26 June 2022


5 tips for optimizing travel/Answer the Public/What came first?

Recomendo: issue no. 311

Best foreign city travel tips
Author Dan Pink has mastered the art of delivering fantastic advice in 2 minutes or less. His latest Pinkcast is his 5 tips for optimizing travel to a foreign city. I concur with these 100% and do them myself. To save you 2 minutes here they are:
1. Go to the highest point in the city.
2. Buy a local newspaper.
3. Ride public transportation.
4. Go to McDonald’s (Seriously.)
5. Spend an hour in a grocery store.
But you’ll miss Dan’s humor and his persuasion if you don’t watch his pitch. — KK

Autocomplete data from all over the world
AnswerThePublic takes all the autocomplete data from search engines to report back what questions people are asking all over the world. You can test out the the search engine with 1-2 keywords, which is helpful for anyone doing market research or just nosy like me. You can use it twice a day for free without having to pay a monthly cost. — CD

What came first?
What came first: Watts Towers or The Beatles’ Abbey Road? The film Tom Jones or Eagles’ Their Greatest HitsThe Dream by Henri Rousseau or England’s Natural History Museum? This Google quiz asks questions like these (and shows relevant images) and challenges you to click what came first. A faster answer will yield a higher score. — MF

Face mask ear saver
I’m still wearing a face mask indoors. But my ears are paying the price, especially on long flights when the pressure of the loops against the back of my ears becomes painful. Last week I started using these Velcro face mask extender straps, which pull the loops away from the back of my ears. I should have bought these things two years ago. — MF

Free bank wire transfer
I use Paypal to send money to strangers (like on Ebay or Etsy); I use Venmo to pay friends; but if I need to send a lot of money (more than several thousand $$$) I use Zelle. Unlike Venmo which holds a reserve in your account that you replenish, Zelle is basically a bank to bank wire transfer – for free. But the interface is person to person. Still can’t do it internationally, but it is very handy for larger peer-to-peer payments in US. Easy to set up. — KK

Chill-inducing music
This Spotify playlist comprises of 715 songs, handpicked by neuroscientists, and meant to elicit “frisson,“ which means a sudden feeling or sensation of excitement, emotion or thrill in French. Music that increases in loudness or has an abrupt entrance of a new voice or deviations from harmony can often induce “frisson.” Human screams also incite the same response. Which makes sense because one of the songs on the playlist made me increasingly uncomfortable. This article on Big Think will give more background on the ways we experience this profound emotional state. — CD

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 06/26/22

24 June 2022

Robert Stephens, Founder of The Geek Squad

Show and Tell #319: Robert Stephens



Our guest this week is Robert Stephens. Robert is the founder of The Geek Squad and former CTO of Best Buy. The Geek Squad will turn 30 in 2024 and employs over 24,000 people. His newest company launching soon, is ChainList, a platform for re-usable checklists and was inspired by CoolTools. A native of Chicago, he now lives in the Bay Area. Robert’s newest company, ChainList will enter public beta soon. It was inspired by his time building Geek Squad – which is still powered by checklists. Chainlist let’s you find, make, remix, and subscribe to checklists. With NFC and QR codes — you can even store this info onto physical objects like homes and equipment. Just like CoolTools, ChainList hopes to offer everyone access to useful processes.

NFC coin tags
NFC Tools app
MakePass app
Payment Links from Stripe


19 June 2022


Ransom Notes/How We Feel/The Spice Trail

Recomendo: issue no. 310

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Side-splitting party game
I played Ransom Notes with my family a couple of weeks ago and we laughed ourselves to tears. Each player grabs a handful of about 75 words printed on magnetic strips (they look like refrigerator magnets) from the inventory. Someone draws a card from the deck and reads the instructions. Example: “Tell someone you’ve clogged their toilet during a party.” Each player has to use their word magnets to form an answer on a small metal plate. Example, “I have elaborate booty chaos please not mad,” or “did dump tough disappear.” You are supposed to vote on the “best answer,” but we were too busy laughing hysterically to keep score. — MF

