24 May 2022


Brother Sewing Machine

Cheapest portable sewing machine

This Brother sewing machine is light, small, cheap and reliable. I use it for occasional household work and mostly to make repairs to uniforms and sew on patches. It can do ten stitches and that’s more than enough for me. Especially handy is the buttonholer. This little box, in combination with a beginner’s sewing book, can help you do everything that you can imagine short of embroidery. It has held up most admirably considering how much I use it.

I’m an old Red Cross disaster guy currently flying with the Civil Air Patrol. For some missions, CAP is the USAF Auxiliary and as a result, we have two uniform types: AF and corporate. If you’re active and train moderately, you can be promoted and you also get all these dratted qualification badges. Tailors or cleaners charge around ten bucks a patch, and a uniform can have LOTS. My BDUs: ten patches each. My flight suits: only five. But it gets nuts. The unit has paid for itself by simply allowing me to avoid patch sew-on charges. All else is gravy.

-- Angus mac Lir 05/24/22

(These super cheap machines will work for a while on light duty jobs. I repair machines professionally, and find that these lightweight machines do not hold their timing well. Another option would be to get an old cast-iron New Home, Morris, or Singer Touch-A-Matic at a garage sale or on Craigslist. Any sewing machine repair shop can tune it up to work like new, and parts are common. The old cast iron machines will sew much heavier fabrics (and leather) and will not flex or go out of time. --OH — editors)

23 May 2022

Nomadico/Secret recipes/How to professionally say

Recomendo: issue no. 306

Tips for working while traveling
More people are working from home, or working from remote locations, or working while traveling, or traveling while working. We, the Recomendo crew, are launching a new newsletter dedicated to this realm. Nomadico is a weekly, one-pager emailed to you each Thursday which will have 4 tips for working beyond the office, and living in motion. Covers digital nomads, remote work, travel hacking, van life, FIRE, learning journeys and more. Nomadico is edited by Tim Leffel, who is the world’s expert on distributed living. Sign up here. It is free for now. — KK

Seth’s secret recipes
My friend Seth Godin, who hosts the terrific Akimbo podcast, recently posted a list of 10 “secret recipes,” including “Very famous tahini cookies,” “Informal cashew dressing,” and “(Mostly) raw brownies.” The one recipe I’m most exited about is his “Almost secret, no-sugar, all fruits and nuts Pacojet chocolate ice ‘cream’ recipe,” but I won’t be making it anytime soon because it requires a $5,000+ appliance I’ve never heard of — a Pacojet machine, which micro-purees solid blocks of frozen food without thawing. — MF

A guide for daily “professional” interactions
How to professionally say is a list of things you might feel like saying at work and the alternative — more professional way — you should say it. Example: Instead of saying “That sounds like a horrible idea,” you can say “Are we confident that this is the best solution or are we still exploring alternatives?” This guide was inspired and compiled from content created by @loewhaley on Instagram, and while some of it might not flow comfortably out of my mouth, I’m inspired to adopt more neutrality and directness in my professional language. — CD

Free weekly wisdom
I cut back on the number of newsletters I subscribe too, but one that I am keeping is the weekly Brain Food from Farnam Street. It dispenses pithy — and sound — advice about living. In two minutes I get a refreshing reminder of age old wisdom. Free. — KK

Social media distortions
It’s been more than three years since I deleted my Facebook account and lately, I find myself using Instagram and Twitter less and less. This list of 8 Ways Social Media Distorts Reality by the Center for Humane Technology reminded me why I have a 5-minute time limit on my Instagram and Twitter phone apps. I’m especially sensitive to “information flooding” and the algorithms are great at tricking me into thinking that everyone is talking about this one thing. As much as I do appreciate a community, I have to remind myself that Twitter and Instagram are not reality. The whole list is worth reading and understanding. — CD

