03 April 2020


Sanho Tree, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies

Cool Tools Show 220: Sanho Tree

Our guest this week is Sanho Tree. Sanho is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where he has directed its Drug Policy Project since 1998. The project works to end the domestic and international war on drugs and replace it with policies that promote public health and safety. Sanho is also a former military and diplomatic historian, and has worked for Harry Belafonte and edited CovertAction Quarterly, a magazine of investigative journalism. You can find him on Twitter @SanhoTree.

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Show notes:

Magnetic soap holder ($2)
About 10 years ago in Boulder, Colorado, we stayed at these nice houses, the locals would house us. And the person who housed me was very, very wealthy. The house was basically an art museum, and my guest bathroom had this little soap holder that was like a marble pyramid with a long wire cantilevered over it and on the bottom of it was a magnet that stuck itself into a bar of soap. It just hung there beautifully and elegantly. I thought, I’ll have to get one of these. So I go up and look it online and, of course, it’s from a museum gift shop and it was 200 or 300 dollars. I typed in magnetic soap holder on eBay to see what might pop up. Sure enough they make these things in Asia. The beauty of this thing is that it’s just a cheap little stainless steel-looking gizmo. It’s got adhesive on it. You stick it to the wall next to your sink and it’s got a little metal disc attached to a magnet. Kind of like a soda bottle cap. You shove that soda bottle cap type looking thing into your bar of nice soap. Your soap will then hang from this magnet and no more dissolving soap bars in your soap dish. This has saved me so many bars of soap.

Omega Paw Roll ‘n Clean Self Cleaning Litter Box ($37)
It’s not one of these $400 electric operated things that scoop your litter automatically, no, no, no. Imagine a kind of box-shaped litter box with a round opening that your cat goes into. The bottom quadrant of this box has a grill around it and the grill allows the clean litter that hasn’t been clumped up to fall through. The clean litter is trapped in a reservoir and so when you tilt this box 90 degrees, or a little over 90 degrees, all the clumps of litter fall and roll over that grill and into a pull out tray that sits on top of the grill. It takes me about eight or nine seconds every morning to clean my litter box for two cats. For years, I was convinced my cats believed that the only reason I kept them around was that their purpose in life was to produce these magical golden nuggets that were so valuable because I spend every morning mining for them. My friends can’t believe it and then I show them. It literally takes less than 10 seconds to clean a litter box.

“Deformable” LED lights ($10-40)
These are fantastic. They’re incredibly bright and they’re very cheap. They’re called Deformable LED Lights. That’s what you search for. They come in a range of 40 watts up to 200-300 watts. You can use them for wide open areas like garages. You can use them as grow lamps if you’re into indoor gardening. Or just flooding the room with really soft bright light. There are two types. It’s a regular floodlight type of thing except it’s got these little three or four panels that fold out. On those wings are the LED diodes and sometimes they’re bare, so they’re incredibly bright and a little bit blinding if you’re going to use it for a living room, but some of them also come with a white translucent cover so it softens the light. I love these things because you could adjust each of the flower petals, the fan blades at different angles. If you have a hard to light nook or something like that, you could really have some fun with this. It’s a standard E26 or E27 socket. It’ll work both in the U.S. and Europe. The price range is anywhere from 10 bucks to 40 bucks, but I always order mine straight from China because it’s a lot cheaper that way.

Digital Luggage Scale ($3)
This is a tiny little digital luggage scale. For years, I used to use this one I bought like 20 years ago and it was the size of a brick literally. It used a bunch of double AA batteries and it weighed about a pound so it’s not something you want to take with you inside your luggage. But now they have these tiny ones that literally fit in the palm of your hand and it weighs just an ounce or two and it’s powered by a button battery the size of a quarter. Best of all, you can get it for $2.96 which includes shipping. It’s going to take two or three weeks to arrive because you’re ordering it from China, but still $2.96 is a pretty good price. They’re so cheap that I put one of these in each of my suitcases so I’ll always have it when I travel. I never have to pay the baggage fees again. It comes with a strap and it’s got a little bayonet clip and you put it around your luggage handle so you can lift up the luggage and weight it that way. You can also weigh lots of other things. If I need to weigh my cats, for instance, to see how they’re growing. I’ll put them in a shopping bag, a paper bag, then use that to lift them up and wa-la.


03 April 2020


Bissell Natural Sweep

Fastest carpet cleaner

This quick and quiet carpet sweeper is what I grab for touch-up “vacuuming.” Lightweight, never needs recharging, no noise, very little to break, it’s much superior to a Dustbuster. Cleans low carpets fast, empties fast.

