25 October 2021


Rust Buster

Superior loosener

As a DIY’er, Rust Buster is one of my favorite products because it REALLY works. I came across it by accident at a small tractor supply store in southern Missouri. The product typically works instantly, but on heavy-duty applications, I like to apply a little (or a lot) on a rusted or frozen bolt or car part, tap the part lightly to aid penetration, and wait. After a few minutes, rusted bolts, screws, shafts, piping, any types of “frozen” connections and assemblies will now break loose. I have tried a variety of other loosening products, but they tend to use heavier oils that don’t penetrate as well. Smaller hardware stores, and farm supply stores will probably stock it.

-- Mike Farley 10/25/21

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 — editors)

24 October 2021


Ask a Librarian/List of Useful Websites/Poetry zine

Recomendo: issue no. 275

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Ask a Librarian
Library of Congress, the largest library in the world offers free research assistance by experts. I finally had an excuse to use their service and was blown away by how helpful they were. I had been reading History of the Conquest of Mexico written in 1890, and could not find any information for one of the cited sources which was written 300 years prior, so I submitted a request and — in less than 24 hours — I received a response from the Hispanic Division Reference Librarian who linked me to a digitized copy of the manuscript, and 5 other links to codices of Pre-Hispanic History that I would have never discovered otherwise. It’s such an invaluable resource. — CD

A Reddit list of “useful unknown websites”
This nearly endless Reddit list of useful websites you probably don’t know about is full of gems. Here are a few I discovered:

  • RSOE-EDIS is a live world map of emergencies. Icons represent fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, plane crashes, biological endemics, public safety incidents, animal attacks, and more.
  • Read Something Great is a curated database of “timeless” articles.
  • Flick Metrix is a list of the “top rated movies on Netflix, created by combing ratings from across the web.”
  • myNoise has links to a wide variety of tunable white noise generators, ambient sounds, tinnitus reducers, and other interesting audio effects. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a soothing soundscape called Anamnesis.
  • Just the Recipe strips out everything from an online recipe besides the ingredients and instructions.

— MF

Poetry zine
Claudia (CD here) is too modest to recommend this herself, but she puts out a small poetry zine printed on paper that I enjoy. Phantom Kangaroo is 26 pages of illustrated “esoteric” poetry — celebrating the mystical, paranormal, and the ecstatic — contributed by a network of poets she has cultivated the past decade. Current issue (#25) is $13. — KK

Understanding crypto
Crypto is weird, perplexing, silly, revolutionary, overhyped, underhyped, a mania, thrilling, accelerating, and awash in huge oceans of money that make it very difficult to discern what is real and sustainable. I am reading The Generalist, a free website of long “briefs” written by one analyst, to parse what is happening, I still have a zillion questions about crypto, but I have gotten more clarity from here than anywhere else on this confounding subject. — KK

Tuna strainer
I have a smooth-edge can opener and I like it much more than an old-fashioned can opener. My wife complains when she uses it to open a can of tuna, though, because the diameter of the cut lid is too large to squeeze the water out of the can. So I bought this simple tuna strainer. It’s a metal cup with holes in it. Press down on the handles and you can squeeze as much liquid as you want from the can. — MF

Declaration of Enchantment
When I feel uninspired, I like to re-read this Declaration of Enchantment, written by Depth Psychologist Craig Chalquist. There are 15 articles — all outlining the importance of nurturing our imagination. Reading this invigorates my curiosity and infuses me with awe. Below is an excerpt from the Preamble. — CD

We can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water, and a few hours without shelter in an inhospitable clime, but we cannot live for even a moment without some movement of imagination in mind and body. To restrict its enlivening flow is to cripple the wellsprings of health, vitality, and sanity. Enchantment is a self-evident basic right. An assault on enchantment is an assault on the human spirit.

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 10/24/21

22 October 2021


Bonnie Burton, Author and Games Writer

Cool Tools Show 301: Bonnie Burton

Our guest this week is Bonnie Burton. Bonnie is a Los Angeles-based author, games writer, podcaster, YouTuber and journalist. Bonnie Burton writes books about entertainment, pop culture, crafting, drawing, self-help, and humor. Her books range from making-of movie books, crafts, drawing and science books for kids and young adults. Bonnie also writes a number of non-fiction books for licensed properties such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, and DreamWorks. She also writes immersive murder mystery games for Hunt A Killer. You can find Bonnie on Twitter and Instagram @bonniegrrl.

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

Show notes:

Nordic Ware Haunted Skull Cakelet Pan ($30)
It’s a Nordic Ware Haunted Skull Cakelet Pan. I don’t know why they call it cakelet. For the rest of us oldies, it’s a muffin pan. It’s a skull-shaped mold that you can make ice with. You can make popsicles from it. You can make pizza rolls, Mexican ginger skulls for Day of the Dead and obviously little cakes, but you can also make meatloaf. There’s a great goth YouTuber out of Kansas called Jade the Libra. She shows step-by-step how to make a meatloaf skull from this cake pan. I like the idea of skull as a mold for things.

