13 July 2020

Best Precision Marking Ruler Set

Incra 12" Marking Rule Set

Guest: Jordan Bunker

“This Incra ruler set comes in a set of 3 different rulers. These are stainless steel, laser cut rulers. And the big difference between a normal ruler is that these actually have holes laser cut in them, so you can put your mechanical pencil or ultra fine point Sharpie in there and make an exact mark, exactly where you need it to be. They’ve been an invaluable part of my precision workshop for woodworking and metalworking.”

-- Jordan Bunker 07/13/20

13 July 2020


OXO Pepper Mill

High-output pepper processor

This OXO pepper mill is fantastic.

The good:

  • It is very fast. The crank arm means you can grind lots of pepper quickly. This is great if you have to cook a lot of food, but also great for people with reduced hand or arm strength.
  • It is easy to hold. The body looks a bit awkward but it fits in your hand easily. The crank knob isn’t huge, but it is also easy to grab.
  • It is also lightweight, and won’t crush a toe if you drop it, unlike those solid brass or stainless steel ones.
  • It is durable. I have used mine daily for something like nine years, with no wear at all. The grinding mechanism is ceramic and will not rust or wear out. The body is plastic, tough enough to survive any number of falls (though I haven’t tried it on a tile or stone floor.)
  • It is easy to refill. There is a clear plastic hopper door on the side that you just tilt out to pour in peppercorns. It is quite easy. No unscrewing of mechanisms or handles. A few reviews on Amazon complain that the door is too easy to open, but I haven’t had that problem.
  • It is stable sitting upright, so you can quickly set it down without it falling over. Tall, narrow grinders cannot be set down on their ends easily.
  • It comes with a snap-on lid that catches stray grounds. If reversed, it makes a handy base to set on your countertop.
  • The grind is easy to adjust. There is a large, clearly labeled wingnut on the bottom that you turn to adjust the grind. The coarseness range is also good, ranging from fine to medium-large, with big enough pieces that you can crack them between your teeth.
  • It costs TWELVE DOLLARS!

The bad

  • It is not extraordinarily beautiful, though It was recently revised to be a little more sleek. It looks simple and modern, and that’s about it. So it might not go with certain table settings (and some dinner guests might not be prepared for how much pepper it puts out.)
  • Being plastic, I suppose it is possible to break it or melt it in a fire. But nothing short of abuse would do that.

So. This grinder is amazing for people with weaker hands and wrists, and for people who need to produce lots of ground pepper quickly. It is terrific for everybody else unless you don’t like how it looks on your dinner table.

-- Karl Chwe 07/13/20

12 July 2020


Newsletter Stack/Personal Vision Tracker/Beyond Burgers

Recomendo: issue no. 208

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


Discover newsletters by subject

Newsletter Stack is a directory of newsletters grouped by learning topics like COVID-19, Philosophy, Design, Wellness, etc. The website seems to be updated frequently. I signed up for all the Creativity topic newsletters, my favorite one is The Creative Independent, which explores the emotional facets of “creating” with a different working artist each weekday. — CD

Home vision test
About six months ago I bought an EyeQue Personal Vision Tracker for $25. It looks a bit like a microscope and attaches to a smartphone. After installing the app I was able to check my vision with it. The app gave me the same information as an optometrist’s prescription, which I used to buy inexpensive prescription eyeglasses online. I still plan to get eye health exams from  an ophthalmologist from time to time, but this is a cheap and convenient way to find out what kind of lenses you need, especially in the middle of a pandemic when going into an optometrist’s office poses an infection risk. — MF

Plant-based burgers
I don’t eat beef, pork or lamb, but I still miss a good burger. I’m a big fan of veggie Impossible Burgers, but I like Beyond Meat’s burgers, cooked at home, even more. They are really delicious in flavor and texture. You can get patties of Beyond Burgers at Target, Walmart, and Costco, among other retailers. The rest of my family, who do eat beef, love these plant-based burgers too. — KK

