24 January 2022


Indestructible Field Book

Waterproof, tearproof, weatherproof notebook

Like many Cool Tools readers, I have long carried a pocket notebook for quick notes and logs of conversations or information I don’t want to forget. I used to carry Moleskines, but they were not really satisfactory for back-pocket carries and eventually fell apart. Though I liked their aesthetics, I shared a common complaint about the flimsiness and “bleediness” of their paper. My search for a durable pocket notebook is over. This “Indestructible Field Book” by Elan Publishing, a longtime maker of teacher’s record books, lives up to its name. I will never be without one again. I am giving away any other spare pocket-sized notebooks. They are sized like other popular pocket notebooks, with ruled pages. But the synthetic paper, which is plastic coated with ink-receiving clay, is absolutely waterproof, smear-proof, and tear-proof. Back pockets hold no hazards for this tough tool.

Unlike the Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks, which use beeswax to achieve waterproofing, these don’t require any special pens or pencils but can take any standard ball-point pen. I have good results with a Fisher Space Pen, but any standard ballpoint I have tried works fine. The one exception is gel pens; they will smear, so you will have to forego those crisp, color-intense gel lines.

A pack of four 48-page books is cheap enough to use for everyday note-taking and the same number of total pages as a Moleskine pocket notebook. So far as I’ve been able to discover, this model only comes in one distinctive bright orange color (Elan makes other “non-indestructible” notebooks as well).

I can’t find information on the synthetic paper on the Elan site, but according to the online printing industry publication In-Plant Graphics, “Synthetic paper is a white matte plastic that is made from a mixture of polypropylene and polyethylene. It’s either produced by die extrusion with a clay-coated finish, or clay-filled when being produced into a single-layered substrate by calendar extrusion. … All synthetic papers are 100% recyclable, moisture resistant, tear-resistant, and UV resistant, which helps keep them out of the waste stream longer than pulp paper. Unlike PVC-vinyl and polystyrene substrates, synthetic papers do not use chlorine, stearates, heavy metals, or any cancer-causing chemicals in their manufacturing process. Therefore, synthetic paper is considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

-- David A Murray 01/24/22

23 January 2022


Cloud Atlas/Resort Fee Checker/Zeebo

Recomendo: issue no. 288

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Get lost in the clouds
Everything you could ever want to know about clouds is available at the International Cloud Atlas hosted by the World Meteorological Organization. You can learn the basics of observing and identifying clouds. See photo descriptions of clouds. Search their image galleryCompare two images. And if you go deep enough you might find unlisted YouTube links to time lapse videos like this one. — CD

Check for hidden hotel fees
So called “resort fees” are a sneaky way for hotels to advertise a low price then tack on an additional charge. Even if you don’t use the hotel pool of fitness center, they’ll add it to your bill. Before booking a hotel, visit Resort Fee Checker to see if it charges a resort fee. The site also has information on the price of breakfast, internet, parking, pets, and other fees. — MF

Placebo pills
The weird thing about placebos is that they work similar to the substances they replace. The science shows there is some positive effect with these simple inert pills. There is even a small proven effect when the patient knows they are placebos! With that in mind some folks administer placebos to themselves. Because they have a positive effect I also found it useful to have a small bottle of placebo pills around to meet an emergency need of a placebo. These are gel capsules of inert fiber stamped with the logo of Zeebo. — KK

Great little dot-grid notebook
My favorite small notebook is the inexpensive Muji W-ring dot-grid notebook with a clear plastic cover. The ring binding is great because the notebook lies flat. Muji seems to have run out of them, but I found an excellent knock-off from Yansanido on Amazon. I bought a 6-pack for less than $3 per notebook. The paper seems to be a bit thinner than the Muji version, but pen ink is crisp on the pages. — MF

Remote computer access
Some computer and software problems can only be solved by getting the expert onto your computer. The way to do that remotely is with TeamViewer. My tech-savvy son acts as my IT-support guy, and so he comes onto my computer, from wherever he is, on his computer. We use TeamViewer which enables this remote connection instantly, easily, securely and for free. (Free for private use. TeamViewer’s income comes from businesses users.) He is able to control my machine remotely. It works like magic, and because we both have it installed, we’ll invoke it without hesitation. (Of course, be sensible about using or installing this powerful tool.) — KK

How to return your eyes to their natural state
Here is a tip from the r/Meditation subreddit. To block out your internal monologue practice expanding your peripheral vision. User taemoo further explained this tactic: “The trick is to keep your vision as “open” as possible, not to focus on anything unless it’s necessary for a specific task ….” and shared a YouTube video titled: Meditation – Returning Your Eyes to the Natural State, where Meditation teacher Loch Kelly walks you through this exercise. When I practice this an instant calmness washes over me. I feel like I just discovered a new superpower. — CD

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 01/23/22

20 January 2022

Build a Portable Soldering Station

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #108

Got a tip to share? A tool to recommend? A tall tale to tell us? Please share with the class.


