11 December 2019


9 Volt Snap Lights

Bargain LED flashlight


Tools (Recommended):
Lixada Blocklite

PAK-LITE Super Glow LED Flashlight

Tools (Other):
Blocklite 2.0

-- Sean Michael Ragan 12/11/19

(Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews — editors)

11 December 2019


What’s in my bag? — Jen Schachter

What's in my bag? issue #27

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Jen Schachter is a maker and mastermind of big, collaborative builds — light-up letters for the Obama White House, an enormous 3D-printed Rosie the Riveter, and a replica of the Apollo 11 hatch for the Smithsonian. She recently relocated to San Francisco to work in the shop of legendary Mythbuster Adam Savage. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @schac_attack.


Bullets 2 Wireless Headphones ($99)
I don’t normally splurge on expensive headphones because of how prone I am to lose or break them, but these were given to me as a gift, and NOW I know what I was missing! The sound quality is awesome, but by far the best feature is the magnetic on/off feature. When you separate the earbuds, they turn on – snap them back together, and they turn off. They’re never draining battery when not in use so they hold a charge forever. Out of the box, I used them on my commute for 2 weeks before having to charge them the first time!

Anker PowerCore+ mini 3350 USB Power Bank ($19)
I’ve had this little power bank for a few years and it’s never failed me. It’s so compact you can really take it with you anywhere. (It fits in the tiniest lady purses I have too.) When you’re running low on juice on the road, you can plug in for a full charge instead of being tethered to a wall outlet for an hour. Check out Anker’s site for tons of other capacity and size options.

Leatherman Style PS Keychain Multitool ($26)
Tiniest pocket knife I’ve ever seen. Don’t tell TSA, but I’ve accidentally flown with it a few times undetected. I’m a stickler for keychain minimalism, and this micro multitool has never cramped my style. Because it’s so small, I have it with me always, and reach for it nearly daily. Mine is the older version which is discontinued, but the Style PS got a nifty carabiner upgrade AND pliers!

Mafia EDC Two Bag ($145)
Can “what’s in your bag” be your bag itself? It’s no secret that I work for legendary Mythbuster Adam Savage at his shop in San Francisco. One of the many job perks is this slick tool bag he helped design. It’s minimalist, utilitarian, and stylish, which pretty much checks all my boxes. Inspired by an early astronaut toolbag, it’s made from recycled sailcloth and comes in black or white — which ages beautifully as it gets loved and lived in. Oh, and did I mention it’s machine washable?

-- Jen Schachter 12/11/19

10 December 2019


Book Freak #30: Simple Ways to Be a Better Communicator

Simple ways to be a better communicator

Book Freak is a weekly newsletter with cognitive tools you can use to improve the quality of your life.

Leil Lowndes is an expert in techniques for better communication. Here are four pieces of advice from her book, How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships.

Answer questions in a way that sparks a conversation
“Never, ever, give just a one-sentence response to the question, ‘Where are you from?’ Give the asker some fuel for his tank, some fodder for his trough.”

Imitate a parrot
“Never be left speechless again. Like a parrot, simply repeat the last few words your conversation partner says. That puts the ball right back in his or her court, and then all you need to do is listen.”

Save your smile for greater impact
“Don’t flash an immediate smile when you greet someone, as though anyone who walked into your line of sight would be the beneficiary. Instead, look at the other person’s face for a second. Pause. Soak in their persona. Then let a big, warm, responsive smile flood over your face and overflow into your eyes. It will engulf the recipient like a warm wave. The split-second delay convinces people your flooding smile is genuine and only for them.”

Learn to listen
“I always try to turn the spotlight on the other person. Truly confident people often do this. They know they grow more by listening than talking.”

Book Freak is one of four newsletters from Cool Tools Lab (our other three are the Cool Tools Newsletter, Recomendo, and What’s in my bag?).


09 December 2019


Cool Tools 2019 Holiday Gift Guide: Best Gifts for $10 or less

Best Gifts for $10 or less

The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from our website, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. This week: Best Gifts for $10 or less!

Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener ($6)

I use soft pencils and I bear down hard when I write. As a result, I have to resharpen the pencils frequently. A few years ago I came across this pocket-size two-hole pencil sharpener and now swear by it. It produces very sharp points and does so efficiently. — MF


Pentel GraphGear 1000 ($5)

I use pencils a lot, and I particularly like 0.9mm mechanical pencils as you can draw on most textured surfaces without the lead breaking. Over the years I have had many variations of the 0.9mm mechanical pencils. Up until now they have all broken. Enter the metal body Pentel GraphGear 1000. I have had this pencil for over two years now, the same one, it has not broken and is precious enough that I keep very close track of it. It is a bit more expensive than some, but completely worth it. — Bart Trickel

Asian Stainless Steel Soup Spoons (12 for $7)

A spoon may not seem like much to get excited about, but a carefully designed spoon can be a wonderfully versatile tool. These are the spoons you see in constant use all over Asia. First: the shape is perfect. Second: easy to grip, a boon for toddlers and those with fine-motor mobility issues. Flat bottom prevents tipping if you set it down. Third: stainless steel! Durable, corrosion-free, easy to clean, recyclable, eco-friendly. Shiny! Fourth: CHEAP! — Barbara Dace

Tick Key ($7)

Though I wish my dog’s tick prevention worked 100% of the time, it just doesn’t. The Tick Key makes the unpleasant task of removing ticks much easier. I purchased the key shaped tool a year ago after noticing it by the cash register at my local outdoor store. All I do is align the larger end of the key’s opening over the tick, draw the tool toward the narrow part of the opening, and the little sucker just pops right out. My favorite canine, who always dreaded our approach with tweezers and made tick extraction an exercise in fortitude and contortionism, is not bothered by this method at all. — Amy Reavey

Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray ($9)

I don’t own a fridge with an ice maker, and so for the past few years have been relying on the cheap white ice trays that seem to inhabit everybody’s freezer. They’ve done their job, but never very well. Recently, however, I picked up the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray and have been blown away with the oversized ice cubes it produces. The silicone ice tray produces the largest cubes of ice (they’re 2″ x 2″) of any tray I’ve seen.

Coghlan’s 12-in-1 Scissors ($7)

The Coghlan’s 12-in-1 scissors is a silly looking and cheap tool that is surprisingly useful. It will cut fairly heavy material, has a bottle opener, screwdriver, and will come apart so you can use it as an awl or hole punch in an emergency. Granted, it is not elegant but it is surprisingly useful. I have two pairs of these in my camp gear, and end up using them for stuff like gripping needles to pull through heavy fabric, and other unexpected uses. They are cheap to buy and a useful addition to any kit. — Stephen Young

Tovolo Silicone Mixing Spoon ($10)

Without pontificating about the long history of spoons and new materials like silicone, the combination of the two by Tovolo is remarkable in their mixing spoons ($10). The relatively soft silicone won’t damage cooking surfaces or anything else really. The silicone cleans easily too, and the stainless handle also cleans up fast. The bowl and handle are both stiff enough for vigorous mixing. — Wayne Ruffner

Silicone Pinch Bowls ($9 for a set of 4)

I’ve been using these little Norpro silicone pinch bowls for about a year now. I picked them up on a whim at the grocery store and they are now easily one of the most useful and well-loved items in my kitchen. Tiny, colorful and versatile with a seemingly never-ending number of uses. — Shad Miles

Accusharp Knife Sharpener ($10)

The sharpener is a simple device built around two pieces of carbide that form a “V” in a plastic handle that when run along a blade shaves the edge to a sharpened point. Unlike a whetstone, the carbide pieces will eventually wear away and lose their ability to produce an edge, but the Accusharp is designed so that the carbide can be flipped or replaced. After a few swipes with the Accusharp I could cut tomatoes into perfect slices, and it took a measly 15-minutes to clean up the edge on almost every knife I own. It even worked on my breadknife! — Oliver Hulland

See our other 2019 gift guide picks to date. Want more? Check out our 2018 Gift Guide picks, as well as our 2017 Gift Guide, 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide, 2014 Gift Guide and our 2103 Gift Guide


08 December 2019


Mark’s gift guide/Beautiful news/Free therapy

Recomendo: issue no. 176

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Cool Tools Gift Guide: Mark’s picks
Every year the editors of Cool Tools curate a number of gift suggestions selected from our website, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. This year, I’m recommending the Bug-a-salt fly shooter, a chimney charcoal starter, Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 synthesizer, and several other things that would make good gifts. Check out all my picks here. — MF