Working from home tips
This may be a new thing for you. Working from Home Temporarily is a free 72-page ebook that offers extremely practical advice on how to set up this new lifestyle. Some of the stuff is obvious, but there’s a lot of great tips such as how to upgrade to good connectivity, how set office hours, how to share your home with others who are also working, etc. Available in 3 ebook formats, all free. — KK

Revisiting Standard Ebooks
A year or two ago I recommended Standard Ebooks as a resource for free reading. They have since updated their catalog with a lot of new titles, so I thought it was time to re-recommend them. They take public domain texts (by authors such as Robert E. Howard, Edith Wharton, Sarah Orne Jewett, Bertrand Russell), scour them for typographical errors, add excellent cover art, and format them for Kindle and other e-readers. The online catalog is a pleasure to browse, and includes a synopsis for each book. The latest entries include The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Time Traders by Andre Norton, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll, The Marvelous Land of Oz by L Frank Baum, and Villette by Charlotte Brontë. Join the mailing list or subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on new books added to the catalog. — MF

Another musical time machine
Last week I recommended The Nostalgia Machine, and some readers reported that it was glitchy and did not work on their browser. Reader Micael suggested if you have Spotify, try searching for “year:1992” to get song and artist results from that year, and @JMWander recommended Radiooooo.com which lets you customize a music stream based on decade, country, and slow, fast or weird music. Thanks! — CD


10 July 2020


Lux Sparks-Pescovitz, Teenage Maker

Cool Tools Show 234: Lux Sparks-Pescovitz

Our guest this week is Lux Sparks-Pescovitz. Lux is a 14-year-old maker, musician, writer, retrogamer, pop culture historian, and collector… of many things. Many many things. He also likes dogs and naps.

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

Show notes:

Sushi Bazooka ($30)
I was looking for a sushi making kit because I had always wanted to try it out and I found this on Amazon. I was like, “What am I looking at?” I looked at it and I said, “I have to get this.” It’s like a tube but you open it up. You stuff the rice inside it and then the ingredients in the center and close it up and you push it out with a stick. Then, you’re supposed to put it on the seaweed, of course, and roll it back up. The purpose of it is to get all of the ingredients inside the sushi. You still use the mat, but you put the mix, like the rice with the ingredients in the middle and you push it out onto the sushi and the seaweed. You basically roll it from there and it’s super easy.

Sony Walkman
This was the real portable music player that you could take around with you and listen to stuff on the go. It uses audio cassettes and it was pretty much the pre-iPod and it sold a lot. Sony originally introduced it and they even sent like a prototype one, I think, into space I’m pretty sure. Many different companies hopped on it and basically when iPods came around they kind of became old, defunct, but ..there is a bit of a resurgence in cassette, which is what happened to vinyl a few years ago. It’s gotten to the point where Urban Outfitters sells cassettes with music on them. There’s one remaining factory in the U.S. and say, I’m getting a super-limited Vaporwave release or something, they sell out fast. People want them. When you have everything on your phone, say, all of the music that you could want, that’s cool but you’re never actually going to listen to all of it. You just won’t probably. When you actually buy a cassette, say, from some Bandcamp artist, you’re going to listen to it a few times and you’re going to say, “Hey, I really like this”, and it’s something you can hold in your hand and actually feel rather than just have a few mp3s on your phone.


Nintendo Game Boy
This is basically the first portable game system that really took off and made a difference. It was basically after Nintendo brought back video games from the dead in North America and a few years later they released a Game Boy. I have one of every model basically. You can mod them. I’ve tried it. It’s tricky because you have to use a razor blade to take the polarizer film off the back with. I’ve tried it two times with two different handhelds and the first time, I ended up just twisting the ribbon cable and that screwed it up. The second time, I literally cut through the ribbon cable. The mod basically gives it a backlight. It looks amazing because it’s something people were wanting when it originally released. People were saying, “Hey, why isn’t there a backlight on this?” There was in Japan for a version of the Game Boy Pocket but with a backlight official, and those are expensive and can be hard to come by in nice shape. The battery covers are like irreplaceable, which get lost all of the time. I actually use my Game Boy a lot more is because I’m not afraid if someone sees like a Game Boy carrying case they’re going to maybe swipe it from the airport as opposed to, I don’t know, a Switch case. Not only that, it’s a lot of fun. The music is amazing, to the point where there’s whole communities about getting the soundtracks of old games on vinyl and there’s a whole market for bootleg game music on vinyl. The graphics are classic, to the point where so many indie games nowadays and even some mainstream ones try to replicate it because everyone has such fond memories. There’s so many great games for the original Game Boy.

iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit ($70)
This is basically the world’s greatest screwdriver kit ever invented. It’s made by the people from iFixit, which is the main site for learning how to repair your iPhone, your computer, your Switch, whatever it may be, whatever tech device. It’s got 60 bits maybe. It has a suction cup for taking the screen off of phones or whatever you would use with it. You got like a classic screwdriver and a ton of bits to go with it for everything you could ever need. You’ve got an antistatic wristband which you can hook up to something in case you’re like taking part a high-voltage electronic. You’ve got spudgers. You’ve got these little guitar picks which help you pry things apart. You’ve got tweezers. There’s probably more stuff I’m forgetting, but those are the main things. I’ve used it to clean out Game Boys. It’s got everything I need for that. I’ve used it to take apart old Apple stuff that we’re getting rid of just to see the insides and be like, “Oh, so that’s what’s in there.” It’s just a lot of fun.


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. 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


10 July 2020


Mucksters Rubber Garden Shoes

Protects against mud and burrs

I have a yard with two main seasons: soggy season and sticker season. When it’s not muddy out, there always seem to be a plethora of weeds ready and willing to insert stickers and burrs through my shoes and socks and into my tender flesh.

Fortunately, about 10 years ago, I bought a pair of Mucksters; they handily and comfortably solve both outdoor footwear problems. They’re molded out of rubber with a neoprene inner, so as long as you don’t step in something higher than the top of the shoe, your feet will stay dry (get muck boots instead if this is a frequent occurrence). They’re easy to step in and out of, and the neoprene forms snugly around your ankle, so they don’t fall off.

They have two layers of foam insoles inside; they’re comfortable enough that I’ve found myself forgetting to remove them and going on walks or errands—you can basically wear them all day.

And they will repel the most tenacious bur or sticker—they may get on your pants but they’ll never poke your toes again. The thick rubber around the toe also provides a measure of protection if you accidentally drop something on your foot, or if the mower kicks something out at you.

They make working in the yard, plus any chore involving water (such as washing the car, or the siding, or the dog) a much more pleasant experience, and your regular shoes will last longer once you start letting the Mucksters handle the dirty work.

If it gets hot enough, of course, they eventually get sweaty inside, but even on days over 100F I often end up wearing them just to avoid those dratted stickers.

You can wash them easily with soapy water; the top foam insole can be machine washed. If they do get wet inside be sure to pull out the insoles and let the shoes thoroughly dry upside-down and toes-up, or your Mucksters may become odiously odiferous.

Order a size that fits comfortably but a little loosely; otherwise, you may not be able to wear your thick socks in winter. Loose enough that you can step into them without having to bend over and pull them on, snug enough that they’re secure on your foot and you won’t accidentally walk out of them.

There are cheaper versions made, which I haven’t tried; I see that people complain that they’re not as comfortable and wear out sooner, but if you only will use them occasionally for short periods they’d probably do the job. If you’re going to be using them a lot, I’d stick with the Mucksters

-- Barbara Dace 07/10/20

09 July 2020

Sharpening Spade Bits

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #53

I really appreciate the positive responses I get whenever I send out a newsletter. And, of course, I love all of the content submissions. If this newsletter is as useful and inspiring as some tell me it is, I’d love to spread the word and get more people inside the tent. Can you help? My pal, Kent Barnes, does a very helpful thing whenever a newsletter is published. He tweets something that he’s learned from it and then links to the newsletter (and my Twitter account). If you did that, too, it’d be a huge help.

Sharpening Spade Bits

It's easy to sharpen spade bits.

It’s easy to sharpen spade bits.