Build a Portable Soldering Station
Ever since I saw Adam Savage build a portable soldering station, I’ve been thinking about creating one for myself. I don’t do enough electronics anymore to justify a dedicated electronics workbench. When I do have a need for soldering, it’s a hassle to get everything set up just to do a few solder points. And, in our new house, I have two work areas on different floors. So, I know I will break down and create a portable station at some point. Here is Laura Kampf’s answer to such a portable, fully-powered station.

Rule of Thumb for Buying Tools
In a fascinating video from Adam Savage (where he has an “epiphany” on the science of precise measurement) he also shares a great tip on purchasing tools: “Buy the cheapest tool you can if it’s a tool you don’t know how to use, learn how to use it, and see if it integrates into your process and into your shop, and then go and buy the best tool that you can afford. Frequently, that one will last you for the rest of your life.”

Ten Fantastic Modeling Tips
This video, from the YouTube channel Just for the fun of it, has some really useful tips and jigs for working with glues, painting tiny round parts, using 1-2-3 blocks, and more. I especially love the tip on making a CA glue applicator for tiny, tight spaces by sinking a sewing needle into a small dowel (or old brush handle) with the loop of the needle protruding out. This loop will deliver more glue to where you need it.

Five Hobby Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed
One of the cool things about a hobby, or any domain of making, is constantly learning new little tricks and techniques and hearing about new tools that you didn’t know you needed. I’ve been painting fantasy and sci-fi miniatures for decades and have never heard of any of the five tools suggested by miniature painter Lyla Mev in this video. The tools she swears by are cheap squeeze bottles, Silly Putty(!), cling wrapsand timers, and trimmed brushes for “erasing” overpaint. See the video for more on how she applies each of these tools.

Filmmaking Tips for Makers on YouTube
We just sent the second volume of my book, Tips and Tales from the Workshop, off to the printers. Yay! It will be out in early March. One of the new features in Volume 2 is a chapter of tips for maker video content. So many people are doing video these days and we could all use improvement in how we communicate our projects through the camera. In this video on Morley Kert’s channel, he presents ten tips for maker video production. I wish I’d had these to add to my book. They include committing to a vibe and sticking with it, using establishing shots and B-rolls, mixing in handheld shots (if possible), using manual, not auto-focus, making sure your lights are the same color temperature, and more. Good stuff.

Using a Caliper’s Depth Gauge to Transfer a Measurement
Here’s a little calipers trick I’ve never thought of. Instead of using the outer jaws of your calipers to scribe a line onto a workpiece, lock your measurement in and then use the reading on the depth gauge on the other end of the calipers. Transfer that depth to a square and then use the square to scribe your line. Watch the Instagram video to make this clearer.

Shop Talk

Titmus SW09R Livewire sealed glasses

Titmus SW09R Livewire sealed glasses

By the far, the reader who’s contributed the most and best tips to this newsletter is Emory Kimbrough. Thanks, Emory! Here’s his latest:

“We’re all familiar with safety glasses and goggles, but there’s a third option – sealed or hybrid safety glasses. These look like ordinary safety glasses, but they have foam seals around the eyes to keep out dust. Dust easily sneaks around the sides of safety glasses, and a minor dust irritation has some risk of growing into a serious problem. So, sealed safety glasses should be far better known and far more popular.

“You can buy sealed/hybrid glasses for less than $3.00 each, affordable for a school workshop or makerspace that needs safety glasses for every student. But my favorite new gear for 2021 was prescription sealed glasses. Prescription safety glasses are more comfortable and give better vision than putting goggles or oversized safety glasses on over your usual prescription glasses. And less nuisance = more compliance. I chose Titmus SW09R Livewire sealed glasses, for four reasons. First, they combine ANSI-rated impact protection with the dust seals. Next, they have a removable head strap that creates an even better seal against sneaky dust, and keeps the glasses from slipping down or slipping off at a bad moment. Finally, I have a very strong prescription for nearsightedness, plus I’m old enough to need progressive lenses. Many prescription safety glasses are not compatible with strong prescriptions, but these were available with progressive lenses and in my strong prescription. (You can also get the Titmus Livewires without prescription lenses.)

“I got mine with good customer service and prompt shipping from safetygearpro.com, but they are available from other suppliers. They came with a case that can clip to your belt – good for keeping those safety glasses handy instead of way over on the other side of the shop tempting you to ignore them. They also came with a cleaning kit and an eyeglasses screwdriver. Prescription safety glasses are also a spare pair of ordinary eyeglasses, so these will go in my suitcase as an emergency back-up whenever I travel.

“Compared with ordinary safety glasses, dust-sealed hybrid glasses are all benefit and no drawback – So, prescription or non-prescription, make the change.”