Favorite mind-blowing facts

Tim Urban of the explainer site Wait By Why asked his Twitter followers “What’s your favorite mindblowing fact?”  Sample replies:
  • The moon and the sun are exactly the same size as seen from Earth
  • Reno, Nevada is west of Los Angeles
  • Neutrinos, subatomic particles created in the sun, are so neutral and small and that a wall of lead a light-year thick has 50/50 chance of stopping one. About 100 trillion of them pass through your body every second.
  • There’s a giant volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park that would wipe out most life in North America if it were to explode (which it has done at least 3 times in the past that we know of).
  • Every tool that exists today, from hammers to particle accelerators, has been constructed with others tools, and those with other tools, and so on, and eventually all tools where fabricated with rocks.
— MF
-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 05/23/22

23 May 2022


Weighted blanket

For sleep and stress

I toss and turn trying to fall asleep. Heard about this “weighted blanket” and gave it a try. WOW! Immediate improvement as the weight settles me down to a calm, relaxed state. And during the night if I get up, puts me right back into deep relaxation. Comes in lots of different weights, colors, and sizes.

-- Ron Kaufman 05/23/22

(This is a Cool Tools favorite from 2017 — editors)

20 May 2022

James Cham, VC at Bloomberg Beta

Show and Tell #314: James Cham



James Cham is a Seed Stage VC at Bloomberg Beta. You can follow him on Twitter @jamescham.

Voice Recognition on Google Pixel 6
Galactic Camera
iPad stand
Apple Universal Control
Situated AI notes


19 May 2022

Organizing Cables and Other Gear Using Hanging Storage Bags

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #121

Got a tip to share? Tool to recommend? Tall shop tale to tell? A tip to bust? Please share with the class.

Organizing Cables and Other Gear Using Hanging Storage Bags
Twitter user laen posted this fantastic idea for organizing and storing cables. He uses hanging storage bags on a rod. Cables and misc tech accessories are the bane of my existence. This is a great solution for not only storing cables but other sorted small parts. See the comments on the tweet where others share some useful storage “hacks.”

A Mini-Tutorial on Using GitHub for Arduino Projects
In this Andreas Spiess videoAndreas provides an excellent 16-minute tutorial on why GitHub is essential to anyone working in software development and makers doing microcontroller projects. Andreas covers downloading libraries and projects, creating a project Fork, publishing a project on GitHub, and how to create a Pull Request (how you alert others to changes you’ve pushed to the branch of a GitHub repository), among other things.

11 Cheap Tools You Want to Have in Your Workshop

In this Stumpy Nubs videoJames runs through 11 cheap (under $30) tools that he can’t live without in his woodworking shop. A few of them are woodwork-specific, but most would be useful in any maker’s workshop. Items covered include various bench clamps, face shieldacid brushestweezersrubber rollers for spreading glue, razor saw, and dust-collection fittings.

Which Bit Holder is Best?
A simple bit holder for use in an impact driver can cost anywhere from a few bucks to over $20. So, is paying more worth it? That’s the question Todd is looking to answer in this Project Farm video. He tests 19 brands for maximum torque before failure, magnetic bit retention holding strength, magnetic hold on fasteners, speed of driving in fasteners, and wear resistance. In the end, the $9 DeWalt (Locking) holder (currently $12 on Amazon) performed the best, with the $20 Wiha (currently unavailable) a close second. The Hilti, at $8 (currently $11 on Amazon) also got an overall A rating.

The Duh Department

Note to self: Order more pond cleaner.

Note to self: Order more pond cleaner.

This is one most of you likely know but it might be worth a reminder. Your phone is a perfect tool for visual note-taking. Here are some of the ways I use mine: Documenting a teardown of a piece of hardware, taking a pic of paint to match (not super color-accurate, but better than nothing), noting a product I see in the store, remembering a parking space, quotes from books, taking a pic of something off my computer screen, taking pics of things I can’t easily see like the hook-ups behind my TV. The list goes on. If you have other note-taking uses for your phone, I’d love to hear them.

