18 September 2020
Cool Tools Show 244: Claire Lower
Our guest this week is Claire Lower, the senior food editor for Lifehacker.com. Claire lives in Portland OR, and has a BS in chemistry from the University of Florida, which she says she almost never uses. She was working as a lab technician at a big engineering firm when she started blogging for xoJane as a hobby. You can find her on Twitter @clairelizzie and Instagram @clairelizlower.
Fish Spatula with Wooden Handle ($10, 2pk)
A fish spatula has a shorter handle than most spatulas. It’s very thin. It has really lovely slots, which just means when you’re picking something up out of the pan, if there’s any grease, it just falls away wonderfully. I almost feel like it should be called a fish and meat spatula because it’s very good for getting delicate fish out of a pan, but it’s also great if you have a steak or a burger or something that’s stuck, that really thin edge it separates everything like a dream without ruining the crust. Which is the whole point of searing something — you want to get that crust. And so if you have this large clunky spatula with a thick edge, you end up wrecking the crust. Getting a fish spatula for me, honestly, changed things in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I love it.
Weber iGrill Mini App-Connected Thermometer ($33)
The iGrill is supposed to be used on a grill. I’m in a 600-square-foot apartment, but it’s supposed to be used so you can monitor the temperature of your meat on a grill without having to open the grill, and it’s great. But I use it primarily for chicken and turkey because it sends the temperature directly to your phone, and it’ll even beep when you’re within 10 degrees of your final temperature. It’s amazing because you don’t have to deal with opening the oven, and trying to stick a probe into a hot chicken is not my favorite. The cable runs from inside the oven to outside where the little Bluetooth transmitter is, and the Bluetooth transmitter is magnetic, which is awesome because you can stick it right on the oven.
Léedge Full Body Exfoliator ($40)
This thing’s kind of gross, but I’m obsessed with it. It has a plastic handle, and it’s kind of curved. And then on the end it has a stainless steel blade. It’s not super sharp, but you scrape your face with it, and it pulls up all this disgusting gunk. The Romans used to scrape their bodies with pieces of broken pottery. They would rub oil on themselves to dissolve all the grime, and then they would just scrape it off with pottery. And it’s not exactly like that, but it’s similar. I’ve had this thing for like 10 years. And you can use it on your entire body. I found it to be most effective on the face.
Electric waffle iron and non-waffle recipes
I think I have a Cuisinart. It was like $20. It doesn’t have to be the brand that I use. It could be any sort of nonstick plug-in waffle iron. I just like it because it’s pretty easy to clean, it was cheap. It’s basically like a little George Foreman grill almost, except for it’s waffle shaped. Instead of grill lines, you get all these little pockets of crispness. I’ve used it to grill peaches. And I did radicchio recently. It heats up so quickly, and it’s easy to clean because it’s nonstick. You just wipe it off, or if something’s really gunky, you can wet a paper towel or get in there with Q-tips. I think I’ve made actual waffles on it once. It’s just kind of fun that something that is not a waffle is now taking on the characteristics of a waffle, and it’s good. Those little pockets are good for picking up sauce or syrup or whatever. It’s like a nice little cup to hold whatever liquid you’ve applied to your waffle or not waffle.
18 September 2020
Step stool rolls smoothly on hidden casters, and locks when you stand on it
I have used a Kik-Step rolling stool for at least 15 years. Its design is simple and brilliant. Without any weight on it, you can roll it around easily. But with a bit of downward pressure, the round bottom rim hits the floor and it becomes a stable stepping stool. The slanting body design helps it avoid damaging walls and bookcases.
These were ubiquitous in libraries when I was growing up. In my office, it triples as an ottoman for stretching, a seat for when the couch overflows, and a short step for reaching high shelves.
They come in gobs of colors. And having been around for 50 years, there’s a robust aftermarket for parts.09/18/20
17 September 2020
Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #61
Chain-Stitching Extension Cords
In my book, Tips and Tales from the Workshop, I showed this method of chaining chords. This video, by the always thoughtful and clear Scott from The Essential Craftsman, is the best tutorial on chain-stitching cords I’ve seen to date. In the video, Scott also recommends that you invest in lighted extension chords. I’ve never used these, but think I’ll pony up for one.[H/t Kevin Kelly]
Searching for Through-Hole Resistors
Turning a Camera Tripod into Helping Hands
Sinking Screws with a Nail Gun?
I never knew this was a thing until seeing this Izzy Swan video. You can get clips of screws that slot into a framing nailer that allow you to sink screws just as you would nails. The screws are pitched a little differently than normal screws and are a little narrower. Once sunk, they can be unscrewed/re-screwed just like normal. As Izzy points out, these “scrails” work best on soft woods, like pine and cedar, and are good for applications like fencing, cheap furniture-making, and decking. In the video, Izzy even experiments with driving them into hardwoods (and even aluminum!) and discovers that they can handle these, too – to a degree.
3D Printed Mirror for Showing Print Documents on a Laptop
Just in time for remote back-to-school comes this simple 3D printed mirror adapter that clips onto your laptop and feeds the image of a document placed beneath it into your camera. The Thingiverse file can be found here.
Life Hack: Celebrating the Living
I had a friend pass away a week ago. As he was transitioning, his friends did a very wonderful thing. They created a private Facebook group where friends and family could share stories and pictures. These were read to him at his hospice bedside. An internet-connected picture frame was also set up by his bed so that folks could send images to him. What a lovely way for family and friends to celebrate someone while they’re alive and to share that celebration directly with them. This seems especially perfect during this pandemic period when many wakes and funerals are being held online. This is also a good reminder to us all to tell those we love and care about what we think about them NOW. Never forget to celebrate the living!
