25 January 2021


Bison AirLighter 420

Butane blower

I have used this tool through three fire seasons and I think it has completely solved a 40-year problem: how do I get a fire started or restarted in my woodstove? I have used hand bellows, air pipes, cardboard fans, and torches. They all work, but my wife and I have begun to get sensitive to wood ash. The ashier the wood, the worse our respiratory issues.

With the Bison AirLighter 420, I can keep the fire doors open a minimal time and along with some air filtration nearby, we are good to go. The reason this tool is so successful is that it is both a butane lighter (very efficient) and a battery-powered fan. Get the fire started with the lighter portion, then switch to the bellows. Too easy. I can go an entire season with one set of rechargeable batteries. The tool gets a battering but keeps carrying on.

-- Terry Elliott 01/25/21

24 January 2021


Keto bread recipe/Slow TV Map/Ancient coins

Recomendo: issue no. 236

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Fluffy low-carb bread
Here’s a super-simple recipe for ultra low carb, fluffy bread. I made a 1-minute video that shows how I make it, and the results. This is the almond flour I use. — MF

Slow TV Map
Recomendo reader Mark Jackson shared this wonderful Slow TV Map and said:

“If you haven’t heard of Slow TV before, it is a genre of long-form television originating from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s broadcast of an uninterrupted 7-hour train journey in 2009. Slow TV Map maps these types of videos on a map so you can discover virtual journeys in an interactive way. Most people use Slow TV as a screensaver, but it can also be used as a form of active meditation. I hope you enjoy!”

Such a great way to virtually visit parts of the world you’ve always wanted explore. Here is a 1-hour long, Slow TV video of an 105-year old ship sailing the Denmark Coastline set to acoustic guitar. — CD

Ancient coin lessons
A fantastic history teaching tool is to give each student a 2,000-year old Roman or Greek coin to clean, study, and keep. Recovered old coins are abundant enough that a bag of uncleaned (and unidentified) ancient coins can be purchased for a few dollars per coin. Of course these coins won’t be high quality; they may be corroded or poorly crafted or well-worn down and indistinct, but they will be authentically old, and actually used as money. That is part of the lesson. Small lots of genuine ancient coins can be bought from reputable sources like Vcoin, where a lot of 20 diverse coins can be $45 (or bit more than $2 per coin). Cleaning them up and trying to identify them gets into their story. Ancient Coins for Education is a resource for educators using old coins, and Kevin’sCoins has tips for cleaning them. — KK

3D printer infographics
If you’re getting started in 3D printing, Billie Ruben’s infographic posters will save you time, money, and frustration. One poster shows how to design shapes that won’t collapse or slide off the plate mid-print. Another helps you select the right design software for your needs, and the third one is a simple (and essential) guide to bed leveling. I’ve been 3D printing stuff for 10 years and learned a lot from these guides. You can buy paper posters here. — MF

Find movies by writing out the synopsis
JustWatch has a cool way to discover new movies to watch. Just type up a synopsis for your ideal movie and you’ll be given a list of films with similar plotsTip: Press “enter” after you’ve finished typing and the recommendations will refresh. I made the mistake of pressing the “Ghostwrite a story for me” button which overrides whatever you’ve written with a random plot and related movies. — CD

Free Lynda classes
Tutorials on YouTube are near infinite in their variety — and quality. I’ve long paid for a subscription to Lynda.com which provides consistently very high quality tutorials for learning to use design and media software, and for learning how to program and code. The courses are methodical and reliable. I can get up to speed or earn advanced skills pretty quickly. I’ve been using them for learning video editing.  Recently Lynda was bought by LinkedIn, and renamed LinkedIn Learning. Their complete catalog of 15,000 courses are made available for free via public libraries in the US. Generally all you need is a library card account to gain access through your local library system. BTW, tons of Recomendo readers reminded me that many of the Great Courses (mentioned previously) are also available online for free via your local library. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 01/24/21

22 January 2021


John Park, Maker at Adafruit

Cool Tools Show 262: John Park

Our guest this week is John Park. John is a professional maker. He builds creative technology projects, tutorials, and videos for Adafruit Industries. John hosted the Emmy-nominated Make: Television show on American Public Television. Prior to joining Adafruit, John worked in computer graphics, including twelve years in animation at Disney. John is an amateur circus aerialist, and a synthesizer enthusiast. You can find John on Twitter and Instagram @johnedgarpark.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