-- KK 04/3/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

02 April 2020

Working with Metal-Infused Filaments

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #40

Got a tip to share? Tools to recommend? Shop tales to tell? Talk to me.

The latest issue of HackSpace (#29) is out (free PDF). This month’s theme is working with wood. I have a 4-page piece in the issue (pg 92) rounding up 3D printing tips and tricks (see one of them below).


Working with Metal-Infused Filaments

3D printed mold incorporating some copper-infused filament.

3D printed mold incorporating some copper-infused filament.

From my piece in issue 29 of HackSpace: Washington, DC-area artist and curator Dave Mordini shared this discovery with me. “I took an old broken lawn ornament and put new feet on it. I then 3D-scanned it using an inexpensive consumer scanner. I decided to add pizzazz to an aluminum casting of it by using copper-infused filament when 3D printing my mold. The 3D-printed mold is packed in sand. When you pour the hot aluminum into the mold, the plastic part gets burned away, but the copper remains.”

The finished lawn ornament.

The finished lawn ornament.

Magnets in the Shop

Illustration by Richard Sheppard for "Tips and Tales from the Workshop."

Illustration by Richard Sheppard for “Tips and Tales from the Workshop.”

For my next HackSpace column, I am doing a round-up of cool things you can do with magnets in your shop (and in your projects). If you have any good ideas, please share. Here is one of the magnet-related tips from my book, Tips and Tales fr0m the Workshop.
Save Your Drill Press Chuck on a Key Ring: Tired of losing the chuck on your drill press? Use a retractable magnetic key ring to store it close at hand by mounting it on the press itself. [Sean Michael Ragan]
Make:’s Adhesive Chart

Sticking this to that.

Sticking this to that.

Someone posted the above chart to the “Shop Hacks” group on Facebook which reminded me to share it here. We included one of these charts in the Maker’s Notebook that I edited and on the Make: website. Here is a larger version.

The Maker’s Muse

Sean's DIY twist drill.

Sean’s DIY twist drill.

Via Sean Ragan’s Instagram: “A chuck from an obsolete DeWalt cordless drill fit with standoff and a spigot handle for manual drilling, reaming, chamfering, deburring, etc.”

Using a Sewing Machine Needle as a Drill?

Here’s a tip from the always reliable Emory Kimbrough: “Need to drill a very small diameter hole, but don’t have the needed tiny drill bit?  Or, perhaps you do have the bit, but it’s too small for your big drill chuck to get a good grip on?  In a pinch, you can try a sewing-machine needle.  Unlike needles for hand sewing, sewing-machine needles have an enlarged, sometimes flattened shank that the chuck can grab.   Here’s a second useful trick for using a small-diameter drill bit in a large chuck that won’t quite close tightly onto the bit:  Find some insulated wire with a gauge equal to, or at least fairly close to, the diameter of bit.  Strip off a short segment of the insulation – now you have a little rubbery tube to slide around the base of your tiny bit, providing a larger-diameter gripping surface for the big drill chuck to squeeze.”

Shop Talk

Larry Albertelli's homely tool carousel

Larry Albertelli’s homely tool carousel

I’ve been getting some wonderful messages and photos in response to my “homely tools” request in the last issue. Show me (and tell me about) your homely tools.


Larry Albertelli writes: I have small plastic bottles with different tips, including needle tips, and small vials, with tiny funnels that fit them all. In them I put homemade lubes, solvents, diluted E6000, diluted Lexel. I have plastic and glass syringes with sharp and blunt tips to dispense minute quantities of various lubes and glues. Microbrushes, small makeup brushes, scalpels of various sizes, a carbide tool sharpener which sharpens any blade, from #11 scalpel blade to scissors blades, razor blades, utility blades, you name it, in seconds. The list goes on and on. These are the backbone of a tinkerer/hobbyist/maker.

Reader John Young also wrote to remind us all of the oldie but goodie of tacking up an old hacksaw blade on the edge of a workbench or elsewhere to use for cutting sandpaper to size. You can also use such an arrangement to cut kraft paper and other similar materials.


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

02 April 2020


Excelta Tweezers

Superb robust tweezer for general purposes

Today I used an old reliable tweezer and realized that most people probably had little idea of what a good tweezer can be. Nor where to find such a thing.

Of the several I’ve acquired, my favorite is the Excelta 00-SA-ET. It’s stainless, it’s got a special, formed-on foam padding (makes it not only comfortable, but very easy to maneuver), and it’s sturdy enough to get things done at a small scale.

Most good fine tweezers can be easily distorted and, once out of whack, almost impossible to align properly again. Once you start checking into good tweezers, you’ll see there are lots & lots of them, most specific to their task. Many are very delicate.

