04 March 2021

Tuning Up a Harbor Freight Hammer

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #82

Tuning Up a Harbor Freight Hammer

Hammer time.

Hammer time.

In this newsletter, I’ve frequently talked about buying lots of pencils, rulers, scissors, and other relatively inexpensive go-to tools and stashing around the shop (and home). But this commonly-used tool saturation is not practical for more expensive tools. Or is it? Pocket83 bought some $3.99 Harbor Freight rip hammers to keep throughout his workshop. Before he put them into service, he spent some time “tuning” them up. He rounded off the hard edges of handle and heads, sanded and re-finished the handles, reinforced the eye hole (where the head and handle attach), and he added rubber grips using recycled inner tubes.

Paint-On Copperplating?

What is this sorcery?

What is this sorcery?

In a follow-up to her recent video where she electroplated the gas tank of her motorcycle with copper, Laura Kampf decided to try a much easier platting method of simply painting on a copperplate solution. She saw a video demonstrating the technique and wanted to try it out. It appears to work. Amazing. As she points out, this could lend itself to all sorts of applications.

The Duh Department
I want to start a new periodic feature where I mention tips that are commonly known but may bear repeating. Introducing “The Duh Department.”

I’ve been cleaning out a lot of my old tech and stored junk. Even though I know to remove batteries from things being storing, I am shocked at how many things still have (now corroded) batteries in them. So, here’s a reminder. Add it to your to-do list. Go through your house and garage and check every battery-powered thing you’re not currently using and remove their batteries.

Faux Woodgrain for 3D Printing

Looks like wood to me.

Looks like wood to me.

I love doing faux finishes. These techniques can come in handy when trying to make a piece of 3D printed plastic look like wood or stone or metal. In this Off Earth video, Darrell shows how you can achieve a pretty realistic faux wood finish by using a mid-tone brown spray paint basecoat and various shades of brown alcohol ink pens.

Getting Bubbles Out of Resin

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

If you don’t have a pressure pot, getting bubbles out of casting materials can be a pain in the butt. This CrafsMan video offers 7 ways to remove bubbles from your casts.

Shop Tales
In response to my item in the last newsletter about drafting triangles, legendary toy design, Bob Knetzger, shared this funny little anecdote (and a tip).

In industrial design school, I had an instructor, Todd Smith, who was a very talented renderer. He would give us demos and workshops using colored Canson paper, spirit Magic Markers™ (the stinky ones in the little glass bottles), NuPastel chalks, Prismacolor pencils, and White Out (for making the white, sparkling highlights on chrome, which we lovingly called “bird shit”). We learned to render surfaces like woodgrain, painted steel, glass, chrome, etc. in our realistic drawings of cars, pencil sharpeners, and vacuum cleaners. In one demo, he Socratically asked us “You know why a triangle is your best drawing tool, right?” We all guessed that the 30/60/90 angle was useful in perspective layouts…? No. Cuz the 45 degree triangle helps divides lengths by 2 visually? No. Putting his fingers through the opening to hold the 90 degree corner: “…because it’s a straight edge with a HANDLE!”

Draftsmen always keep the triangle flat on the paper, sliding them to use the edges along T-squares, parallel rules, and other triangles. Renders NEVER lay the triangle flat on the paper (that would instantly smudge the delicate pastel chalk!)—they hold the triangle up at an angle away from the paper surface and only touch the triangle’s drawing edge to the paper. (At least they did back in the olden days….)

Shop Talk
In response to my somewhat controversial post about CA glue having a shelf-life, I’ve had two readers volunteer to do some testing to see if there really is an appreciable difference between old and new CA glue. One reader is a materials scientist and one is a mechanical engineer by education. We are currently working on putting together a testing procedure that both of them can follow. It will be interesting to compare the results. stay tuned. If you have any thoughts on this subject, please message me.


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

03 March 2021


What’s in my bag? — Karen Morrill-Mcclure

What's in my bag? issue #91

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Karen was an engineer in the Space Shuttle program and is currently the IT person/webmaster at Washington Sea Grant (WSG) at the University of Washington. They also co-chair the WSG Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Workgroup and spend their off hours playing Dungeons & Dragons and games on their Switch. Karen can be found on Twitter and Instagram @kayjumnac.


About the bag

This is my most recent backpack purchase. I mostly use it around the house since I’m not going anywhere right now. It’s from Salish Style ($65). The design is called Raven’s Cross Beam and is by Dylan Thomas (Coast Salish artist from the Lyackson First Nation). Besides the great design, I like the smooth front, the plentitude of pockets inside and the padded straps.