VCV Rack (free, open source)
This is an excellent software synthesizer environment for learning and using Eurorack modular synthesis. Modular synths are loads of fun if you want to dive in deeper than the typical synth, due to the elemental nature of modular, they are like building blocks for sound design in many ways. In this case you don’t need lots of room and lots of cash compared to real, physical modular synth gear. Runs on mac os, Linux, Windows. Warning: may lead you to build or buy real gear anyway! And two recommendations I have to go along with it are there’s a guy on YouTube named Omri Cohen. He’s a musician, and he’s great at explaining synthesis, and he has dozens and dozens of videos on YouTube for free that teach you how to use Rack and different modules. And there was a series called Learning Modular by a guy named Chris Myers, and his is terrific because it takes you from knowing almost nothing to being able to put together a synthesis patch. And he demonstrates it I believe with physical modules, but you can kind of follow along with Rack if you want.

Bullet Pencil ($35 or $10-15 for a vintage one, less in bulk)
I got this terrific pencil from my wife for Christmas and now I carry it with me all day long. I’ve never had a pencil I liked that could be easily pocketed until now. The history behind these pencils is interesting — originally made from .303 brass shell casings in WWI, then evolved into cheap give-away advertising promo items in the 1930s-50s. You can get lots of fun ones on eBay, or go all retro-modern with the Traveler’s Co/Midori one here. There are refills available for the pencil and eraser, but it looks like any #2 pencil chopped down to size should fit the metal press-fit bullet tip/insert coupler.

Stainless steel dental-style picks/probes set ($10)
I’ve finally found the ultimate tool for dealing with leaked batteries in old electronics and toys! These dental picks are perfect for it, especially the curved scraper, which I use to remove the corrosion and acid buildup from both the pads and springs inside old remote controls and similar forgotten devices. The design is ideal for scraping. Since it is such a similar action as a dental hygienist does on your choppers, that it’s no wonder it is so much better than trying to use a screwdriver or knife blade. Also, very handy for a huge variety of small parts tasks. One of the angled hook ones is excellent for de-pocket linting an iPhone Lightning connector port. This set is much higher quality than cheapo ones I’ve used before.

Godox LR150 Ring Light ($39)
Originally purchased for my teenage son and daughter who are filming themselves for show choir and drama productions, it’s no-nonsense, good looking frontal lighting. Has standard light-stand mount, and tripod threading & cold-shoe mounts inside for iPhone or camera placement. I’ve found it useful as a supplemental light or primary light for photos and videos of electronics projects as well. It even has a very thoughtful USB charger output built into it so your phone can be plugged in.

John Park on YouTube:
I do two different livestreams a week for Adafruit. One is on Tuesdays at 1PM Pacific. It’s called JP’s Product Pick of the Week. I bring on some new product from Adafruit, explain a little bit about it and do one or two live demos with it. I also do the John Park’s Workshop on Thursdays at 1PM Pacific. That one is a longer show, and on that I do some segments like the MakeCode Minute, where I show how to code something using Microsoft MakeCode, which is a web browser based visual programming language that works on a lot of different platforms.


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $390 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link: https://paypal.me/cooltools.– MF


21 January 2021

Marking with a Modified Crow’s Foot

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #76

Please help me spread the word about this newsletter. Share one of the tips you liked on your social media and then link back to my newsletter’s home page. It’s a huge help. Thanks!

Marking with a Modified Crow’s Foot

A mark you can count on.

A mark you can count on.

In this Inspired Woodcraft videoJody describes his use for what he calls a modified crow’s foot. Everyone has their own means of marking: the ubiquitous tick mark, the fading tick mark (where the mark point is darker and the tail fades out), and the crow’s foot. Many a carpenter and woodworker can tell you why the crow’s foot is the superior mark, but Jody points out that a quick succession of such marks can end up creating a fat or otherwise unclear mark point. In a modified crow’s foot, you don’t bring the second line of the “V” all the way down to the point, so that mark point stays as thin and precise as possible.

Organizing Your Thinking Around Organizing

When off the top of your head is an organizing principle.

When off the top of your head is an organizing principle.