If you’d like a superb set that’s robust enough for almost anything normal people would use them for, try the Excelta 00-SA-ET. Or check Excelta’s whole line at their website.

-- Wayne Ruffner 04/2/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

01 April 2020


What’s in my bag? — David Moldawer

What's in my bag? issue #43

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

David Moldawer is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and book collaborator specializing in business and self-help books. He spent more than a decade in book publishing acquiring and editing bestselling books for Penguin, St. Martin’s Press, McGraw-Hill, and Amazon Publishing New York. Today, he helps experts write book proposals and books, and writes a weekly newsletter for writers (aspiring and pro) and others in the book trade called The Maven Game. You can sign up here.


About the bag

I carry a black REI men’s backpack that no longer seems to be available on either Amazon or the REI website — I purchased it in-store about a year ago.

What’s inside the bag

Dingbats Wildlife Notebook ($20)
I have an iPad, but I would never have the audacity to whip one out for notes in a meeting with a client. If someone’s going to talk me through the ideas in their book, we’re going to need all devices off. That said, I know I’ll need to get those scribbled notes out of my notebook and processed into my digital system. My number-one requirement for a notebook is that each and every page be perforated and easy to detach, unlike Moleskines, which feature only a few perforated pages. For this, the Dingbats Wildlife notebooks serve perfectly. They’re also durable and available in different sizes/formats, which is great because I’m able to find ones that fit each of my three bags perfectly.

Anker Soundcore Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones ($80)
When the world isn’t experiencing a global pandemic, I usually head to a nearby co-working space designed specifically for writers every afternoon. (The kids start coming home and it becomes very difficult to concentrate in the afternoon.) Naturally, the space places an extraordinary emphasis on quiet. I use binaural beats from Brain.fm to concentrate, so that means big, comfortable headphones that won’t leak noise. And, when I’m on an airplane or the subway, I also need noise-canceling. These Anker headphones do all that at an incredible price point and with unbeatable customer service. When the first pair stopped working after being treated very roughly by me, I contacted Anker customer service and they shipped me a new pair, no questions asked.

Anker PowerCore 10000mAh Portable Charger ($46)
I’ve owned several external batteries and I’ve been continually disappointed. The highly touted and elegant TravelCard, for example, never worked properly. I’m amazed at the hype it gets. The Jackery Bolt, on the other hand, worked for 4 years before kicking the bucket, but the housing broke long before that, leaving a sharp edge that continually scraped my finger when I tried to plug my phone in. This Anker PowerCore just screams quality. Turns on automatically when you plug it in, and off when you unplug it. An incredible workhorse of a battery that can also “trickle charge” devices like AirPods. Only drawback is that you need to buy a separate USB-C-to-Lightning cable to charge your iPhone. Other than that, a great product.

Tripp Lite 2 Outlet Portable Surge Protector ($16)
Call me paranoid, but if I’m going to be plugging expensive electronic devices into strange outlets, I’d prefer to have a little surge protection. Tripp is Wirecutter’s go-to surge protector brand and they offer this handy little portable model. I toss it in my bag, just in case.

-- David Moldawer 04/1/20

01 April 2020


Little Giant MegaLite Ladder

Heavy duty ladder folds to compact size

Unfolds to allow access to the roof, folds to allow use as a four-foot or ten-foot step ladder. One ladder that is light weight, serves multiple purposes, and is well-designed and built. Comparable folding ladders are either flimsy, heavy, or a pain to use.

-- Jim 04/1/20



Pferd File Handles

Reduce hand fatigue when filing

img 03/31/20

HIC Milk Creamer Frother

Creates a frothy rich foam

img 03/27/20

Erika Hall, Co-founder of Mule Design

Cool Tools Show 219: Erika Hall


The Maker’s Muse

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #39

Repositionable Spray-on Adhesive (Thumb) 03/25/20

Repositionable Spray-on Glue

Krylon Easy-Tack Adhesive Spray

See all the reviews


img 07/22/04

McMaster-Carr Online Catalog

The ultimate hardware store

img 09/25/17

Felco Pruners

Superb garden clippers

img 07/5/18

GustBuster Umbrella

Unflippable umbrella

img 04/3/20

Bissell Natural Sweep

Fastest carpet cleaner

img 10/18/18

Haws Watering Can

Fine-tuned watering

img 03/7/08

Tech Web Belt

Last Chance Heavy Duty Belt * Tech Web Belt

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 220: Sanho Tree

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 219: Erika Hall

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 218: Cory Doctorow

Picks and shownotes

01 April 2020


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