In another useful See Jane Drill video, Leah shows viewers how easy it is to sharpen spade bits with a flat file. This channel is clearly aimed at beginners, but there are often things in the videos that makers of any skill level can benefit from knowing (or being reminded of).

Making Your Own Dupont Connectors

DIY Duponts

DIY Duponts

Via Donald Bell’s always-excellent Maker Update, I learned of this video on how to make your own Dupont connectors. Dupont connectors are simple quick-connect jumper wire connectors often used in electronics projects. The video runs through how to crimp both male and female connectors (also known as Mini-PV) , what a good crimp should look like, and it runs through the tools you need.

Impact Wrench Dance Off?

Impact wrench head-to-head.

Impact wrench head-to-head.

In this recent Project Farm video, Todd compares a $138 Makita XWT11Z 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless 3-Speed ½” Sq. Drive Impact Wrench to an under-$30 knock-off he dubs Cousin Eddie. Putting them through various speed, endurance, and torture tests (and even a dance-off?), not surprisingly, the Makita smokes Cousin Eddie. But the real surprise is that, for less than 30 bones, Cousin Eddie isn’t half bad and a tool to consider for folks like me who have limited, light-duty needs for such a tool. Todd found Cousin Eddie on eBay.

Easy Paint Identifying

Paint the color on the outside so that you can clearly see it when stored.

Paint the color on the outside so that you can clearly see it when stored.

Reader urnsbothends writes (in response to my item about hobby/craft paints):

The best paints I use (Golden acrylics) have a spot on the label where paint from that batch and bottle is brushed across a patch of stripes so you can see the color, finish, translucency, texture, etc. You can recreate this with masking tape and Sharpie-ing the initial of the layer type (Base, Undercoat, Highlight, Wash, etc) and then painting a stripe across it, ideally on the part of the bottle that faces out when stored.

Classic Tip Reminder

Oldie but goodie.

Oldie but goodie.

Last night, reaching for my WD-40 to lubricate some door hinges, I was reminded of one of the first truly useful tips I employed as a young offset printer. For any spray that uses a plastic “straw” applicator, rubber band the applicator to the can (or YOU WILL lose it). I assume most or all of my readers know this trick, but if not…

Teaching Technological Curiosity to Your Kids

I bumped into this idea on Twitter but can’t remember on whose account. To teach your kids scientific and technological curiosity, when a tool, appliance, toy, etc. breaks, rather than just throwing it out, ask your kids: “Do you want to take it apart and figure out how it works and what might be broken?” You may even be able to fix it, but either way, you’ll all gain a greater knowledge of what’s under the hood of the technology in your life and you’ll give your kids a richer understanding of how things work.

Maker’s Muse

Spotted on the Angry Chef Facebook group.

Spotted on the Angry Chef Facebook group.

A key component of creativity is being able to see things outside of their categories – to see things as other things.

Shop Talk

A 3M Full Face Respirator.

A 3M Full Face Respirator.

In response to my query about workshop safety in the COVID-19 era, reader Jeff Powers sent this wonderfully thoughtful and sensible outline of the guidelines used in his shared workshop. It’s long, but I thought I’d share in its entirety. Thanks, Jeff!

We are an architectural workshop/model shop in London and have a similar issue. We luckily have multiple workshop spaces (2 workshops, separate computer areas, a 3D print room, and CNC room). While some of the solutions are specific to our situation, hopefully some of them can help others.

1. Realisation by the team that the workshop is always an inherently risky place, and we should be used to taking precautions when we work anyway. From cleanliness, safe operation, and use of PPE, these habits just become slightly modified for COVID. Taking care and extra time before beginning a task and after it ends – to assess risk, cleanliness etc – is all the more important now, but should not significantly change any workflows. Safe operation is especially important during these times, you never want to go to the hospital with a workshop injury, but especially during these times, extra care should be observed so we don’t put any more unnecessary strain on the health care system.

2. We already use dust masks, nitrile gloves, and have very good mechanical workshop ventilation. We now just wear the PPE more, and all of the extraction is on all the time. And we have proper waste disposal for gloves. You can find services that recycle them properly.