In this Tested videoAdam Savage talks about expanding your approach to organization to include your thinking around organization. As part of this, he brings up something he’s shared before (which I have shared here): When considering where to store a tool, go with the first place that comes to mind. The project in this video is a simple one: painting a mill wrench so that he knows at a glance which is the proper orientation for tightening. As he points out, orienting it the wrong way and then flipping it is only a few seconds of lost time, but it’s a mini frustration that can take you out of the flow. As he point out, you cannot alleviate every type of shop frustration, but you can minimize them by solving the ones that are addressable, as he does with this little project. In deciding how to mark the wrench for identification, he applies his “first thing you think of” rule. When wondering where to mark the tool and with what, his first thought was: Red paint on the tightening side. So that’s what he did.

Sometimes, Let Your Materials Do the Talking

Fiddling until you figure it out.

Fiddling until you figure it out.

In video on the Black Magic Craft channel for tabletop game crafters, Jeremy makes a great point that applies to many types of making. Sometimes, if you’re feeling creatively stuck or uninspired, the best answer may be to play, tinker, jam your way towards a project. In his case, he wanted to build something but couldn’t think of what. So, he got out his model bits boxes and just started fiddling around until he found some parts that he really liked and then he built a piece of scatter terrain around those. This can apply to lots of different types of making that allow for improvisation. Just start in on something and tinker your way towards something you like.

TOYS! Olfa Ratchet-Lock Utility Knife
With this item, I have now recommended three different OLFA utility knives. I have previously covered the OLFA 9150US SAC-1 9mm and the OLFA 1072198 LA-X 18mm knives. I just can’t get enough of these tools. There is a reason they frequently appear on the recommended tools lists of many makers. They are well-designed, reliable, safe, easy to use, and super versatile. I would never go back to a fixed-bladed utility knife. It’s nice having the different sizes and configurations for handling different jobs. This OLFA, the 5003 L-1 18mm Ratchet-Lock, is their heavy-duty model. It has a secure locking mechanism and is made for things like cutting roofing tiles, drywall, vinyl, and the like.

Makers Muse: Christmas All Year

Had a particularly great day? Light 'em up!

Had a particularly great day? Light ‘em up!

Seeing some of the houses in my town still shining their Christmas lights at night (which they’re probably dreading taking down), reminded me of a great suggestion Father Guido Sarducci (played by the great Don Novello) once made on SNL. Keep your lights up all year long, and when you have a particularly great day, light them up so that the neighbors can share in your happy moment.

The Big List of Women Makers on YouTube

RiverTechJess working on a DIY enviromental sensor system.

RiverTechJess working on a DIY enviromental sensor system.

Becky Stern had the bright idea of compiling a list of women makers on YouTube. It’s a great list. I was happy see that I already had about 80% of these channels on my radar, but equally happy to be introduced to the rest. She’s looking to grow the list.

Shop Talk
The story I shared last issue of a very fatigued general contractor putting his hand beneath a board to see if the blade was deep enough (thankfully, it wasn’t!), really got a visceral reaction from other readers who work with saws. Sorry about that!

My friend, Michael Shiloh shared this:

“Your ‘Shop Tale: They Almost Called Him Stubby’ reminds me of a personal rule which I developed working on Survival Research Lab shows years ago: Whenever I find myself saying “I’ll just do this and then I’ll stop for the night,” it’s time to stop for the night, before I do that last thing, because often that’s a good indicator that I’m too tired to continue and I should stop before I make a mistake. I still use that rule and teach it to my students.”
Reader Adam Y, and several other readers following up on the item about writing a room’s paint colors on the back of a light switch plate:

“Love the paint color notes on the back of the switch plate. One other bit of data you can record there is the breaker number that corresponds to your Mains panel. Makes things so much faster and easier when you don’t have to guess which breaker to turn off to not inadvertently shoot yourself with 120V for a simple switch repair. ”


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

20 January 2021


What’s in my bag? — David Picciuto

What's in my bag? issue #85

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.

I’m a woodworker, metal worker, musician, artist, photographer and kart racing enthusiast. I document all these hobbies on my YouTube channel with the purpose of encouraging others to get out into their shop and Make Something. — David Picciuto 


About the bag

My bag is my grandfather’s old camera bag from the 80s. It’s not very useful, doesn’t hold many things and is kinda ugly. And that’s exactly why I love it!

What’s inside the bag

Valve Seat Cutter — I really like tools that only have a single purpose. I’m currently building a couple of go-kart racing engines and this valve seat cutter allows me to fine tune the contact between the valve head and the seat. Engine building and kart racing is a new passion of mine and has really reinvigorated my love for tools as I get to try new things and learn new skills.