What’s inside the bag

My Diop face mask ($15) is comfortable, adjustable and looks great. I wear glasses, so I appreciate the nose pincher and it has fully adjustable straps. Diop is a black-owned company that makes clothing (and masks) from Ankara (a fabric used throughout West Africa).

PowerAdd external battery ($13). It’s small enough to slip in a pocket when I’m worried about my phone running out of power and it comes in red.

Hanote Spiral Notebook ($19, 3pk). I have exacting requirements for a notebook: thick pages (no ink bleed through), spiral binding (so I can flip the cover all the way to the back), plain front (so I can personalize with stickers), and hardcover (so I can write in it while walking around if necessary) which come from many years as a consultant and a teacher. These notebooks meet all those requirements, are pretty inexpensive, and come in a three pack so I can have one for my D&D adventure, one for personal notes (shown here), and one as a spare.

Uni -Ball Vision Elite BLX ($10, 5ct). My favorite pens in the whole world (right now). Bold tips and colors but infused with black so they are always readable. If you like a bold pen and haven’t try these, you really should.


(What's on your Desk? We are changing things up a bit and want to hear about that unusual and unusually useful items that you keep on your desk. Start by sending an email to claudia@cool-tools.org with a photo of 4 interesting things on your desk (you can use your phone). If you get a reply from us, fill out the form we send you, and we’ll pay you $50 if we run your submission in our What’s in my bag? newsletter and blog. — editors)

03 March 2021


Grandpa’s Feeders Automatic Chicken Feeder

rat-proof chicken feeder

If you have chickens, keeping other animals out of their food can be a constant battle.

I moved several months ago and inherited a dozen chickens from the previous owner. I didn’t really know how much a dozen chickens would eat, but their food was disappearing at an alarming rate. While I haven’t seen any, I know our area has rat problems and I was suspicious. I visited a local chicken supply store, where I bought a treadle feeder. For it to work, a chicken has to stand on a little platform, and a mechanism opens a door to allow access to the food. Rats aren’t heavy enough to trigger the mechanism.

It took my chickens a few weeks to get the hang of it, but now a bag of food that previously lasted 10 days is lasting nearly three weeks.

As a bonus, the feeder holds about 25 pounds of food, so I don’t have to worry about refilling very often.

-- Abbie Stillie 03/3/21

02 March 2021


Nordic Ware Microwave Corn Popper

Best cheap nuke-it popcorn maker

This microwave popper is simplicity itself: 1/2 cup of corn, a little oil (or not), and a little time in the microwave yields a low-cost, low-cal snack you can eat right out of the popper. Unlike other poppers or Tupperware containers, the Nordic Ware’s top cover has nifty ridges that facilitate comfortable removal — i.e. when everything is very, very hot (If you don’t remove the cover immediately, the popcorn gets too moist).

I’ve tried a variety of devices on my long march to the perfect popper… table-top poppers often made a mess (and big noise) and they’re not machine-washable. Some microwave poppers require pads that deteriorate with use and need to be replaced, but are difficult to find. The stove top method, I just could never fully master: burned pans, burned corn, mess to clean. Lastly, microwavable bags of popcorn: If you eat a lot popcorn, you’ll be spending exorbitant sums and — depending on which brand — consuming chemical additives. The Nordic popper does not require oil, so the end-product is essentially the same as an air popper. The Nordic can go in the dishwasher, or just be wiped clean. Plus, the Nordic is perhaps the least expensive one out there. As of late, we’ve been producing popcorn five nights a week.

-- Daniel Wilson 03/2/21


This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2008

01 March 2021


Black & Decker Accu Mark Level

Ultimate guide for hanging

I’ve moved three times in four years, but never quite mastered the art of hanging artwork. Move any frame in our home and you’d be likely to find no less than two sets of holes. Well, not anymore. At 36″, this level seemed like overkill (especially since most everything I hang is in the 8″ x 10″ realm), but now that I have one, I don’t know how I ever got by without it. On either side of the three bubble levels are two 10-inch rulers with sliding “targets.” Each target has a -Tshape cut out, allowing you to mark exactly where you want the nail(s) to go. More or less fool-proof. It’s also incredibly light and easy to maneuver, even with one hand. These days when we buy art, I don’t dread the prospect of putting it up.

