight would fare. Todd tested the following brands: Heuer, Ridgid, Yost, Wilton, Baileigh, Irwin, Forward, Central Forge, Olympia, Myoyay. Vises were tested for clamp load, durability from impact, anvil durability, and clamp load failure point. This is one of the few Project Farm videos I’ve seen where Todd pushed the tool to complete failure.

Sure enough, the $69 (at time of testing) Harbor Freight vise (Central Forge) performed amazingly well. Not surprisingly, the $500 (at time of testing) Heuer was best overall. Now that I see this testing, I’m definitely going to grab a Harbor Freight vise. When we moved to California last year, I left my two vises on the east coast and I’ve been missing having one (beyond my Dremel hobby vise).
The Basics of Photochemical Machining for Precise Parts
In this Applied Science videoBen provides a nice and thorough introduction to photoetching small, precise metal parts, aka photochemical machining. The process is involved, not really for beginners, and this is a work-in-progress video. But, because there aren’t any vendors out there (that I’m aware of) providing this service for small-batch photochemical machining, this video is a way in if you need to consider creating such small, precision metal parts on your own.
Bringing a Rusted Cast Iron Skillet Back from the Dead
Over on Boing BoingMark Frauenfelder shared this video on one of the many processes (basically they’re all the same with some variation) for reviving a completely rusty cast iron skillet. Years ago, I decided to revive the 3 very rusty skillets I had in the bottom of my pots and pans cabinet. I watched several videos and followed a similar process. It was so satisfying to bring these decades-old kitchen tools back to life.
The Existential Pleasures of Restoration and Repair
Good as new!Good as new!
Speaking of kitchen tools, my wife’s handheld mixer died recently. I heard it seize up as she was making something downstairs. We could’ve just bought a new one (this thing is ancient), but I really wanted to fix it, especially as she told me of its lineage. This is the first and only mixer she’s ever had. Every holiday feast was made with this mixer. She raised her kids on this mixer. Her sister gave it to her. As I like to say, tools always come with stories, and this one has great stories. I took it to my workbench, took it apart, and had a look. I quickly discover that the wormgear that transfers the motor’s spin to the beater gears was frozen. Some WD-40 and and few gentle twists with the needle nose and it was working again. Easy! The beater ejector had long ago broken, so I fixed that, too. The mixer was filled with decades of dust, batter gunk, and thickened oil. I took everything apart, cleaned it, inside and out, and put it all back together. This process was an act of love, for my wife, and also for the stories this mixer tells. And now, will continue to tell.
Noteable Quotables
“I always work at the edge of what I understand.” -Musician, artist, Brian Eno

“There is nothing worse than a brilliant beginning.” –Pablo Picasso
Shop Talk
Paul Cryan writes:

Watching the Stumpy Nubs vid on oscillating tools, I thought about getting mine out and seeing if it could solve some of my “learning issues” with 3D printing. Not only did my Dremel Multi-Max MM40 fit with a Diablo HCS flexible adhesive scraping blade do beautiful work cutting away support material from PLA prints, but I’m pretty sure it will work to get those stubborn PETG prints to release from the PEI print surfaces I’ve got on all my printers. To my surprise, at a shallow angle of attack (e.g., < ~30 degrees) the oscillating adhesive blade doesn’t seem harmful to the print surface, despite its keen front edge, and it wiggles under really stuck PETG. As pointed out in the Stumpy Nubs video, the oscillating blade can be grabbed without danger. I think it might become my new favorite way of releasing sticky 3D prints so that I don’t damage the surfaces of my printers.


Reader Kristian Reinhart (who was the winner of last year’s holiday tips challenge) sent a batch of new tips. Here are a few:

* The quickest non-chemical way I’ve found to clean up the surface of 3D prints (especially flats or edges on FDM prints) is using a snap-off blade and scraping over the surface. Much less hassle than sandpaper. Card scrapers, especially small ones, also work great, and depending on their shape and the shape of the print, shape do so far better than the snap-off blades, but they’re not as ubiquitously available and require maintenance.

* When lending tools or other things, I take a picture and edit it to write down the name of the recipient, then I store those pictures in a separate folder on my phone. That way, I always know exactly what I lent out to whom, and from the date of the picture, when.