Our resident locksmith reader, David Leeds, shared this in response to our combo lock discussion: “Regarding combination locks. I would recommend to customers that they buy locks that have rolling number wheels that can be reset to any four numbers they wish. Easier to remember, quicker to open.”
(Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here. — editors)
17 September 2020
Cuts lids from the side, not the top, eliminating jagged edges
Our family has been looking for a decent can opener for years. Typical top opening can openers generally are made poorly and they all work the same regardless of price. Invariably a new opener would stop working well after a few weeks of use (if it worked well at all) and we would have to get a new one.
My wife decided to buy me a can opener for Christmas. Cruising through the local grocery store before Christmas she spotted the OXO Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener and she snapped it up.
I am so happy that she did! I’ve been using it almost daily since Christmas with no problems. The beauty of this type of opener is that it doesn’t cut the top of the can open, instead it does something much cooler. OXO’s description on their site says that the opener cuts on the side of the can, right below the top, but that’s not actually true. What it really does is “de-seam” the can, separating the top from the rest of the can. There is no jagged opening that one could cut themselves on, the opening is smooth with no sharp edges, making it kid and pet safe (ever had a toddler or a pet get into the recycle bin?).
Operationally it works similarly to a regular can opener. You clamp it to the top of the can by squeezing the handles together with one hand and turning a knob with the other to open the can. Unlike regular openers, there is one more step – removing the lid once you’ve cut around it. The OXO can opener has a small set of grips, looking much like a very tiny parrot’s beak You use that tiny beak to grip the edge of the can’s lid and pull with, separating the top from the rest of the can. The first time it was a little strange, but now it’s second nature. The strength required to work the knob is also much less than the “old” style requires. It turns smoothly and doesn’t “pop” off the can (another failing of other openers).
I think it is an exceptional cool tool. It’s reasonably priced, works better than the alternatives, and is safer to boot (no jagged can edges)!09/17/20
(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2015 — editors)
16 September 2020
What's in my bag? issue #67
Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.
Jayme Boucher is the Director of Games at Mondo, an expanding enterprise with a passionate love of film, art, music and pop culture. Her small but mighty team of play enthusiasts has launched a robust line of tabletop games and art-forward jigsaw puzzles that can be found here. When not working, Jayme enjoys birdwatching from her porch, reading, and teaching herself to cook. She can be found on LinkedIn.
About the bag
People love to poke fun at me for prioritizing function over fashion, but in rare cases (cough cough: Crocs) something I swear by becomes popular, giving me a wicked sense of personal triumph over naysayers. Enter: the Fanny Pack — a staple of my wardrobe that is finally considered cool.
I have this particular bag in several colors (seriously, they cost less than $10). They’ve been a staple of my wardrobe for as long as I can remember, especially during convention season when it’s not always realistic to lug a backpack or purse through airports or crowded convention centers. They’re durable, have an impressive ability to collapse and expand, and offer my ideal breakout of compartments for storing important things like my wallet, quick grab evergreen items, and larger swappables that vary depending on my need.
What’s inside the bag
Dr. PAWPAW Balm ($9)
I have a deep fondness for multi-use beauty products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. This vegan/cruelty-free balm is great for: lips, cheekbones, taming brows or flyaways, and re-hydrating dry cuticles (which is a must when you’re demoing board games). I’ve even used it as spot-treatment on small cuts/burns/blemishes. The original clear variation is my go-to, but when I’m feeling spicy, I’ll use the peach to give my lips and cheeks a splash of color.
Heads Will Roll by Lay Waste Games
There’s nothing better than a game you can carry on you at all times, especially one that serves as a social lubricant. I’ve broken this simple dexterity game out at many an after-hours mixer; it provides an opportunity to converse casually while focusing attention and eye contact on the game, which puts most people at ease. Bonus: there are few better measures of a person’s temperament than observing their level of competitiveness and/or sportsmanship when they win or lose a game.
All this one requires to play is a flat surface (table, floor, etc) and at least one other willing participant, but I’ve played in groups as large as ten in the past.
Although it’s temporarily out of stock between print runs, you can sign up for the creator’s newsletter to be notified when it becomes available again this fall.
Sea Bands ($9)
These weird little bracelets changed my life when I discovered they curbed anxiety-induced nausea. Whether you’re feeling queasy due to travel, illness, or nerves, they’re a nice alternative to medicines that typically cause other undesirable side-effects, and have been a great option to have on me when I need them. They also come in a carrying case so they won’t get lost or dirty.
Diva Cup ($28)
There are a ton of menstrual cups on the market; but thanks to the social stigma surrounding the dreaded uterus, a lot of folks have no idea they’re an option. This brand is BPA/Latex free (made from medical-grade silicone) and allows for 12 hours of use at a time, providing unparalleled levels of freedom, especially when traveling. No single-use plastics = better for the environment than traditional tampons/pads, and by my calculations, I’ve saved roughly twelve hundred dollars in the decade I’ve been using one.
16 September 2020
Adjusts from complete shut off to a pinpoint spray to a heavy spray to a solid jet spray
I bought this nozzle a couple of years ago and I still love it. Yeah, I love a nozzle. But it’s small, simple, well made and works really well. I love that it can go from a pretty powerful flow to a tiny, hair-thin stream with just a twist.
It’s great for anything you’d want to use a nozzle for. In fact, I’ve looked for other things just so I can use it more.
The only downside I’ve found is it’s so small it may be easy to lose. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened.09/16/20
Open surface blade reduces friction and keeps food from sticking
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
16 September 2020
What’s in my bag? issue #67
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.