Silicone Trivets Flexible Durable Non Slip Large Coasters ($12 for 3)
They’re called silicone trivets. They look like a large rubber coasters for hot pans. If you need to move something hot from the stove to the kitchen table, dining room table, you put that on there and it keeps kitchen surfaces and table surfaces from burning if you have something super hot like a casserole or something. But these are such a cool design. They almost look like Spirograph designs. I was going to buy a bunch and put them on my bathroom wall because I like different designs for that, and I don’t want to do wallpaper. But they’re also perfect for opening really tough-to-budge jar lids. I have the upper body strength of a Keebler elf. I have zero weightlifting skills. And because I live alone, I can’t open anything. I don’t want to go to my neighbors because that just seems sad. You cover the lid and then it opens. You just turn it with that, because you have extra grippage. That’s why I got it.

Dusting Gloves ($10 for 3)
They’re super soft. They’re made out of microfiber, which is ideal type of fiber for dusting. You know how a lot of us have used old socks and rags for dusting? Microfiber actually picks up the dust and holds onto it, so it’s not like you’re just wiping dust all over the place. These are actual gloves you wear. They’re almost like mittens. They’re super soft and you wear them. I’m all about the dusting, so I wear these gloves, but then I also have dusting slippers. You can wear them and then you can get into corners that maybe your other dusting apparatuses can’t get into. But they’re also perfect for dusting houseplants. If you have a lot of houseplants that have fragile leaves but you need to get the dust off of them.

5-foot-tall Posable Life-size Skeleton ($40)
It’s a five-foot tall posable life-sized skeleton. You can get these anywhere, but Target right now has it for the cheapest, for 40 bucks. It’s about 60 inches in height, 15.5 inches width, 6.5 inches in diameter. Just imagine any of your friends or family that are five foot tall. That’s how tall the skeleton is. It’s really fun because it’s posable. The ankle joints, knee joints, I’m staring at my skeleton as I’m saying this, the elbow and the shoulder joints are moveable. Hand joints are moveable, too. The skull itself, you can turn around. The jaw is also moveable, so you can have the mouth shut or the mouth open so it’s like, “Hey.” It comes looking like a regular skeleton. You can hang it. I just have him sitting in my living room, staring at me. I put googly eyes in the eye sockets so it’s extra, extra awake. I almost bought a 12-foot skeleton. But I realized because I lived in a loft, I’d either be staring at its crotch the whole time or if I was in bed, it goes all the way up so you see this skull staring in at me while I sleep. I thought, This would be funny until I forget I have this. And then it’s not going to be funny. But it’s only 300 dollars at Home Depot.

About my new RPG game: Hunt A Killer: Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge
I write for Hunt a Killer, which is fictional murders. It’s a dream job because I plan elaborate murders for these games. They’re marketed as escape rooms in a box. It’s a RPG game. It’s a team who writes it. It’s almost like a TV writers room. We use real world poisons and stuff. Not in real life. We don’t test death on each other. It’s not a how-to. These games are not how to kill people. We do murder mysteries. The cool thing about these games is it’s like you’re a detective that gets suspended, but you take all the information with you and make a murder wall on your wall and try to figure out the murder mystery using autopsy reports and witness statements and clues.


22 October 2021


Tape Measure with Right-to-Left Read

Tape reads right-to-left

Not too long ago I stumbled into a YouTube video that opened my eyes wide to a problem I’ve overlooked for way too long – almost all measuring tapes are made for the wrong hand! In that video (0:18 to 1:47), I closely identified with the tape measure problems shown. I’m not a carpenter and so don’t use tape measures often; I just stumbled my way through using usual tapes. Now I know better. I’m right-handed, and write with my right hand – why should I use a tape measure designed to be in my right hand?

I searched a lot of Left-Handed or Reverse tapes; I wanted metric and silly Imperial, and, ironically, most of these tapes still relied on the belt clip standardized on the right-handed side. This one from Perfect Measuring Tape fit my goals. If I’m keeping a pencil in my right hand, I want the tape to be normal on my left side. This one stays left, with both measurement types printed on it. One more problem-source eliminated.

-- Wayne Ruffner 10/22/21

21 October 2021

Halloween Prop Making

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #100

Did you miss me? Sorry for the silent running. I was busy getting married and making the final move to California. Whew. Glad to finally be settling in.

I will now be returning to regular weekly newsletters, currently publishing on Friday. As always, if you have tips, tool recommendations, favorite maker jargon/slang, or feedback, please share with me.