-- Steven Leckart 03/1/21

28 February 2021


Nomad lands/Disappearing emails/Airpod replacement tips

Recomendo: issue no. 241

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Rent-free long-term nomad
In the US southwest you can legally vehicle camp on certain areas of public land, rent free, for up to 7 months. You need a self-sufficient RV type vehicle (no hookups available), and a permit for camping in a Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA) from the BLM. There are currently 7 LTVAS. — KK

Send a disappearing message in Gmail
I just discovered that Gmail has a confidential mode feature that lets you set an expiration date to an email. In the composition window, you’ll find a lock icon with a clock and when you click on it you’ll see a list of different expiration times, ranging from 1 day to 5 years. Once it expires, recipients will be locked out from the message. Here are more detailed instructions. — CD

Best AirPod Pro replacement tips
I bought memory foam tips to replace the standard ones that come with AirPod Pros. They were an improvement because my AirPods stopped falling out of my ears. Then someone told me to get a pair of SednaEarfit Xelastic tips. I did, and they are incredible. The soft rubbery tips completely seal my ear canal, and make the noise cancelation so much better that I couldn’t even hear the toilet flushing. They are comfortable, too. — MF

Free great courses
I’m still bingeing on The Great Courses videos. These are the best university courses, without university tuitions. Even better, if you have a public library card in the US, you can get free access to The Great Courses through the Kanopy streaming service. I stream the Great Courses, via Kanopy, on my Roku smart tv. In addition to most of the catalog of Great Courses, Kanopy is a real treasure that also offers a very long tail of documentaries, old movies, and tutorials that are too niche even for Netflix. It’s like a public library of video. You are limited to 10 “plays” per month, except unlimited Great Courses. And it’s all free if you have a library card. — KK

Parchment paper update
Last week I recommended parchment paper for no-stick baking. Two readers emailed me with comments worth sharing. Michael Ham said he avoids rolled parchment paper because “it wants to roll up again.” He likes pre-cut half-sheet parchment paper: “King Arthur Flour sells it in rounds, in squares, and in the half-sheet size that fits a half-sheet baking pan.” But now mostly uses a silicone baking mat, because it lies flat, is easy to clean, and is reusable. Brendan Farley offered this advice: “You’ve probably noticed that parchment paper does not lay down well — it keeps its form. If you want to mold it to a pan, just rinse it in water, ring it out like a towel, and it will mold to any pan and keep that form.” Thanks for the tips, Michael and Brendan! — MF

Advice worth sharing
Below are some bits of wisdom I’ve found on blogs and newsletters over the last few months. — CD

On being true to yourself: “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” — Anne Rice [via The Magnet]

On finding inspiration everywhere: “I heard once about a Yiddish poet who lived in utter poverty and misery, a teenager, who never had seen anything beautiful in his life, and he made splendid poems about vegetables jumping into the soup pot. My idea being that for the sublime and the beautiful and the interesting, you don’t have to look far away. You have to know how to see.” — Hedda Sterne [via Austin Kleon]

On identity: “Some people have a lot farther to go from where they begin to get where they want to be—a long way up the mountain, and that is how it has been for me. I don’t feel I am getting older; I feel I am getting closer.” — D.H. Lawrence [via Wellness Wisdom]

On transforming your life: “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting tired of their own bullshit.” — Elizabeth Gilbert [via Sloww Sunday]

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 02/28/21


img 02/26/21

Jordan Calhoun, Deputy Editor at Lifehacker

Cool Tools Show 267: Jordan Calhoun

img 02/26/21

Beadsmith Thread Zap II

Trim, burns, or melts thread with one touch

Get a grip! 02/25/21

Great Shop Tips from Colin Knecht

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #81

img 02/25/21

Biothane Gold Series Webbing

All-purpose strap material

thumb1+ 02/24/21

Best Milk Frothers Compared

$10 vs $20 Milk Frother

See all the reviews


img 07/5/18

GustBuster Umbrella

Unflippable umbrella

img 12/19/11


Still the best thermometer

img 05/25/09

SunRun PPA

Zero Down Solar Panels

img 04/2/18

Mosquito Netting

Cheap worry-free sleeping

img 01/28/19

Rescue Tape

Silicone tape

img 03/15/10

Corrective Swim Goggles

Cheap underwater clarity

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 267: Jordan Calhoun

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 266: Travis McElroy

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 265: Seth Godin

Picks and shownotes

03 March 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.

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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).

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