19 October 2018


Saul Griffith, Inventor

Cool Tools Show 145: Saul Griffith

Our guest this week is Saul Griffith. Saul is a compulsive user of tools, he works across disciplines with a focus of making tools and technologies that help us solve climate change. Consequently, he ends up doing thermodynamics, precision machine design, and robotics on a daily basis.

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Show notes:

Monarch Toolroom Lathe
“The first tool on my list is a Monarch tool room lathe, which we have down at the lab, my office. We joke around at our office that humans used to have spirit animals, but now we should have spirit tools. As we were assigning spirit tools I spoke out quickly to get the lathe … It’s about 4,000lbs of precision tool. …It’s extremely accurate, and honestly I just find excuses to use the lathe. I love this tool that much. I find my own zen moment, the perfectly turned set of chips excites me to be honest. The lathe is just where I find my most inner peace. It’s probably the F150 of tool room lathes. It’s strong and versatile, and it lasts forever. As long as you lubricate it and treat it nice, it’s absolutely a workhorse, but still very precise. There’s definitely an organized market in professional tools for this type of tool. I think we paid about $20,000 for this lathe including all the tooling. It’s a 3,000 block of cast iron that has some sort of streamliner, industrial design aesthetic, and then this magnificent deep eggshell green color, so it invokes the best of, and the sexiness of the Vespa scooter, and the speed of a 1930’s cross country train.”

FabLight Laser Cutter
“Shameless plug, so I helped the guys at 3D FabLight design that machine and start the company. I happen to think that a laser cutter is the most versatile and useful of any CNC machine you can have. 3D printers are fun, but laser cutters just have this enormous variety of materials that you can use, and they can be very fast, and we’ve owned a lot, but the reason I like the 3D FabLight is it has a 4th axis, so not only can you cut two dimensional sheets of material, you can also cut tubes. Honestly I just think all laser cutters are on my list of favorite tools. I just happened to choose this one because we’re currently making them and they’re great. … Currently I’m on a kick, I use the 3D FabLight for my hobby, which is making all manner of strange bicycles. So we do all the coping, and all the tubes, and it’s just incredibly satisfying ’cause lasers are so precise to cut a full tube set and a couple pieces of flat metal for a bicycle, and it’s cool to have them all going to the jig with perfect tolerances the first time. I’m really loving that process.”

Cyclus Tools
Cyclus Tools Spoke Cutter
“One of the things I wrote down was the cyclist’s tools spokes cutter. I love bicycles, as you’ve already heard on this show … I saw the circus when I was a child, was a clown riding a bicycle with two eccentrically spoked wheels, meaning the hub of the wheel was not in the center of the wheel, so that when you rode it, the clown would sort of go up and down, and bounce up and down on this thing. So to do that you need to cut every single spoke on the wheel to a different length, and it was the excuse of really, really wanting to do that, that I found the most obscure and bespoke of the bicycle tools, which is this amazing little machine. You feed it fresh, long spokes, you set the length of the spoke that you want, and then you turn a crank, and it magically, not only cuts it to the right length, but puts the perfect thread on the end of every spoke. Then we wrote some software, I think it was in Partner and MET lab, to say, ‘How much centricity do you want on the wheel? What type of hub do you have? What type of wheel do you have?’ And It would give you the lengths of all the 36 different spokes to your eccentric wheel. This machine, it really is representative of all, I have a complete list of bike tools, ’cause I just think, some people collect vintage cars, I kind of treat bicycles the same way, that’s really my passion and my hobby, so I have a really nice set of one of every bicycle tool. This one is the most obscure, and the most fun, because you just turn the crank and has this satisfying mechanical feel, and you can feel it carving the tiny, little, precise thread into the spoke as you turn the crank and it just magically produces these spokes. I love that tool.”

Sailrite Edge Hotknife
“So, I do a lot of work on soft goods, meaning things made out of fabrics. We make soft robots, we’ve made a lot of kites in my life. When you’re working with synthetic fabrics, specifically, you’ll want to cut the fabric with a hotknife, not just a sharp knife, because it then seals all the little plastic fibers where they get cut so that they don’t fray. … A hotknife literally is just a hot knife, so it’s a resistively heated knife, it has nice ergonomics, and if you’re cutting nylon, like backpack materials, or if you’re cutting synthetic rope, or if you’re cutting spinnaker fabrics, or kite fabrics this is just the way to do it. It cuts, it seals, and it does absolutely nothing else! But it’s great. I think for $100- $200 you can get a good hotknife.”

Kuretake Picture Letter Gansai Tanbi
“I really love drawing, and I think drawing and writing are really integral to the creative process. I also have children who always need occupying and I’d like to have them not occupied with iPads always, so I’ve taken to carrying a complete drawing and watercolor set with me everywhere. The particular watercolors that I found that is a sort of obscure Japanese brand, called Kuretake, and they just have a great set of colors. You can use a little bit of water and they go on like a tempura paint, which is really nice if you want a really thick, opaque paint, but you can also water them down a lot and get a really lovely, light-flowing watercolor feel to them.”

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $377 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


19 October 2018


Gorilla Gripper

Big panel moving

I have the Stanley Panel Carry, previously reviewed on Cool Tools, but greatly prefer the Gorilla Gripper ($49), which works with panel widths from 3/8 to 1 1/8 inch. It is about six times more expensive, but it works significantly better for moving large panels.

