06 April 2020

Unclog Tips for Better Welds

Welding Tip Cleaners Compared

Tools (Recommended):
Metal Shell 13 in 1 Stainless Steel Welding Torch Nozzle Tip Cleaner ($6)

Hobart 770086 Welding Tip Cleaner – Drill Type ($15)

: Jen Herchenroeder

“This has a variety of different sizes of files and they’re all very small round files. And what you do is grab the smallest one that will fit and you use that to kind of gently a ream out where the metal is collected inside. You don’t want to use the one that’s too big or force one through because these nozzles are fitted to the size of the welding wire running through them. So .030 or .035, and if you change the diameter of that hole, you’re not going to get as clean of a weld as you would like. So just choose the smallest one that fits.”

-- Jen Herchenroeder 04/6/20

05 April 2020


Portable greenscreen/3 Idiots/SketchUp

Recomendo: issue no. 194

Virtual background for Zoom meetings
I recently conducted an interview in Zoom with over 200 people in the audience, and a colleague who watched later told me I should not be Zooming to a large audience with my bedroom in the background. But instead of moving my computer set up, I bought this a Webaround Portable Greenscreen. It’s a 56-inch circular chair-mounted background and it works perfectly with Zoom’s Virtual Background setting. You can use any photo as your background. Here’s a before and after photo of me without and with the greenscreen. — MF

Recomended Bollywood
I recommend this long movie for a stay-at-home visit to India. This 2009 Bollywood hit is called 3 Idiots (a better title would be 3 Renegades) and was the all-time bestselling movie in India in its time. Besides being fun and campy, almost a parody of a bollywood hit, it is a brilliant depiction of the ongoing tension between tradition and innovation in this most populous country on the planet. Here’s what a billion young Indians are contending with. Although it is almost 3 hours long, I’ve seen it three times. This version on Amazon Prime is in Hindi. You need to turn CC on for subtitles. — KK

3D design skill tutorial
SketchUp is a general-purpose 3D design software for makers that is free in its basic version, and is very popular. There are dozens of other programs for precision parts, or organic shapes, but SketchUp scales nicely between 3D printing to woodworking to architecture, and is super easy to learn. By far the best tutorial on how to learn SketchUp (a skill transferable to most other 3D apps) is this free YouTube series, SketchUp Tutorial by April Wilkerson. She is an ace teacher, with the kind of practical hints I needed.  — KK

Old-time radio plays
Now that we are stuck at home, we have a lot more time to relax at home. My family of four is using the living room together in the evenings. My wife does a crossword puzzle and my two daughters and I sketch. At the same time, we listen to a terrific old radio drama series called Suspense. Archive.org has 911 episodes, which may or may not last until the stay-at-home order is lifted, depending on how many episodes we listen to each night. — MF

Use your computer like a tool
This blog post served as a nudge to remind me that my computer is a tool, not a distraction device, and had some good strategies for making the most of my screen time. Like, “Full Screen is your Friend,” and you don’t need time tracking software to help you focus on a task, just use a sticky note. Write down what you need to focus on and put it on your monitor where you can see it, and only use your computer with that specific purpose in mind. It’s fool-proof. — CD

Revisited advice
These are just a few words of advice that I had saved, which have become much more meaningful to me lately — CD:
“If all you did was just looked for things to appreciate, you would live a joyously spectacular life.” ― Esther Abraham Hicks
“Let go or be dragged.” — Zen Proverb
“Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways.” — Glennon Doyle Melton
No.” is a complete sentence. — Unknown

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 04/5/20

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.

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

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)


img 04/1/20

Little Giant MegaLite Ladder

Heavy duty ladder folds to compact size


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

See all the reviews


img 07/21/11

Zenni Optical

Best cheap eyeglasses

img 09/14/17


Never-fail sharp tweezers

img 04/21/04


Perfect scalp razor

img 03/8/10


Guided construction set

img 01/8/07

Engel Hot Knife

Superior textile cutter

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


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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