Good news, daily
Here is where I go to counter pessimism. Every day, one piece of good news, made graphically beautiful, is served up by Beautiful News Daily. Available on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, RSS feed, and the web. It’s like breathing pure oxygen. — KK

Free therapy
Earlier this week book author Caroline Moss tweeted, “If you go to therapy quote tweet this with the best thing you learned at therapy that way everyone else can get free therapy.” The hundreds of replies are filled with excellent advice. Examples:

  • Don’t react. Sit with it until you know what you feel. Sit with it.
  • It’s ok to not be busy and to not offer to others a reason I do or don’t do each thing.
  • Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing things that you hadn’t learned yet.
  • Anxiety causes me to put things off a lot and in group therapy we worked on “the 15 minute rule”. If something feels impossibly overwhelming I set a timer to work on it for 15 minutes and that takes away that “I’m about to swan dive into a bottomless hole” feeling.
  • The only things I owe people are straightforwardness and kindness.

— MF

Compose better emails
I’ve gotten too casual with my email correspondence, and this blog post on “How to write better emails” reminded me that I should strive to be more effective and efficient with my communication. All of the tips are useful but the ones I really need to work on are 1) Use specific dates instead of “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” And 2) Be specific on what you request from whom by referring to each recipient explicitly using the @ symbol. — CD

Best Mac disk space management tool for non-techies
I use my DaisyDisk app ($10) at least once a month to keep on top of what’s hogging up my disk space – usually it’s Dropbox folders that are synced locally that don’t need to be, or really large files I downloaded that I no longer need or apps I tried out that I don’t want anymore. It’s easy to use and understand, and it’s perfect if you’re like me and have a compulsive desire to organize and keep on top of what’s on your computer. — CD

Magnetic block set toy
Magnetic “blocks” are a toy for constructing things. I keep a big pile of these magnetic tiles around our place for small kids visiting. The outline shape of these tiles are easy for toddlers to grasp, yet still satisfying (for a short while) for older kids. Like Magnatiles, embedded magnets along their edges assist in constructing shapes fast. What you can build is far more limited than what you can do with Lego or Kapla blocks, but these are quick and easy. I have bought many different “brands” of what are sometimes called Magnaforms; they are all interchangeable. I am partial to the 110 piece Magnetic Block set from Ailuki. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 12/8/19

06 December 2019


Melissa Kirsch, Editor-in-Chief of Lifehacker

Cool Tools Show 203: Melissa Kirsch

Our guest this week is Melissa Kirsch. Melissa is the editor-in-chief of Lifehacker, as well as the author of The Girl’s Guide and the co-host of Lifehacker’s podcast, The Upgrade.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

WriteRoom Distraction free writing for Mac OS
WriteRoom is a word processing program. I find it just the thing for keeping me from surfing the internet when I’m trying to write something. It bills itself as distraction-free. There are a few different themes that you can choose from, but the one that I like is the green terminal font on a black background with a block cursor that looks like an original terminal font from a CRT monitor. It really feels like a room. If you go into full screen mode, there are absolutely no menus. There are no choices. It really is sort of the simplicity of the terminal line, which I find extremely soothing for writing.

OOFOS Recovery Sandals
It sounds like something you might find in a hospital, and I’m not sure you don’t find these in hospitals. They bill themselves as recovery sandals. They’re extremely ugly generally. I didn’t understand why someone would pick something that was so aggressively unattractive until I started having foot problems. OOFOS are made of some sort of proprietary foam — I’m not entirely sure what’s happening in the sole of these flip flops — but they seem to relieve all the pain in my feet. The pain is not insignificant. The second that I walk into the house, I put these on, whether I’m alone or not. I’ve gotten comfortable with people seeing these sort of hideous flip flops. They’re just like heavily cushioned, extremely comfortable shoes. I think they make a bunch of different kinds of shoes if you have any foot problems like a bunion — or I have Morton’s neuroma, which I had just found out about — or any kind of like training related injury, I’m assuming the recovery refers to people who actually need to recover and use these sandals for recovery.