The Stanley tool goes under the bottom edge of the sheet. This can be awkward if it’s heavy material, such as plywood, and seems more likely to result in damaged corners. Using the Stanley holder, I had to bend my back at an awkward angle to pick up the sheet — the length from the tray (where the bottom edge of the sheet rests) to the handle is too short. The Gorilla Gripper lifts from the top of the panel, so there’s less need to bend before lifting, and I can keep my back straight. Also, with the Gorilla Gripper it’s easier to adjust your balance, since you don’t have the friction of the material moving the tool from side to side.

-- Taylor Bryant 10/19/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2009 — editors)

18 October 2018


Haws Watering Can

Fine-tuned watering

When I began gardening I used a generic plastic watering can from a hardware store, but it didn’t give a gentle enough flow for newly planted seeds, nor a fast enough stream for larger plants that drink a lot. The polyethylene Haws can’s ($35) separate spout attachments (right angle downspout and oval brass rose) are outstanding features that make it a versatile performer. The right angle is useful for pinpointing the spot I’m aiming to water and also for avoiding watering a plant’s leaves. The brass rose angled upward lets forth a gentle rain for delicate seedlings; angled downward it gives a still-gentle but stronger dispersed stream. With both spouts removed, a solid stream shoots straight out of the can for deeper watering and hitting the tough-to-reach corners of my raised beds. Two “parking spots” on the body of the can hold the spout attachments not in use, so they’re never misplaced. Changing modes — and changing back — couldn’t be easier. The only drawback I’ve encountered is that the fine holes in the brass rose clog easily and need to be cleaned regularly to work well. But until I graduate to drip irrigation, this is the perfect tool.

-- Elon Schoenholz 10/18/18

17 October 2018


GB Wire Stripper and Crimper


A tool I love is the GB SE-94 Automatic Wire Stripper and Crimper ($17). The Kronus Wire Stripper, previously reviewed on Cool Tools, used to be the bane of my electrical-work existence. It would only properly set and strip the wire in one quick motion half of the time, and the other half I’d have to spend a few minutes fumbling around getting the clamp to hold on tight or the blade to cut deeply enough to strip the wire. Averaging out the two amounts of time, it really wasn’t any more effective than the classic manual strippers. When I got my hands on the SE-94, it was as though someone gave me a hammer after years of driving nails in with rocks. It can grab and strip a wire with just a simple clench of the fist. It’s also been extremely handy in those cramped-in-a-sink-cabinet-wiring-up-a-garbage-disposal situations, when I don’t have the time to comfortably mess around with an inconsistent tool to get it to do what it was designed to do.

-- Cavan Gahagan 10/17/18

16 October 2018


Bone Folder

Paper scoring and folding

A classic bone folder $7 is made of real bone, not plastic or Teflon, and resembles a fat, blunt-edged tongue depressor, rounded at one end and pointed at the other. With it, I can turn a digital print, piece of cardstock or watercolor paper into a professional-looking note or greeting card.

Pulling the pointed end alongside a straight edge and across the paper produces a subtle score that facilitates a perfect fold. Next, I fold the card very gently by hand along the score, and then stroke one of the short, straight sides of the bone folder along the score to flatten the rounded fold to a sharp crease.

When sending a letter that I want to look good, I make two quick strokes of the folder along preliminary hand folds to create folded edges that are sharp and square. Bone folders also can be used to burnish paper as it is glued to cardstock, album or scrapbook pages. They produce accurate and sharp folds and creases on origami papers as well as facilitate sculpting, architectural modeling or bookbinding with paper.

I recommend rubbing your bone folder with olive oil from time to time to avoid flaking or brittleness. Folders made of real bone are best, unless you wish to use a Teflon folder to avoid the slight luster sometimes created by the friction of a real bone folder.

-- Clifford Peterson 10/16/18

(I relied on one of these while producing a large batch of homemade invitations and can attest to its utility. Here’s a look at a bone folder in use — editors)

15 October 2018


Fiskars Softouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snip

Precise garden snip

Fiskars’ PowerGear Bypass Pruner, previously reviewed, is the handiest, most used tool in my vegetable garden, but it’s too big and clunky for precision cutting of young salad greens and herbs. For that task, the company’s Pruning Snip is an outstanding and inexpensive tool.

Snipping action requires little effort because the short blades are quite sharp and a spring in the center of the handle returns the shear to its open position after each cut. A small garden scissors could work almost as well as the Fiskars Softouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snip ($12), but the spring-activated light-action cutting makes a big difference for ease of use. Like the larger pruner mentioned above, this model gives a lot of cutting output with disproportionately little input. This shear is also useful for carefully thinning densely grouped seedlings by cutting the excess plants at their bases.

-- Elon Schoenholz 10/15/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2009 — editors)


img 10/14/18

Goo Gone

Vanishing goo

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Theo Gray’s Mad Science

Dangerous home experiments

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Laura Cochrane, Content Strategist

Cool Tools Show 144: Laura Cochrane

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Knipex Pliers Wrench

Rapid, safe, strong pliers wrench

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Master Lock Speed Dial

Faster combination entry than a standard combination lock

See all the reviews


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Cheapest hi-quality photo scans

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Direct line to a warm body

img 06/22/09


Realtime budget overview

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Fiskars Post Hole Digger

Best post hole digger

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Snorkel Hot Tub

Wood powered hot tub

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Snark SN-2

Best Clip-On Instrument Tuner

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Cool Tools Show 145: Saul Griffith

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 144: Laura Cochrane

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 143: Carl Bass

Picks and shownotes

23 February 2017


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