Beautifully-designed mood tracker
I stopped using mood tracking apps a while back, because I got better at recognizing slight mood shifts and anticipating my own needs in the moment — whether that’s asking for space, taking a screen break, or hugging my dog. But now I’m back on the mood tracking app bandwagon, because How We Feel is more than just a mood tracker — it’s created by scientists, therapists, designers and engineers, so not only does it help you find the right word for your feelings, it helps you understand the science behind emotions and provides strategies to regulate your mood with elegantly produced videos, and the analytics of your mood over time are displayed in beautifully-designed patterns and colors. It’s free and I believe it’s in beta, so it will only get better. — CD

The Spice Trail
Before oil, empires fought over gold. And before gold, empires fought over spice. There were six spices that opened up the Americas, and bound Asia and Europe together permanently. Kate Humble, a BBC host, journeys to the remote geographical sources of these 6 spices in her series The Spice Trail. The depth of her research and travels are astounding. I am in awe of how ignorant I was about these substances, and now I am grateful how intimate with them her travels made possible. There are 3 sessions available on YouTube: 1) Pepper and Cinnamon. 2) Nutmeg and Cloves. 3) Saffron and Vanilla. History + Travel + Food. Highly recommended. — KK

Simple sitting-posture correction
At least once a week, I move a tabletop mirror (similar to this one) onto my desk to help with my sitting posture. I keep it just to the right of me so it’s not distracting and I position it so that if I can see myself in it out of the corner of my eye, I know I’m sitting up straight. — CD

Touch tap the back of an iPhone
I only recently learned that you can configure an iPhone to perform an action by double- or triple-tapping the back. You can use it to take a screenshot or go to the home screen, for instance. I use it to open the camera app. Here’s how to do it. — MF

The best screw
One of our Cool Tools podcast guests, Jeff Waldman, author of Tools: The Ultimate Guide, turned me onto the best construction screw there is. It’s the GKR R4, used to bolt together wood framing, decking, or cabinets.  As he describes in our Cool Tools Show-and-Tell video, the engineering in this tiny piece of metal is amazing. It is designed to be super easy to attach large pieces of wood together very securely very fast. In my experience the GKR R4 screws are stronger and faster than comparable screws. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 06/19/22

17 June 2022

Brian Lam, Founding Editor of The Wirecutter

Show and Tell #318: Brian Lam



Brian Lam is the Founding Editor of The Wirecutter.

Third Wave Water
Weber Workshops The Key electric coffee bean grinder
Naniwa Diamond Stone


17 June 2022


Spring-Loaded Self-Striking Center Punch

This week for my Cool Tools video review I’m going to show you a fancy automatic center hole punch, great ...

This week for my Cool Tools video review I’m going to show you a fancy automatic center hole punch, great for marking and starting drill holes in metal and wood. I’ve got an Amazon link for this in the show notes, and if you pick one up you help to support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

Here’s your typical brass handle center punch you can pick up for around $5. You push it into the material you want to drill and it makes a little divet for your drill to start in so it doesn’t wander around.

The trouble with these is that they get dull quick, and even out of the box they don’t leave much of a mark. I’ve also found that the round design just loves to roll off your workbench.

It got me wondering what a nice center punch would be like, so I did a little research and found this $30 option from Rennsteig. This is an all German-made tool. It has this nice, ergonomic handle that allows you to push down directly from the top. It also doesn’t roll all over the place, which I like.

The replaceable striking pin here is made from hardened tool steel with a Rockwell hardness rating of 58. The punch itself has a striking force of 60-130 Newtons. You can adjust the force by twisting the handle.

What this means, practically, is bigger, deeper marks in your material, and hopefully a substantially longer lasting pin — though you can order pin replacements for around $10 online.

Here’s the mark from a new $5 punch on the left, and the mark from the Rennsteig on the right. It’s a noticeable difference. Is it worth an extra $25? That really depends on how much you use it or how much these generic punches bother you.

