28 November 2021


Claudia’s Holiday List/Identify that light in the sky/Double inhaling

Recomendo: issue no. 280

3 things to cultivate meaning
Last year, I made a shopping list of everything that made me happy in 2020. This year I have been trying to be less of a consumer, so I only have three things that I would recommend as gifts for the holidays. Each one helps to cultivate purpose and gratitude in my life, and they are all priced under $20. The three things are Moon List WorkbooksBlessing Cards and Wall Calendars, like this one. For the full list, visit: https://kk.org/cooltools/2021-holiday-gift-guide-claudias-picks — CD

How to identify that light in the sky
Here is a “sometimes humorous, but mostly accurate” chart of how to identify that light in the sky. In Sedona, Arizona, I went on a UFO tour where the guides taught us how to identify all the various lights we see in the sky. I wore night vision goggles and saw a lot of non-blinking lights moving fast and veering off straight paths. We had lasers that we used to point them out (never directly at). One even beamed back brightly at us in response. — CD

Inhale twice to calm down
Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman says double inhaling is “the fastest way that I’m aware of — that’s anchored in real known biology to calm oneself down — is an inhale through the nose, and then another inhale at the top.” — MF

Netflix for Apps
Think of Setapp like Netflix for Macintosh applications. For a monthly subscription fee, you get access to 210+ curated apps. I’ve recommended Setapp here before, but they have a few new apps I find myself using every day that I want to mention: Rocket Typist, Paste, and TextSniper. Setapp is usually $10 a month, but here’s a link to get a year for $69. — MF

Streaming rock concert
I have uncool musical tastes. I love pop music; the more poppy the better. My favorite pop rock band is the uncool Coldplay. I also don’t like to go to concerts but I love to watch recorded concerts on a screen, which I find much better than being there. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Coldplay’s very recent concert and light show in Seattle (Live from Climate Pledge Arena), now streaming on Amazon. It’s a non-stop 90 minutes. If you are a fan, this will fulfill; if you want an introduction, this will do it; if you are a hater, hush.  — KK

Favorite Quotes
Some recent quotes I keep returning to. — KK

  • Things that never happened before happen all the time. — Scott Sagan
  • Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. — Anne Lamott
  • To get people to build a boat you don’t need to get them to weave canvas, forge nails, or read the sky. You need to give them a shared yearning for the sea. — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • A foreign accent is a sign of bravery. — Amy Chua
  • We don’t travel to move. We travel to be moved. — Pico Iyer
  • Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it.
 — André Gide
  • It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious. — Alfred North Whitehead
  • The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck. — Paul Virilio
  • This present moment used to be the unimaginable future. — Stewart Brand
-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 11/28/21

27 November 2021

2021 Holiday Gift Guide: Kevin’s picks

Golden oldies

Instead of suggesting the best products that I encountered this year, I want to suggest the best products I know about and still use today. Think of these as golden oldies, that are still golden.

This $10 painting app is the best $10 I have ever spent. It enables my iPad to become an art studio. I paint with Procreate every evening to make my daily piece of art. The app includes different “brushes” which turn the stylus into different kinds of media — say a pencil, or an ink pen, or an oil paint brush, or a calligraphy brush — so I get a whole studio of different art supplies. I can paint with textures, mask edges, replicate and manipulate basic digital functions like copy and paste. And there is a large Procreate community offering custom brushes, and tutorials. Powerful tool, and cheap.

I use this free app on my phone to identify plants and flowers. Aim the phone camera at the unknown botanical and it will quickly offer an identification of the species, or second best, the genus. It gives an answer about 95% of the time, including domestic and wild plants. Once you get an ID, you can look up more info about it on the web.

This app will identify a bird from its song or chirp. Even if the bird is hidden, or not close, this app will usually identify the species. In the app you can play a pre-recorded bird song of that species to confirm it is correct. Merlin can also ID two bird sounds at once in the same place. It’s free for iOS and Android.

Pilot G2 Mini Pen
My go-to pen is the Pilot G2 gel. It lays down a very smooth, very dark line. This popular pen also comes in a mini-version which is shorter than the regular ones, which makes it perfect for carrying in my pocket. I have a Pilot G2 mini in every pants and jacket I own.

Chevy Bolt
I love our electric car. We bought a Chevy Bolt because it was way cheaper than any Tesla at the time. It is the best performing car I’ve ever owned. It’s powerful, agile, and quiet. We are very happy with it. The joy of never visiting a gas station can’t be measured. There are more EV options now, so we might not get a Bolt if we had to buy one now, but there is no way I’d go back to a gas car.