20 January 2022


Dr Tung’s Smart Floss

Stretchable floss expands between your teeth

Christmas eve a few years ago, I stood in line at Whole Foods and grabbed this Smart Floss. I needed a stocking stuffer for my husband, and what could be a better small gift than dental floss? Well it turns out, the floss was a winner. For years I have used Glide because my teeth are very close together and I didn’t think other flosses would work. The problem with Glide was that I was not inspired to floss because it didn’t seem to do anything. Not so with the Smart Floss. According to the package the floss is woven and reminds me of those Chinese finger traps you may have played with as a child. When you release the tension on the floss it expands, and I can actually see that more gunk is coming out of between my teeth. And this makes me more interested in flossing. It’s not cheap but it does seem to last a long time.

-- Nicole Harkin 01/20/22

19 January 2022


Furniture Sliders

Reusable furniture sliders for carpeted surfaces

Furniture Sliders are smooth polymer sliders, filled with a spongy material (they call it a special grip pad). They are an improvement on the “furniture coasters” my mother used to put under the sofa in that the special grip pad does really work, allowing you to move furniture easily. They work on carpet, though our experience has involved sliding things over berber and low-ply (we’ve never owned shag).

We have moved some pretty heavy furniture using them. You *might* be able to slide an upright piano this way — but I would leave moving a grand piano to the professionals.

These also work well for slipping under boxes on moving day.

-- Martin Schwimmer 01/19/22

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)

19 January 2022

What’s on my industrial bookshelf? — Spencer Wright

What’s in my … ? issue #136

Most people think of Spencer Wright as something of an engineer, and he mostly thinks of himself as mechanic. But in truth he’s a writer and editor who runs theprepared.org, a newsletter about engineering, manufacturing, and infrastructure.


I run theprepared.org, where I write and edit writing about engineering, manufacturing, and infrastructure, and manage a community for folks who think and work in adjacent areas. And, I spend a lot of time obsessing over bikes, and trying out new (and old) tools — so much so that I run a shared woodworking, electronics, and bike shop in Brooklyn, NYC.


Behind my desk there’s an industrial bookshelf loaded up with textbooks and histories and paper airplane kits, and I use the top shelf to store a bunch of toys, tools, and mementos. This is my space.

Test weights

Test weights

I run a metric shop: My weather apps are in centigrade, I measure things in millimeters and distances in kilometers, and I take my own weight (er, mass) in kilograms. I’ve found it pretty easy to make all of these transitions (a few days of seeing 25° C in your weather app will give you a pretty strong sense of what that means), but I don’t weigh small objects that often and needed a little help getting used to grams. So, I got some test weights.

These two test weights cost me about $20, and they’re just perfect tactile objects. Holding them (mostly the hundred gram weight) in your hand is a great way to get a sense of the low end of the metric scale for mass.

The Public Radio

The Public Radio

Looking back on my life, I tend to mark time by the moments at which I realized something about the way the world works. Some of these moments correspond with things I’ve read or been taught, but the most memorable ones are the times where I caused a material change to a space I inhabit.

To be a little more specific: Pretty much every time I’ve made a new physical thing, my understanding of the world has been enriched. And that understanding is preserved, as if in amber, in the prototypes I’ve kept around.

Anyway, on my bookshelf are two pre-production samples of The Public Radio, a little FM radio I created in collaboration with Zach Dunham back in 2014. The two prototypes are about two years apart in age, and while the differences may seem subtle, they represent very different understandings of assembly, design, and production efficiency. Since they were made, we shipped tens of thousands of these little radios around the world, and I love thinking back to just how hacky the prototypes were when we first started working on them.

Time Since Launch

Time Since Launch

CW&T is one of my favorite design shops, mostly because the stuff they make is so highly opinionated. I’ve got a handful of their creations, each of which is somehow both off-kilter and perfect. My favorite is Time Since Launch, which is kind of a single-use stopwatch – it’s a glass vial, inside of which is a seven segment display which counts up continuously from the moment that its (grenade-style) pin is pulled. Mine has been going for about two years, marking the time since I started working on The Prepared full time. Every time I look at it, I feel a nice sense of accomplishment and am reminded of all the ways that my self employment has evolved.


A couple years ago I got a proper lab notebook — something that’s designed for IP documentation, like you would use if you worked in corporate R&D. I totally fell in love. A hardback notebook just feels official, and it’s way better for sketching and long form notetaking than a pocket notebook. I take daily notes in mine, and carry it with me next to my laptop; its format and durability complements a computer perfectly.



img 09/7/21

Pumps-A-Lot Water Pump

Simple emergency sump pump

img 10/3/12

Murphy Bed

Next generation of hideaway beds

img 04/2/18

Mosquito Netting

Cheap worry-free sleeping

img 08/1/14

Mann Lake Beekeeping Starter Kit

Cheapest way to start bees

img 06/7/11

Photon Microlight II

Ultralight and bright

img 12/8/06

Blurb * Lulu

Personal bookprinting

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 310: Orson Rossetto

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 309: Lenore Edman

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 308: Meredith Arthur

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.