19 October 2020


Felo Phillips #2 8-inch screwdriver

Smooth seamless handle for maximum comfort

Everyone should own a dedicated Phillips #2 screwdriver with a 8-inch shank. This is probably painfully obvious to a seasoned handyman or mechanic, but based on an informal survey of friends & family it seems we’ve all been getting by with a multi-bit screwdriver or a set with standard shanks. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but over the years I’ve run into a surprising number of situations where narrow diameter openings and/or deeply recessed screws precluded the use of my usual screwdriver.

Some recent examples include repairing an old solid wood dresser, removing unneeded shelves from my freezer, and removing a car door panel to replace a window regulator. I’m sure Cool Tools readers can name other times they’ve been thwarted by a screwdriver that just won’t fit.

Save yourself a last-minute trip to the hardware store by stocking an appropriate screwdriver in advance. I own this model from German brand Felo. It features a comfortable, anti-roll handle and a hardened tip. The latter is important because a prematurely worn-out tip will necessitate replacing the whole screwdriver. At roughly 12-inches overall it fits in any toolbox or can easily be hanged on a pegboard. Despite being made in Germany it’s only marginally more expensive than knock-off brands; I’ll gladly spend a few extra bucks for a quality tool for life. You likely won’t need it often, but when you do you’ll certainly be glad to have it.

-- Nabhan Islam 10/19/20

18 October 2020


A Life on Our Planet/Free documentaries/Paperlike

Recomendo: issue no. 222

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

A desirable future
At 94, the legendary naturalist David Attenborough has produced a full length documentary about his life. Just released on Netflix, “A Life on Our Planet” doubles as his “witness statement” to our drastic loss of wilderness. But he combines his harsh, honest critique with an unexpectedly hopeful vision of “re-wilding” the planet. This is a high tech, highly urban, but green civilization with vast areas of sea and land protected as wild zones. I find his “re-wilding” framework more appealing than the technically similar “sustainability” framework, because re-wilding suggests exuberant, open-ended thriving (in nature and tech) rather than just responsible, constrained sustaining. Attenborough’s last 11 minutes in this doc is the closest visualization of the future I hope for that I’ve seen. — KK

Free documentaries
Documentary Mania is a website with hundreds of documentaries you can watch for free. So far I’ve enjoyed Free Solo, about the first person to free climb Yosemite’s El Capitan Wall, and The Bit Player, a movie about information theorist Claude Shannon. — MF

Write on your iPad like paper
Now that iPadOS 14 turns my handwriting into typed text, my Paperlike iPad Screen Protector ($40, 2-pk) has really paid off. It feels like I am writing on a smooth pad of paper instead of glass. I bought it back in June, a couple months into the pandemic, so there were shipping delays, but well worth the wait. It goes perfectly with the Apple Pencil and I’m finding any excuse to jot down notes or draw. — CD

Duct tape for skin
When I was growing up we used adhesive tape on bandages. Several generations of tech later, I now use 3M Transpore Tape ($3.80). Transpore Tape is like duct tape for skin. It sticks great but does not leave any sticky residue when removed. Skin pores can breathe, while still being waterproof. And the tape rips by hand easily, even easier than duct tape. It’s what you’ll find in the bag of any doctor, nurse, or EMT today. — KK

Six right livelihood guidelines
No matter your background or beliefs, these wise and compassionate Buddhist guidelines for living are simply vital. Here are the ones I am trying to adopt: Consume mindfully — Eat with awareness and gratitude. Pause before buying and see if breathing is enough. Pay attention to the effects of media you consume. — CD

Sheets with pockets
I bought this King size set of bamboo bedsheets for $40 because they have side pockets to stow a book, Kindle, or phone. I wasn’t expecting them to feel so nice! They are much more comfortable than the $200 bamboo sheets we bought at Bed Bath and Beyond (which didn’t come with pockets). — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 10/18/20

16 October 2020


Brian Fisher, Curator of Entomology

Cool Tools Show 248: Brian Fisher

Our guest this week is Dr. Brian Fisher. He’s a curator of entomology at the California Academy of sciences and a world-renowned ant expert, nicknamed the “Ant Man”. Fisher has spent three decades documenting the island of Madagascar’s beautiful biodiversity. Along the way, he’s discovered over 1000 new ant species. As he witnessed the biodiversity crisis unfold in Madagascar, Fisher began applying traditional insect-eating practices to reduce bushmeat consumption, sustain forest, and improve nutrition of children.