Cordless Glue Gun
Workshops have gone cordless. Every power tool made is now available in a cordless version, which makes it faster to get, and easier to handle. One of the last tools to go cordless is a glue gun. Like other cordless tools, being cordless makes it easier to work with, particularly if you are sharing it, or working on something large. It is really liberating to have no cord while gluing. This one needs Ryobi tool batteries, or an adapter for other brands (I use it with Dewalt batteries).

Airpods Pro
These earbuds work perfectly with an iPhone. The audio is sterling, and the built-in microphone works amazingly well. I use them to listen to podcasts while walking and to have distant conversations while walking. They are pricey, but hassle free, so worth it to me.


26 November 2021


Windell Oskay, Robot Designer

Cool Tools Show 306: Windell Oskay

Our guest this week is Windell Oskay. Windell is the co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, where he designs robots for a living. You can find Windell on Twitter @emsl.



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

Show notes: 



This year I worked on a photography project, doing a lot of close-up photographs of objects. This kind of photography is about 5% photography technique, 5% lighting, and 90% cleaning. While compressed gas dusters work fairly well, there is a sense in which they just move dust around. And, more conventional tools like microfiber cloths tend to leave their own debris. I ended up using a type of cleaning gel or “universal dust cleaner” as they brand it. It is basically the same stuff that is sold as “slime” in toy stores, but wrapped up in corporate IT-department friendly packages. Nominally, you can clean things like keyboards with it. But as a tool to trap and remove dust for photography, it’s remarkably good.



This is a classic 6 inch/150 mm steel ruler, or “machinist’s scale”. It’s marked with inches on one side — subdivided into tenths and hundredths — and millimeters on the other. Mitutoyo is one of the most respected names in precision measurement, and this particular ruler is simply a joy to use. I use other scales of this size, but this one is just a little thicker and has eight perfectly square sides. It has a better surface finish (precision ground with satin chrome plating), and has markings that are just a little finer, and easier to read. It feels like they could charge $100 for the same thing and get away with it, but it’s about $15, and worth every penny.



Mitee-Bite is a manufacturer of workholding equipment for machining. They make a wide range of extremely specialized tools for holding chunks of metal — sometimes really weirdly shaped chunks of metal — in place while CNC machines do their thing. I’ve found their little catalog to be one of my most frequent references when designing setups for machining, but also in just designing parts in the first place. There are so many clever tricks that they use to build strong mechanical structures, and there’s a lot to learn from them.



Ask a whole lot of telescope lovers what the best “first” telescope is and you’ll probably hear about the Orion XT8, well and above any other suggestion. It’s a Dobsonian, meaning that it’s nearly instant to plop down on a sidewalk and start observing. It’s big enough to let you see all kinds of amazing things, and upgradeable, if you get into it.

26 November 2021

2021 Holiday Gift Guide: Camille’s Picks

Gift suggestions from Cool Tools' alum

The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from our website, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. This week: former web manager Camille revisits some of her favorite Cool Tools and shares a few more.

I’ve been wearing these Russell Sheepskin-Lined Moccasins for 10 years, and it shows. Shortly after Wrye Martin’s original review ran, I ordered a pair of Russell boots for hiking, and although they are also wonderful (and still in great shape), it’s the slippers that I’ve worn nearly every day all these years. They are warm, perfectly cushioned by the shearling, tolerate a little walking around in the backyard, and thanks to their custom construction, they actually fit my feet, which have a two-size differential. I keep flirting with the idea of buying something off-the-shelf in town, but I just need to make peace with the 3-5 months production time and do it.

Blip Blox Synth For Kids has been a great addition to our instrument collection since the kids were very young. Its brightly colored knobs are highly grabbable and the whole thing is easy to wipe down. Ours has certainly taken a number of falls from toddler heights. All this means the kids can tweedle to their hearts’ content and dad can play along on his more delicate synths. Can do way more than my demo which illustrates the low barrier to entry.  Here’s documentation – the “Mapped” doc and “What they do” docs are helpful beginner references.


Kinderfeets Kinderboard ($89-$99) is an open-ended balance toy that can be used as a slide, boat, hill, bed, catapult, sled, etc etc. Santa delivered ours a couple years ago, and our now 5yo and 8yo still enjoy playing with it. This is the bamboo version.


The Sonos system has been mentioned a couple times on Cool Tools (by Louis Rossetto, Wayne Ruffner), and recently Jim Louderback shared about the Move speaker on the Cool Tools podcast. Our household is also a big fan. In addition to the One and Move, we also really enjoy the Beam ($449), which is a great compliment to our minimalist frame TV, and Symfonisk ($149), a more affordable speaker without voice activation which is a good fit in our youngest kid’s room


Bonus ideas:

Festive drinkware; A beautiful fruit basket; movie-night TV trays; storage whose purpose is obvious; indulgent relaxation tools; an easy game; a plushie from a favorite book; a stack of fun magazines; a delightful piggy bank.


