06 May 2021
Hands-free workbench magnification
This is a 5-inch diameter magnifying glass mounted on a swing arm, and the assembly has a vice clamp to mount itself to the edge of a table or desk. It includes a ring of light around the lens to illuminate the work vividly. This allows you to place your work on the furniture surface and swing the magnifier over the work so you can comfortably access tools, the material, and additional lighting when needed. When one does not need it, it can be taken down and stored in twenty seconds, and set back up as needed in almost as little time.
I have used it for 5 years. It allows me to see extraordinarily small things and, when appropriate, make precision repairs, such as cracked or clogged parts in expensive electronics and tiny splinters in skin. Children whose toys are broken sometimes become heartbroken until they are repaired or replaced, and this can allow immediate salve to them. When they get a painful splinter, this not only saves them prolonged pain, but may save the parent a trip to a medical provider. In addition, children tend to adore exploring the world of tiny things such as insects, and manufactured things using these.
For really tiny detail, one can combine this with a headset magnifier. Most of these headsets allow multiple lenses at one time so you can use only one of its lenses if you want moderate magnification or all three for extreme. The disadvantage of the headset is the disorientation when not looking only at the work, such as looking for tools, parts, and instructions which will seem blurry and distracting unless you continually raise and lower the headset as you look from the closeup work to more distant other things. That is the advantage of the swing arm magnifier; you can look from close to more distant without limitation since the swing arm magnifies only the work you want magnified.05/6/21
05 May 2021
Easy cold-brew coffee
Cold brewing has recently become my preferred method for brewing my morning cup.
I love my coffee iced, but I never loved my typical approach: brew hot coffee, cool it, store it until I’m ready to drink. Half the time I forget to brew ahead and I end up drinking it hot.
Cold brewing coffee works like this: combine ground beans with room temperature (or cooler) water and let steep for 12 to 15 hours. That’s it.
I love the smoother flavor of cold brewed coffee. From what I’ve read, some folks consider the resulting coffee to be a concentrate in need of dilution. Not me. Maybe it’s the ice.
One of my favorite things about cold brewed coffee is it requires no special materials. There are cold brewing devices on the market from Toddy and Filtron, and maybe they deliver an even better cup, but I must confess I can’t imagine how. As long as you can soak ground beans in water, and give them a good 12 hours, you’re good to go. That makes a French Press, in my estimation, the perfect vehicle for cold brew. It’s how I do it, but by all means use whatever tool you prefer.
According to Wikipedia, cold brewed coffee seems sweeter due to lower acidity. “Because the coffee beans in cold-press coffee never come into contact with heated water, the process of leaching flavor from the beans produces a different chemical profile than conventional brewing methods.” That seems like maybe it would be easier on people with heartburn or sensitive stomachs. I have neither; I just like the way it tastes.
To be clear, the resulting cup of coffee looks just like any other hot-brewed cup. It’s not the color of tea, it’s not some strange brew, it’s a regular cup of coffee. It’s just not hot. And yes, I still have to plan ahead to make it the night before, but there are fewer steps so it seems easier.
I’ve read that you can cold brew your cup and then heat it, and that the resulting hot cup of smooth drinking coffee is outstanding. But I can’t personally attest to this; seems like in that case I’d just brew hot coffee in the first place. Cold brewing coffee is clearly perfect for those times when you prefer your coffee iced, which for me is about 360 days a year.05/5/21
05 May 2021
What’s in my desk? issue #100
Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.
I have been a full time pipemaker for almost 12 years. My pipes are fully handmade using mostly traditional methods and materials in my home workshop and are sold around the world. — Chris Askwith
About the workshop
I use a lot of power tools in my pipemaking but all of the fine detail is done with hand tools, knives, files and sandpaper for the most part. I have tried having all my tools within hands reach as is commonly done by jewellers but found this crowded and encouraged me to get stuck in one position. I now keep most tools just out of reach so I regularly get up from my chair and take the opportunity to stretch and move around a bit, it seems to work well for me even if it is less efficient.
What’s in the workshop
Gluing some sandpaper to a bit of wood is an age old trick for making sanding easier, especially for small, flat surfaces. These sandpaper handles or sticks however are so much better. A simple clamp holds the paper in place and it pulls the paper quite taught, it takes just seconds to change the grits (though I prefer to have one for each grit if possible) and the handles make sanding both easier and more comfortable thanks to the file style handle. Quite inexpensive too. Best used with cloth back abrasives I find.
The Shinto saw rasp is a fast and efficient way to remove material without clogging and leaving a smoother surface than a traditional rasp. It has a coarse side and a smoother side and I have found it effective on softwoods, hardwoods and many kinds of plastic and resin.