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

Show notes:

Model 65 The Ranger Shovel ($100)
First, I have to kind of set the scene — what is an ant collector? It seems like a simple concept. You go out and you collect an ant. They should be everywhere, but as it turns out, the interesting ones are really hard to find. In fact, most habitats offer you this incredible vast three dimensional space, think of a canopy, and also think of the soil. And you’re trying to find a very tiny insect, an ant in that habitat. It’s really a gamble. If that branch you break, you’re going to find an ant. If that stone you turn over, you’re going to find an ant, and you have to actually put a lot of effort into it. And often, when you’re collecting you’re alone. And there’s nothing about being alone to really make you rely on tools, because you just get really connected to them. And there’s one thing I never leave for the tropics without — this shovel. And you may think a shovel is a shovel, but it’s not. This shovel is lightweight, and it fits exactly in a bag that can get on an airplane, and it’s made of airplane aluminum. It’s got this razor sharp edges that cuts roots so that you can dig, and you can operate it basically with one hand or you can jump on it like crazy, and it won’t break. I’ve had the same shovel for like 120 years now.

Bausch & Lomb Hastings Triplet Magnifier, 20x ($37)
This is another piece of a tool that is on my body 24 hours a day, throughout the second I leave my house to go to the airplane, it’s on me. And I never take it off at all. It’s a jeweler’s high-grade, 20x lens. And finding a 20x, that means it magnifies it 20 times, is really hard to find. But a 20x is like a mini microscope and you can identify an ant, almost any species in the field, using this high quality lens.

24” Alaskan Chainsaw Mill ($241)
We live in a very weird house up in the redwoods. It used to be a campground. It’s on a very steep hill. It’s about 40 degree slope. It’s in the redwoods, there’s no sunlight. And I’ve been trying to build on this house since I got it 20 years ago, and it’s 450 square feet, and we’re trying to make it bigger. And since you can’t really carry stuff up to the house very easily, and we had to expand a little bit, we actually removed three large redwood trees that were touching our house and causing trouble. I’ve been building onto our house, using the redwood trees on a slope. Now, normally you would get a Mizer saw and set up a mill and do that. But you can’t when you live on a slope. In fact, the only tool you can really use to change this tree into buildable lumber, is the Alaskan mill. So all of a sudden here I am and I’m buying a giant professional chainsaw, and every weekend I’m milling wood in the back of the house with a chainsaw. You can set what that thickness will be. You’re cutting slices through a log and you could just want regular two by fours. We use two by fours, for example, because that’s what we buy at the store. But with an Alaskan mill, you can invent your own unique wood and you can make everything you want your size. Anything, eight by threes, eight by fours, you can do anything you want to, and it’s great. It’s very empowering. And I really like it, because I felt like this house deserved to have its wood that was grown here over the last a hundred years.

Toyota Land Cruiser 78 Hardtop
I can say that most of the work we’ve done in Madagascar would not have been possible without this vehicle. It fits 13 people, that means a lot of equipment, and it’s got a truck level engine in it that has a lot of power and it never fails. They basically haven’t changed the vehicle for 30 years or more actually. I mean, buy one right now, it looks exactly like the one I bought 30 years ago. And it’s very simple, like few electronics, and it’s just super powerful. Think of more of it as the red cross kind of hospital vehicle that you see with the big cross on it in a war zone or something. It’s a beautiful vehicle. It’s all steel underneath.