Halloween Prop Making
Over at Wicked Makers, they created a fun outdoor Halloween display featuring a pirate skeleton fountain. The pirate, sitting in a rum barrel, guzzles wine for all eternity. How charming. There are lots of great tips on creating Halloween haunts in this video, like how to create aged plastic bone using wood stain and bending and posing a plastic skeleton with a heat gun.

For another fun and surprisingly easy Halloween project, check out this Make: video where Caleb demonstrates the popular method of creating skulls from plastic milk jugs using a heat gun and a Halloween skull as a mold.

Working with Wood Models
Via Make: comes this Eric Strebel video on making wooden models. In the video, Eric runs through the very basics of using hobby woods, like balsa and basswood, to create models (for whatever prototyping or other purpose). These days, when we think of prototyping, we tend to think of 3D printing, laser-cutting, and maybe styrene modeling, but wood is always an option, too.

A Shipping Tape Dispenser That Doesn’t Stink?
As you might imagine, we just went through seemingly miles of packing tape in our move across country. Like a lot of folks, I abhor the crummy plastic dispensers and cheap tape that constantly tears (speaking of which, do not buy this tape – it was paper-thin and constantly tearing.) Via Cool Tools, I learned about the apparently decent (and cheap) tape/dispensers at Harbor Freight. I’ll try this product next.

Help People “Close Their Loops”
Working on complex projects (of any kind) is always challenging. Those challenges are quickly compounded as you check in with others on your team and they fail to respond in a timely and thorough fashion. Every one of these outstanding communications becomes an “open loop” that remains a worry/to-do list item until it’s responded to. You can do a huge favor to those along the project’s work chain by responding in a timely fashion and answering all questions asked.

Maker Slang
Mother color – I recently learned of a new (to me) painting technique, called mother color. This is when you pick a thematic color and add that color to every other color in a painting, miniature, model, etc. to create color harmony throughout the piece. Here’s a video detailing the technique.

Tear out (or chip out) – What happens when the grain of wood along an edge being cut cannot support itself and tears away along the cut. Methods of preventing tear out include using painter’s tape along the cut line and pre-scoring the line with a razor knife.

More on End-Grain Gluing
In the last issue, we included a link to a video on Patrick Sullivan’s YouTube channel where he tested the strength of end-grain gluing and found that such a bond can actually be quite strong (contrary to popular belief). This led to much misunderstanding of his findings, some useful discussion, and numerous response videos. Here’s a great video from James at Stumpy Nubs with further clarification of what Patrick actually tested and how people misunderstood his findings. As Patrick himself points out in the comments to Stumpy’s video:

Thanks for what I feel is a fair commentary on my video about end-grain glue. If viewers came away from the Glue Myths video with the idea that I am promoting end-grain joints, or that they should start making furniture out of 3″ square blocks, then I failed to convey my thoughts clearly enough. I am trying to put together some objective, factual information about how glue works. My hope is that this information will be used as a tool by savvy woodworkers to design joinery that is strong enough to perform its intended purpose.

Comparing Deep Hole Pattern Markers
On the Cool Tools channel, our pal Donald Bell takes a look at three different deep hole pattern markers, the Pica, the FastCap, and the Dixon. I’ve been using FastCap markers for years now and love them, although I agree with Donald that the tip is a little wider than I’d like. He doesn’t declare a winner. Each makers has its strengths and drawbacks.

New Take on the Book Nook
Last issue, I included the term “book nook,” a popular form of crafting right now. These nooks are little book-themed dioramas that slot between books on a shelf. I saw this ad for a commercial book nook maker where all of the characters in the nooks “break plane,” 3D art that emerges from the nook, something I haven’t seen in homemade book nooks. Yet.

Shop Talk

Reader Marty Lindal writes:

“Another source for moving boxes: When evaluating moving companies, ask if they can provide free used boxes. I’ve moved locally with the same mover about 5 times and he always offers both new boxes for purchase or free used boxes and free tape and packing paper. As you know, these things add up. And he’ll pick up the boxes when you are done with them.”


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

21 October 2021



Moldable plastic

Instamorph (nee Shapelock) is “Ultra-High Molecular Weight Low Temperature Thermoplastic. Similar to nylon and polypropylene in toughness., except it’s easy to work with and shape.”

You get a bag of plastic pellets, put them in 160F water, and they phase change, becoming soft and moldable. If you don’t let the water get too hot, when you take the plastic out, it’s cool enough to shape with your hands.

When it cools down, it hardens into a strong, durable, paintable, machine-able white plastic. If you don’t like what you made, you just put it in 160F water again and reshape it.

Great for making prototypes — also fun to play with.

-- Patrick Tufts 10/21/21




Cool Tools Show 301: Bonnie Burton

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 300: Leah Zaidi

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 299: Amber Case

Picks and shownotes

20 October 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.

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.