Valve Guide Driver — In kart racing everyone is looking for that edge to shave off a tenth of a second. Replacing stock valve guides with ones that lubricate better and have tighter tolerances is one way to improve performance. This tool is extremely simple in design but has become a necessary item in my arsenal of engine building tools.

Piston Ring Installer — Have you ever started a new hobby and got overwhelmed with all the tools available? Many times I’ll think “well, I’m not going to perform this task very often so I’ll wait to get the tool that makes this easier.” This is not one of those tools to put off. Installing rings without this tool is hard, messy and can ruin the piston ring that’s incredibly valuable when it comes to horsepower. Maybe you only use this tool for 5 minutes, one time a year but you’ll be glad you spent the money.

Piston Ring Compression Sleeve — Here I am again with a simple tool that only has one purpose. I started out using a cheap piston ring compressor tool that can fit any size by ratcheting around the piston. If you have ever used one you’ll know how much of a pain in the butt it is to use. This sleeve removes the pain of installing pistons by compressing the rings and allowing for the piston to drop in the cylinder. Yeah, it’s kinda of pricey compared to the cheap universal compressor and you’ll need to buy one for every size piston but I guarantee you’ll have far less headaches. and enjoy the process more.


20 January 2021


Mr. Beams Amber Nightlight

Battery-powered motion-activated nightlights

I’ve had these nightlights for four or five years and I love them. I love the soft reflected light. I love that it feels kinda futuristic to walk through a hallway or into a dark bathroom and have them instantly light up. I love the simplicity. (Complaints on Amazon are “Why no off switch?” “Why no adjustable timer?” C’mon, you really want Homer Simpson’s car design here?

The amber hue is soothing, never overwhelming for a nighttime bathroom jaunt. (My first purchase was an identical model except for a white LED; it positively feels like a klieg light in comparison.)

You can arrange them LED-down for most countertop uses, or LED-up if they are placed on a shelf at or above eye level. (The LE’s are bright little suckers so I wouldn’t recommend positioning it where you catch them directly.)

The amount of time they stay on is 30 seconds, which is usually plenty of time to get where you’re going. My only dislikes are a) when the batteries start to go, sometimes this will manifest itself in “false positives” where the light goes on randomly. It’s a little unnerving until you realize what’s going on. (I haven’t had it happen to me in a long time, I think maybe it’s when one battery is significantly lower voltage than the others? Most of the time it just gets dimmer and dimmer as the batteries go.) Regardless, I just take it as a sign to replace the batteries and it’s back to bueno. b) the battery panel is a bit of a pain. Two slotted head screws. Keep a nickel handy. Luckily batteries last up to a year (I’m guessing, can’t recall the last time I changed mine…) Slotted screws are the devil’s work. One reviewer mentions just leaving it off.  But battery covers closed with screws seem to be standard nowadays because of concerns about battery ingestion. With AA, it’s probably not as likely as a coin cell, but if you have little ones, worth considering when deciding to leave the cover off.

I feel like this is a product with a million competitors that may be cheaper and may or may not be as good, but I’m ride-or-die for this particular model. If someone has a competitor that is battle-tested, I’m open to suggestions*, but I feel like this one has been great for me and I would buy them again in a second.

*Especially if it has a slow fade on and off. My own little picky request. Would have made it a little less startling when we were using these during the middle of the night breast-feedings for my son.

-- Taylor Bryant 01/20/21


img 01/18/21


Error avoidance tips

img 01/15/21

Billie Ruben, Maker

Cool Tools Show 261: Billie Ruben

Find your center, man. 01/14/21

Hole Center Measuring Attachment

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #75

img 01/14/21

Mini Booklet Stapler

Saddle stapling for zines

See all the reviews


img 10/17/19

A Pattern Language

Design heuristics

img 06/16/03

World Map Wallpaper

The largest map of the world

img 11/6/18

Forschner Victorinox Chef’s Knife

Inexpensive great chef knife

img 11/27/08

Omega Juicer

Quiet, versatile juice extractor

img 10/23/06

Animated Knots

Best knot teacher

img 01/25/19

Fantastic Ice Scraper

Cheap and great brass ice scraper

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 262: John Park

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 261: Billie Ruben

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 260: Todd Lappin

Picks and shownotes

20 January 2021


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.

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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).

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