About Insects and People of the Southwest Indian Ocean:

New cricket farm construction in Tana

New cricket farm construction in Tana

The Valala Farm webpage describes how we’re using the tradition of edible insects to really add technology to bring that solution to the masses. It solves the issue of nutrition. It reduces bush meat consumption, it improves student learning at schools. It helps in health clinics, it improves livelihoods and we’re using the waste of it to improve regenerative forestation in Madagascar. We’ve actually done the research to find out what insects were traditionally eaten, what they preferred, what they valued, understood the recipes. And we figured out the limitations was just seasonal availability. We’ve learned and done the science and figured out how to rear them in kind of a factory setting in a sense, and to upscale that such that we could, given the chance, eliminate malnutrition in Madagascar, which impacts over 53% of the children in the country.


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


16 October 2020



Self-adhesive rubber bumpers to use as feet, stops, and spacers

As a teenager, I got a box of these from my job that was going out of business. I don’t use them every day, but fifteen years later I’m still finding uses for these all the time. essentially, they’re just non-skid little rubber feet.

Just a few of the things I’ve used them on:

  • I put them on the back of picture frames so they don’t scuff the wall.
  • I replaced the useless feet on my laptop – now it gets better circulation underneath and doesn’t heat up so much.
  • One of our chairs kept scratching the wall when people would sit down…a few well placed rubber bumpers on the back of the chair fixed this.
  • And just the other day I put some feet on a wooden door stop that kept sliding all over the hard floor.
-- Christian Ryan 10/16/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2016 — editors)

15 October 2020

The Antique Art of Cable Lacing

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #65

The Antique Art of Cable Lacing

The cable ties that bind.

The cable ties that bind.

An email exchange after last week’s newsletter with maker O.G. Steve Roberts reminded me of the wonders of cable lacing, an old-school method of bundling cables together, using a lacing needle and waxed twine. Here’s an ode to cable lacing I wrote on Make: many moons ago as part of the “Lost Knowledge” series I did on the website in support of an issue of the magazine with that same theme that I guest edited. The whole series is worth checking out.

The Joys of Bluing

Blue Steel!

Blue Steel!

In this Adam Savage tool tips video, he extols the virtues of machinist’s layout fluid. Aka “bluing,” this blue ink is brushed onto steel stock that you’re planning to cut and/or drill and then a scribe is used to mark out your cutting and other layout marks. In the video, he recommends his favorite Starrett scribe and layout fluid.

Lazy Person’s Pinstripping

Gold makes it fancy.

Gold makes it fancy.

On Hand Tool Rescue, as Eric restores a Victorian food chopper, he reminded me (25:40) of this simple and effective method of painting perfect lines around a circular object. He tapes down a gold marker at the height he wants his line and then rotates the cylinder to paint the line.

TOYS! Spring-Bottom Oiler

Old school!

Old school!

This is one of my very first memories of a tool. My granddad had a spring-bottom oiler on his basement workbench. It was one of the first tools that I associated with making. I loved the click-clack sound that it made when you pressed on the bottom. I still do. I have a soft spot for all of the Goldenrod oilers. Even the modern ones feel like old-school tools.

Making Your Own “Japanning”

Black, always in style.

Black, always in style.

Japanning is black tool finish commonly found on hand planes, antique sewing machines, and other older (and some modern) tools. It is a 17th century European interpretation of traditional Japanese black lacquering (dating all the way back to 2000 B.C.). There are many different recipes for making your own Japanning. On Hand Tool RescueEric tested a number of formulae and ended up recommending a mixture of 50% turpentine, 30% asphaltum/gilsonite, and 20% boiled linseed oil. See the video and video description for the full details of the recipe.