Personally, I find it really satisfying to use and I’m glad I spent the extra for it. If you’re interested in picking one up too, using the Amazon link in the description helps me out, and the Cool Tools blog. And remember, you can find thousands of reader-recommended tools just like this at Cool-Tools.org.

-- Donald Bell 06/17/22

(This is a Cool Tools favorite from 2018 — editors)

16 June 2022

A Portable Soldering Station

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #124

Don’t forget, I’m now offering Unclassified ads at the bottom of this newsletter. Do you have a tool, newsletter, book, YT channel, product, service, etc. that you want to promote to other DIYers? Get your word out and support this publication at the same time. Click here for details.

A Portable Soldering Station
Becky Stern 3D printed some wings for her Aven soldering stand. These fold up onto the sides of the otherwise hollow stand and allow her to store a TS80P USB-powered soldering iron, a spool of solder, and solder wick. The whole thing sits comfortably on top of her Tripp Lite high-capacity USB-C battery pack, making this a very handy and portable soldering station.

Identifying Counterfeit Electronic Components
In this excellent GreatScott! videoScott looks at ways to examine your discrete electronic components to determine if they’re cheap knock-offs or real as-marked. In the video, Scott examines and tests a collection of MOSFETs and OpAmps to determine their authenticity and performance. What he finds is that some counterfeits work within the specs of the original, some do not, and some are totally fake with nothing but an empty package.

Vacuum Forming Bubble Wrap
By way of Donald Bell’s Maker Update comes this unexpectedly cool use of bubble wrap — as material for vacuum forming. The resulting pattern/texture is very interesting and not exactly what you might expect.

Turn Your Phone Upside Down in Your Pocket
This might be one for the D’uh Dept files, but I thought it might be worth sharing. Recently, on a trip, my phone stopped charging. I noticed the power connector was not seating properly inside the jack on the phone. I figured it was dust inside and tried blowing it out, to no avail. After getting a paper clip from the front desk of the hotel, I was shocked to hog out a huge deposit of impacted pocket lint from the jack. Phone saved! For any of us carrying our phones in our pants pocket, this is bound to happen. Since then, I make sure my phone is upside down in my pocket.

Handy Chart for Volume Conversions
From the highly-recommend Reddit sub, CoolGuides.

Maker’s Muse
“Every tool that exists today, from hammers to particle accelerators, has been constructed with others tools, and those, with other tools, and so on, and eventually all tools where fabricated with rocks.” – From Wait But Why‘s Twitter feed.

Shop Talk
“Hi Gareth. I liked the video about knives. Seeing that it was part 2, I went and watched part 1 first––Best knife brand? Benchmade ($220), Buck ($60), Zero Tolerance ($196), Spyderco ($62), Cold Steel ($130)Kershaw ($81), SOG ($55), CRKT ($53), Ontario ($35). I’m glad I did. I have to say that the best cheap knife from that video is MUCH better than the one from the 2nd video.”

In the end, Todd recommends the extremely affordable Smith & Wesson, at only $13.

Makes an Excellent Gift!

Father’s Day is coming up next weekend. You know what would make the perfect last-minute gift for that DIY Dad? A bundle of both volumes of my tips books. You can get them on Amazon here: Volume 1Volume 2.


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


img 05/1/20

Tweezerman Tweezers

Never-fail sharp tweezers

img 01/8/07

Engel Hot Knife

Superior textile cutter

img 04/12/13

Munchkin Snack Catcher

Tidy Snack Dispenser

img 06/23/03

Diagrammatic Chart of World History

5,000 years of history in one square meter

img 03/3/08

Aladdin Lamps

Bright, oil/kerosene-powered lighting

img 08/1/14

Mann Lake Beekeeping Starter Kit

Cheapest way to start bees

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #319: Robert Stephens

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #318: Brian Lam

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #317: Charles Lindsay

Picks and shownotes

19 January 2022


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.

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