28 November 2022

Velcro & Cords

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 10

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Velcro double-sided wide ties
Velcro One-Wrap, $6

I carry a roll of the Velcro Plant Ties (see right) in my tool bag, but also keep One-Wrap Velcro strips in the shop. While they’re much more expensive, I’ve found the larger kind to be substantially bulkier and stronger. Here in Toronto, we have alternating weekly garbage, recycling, and green waste pickup. We also have rapacious raccoons. I found if I add a simple loop of One-Wrap, screw it into the side of the green bin and loop it over the locking bail of the bin, the raccoons cannot open it. I first tried Plant Ties. They just wouldn’t hold. For my purposes, a One-Wrap is good for about a year, after which it is easily replaced. It’s available in various colors and sizes. The lower-end of the One-Wrap line is a similar size to the Plant Ties, which are 13 mm wide; however, the One-Wrap also come as large as 22mm. It has deeper loop Velcro (thicker and fuzzier), and as the width of the tape increases, the size of the loops and their grip strength increases. Plant Ties really are great for handling all kinds of tasks, but One-Wrap is strong enough to bundle thicker rope, heavier hoses, and most importantly for me, they keep raccoons out of the recycling. – David Keldsen
Heavy duty velcro
Dual Lock Fastener Tape, $18

To me, as a commuter, one of the most impressive parts of the EZ Pass toll-paying system is the hardcore industrial “velcro” tape they give you to attach your transponder to your windshield. It’s not really velcro, though – instead of hooks and loops, both surfaces have these tiny hard plastic mushroom-shaped things that grab each other by the hundreds and don’t let go. Both sides are the same, so there is only one tape (called selfmating). And unlike the loosy-fabricky velcro connection, the Dual Lock surfaces don’t join until you’ve positioned them exactly, and then pressed them together with a satisfying “chunk.” They’re primarily used in industrial applications as a replacement for mechanical fasteners, but I use mine to attach my iPod to my dashboard, and tools to the wall in my workshop. – S.S. Flanders
Versatile fastener
Parachute Cord, $8

Parachute cord isn’t only light and strong (550lb. rating) for its size (5/32” diameter), it’s also more versatile than other types of rope because it can be dissected and parted out, cut and used for its braided nylon sleeve and/or seven separate core strands.

You can get an enhanced grip and a little added padding by using paracord to wrap tool handles. It’s also used for making lanyards. I recently inserted a length of ball chain into a parachute cord sleeve to make a hands-free flashlight for late-night dog walks. The nylon is a lot more comfortable around my neck than a ball chain, and the fit is perfect. – Spencer Starr


27 November 2022

Happiness and Wealth Guide/Best Peppermint Tea

Recomendo: issue no. 333

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

Claudia’s “I wish” list
This year on my holiday wishlist are 6 objects to improve my work-life balance, which includes a new machine-washable rug for my home office and desk chair, some tools to alleviate stress and glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoos — just for fun. Check it out here. — CD

Favorite peppermint tea
I recently ordered a cup of peppermint tea at a restaurant, and it made all the other mint teas I’ve had in the past taste like lawn clippings. I ordered a box on Amazon. It’s called Smith Teamaker’s Peppermint Leaves No. 45. – MF

Mini Wikipedia
Wikipedia is so valuable to me that I have a mini version of it on my phone so I have access to it anywhere in the world anytime. I use Kiwix, a free app for iOS and Android, that parks a 13GB file with 6.6 million Wikipedia articles – without images. (The version with images is  ). With Kiwix I can get Wikipedia on a boat, in the wilderness, or anywhere beyond cell service. You’ll want to download via wifi it cause it takes a long while. – KK

Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories
For the last several years, the cartoonist Seth has been designing and illustrating an annual series of beautiful little books, called Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories. This year’s series includes A Visit by Shirley Jackson, The Corner Shop by Lady Asquith, and The Dead and the Countess by Gertrude Atherton. – MF

Collaborate with scientists
NASA has a page dedicated to their Citizen Science Projects where you can volunteer to help make scientific discoveries, like mapping bird diversity, cloud gazing, tracing patches of kelp, or identifying celestial objects in search of Planet Nine. Currently, there are 30 projects open to anyone in the world, and most can be done with just a cellphone or laptop. — CD