Row 1:

Pineapple goblets

Mondo Jurassic Park Baby Raptor Tiki (and many more options)

Cuetzalan Hanging Moon Basket



Row 2:

Room Copenhagen Lego storage bins (brick and head)

Camino Sparking Pear THC gummies

May Lindstrom Blue Cacoon (full-size and sample pot, for comparison)



Row 3:

Tea Dragon Society Mountain Chamomile Plushie

You’ll want [all] [three] [books], too

Magazines: Milk Decoration, Mother Tongue, The San Franciscan, Aquila, Honest History, Illustoria, Little White Lies, Neko Maru, Life Cats

Banks: Raya treasure box, leather cat coin bank, Danish coin bank, Tamatoa treasure box (check eBay and Mercari), cat in oranges box coin bank



25 November 2021

Making a Simple Storage Case Rack

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #103

What was your favorite tool this year? Why? It doesn’t have to be a new tool just one that comes to mind when asked this question. Send me your answers (with a pic, if possible). I want to do a round-up of readers favorites for 2021. I’ll pick one of the respondents and send them a copy of my tips book.


Making a Simple Storage Case Rack
On the Shop Hacks FB group, member Riley Schatz posted a pic of his simple solution for a rack to hold his plastic storage cases. Many of us have these plastic cases and there are numerous projects online and on YouTube for building more elaborate racks. This is the simplest to date, little more than some scrap 2x4s and plywood hung below a workbench.

Review: Amazon Removable Compartment Professional Organizers
Speaking of multi-compartment storage cases, Amazon just recently (I think) began offering cases under their Amazon Basics brand. Being something of a collector of these cases, I decided to get one and try it out. I got the smaller 15-compartment case (8.3″ L x 13.3″ W x 2.4″ H). They also carry a 19-compartment case (16.5 x 13.2 x 2.4). The 15 case is $17.80, the 19 case is $20. The case I got is much small than the Stanley, Harbor Freight, and other cases that I have (which are closer to the 19-compartment case). I purposely went for the smaller case because I want to use it to house game components and didn’t need the larger size. In terms of features, the removable trays are a must-have for me. They have a nice compliment of small, medium, and large trays. In terms of quality, these cases are on par with the Harbor Freight ones. Like the Harbor Freight cases, they are made of heavy-duty polypropylene. The latches are the weak spot on the both brands, with the Amazon ones being nearly identical to the HF closures. Even with medium use, I’ve had the latches on two HF cases fail. The Amazon cases are comparable, but HF still has them beat on price. Their (full-size) 20-bin case is only $10 (as low as $8 on sale) and their deeper 8-bin case is $15 (as low as $11). The only reason to recommend the Amazon cases is if you want the smaller size.

Using Wire Ferrules

Here’s an electronic component I’ve never even heard of: the wire ferrule. In this brief Collin’s Lab Notes, Collin Cunningham introduces us to these stranded wire-end connectors and how to use them.

Flat Panel Speakers Made from Foamboard
This is more of a project recommendation than a shop tip. On the AmplifyDIY channel, they build these cheap (a few hundred bucks) and easy-to-make flat panel speakers using little more than insulation foamboard, a pair of exciters, and a mini power amp. They results are very impressive. Also: Be sure to check out the follow-up video. In it, he tests out different shapes, panel treatments, adding a second exciter to each panel, and other tweaks.

Why You Need a Vise in Your Workshop
In this Essential Craftsman video, Scott explains the virtues of a vise and why you need one in your workshop. In our new house, there’s a big gaping hole in the wooden workbench in the garage where the vise appears to have been unceremoniously ripped out. I’ve already spotted a sweet small bench vise with an anvil at a local antique store. I’m looking forward to buying and restoring it soon.

Making a Spray Can Shaker
In a recent Adam Savage video, he extolled the virtues of a drill-powered paint mixer. The one he linked to on Amazon can be found here. You can also easily make your own.

How to Tune Up a Cheap Chisel
In this videoAnne of All Trades shows how to properly sharpen chisels, especially how you can sharpen cheap ones and get them closer in sharpness to more expensive tools. I especially appreciate that she demonstrates how to hold and use your body to get the right angle and pressure on the blade as you sharpen

Switchplate Identifiers
We just moved into a house that has these crazy 4-switch light and fan panels in the bathrooms. Unlabeled, a newbie can do a lot of speculative switching before finding the one you want. So, not surprisingly, these 3D printed switchplate symbols have caught my eye. As soon as I get my 3D printer set up, I might be printing some of these.

Maker’s Muse

Wait for it...