I have found the Click 2000 Puggy gloves to be the perfect compromise between dexterity and protection in a light duty work glove. They keep my hands warm, allow me to perform reasonably fine tasks, increase my grip and give me a reasonable level of protection against abrasion, scratches and dirt. I wear these pretty much all day in my shop and each pair lasts for several weeks and will handle a couple of cycles through the washing machine as well.
I’ve tried every style of safety glasses/googles over the years and they all have their pro’s and con’s but these from UCI are the best I have found. They are comfortable, fit my face well, give good visibility and seem to be pretty scratch resistant. The foam padding is easily removed if you need more ventilation. Most importantly for me I have found I like the included strap that can be used to hold them just snug to my face, safety glasses slipping forward is big annoyance and danger when using a power tool so this feature is essential for me but way more comfortable than elasticated goggled which are often too tight for long periods of working. Very reasonable price for the quality as well.05/5/21
(We want to hear about unusual and unusually useful items that you have in your desk, bag, closet, fridge or where ever you keep things. It can be anything really: work bag, pantry shelf, beauty drawer, toolbox, etc. Start by sending an email to email@example.com with a photo of the things in your chosen space (you can use your phone). If you get a reply from us, fill out the form. We’ll pay you $50 if we run your submission in our What’s in my …? newsletter and blog. — editors)
03 May 2021
01 May 2021
Recomendo: issue no. 250
Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.
See a satellite tonight
A Google engineer made this cool website where you can track satellites that crawl across your neighborhood sky. It will give you times and names of the satellites that are coming your way and even show you how it’ll appear in the night sky with Google Street View. I’ve been setting alarms on my phone to go outside and look. Of course, it’s made me realize how much light pollution we have. Hopefully, you don’t have as much. — CD
Nesting bowls with airtight lids
Now that my wife and I are vaccinated, we’re enjoying backyard visits with friends. I bought this set of 6 nesting stainless steel bowls. They’re good for bringing food to a backyard barbecue. The largest one is 7 quarts — capacious enough for a large salad. The lids form a tight seal, too, which means they won’t fall off in the car ride over. — MF
Ultimate workshop course
The best course I’ve ever taken in workshop skills is a series of YouTube episodes by the British inventor Tim Hunkin. In his Secret Life of Components he goes through all he knows about the “components” you’d use to build something: glues, fasteners, hinges, bearings, switches, springs, etc., and he knows an awful lot. Every minute is crammed with the practical advice of a master craftsman gained over decades of experience. I’m wowed by how much I learned. — KK
Turn your smartphone into a Game Boy Camera
My daughter bought a vintage Game Boy Camera and thermal printer on eBay. It takes very low resolution photos that have a nostalgic charm. Recently I came across this web-based simulation of the Game Boy Camera. It’s fun to see what things look like in a two-color palette of blocky pixels. Here’s sample. — MF
How to wake up early advice
Here is a 5-step plan for waking up earlier and with more energy shared by u/FrankOppedijk on Reddit. The key advice I found is once you decide how many hours you need for sleep and develop your relaxing bedtime routine, you start by shifting your wake up time by 5 minutes each day, and you energize yourself using various techniques like natural bright light, drinking water, an activating breathing exercise like Bellows Breath, or quick heart-pumping exercise. I found it very encouraging. — CD
The stories of colors
“I love it when someone wakes me up to see what I was sleepwalking through. Adam Roger does that in this book. He showed me that the colors we see everywhere today are technologies we invented! Invented colors! Head explodes!” That’s the blurb I wrote for Roger’s new book Full Spectrum. Reproducing the colors of nature is not easy, yet despite being surrounded by manufactured colors in our modern lives, the story of these inventions are invisible. This is one of those books that opens up a world right in front of my nose. — KK
30 April 2021
Cool Tools Show 276: Lawrence Lazare
Our guest this week is Lawrence Lazare. After a 25-year career as an ecommerce product leader, Lawrence recently retired due to the loss of his central vision from a genetic eye disease. In his retirement, Lawrence is concentrating on his infrared landscape photography practice, as well as launching a podcast about maintaining a life-long creative practice.