3.On ventilation, here in the UK, we need to test it yearly, both local ventilation and the whole room. I would suggest any shop that can’t open windows for airflow, check their ventilation spec and cross reference against their gov’t authority recommendations. As in the case of all things COVID right now, we are cross-referencing with multiple gov’t guidance – as everyone is suggesting different requirements. We check UK, EU, US, CAN guidance, and ensure we are compliant with our local recommendations – but push for a higher level if possible.

4.We love the 3M respirators. We use them as we frequently paint in a spray room all day. Filters sold separately.

3M 7500 Silicone Half-Face Respirator Mask

3M 6000 Series Full Face Mask Respirators – I really prefer this one for all-day use. Its fairly light and comfortable for what it is, and has built-in eye protection

5.We have found dust masks with air ventilators to reduce sweating and condensation. They are USB-chargeable and last a few hours before needing recharge. They are great for wearing lighter dust mask – and keeping your face cool(er).

6. Mounted glove/wipe stations – using these racks in entry/exit and near key tool areas.

3-Tiered Rack: you want ones that hold each box separately, not stacked on top of each other.

The racks make it much easier to grab gloves without fiddling with a box, and we can fit a box/package of disposable wipes in one of the box locations.

7. Where 2m distancing not possible – masks on.

8. Shared tools (fixed machines) – Disinfectant wipes are now located next to all fixed machines. Buttons, switches, and surfaces get a wipe before and after use.

9. Shared tools (larger hand power tools) – Disinfecting wipes again. We store them in Festool boxes – and wipes go in each box with the tool.

10. Shared tools (smaller) – For tools that are inexpensive and in multiples, every maker gets their own . For anything else: cleaned down , wiped, and put into a beauticians UV steriliser after use. We also have a Form 3 Cure that we use in a similar way, but it is not rated for it, and we don’t completely trust it. All tools left out go in the sterilizer at the end of the day.

11. Shared keyboards (laser cutters, 3D printers etc) – Wipe before and after each use. Change usage habits . We used to use them by just hopping on and off as needed. But now it means a few people on the laser stations for longer times doing whole cut lists.

We are looking at using keyboard covers and washing them during the day, but haven’t tested it completely.

12. Replacing any button that we can with a brass/copper pad/tape. The virus lasts less time on it than plastic or steel. Check if viable with electrical safety.

13. Shop sinks – Use it more frequently. And not just for pouring your tea down. And no eating in the workshop. Moisturiser is now just as important as soap and sanitizer!

14. Tables, Handles, Drawers etc. – Wipe down before use and at the end of day.

15. Workplace culture and support – Everyone is itching to be making and working – that’s what we love. But also, making sure people feel comfortable to speak up if they feel unwell or unsafe. We have a mutual stop work policy so that we all feel comfortable to stop our own work or someone else’s if we feel it’s unsafe or could be done better.

Also, if team discussions/meetings need to take place, they are limited to small groups, or outside, and kept short.

16. Outside of the workshop – In preparing the safety of our workshop, we realised that other areas/activities of the workplace are WAY riskier than the workshop for COVID. We are in central London, so most people take public transit to work. Kitchens and shared bathrooms are also high-risk vectors. These areas should be considered in the same way as workshop safety.


(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 07/9/20

LCD Digital Caliper

Measures outside diameter, inside diameter, and depth

img 07/8/20

Book Freak #46: How to Have a Happy Family

Short pieces of advice from books

img 07/8/20


Unstick stuck doors, windows, and drawers

img 07/7/20

Micro-shear flush cutters

For precision cutting jobs of various matierials

See all the reviews


img 12/19/11


Still the best thermometer

img 09/13/06

Butane Burner

Compact portable hot plate

img 12/9/17


Pattern recognition competition

img 10/8/10


Burly folding backwoods saw

img 12/11/03

Beyond Backpacking

Super ultra lightweight camping

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 234: Lux Sparks-Pescovitz

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 233: Len Cullum

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 232: Josh Glenn

Picks and shownotes

08 July 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.