Wait for it…

Shop Talk
In the response to my “Put the Dang Tools Back!” in the last issue, reader John M writes:

“I’ve been working on the “put the dang tools back” for years now. Coming up on three years since the last shop move, the problem that looms the largest is that there is no “back” to put things until you create one. The last move went from 3,000 sf to 1,600 sf, so it’s been tricky. Making the job harder is the need to be functional over the need to be organized. Yes, taking the time to organize will make the work easier, but that job needs to get finished NOW so we can pay the rent! Needless to say, instead of spending my limited time pursuing personal projects, I tend to spend it cleaning and organizing. Somewhat satisfying, but not as much as other projects.“


Also in response to “Put the Dang Tools Back!,” Cool Tools reader LarryA2010 writes:

“Good advice. Easier said than done. I have projects at varying stages, piles of tools and materials, and other stuff strewn about my workshop and I hate putting things back. I do keep some tools and materials organized though. I have a worktable made from a solid core door on top of two wood filing cabinets which hold folders of sandpaper and other useful items. Most-used tools are in a simple tool caddy on the floor. Two old bureaus hold sets of wrenches and other large tools. Plastic totes hold unfinished projects. Solvent cans are in a row on the floor next to my chair with a strap wrench on top to tighten them so they don’t evaporate. I still have tools and small materials covering much of my table, and tools and materials spread all over the floor. I can’t get myself to organize them. One thing I do have that I keep in order is this really useful Alvin, Spin-O-Tray, Rotating Desktop Organizer on top of the desk. It makes it easy to replace often-used small tools after I use them.”


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

24 November 2021

What’s on my painting counter? — Gioia Palmieri

What’s in my … ? issue #129

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.

Gioia Palmieri is Consulting Editor and Co-publisher of Mineshaft magazine. She is finishing her first novel and in her spare time she likes to oil paint. She and Everett Rand live in Durham, North Carolina with their daughter, Irena.

Mineshaft #41 will be coming out in the Winter 2022, featuring new work by R. Crumb, Glenn Head, Mary Fleener, Christoph Mueller, Max Clotfelter, Kim Deitch & More! Plus Special Feature “Suited Up” with Robert Armstrong! You can follow Mineshaft on Instagram @mineshaftmag.

“The best magazine being published in the 21st century” — Drew Friedman


I started painting a few years ago and since then I’ve found tools for my painting that I hope will be helpful for you if you’re interested in painting. I like to stand while I work and use my work counter for writing and painting. When painting, I mix the paints on a piece of freezer paper with its corners held down by painter’s tape near the edge of the counter near my easel. I store my paint and smaller canvases on the shelving under the counter. My workroom has a number of large windows that let in plenty of natural light.

work counter Palmieri - Gioia Palmieri

Gamblin makes excellent oil paints in Portland, Oregon. Besides a great color selection of paints that are easy to mix, I like their focus on creating non-toxic paints. I use their website for paint information such as this helpful page, but their paints as of now are only available through art stores. I purchase mine at Utrecht. Gamblin also makes an odorless mineral spirit called Gamsol for your oil paint cleaning needs.

Rosemary & Co. is a wonderful company that handmakes paint brushes in Yorkshire, England and is run by Rosemary and her daughter. With excellent customer service and a user friendly website, they make it easy to order from the UK. I like their free physical catalog where the photos of each brush head is the actual brush head size. They make all types of brushes using real animal hair or ones that are completely synthetic, plus they sell palette knives and brush holders (featured in the photo).

Artist Brand Canvas make attractive, sturdy canvases in Los Angeles. They have all kinds of sizes and are reasonably priced. Having one of their canvases, a Rosemary & Co. brush and some Gamblin paint is an inspiration for your painting!

And don’t forget your color wheel! I like to keep mine handy. You can purchase it from many stores online, but they have a website. They even make a special color wheel for gardeners, and all their wheels are made in the USA.



img 11/23/21


Eyeglass holder for shirts with no pocket

img 11/20/21

2021 Holiday Gift Guide: Claudia’s picks

Three things to help cultivate meaning

img 11/19/21

Carol Tilley, Comics historian

Cool Tools Show 305: Carol Tilley

img 11/19/21

Disposal Genie

Prevents silverware and other larger items from slipping into drain

See all the reviews


img 07/28/17

Ortlieb Dry Bags

Heavy-duty waterproof bags

img 07/8/18


Classic puzzle in great package

img 08/9/07

Fiskars Post Hole Digger

Best post hole digger

img 08/4/13

How Buildings Learn

Making adaptable shelter

img 12/8/06

Blurb * Lulu

Personal bookprinting

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 305: Carol Tilley

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 304: Barbara Dace

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 303: Sean Bonner

Picks and shownotes

24 November 2021


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.

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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.