Magnetic Spice Tins ($25, 12pc)
These are spice tins that I got before I lost my vision. But since I’ve lost my vision, they become even more valuable. They are round metallic spice tins that you stick to a sheet of thin steel that goes inside a cabinet. The idea is you open your cabinet door and there are all these spice tins facing out. So with these spice tins, what I did was hack them where they come with a label that goes over the center of the tin. I started using the old DYMO labels, with a white background with a high contrast black text on them. And then I keep them all alphabetical, so that in general, I kind of know if I’m looking for a specific spice, I’ll know where it is. And the other thing that’s been helpful is by removing the labels that come with them and using the DYMO labels is I can see a lot more of the color of what’s inside there. I can still see many colors, so if I’m looking for paprika, I’ll go look for the red tin. Like I said, I had these long before I lost my vision and they’ve been a lifesaver since I’ve lost my vision.
OrCam Read ($2,500)
Of all the tools that I’ve used since losing my vision, this is the most gee whiz one. This company OrCam has this little reader, that’s the size of a Sharpie. And it has an internal computer, it has a laser pointer, a light and a camera. And what you do is you point it at something and it shines a laser pointer at it so that it tells you what it is you’re looking at. And then it takes a photograph of what you’re looking at, and within maybe under two seconds, it reads to you out loud whatever it just saw. So for instance, if I’m trying to read a recipe, which I really struggle with, I just point this at it and it will read me the whole page. But what makes it even more amazing is it’s not internet connected at all, it’s all self-contained. So for instance, if I was out in the woods, hiking and I come across a sign to tell you to go this direction and it gives you the name of the trail, and there’s no internet connectivity, this thing would work. It awes me how accurate it is. I have another tool for people who just want to check out this technology, given that the OrCam Read is $2,500. There’s an awesome tool from Microsoft called Seeing AI and that’s free and it has a number of tools. The first one is text recognition, so when you turn it on, it immediately goes into camera mode and whatever it’s pointed at, it will read the text, similar to the OrCam Read. It’s not as accurate, and the challenge with it is you have to hold it totally still. But like I said, it’s a free tool and it has other very cool things like a barcode scanner. So for instance, going to the grocery store for me is a nightmare. So what I can do is I would point this thing at the barcode and it would tell me what the product is. They also have a very cool tool in there that it will read the scene. For instance, if I pointed it at my wife and it said, “35 year old woman smiling with a pair of glasses.” And my wife is not 35, and she was delighted by the fact that it said 35 year old woman. And you can point it at the room and it will say, “You’re in a room with a table and a couple of chairs.” So this technology is really evolving in front of us.
Logickeyboard Large Print High Contrast Keyboard ($115)
This is a tool called the Logickeyboard. When I was still working, one of the things I really struggled with is I’m a Mac user and Mac products are notoriously beautifully designed, but can be a little low contrast. There’s no way I can really read my keyboard on my computer anymore. Logickeyboard has a number of keyboards. I got the one that is high contrast, and all the keys are basically yellow. You can get black and white combinations, you can get different color combinations, I have a yellow keys with very large high contrast letters on them, and this has been a life saver for me. They make a lot of multimedia keyboards, like Adobe Premiere. And with those keyboards, they lay out all the macros on the keyboard. They probably put out 20 or more different keyboards for specialized purposes.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled – Library of Congress
This is a service from the Library of Congress, it’s an audio book service for the blind. To get this service you have to get a doctor to fill out the form to qualify for it. It’s basically Audible for free for blind people. And they have a physical player that looks like an old cassette deck, that you plug a USB book into it. But I use the smartphone app and I have a library of hundreds of thousands of books that I can get for free. But the thing that makes it even cooler is the fact that they have audio magazines. The two magazines that I subscribe to are The New Yorker and Wired. And I guess Conde Nast has, has worked out a deal with them, so they have all their magazines there. So I can listen to an audio version of Wired, The New Yorker, and many different magazines will be read to me, which is just amazing. Because that was one of the hardest things about losing my vision, it’s not only access to books, you can get books from Audible and lots of audio books services, but magazines was a real loss for me. So this was a real Godsend.
Lighthouse Extension for Chrome (Developer tool that provides accessibility score and recommendations to improve site accessibility)
Websites don’t pay much attention to accessibility. For me, the challenge in looking at a website is contrast and font colors. Most websites are not necessarily conscious of the needs of people with disabilities. So there lots of plugins or Chrome Extensions for developers for websites. This one that I picked, the Lighthouse extension, the thing that’s great about that is, in addition to SEO and mobile and basically the traditional thing of giving you a score card of how well your website does, this one has an accessibility score that will tell you, “You get a 93 out of a hundred and here’s the things that you can correct.” And it’ll drill down into the DOM to tell you, “Here’s the things you need to fix on your website to get a high accessibility score.”
Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #88
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
05 May 2021
What’s in my desk? issue #100
ABOUT COOL TOOLS
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.