Happiness and wealth guide
One of the better books of I’ve read that is crammed with very good and actionable advice for gaining happiness, success, and wealth is The Alamanack of Naval Ravikant, which is generously (a key skill!) available as a free PDF. I found myself agreeing with most of the advice. Kindle and printed book versions are sold on Amazon. – KK

— Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson


26 November 2022

2022 “I wish” List – Kevin’s picks

8 things on my holiday wishlist

This year we are doing something different for our holiday gift lists. Instead of carefully selecting some of the best tools and gifts that we own and can personally recommend, this time we are carefully listing things we don’t have but would like to get. This is a wish list. We’ve searched for uncommon gifts that seem wonderful, although contrary to the usual policy of this site, we don’t actually have any personal experience with the items on this list. If you do, leave some comments. — Editors

Here’s what Kevin Kelly would like for Christmas.

Leatherman multi-tool
Leathermans are swiss army knives with pliers – incredibly useful multi-tools. The Leatherman Free P4 has 21 bladed tools folded into it, including the pliers. It is relatively compact, but still too big to really stay in your pocket. It will be most useful on outings, field trips, and camping. It replaces a small tool chest.

Kindle Paperwhite Kids
This 11th generation Kindle seems to be the ebook reader to get. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Kids edition has all the latest Kindle features including 10-week battery life, front illumination, and Bluetooth to listen to audible books. This Kid’s version also has a waterproof case, access to public library books, and no ads. Time for me to upgrade.

Audubon bird call
This little classic hand-powered wooden thingy, the Audubon Bird Call, will squeak when you twist it making bird-like chirps, which I am told attract birds when you are bird watching.

Blank flip books
Here’s a dozen blank flip books ready to turn your doodles into animations. Release your inner 10-year old. Each book has 60 sheets.

4K Trail Camera
Years ago I had film-based trail cams to try and catch a photo of the mountain lion in our neighborhood, so I need to move to digital. This Vikeri 4K trail cam has infrared night vision, as well as daylight motion sensing. Also does video, and has a screen for review – very handy.

Smartphone printer
Send photos from your phone on the Fujifilm Instax Mini Printer and it will instantly print them out. The pictures are small-ish ( ), but good enough for parties, weddings, gatherings, or gifts to strangers. The print is about the size of a phone itself.

Cordless electric chain saw
All my workshop and household tools are going cordless. One significant tool remains: the chainsaw. A cordless chainsaw now makes great sense. I have the Dewalt system, so I covet the Dewalt Max XR 20v Chainsaw. It is long enough for my occasional use, which is why electric is so good. No trouble starting even with long periods dormant. Most major brands now offer cordless chainsaws.

Rechargeable camping lantern
This LE 1000 lumen camping lantern is rechargeable, and also serves as a power bank to recharge your other devices. It’s waterproof, and will also serve as an emergency light at home.


25 November 2022

Will Smith, Co-host of Brad & Will Made a Tech Pod

Show and Tell #341: Will Smith

Will Smith is co-host of Brad & Will Made a Tech Pod and a Twitch Streamer, and previously an Editor at Tested.com and Maximum PC. You can find him on Twitter @willsmith.

0:00 – Intro
1:11 – Glowforge 3D laser printer
9:31 – Home Assistant
15:52 – Sin Shine Compressed Air Electric Duster
20:05 – Baking Steel Skinny Griddle
24:04 – Brad & Will Made a Tech Pod and Brad & Will present a FOSS Pod



img 12/9/11

The Wondermill

Countertop flour mill

img 09/27/13

Backyard Sugarin’

DIY sweets from trees

img 04/2/18

Mosquito Netting

Cheap worry-free sleeping

img 05/30/11

Snark SN-2

Best Clip-On Instrument Tuner

img 11/5/19

Leatherman Squirt

Lightest multi-tool

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #341: Will Smith

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #340: Robert Stephens (Part 2)

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #339: Robert Stephens (Part 1)

Picks and shownotes

23 November 2022


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 claudia {at} cool-tools.org.

© 2022