Making a WD-40-like Penetrant

Everyone loves to reach for the WD-40 when a penetrating oil is called for. But did you know that you can cheaply and easily make your own? There are dozens of recipes out there (do a YouTube search). Here are two that get high marks from many basement penetrant chemists:

Recipe 1: 4 parts charcoal lighter fluid, 4 parts mineral spirits (or paint thinner), 1 part lightweight motor oil.

Recipe 2: A 50/50 mix of acetone and transmission fluid

The Essential Craftsman Reviews Carolina Boots

This Old Shoe.

This Old Shoe.

If there is a go-to shoe within the maker community, it is likely the Carolina boot. Maybe that’s because, as a company, the company is very smart about sending out free boots to YouTubers and other online influencers. (I’m still waiting for mine, Carolina!) In this Essential Craftsman videoScott breaks down why he’s sold on the 8″ Domestic Moc Toe Wedge work boot.

RIP, Sharon of Figments Made

Sharon in her element. [Photo by Jon Williams]

Sharon in her element. [Photo by Jon Williams]

Last week, the maker community lost a light. Sharon from Figments Made passed away peacefully in the night on Tuesday. I never met Sharon in person but I felt like I knew her. She always had a kind word, a helpful suggestion to my Instagram project posts and tweets. She liked and shared EVERY SINGLE ISSUE of this newsletter on social media each week since the week it was launched.

Sharon may have made me feel special, but I was far from alone. She was this supportive and generous of spirit to everyone. When news of her passing began to circulate, everyone shared stories of her generosity, huge heart, and her wicked sense of humor. Sharon genuinely loved the maker community, loved making things herself, and she really enjoyed sharing what she knew with others, especially children.

I only knew Sharon a little, but that little meant a lot. Her impact had weight. May we all be so lucky in our lives.

The smiles have it.

The smiles have it.

Maker’s Muse

What could possible go wrong?

What could possible go wrong?


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

15 October 2020


Offgrid Mindfulness Alarm Clock

Meditation timer that's not connected to the internet

After finally establishing a meditation routine, I wanted something to guide me that wasn’t my phone. When I used my phone and an app, I found that I was checking email or news or other alerts on my way to the meditation app before sitting down. And then I was picking it up immediately after meditating — even if I was just using a timer — and be thrust right back into my digital life. I wanted the benefits of a meditation app timer without the phone. I’ve known about the Zen Alarm Clock for a long time, but the cost ($150) and reviews describing frustrations with the quality gave me pause, so I kept looking.

I’ve been using the Offgrid Mindfulness Alarm Clock for over seven months, and it fits my mediation needs perfectly.

  • I can set the timer duration of my choosing
  • I can include a warm-up period of my choosing
  • I can set interval chimes every X minutes
  • It counts up after the timer is complete, in case I want to track how long I continue to sit
  • I can shut off the screen so I don’t see the timer at all
  • It has a simple meditation chime (can be set low or high)
  • It can be briefly backlit with the press of a button

Added benefit (and this might be its best feature long term): it’s replaced my phone as an alarm clock and removed my phone from my bedroom. In the morning, the meditation alarm clock goes off. I pick it up and take it wherever I’m meditating. It’s the perfect digital detox companion if you’re trying to break up with your phone.

It’s also great for travel. It takes a little bit to get comfortable with all the settings, but after a week or so I was able to change everything in the dark. The low chime setting is still a bit loud at 5 am for my partner (what alarm isn’t?), so I added some duct tape over the speaker grill to dampen it further.

-- Greg Schneider-Bateman 10/15/20


img 10/13/20

Spider and insect glue board traps

Sticky traps for six- and eight-legged vermin

img 10/13/20


Fizes leaky pipes, broken tools, broken frames, fishing poles, tent poles, etc.

img 10/12/20

OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set

Two brush set for scrubbing hard-to-clean places

See all the reviews




Cool Tools Show 248: Brian Fisher

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 247: Vanessa Mason

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 246: Mark Moffett

Picks and shownotes

14 October 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.

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.