Shop Talk
Reader Gary Shell writes:

“Where is Todd from the Project Farm Videos finding tools at the prices he mentions? The link to the Irwin wire strippers takes me to a page where they are $25 not $14. This is the second such disappointment. Last time was the needle nose pliers a few weeks back. Every link I found had the at almost double his price.”

I’ve noticed the same thing. And also that after a Project Farm video goes up, the items are often out of stock on Amazon. I’ve sent Todd a message to ask him. Will report back.


Michael Ritchie wrote in to say that the story of the ground up/ground down outlets didn’t tell the whole story:

The original National Electrical Code (NEC) standard (100 years ago) was to install outlets Ground Up or Ground Left if installed sideways. This was in the NEC up through the 1980s. This is why certain municipalities still have it in their standards. When I was apprenticed to be an electrician by my father and grandfather, they taught me this and I remember looking it up in the NEC book. They also informed me that the standard was never enforced by inspectors and the common ground down orientation was preferred by consumers because it “looked like a face”. The ground up requirement was removed from the NEC at some point but the ground left requirement remained (but is not enforced). Many outlets sold today have writing on them that indicates the manufacturer’s intended orientation and you can find examples of both ground up and down.

What People Are Saying About Tips and Tales Volume 2
Have you picked up the second volume of my best-selling Tips and Tales from the Workshop? Buying it is a great way to support me and this newsletter. Here is some of what people are saying about Volume 2:

A delightful collection gathered from makers far and wide (I even have a few tips in there). Really fun read and a great gift for any maker, craftsperson, or hobbyist. – Legendary toy designer Bob Knetzger

Branwyn is the perfect curator of the actual practice of being a maker and a tinkerer. Any level of DIY experience will benefit from the tips in this book. This is a book brimming with personality and shows a real love for that special time working on a project. –Peter Bebergal, Strange Frequencies author

Gareth has spent years gathering the best shop tips, tricks, and hacks for making projects easier at every step. There are tips in this book that you will use for years to come. –John “Graz” Graziano, maker and co-star of the hit Netflix series, Making Fun

Every page you turn you’re like “I wish I had known this!” Full of handy hints, inexpensive DIY gadgets, best practices, and rules to protect your thumbs! Tips for artists, engineers, tinkerers, and cosplayers – along with the shocking revelation of how much we all have in common as makers. Perfect for the shop, garage, or mad scientist lair. Highly recommended! –Carl Leonard, robotics engineer and sci-fi podcaster

I refer to this book regularly for guidance or just read it for entertainment and inspiration. Really a high value book in its genre. – Ross Hershberger, audio engineer and Make: contributor


18 May 2022


Samsonite Spinner 20

Travel case with four multi-directional spinner wheels

I saw your review of the Travel Pro Crew, which seems popular with a lot of airline staff. A few years ago, I saw one of them wheeling something different: a Samsonite Winfield 20-inch. I asked why and she said she found the “spinner” feature (four wheels instead of two) much better for long walks in airports. She also said it was way less expensive than the Travel Pro, which is good if you want to replace your luggage every year. I bought one and have been very happy with it since then. The wheels have survived being part of checked baggage just fine, and I too like walking with the case upright in airports.

-- Paul Hoffman 05/18/22


img 05/17/22

Favorite tool finds under $10

A roundup of inexpensive useful tools

img 05/16/22

Ego Leaf Blower

Battery-powered blower

img 05/13/22

Diamancel Diamond File For Foot Calluses

Geometric diamond pattern buffs away hard corns and calluses.

3Dmodular 05/12/22

Modular 3D Printed Workshop Organizing System

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #120

See all the reviews


img 01/8/21

Auto Center Punch

Precise start on metal

img 09/13/06

Butane Burner

Compact portable hot plate

img 10/9/07


Cheapest hi-quality photo scans

img 05/7/10

How To Cook Everything

Essential iPhone cook book

img 12/18/20

Analog Atomic Wall Clock

Constant automatic accuracy

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #314: James Cham

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #313: John Markoff

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #312: Jeff Waldman

Picks and shownotes

19 January 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.