Technivorm Moccamaster KBG
The coffee maker that I love, I got recently, it’s the Technivorm Moccamaster KBG 741. I didn’t think that I was a coffee snob in any way, but I was advised by a doctor to stop using any sweetener in my coffee. I didn’t think that that would be so difficult, but it actually has proven to be quite awful to wean myself from Splenda. I thought if I drank better tasting coffee, I may have an easier time. It’s true. This is a drip coffee maker, which I know that coffee snobs tend to disdain, but it a really beautiful coffee maker just aesthetically. I like having it on the counter. It’s handmade in The Netherlands of completely recyclable materials. Each element can be replaced independently. While it’s not cheap at the outset, you can hopefully repair it yourself for many years to come. They have all kinds of features that they tout, like a consistent brewing temperature and a special copper boiling element. They say that the Moccamaster makes something called like the golden cup of coffee, which is I think the Technivorm people’s own designation for a really delicious tasting cup of coffee. It’s not like an award that’s been bestowed on it, but I have to say that it makes the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

Faraday Cortland Pedal-Assist Bicycle
I think that like the world’s best life hack right now is a pedal assist bike. The one that I have is made by a company that may or may not be going out of business, but the company is called Faraday. It was a designer from Apple, I don’t remember his name, who started this company. He wanted to make a beautiful electric bike because often the batteries are sort of ugly and bulky. I know that that will change I’m sure and it’s changing rapidly. The battery for the Faradays are in the down tube so you can’t see them. It pretty much looks like an old school kind of cruiser bike. I tested one for a story thinking I used to ride my bike everywhere and then I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I continued to ride my bike everywhere except to work because I had to bike over the bridge and on the bridge I would start to sweat and then arrive at work sweaty. That was a deal breaker. I had a feeling that an electric bike could be the answer, but it just seemed too easy. I tested one and then it was so freeing and amazing. It wasn’t just going over the bridge that became a sweat-free experience. I took it on vacation with me and there in some mountains where I had like been unable to bike up a hill. The previous summer I was able to cruise up with a tiny bit of effort. The way that I describe being on an electric bike is that it’s like the dream where you’re flying, like you’re walking and suddenly you’re flying. It’s like there’s a wind behind you. Something’s helping you. When you don’t need to get anywhere quickly, you can just turn it off and it rides like a regular bike. The reason I liked the Faraday was because it was also the lightest one that I found. It weighs about 40 pounds, which is still fairly heavy for a bike, but they generally run 50, 60, 70 pounds. I feel like if you love the bike and you want one that you should get one and they are going to continue providing support for them. But I would say that my general recommendation is for pedal assist bikes in general and I’m sure there will be pedal assist bikes as beautiful as the Faradays coming out if there aren’t already.

Also mentioned:

The Girl’s Guide: Getting the hang of your whole complicated, unpredictable, impossibly amazing life
The Girl’s Guide is a book for college grads, and I wrote it when I myself was not that long out of college. I was looking for answers to questions that I couldn’t find on the internet and that I hadn’t been taught in school and didn’t feel comfortable asking my parents about. I wrote the book sort of for myself at around age 27. I joke now that it’s sort of life hacker for women or life hacker for young grads, where it’s sort of everything that I and my friends learned in the first six or seven years that we were out of college that we wished someone had told us earlier.

The Upgrade podcast
Every week my cohost Alice and I go over and talk to experts about one way in which people can improve their lives. Just today we did an interview about how to read people’s minds. We talked to a mentalist in Sweden. We go over everything from how to use social awkwardness to your benefit to stuff like having to do with money. We recently talked to somebody specifically about how to get out of debt or how to find true love or how to get over a breakup. We take one topic each week and sort of apply the Lifehacker treatment to it.


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $390 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link: https://paypal.me/cooltools.– MF



img 01/26/10

Toto Eco Drake

Low-cost, low-flow toilet

img 10/8/10


Burly folding backwoods saw

img 11/29/18


Brilliant 3D maze

img 07/28/17

Ortlieb Dry Bags

Heavy-duty waterproof bags

img 11/6/19

iFixit Magnetic Project Mat

Magnetic DIY repair station

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 203: Melissa Kirsch

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 202: Dan Slaski

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 201: Alice Bradley

Picks and shownotes

11 December 2019


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.

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).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is claudia {at} cool-tools.org.