01 March 2021


Black & Decker Accu Mark Level

Ultimate guide for hanging

I’ve moved three times in four years, but never quite mastered the art of hanging artwork. Move any frame in our home and you’d be likely to find no less than two sets of holes. Well, not anymore. At 36″, this level seemed like overkill (especially since most everything I hang is in the 8″ x 10″ realm), but now that I have one, I don’t know how I ever got by without it. On either side of the three bubble levels are two 10-inch rulers with sliding “targets.” Each target has a -Tshape cut out, allowing you to mark exactly where you want the nail(s) to go. More or less fool-proof. It’s also incredibly light and easy to maneuver, even with one hand. These days when we buy art, I don’t dread the prospect of putting it up.

-- Steven Leckart 03/1/21

28 February 2021


Nomad lands/Disappearing emails/Airpod replacement tips

Recomendo: issue no. 241

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Rent-free long-term nomad
In the US southwest you can legally vehicle camp on certain areas of public land, rent free, for up to 7 months. You need a self-sufficient RV type vehicle (no hookups available), and a permit for camping in a Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA) from the BLM. There are currently 7 LTVAS. — KK

Send a disappearing message in Gmail
I just discovered that Gmail has a confidential mode feature that lets you set an expiration date to an email. In the composition window, you’ll find a lock icon with a clock and when you click on it you’ll see a list of different expiration times, ranging from 1 day to 5 years. Once it expires, recipients will be locked out from the message. Here are more detailed instructions. — CD

Best AirPod Pro replacement tips
I bought memory foam tips to replace the standard ones that come with AirPod Pros. They were an improvement because my AirPods stopped falling out of my ears. Then someone told me to get a pair of SednaEarfit Xelastic tips. I did, and they are incredible. The soft rubbery tips completely seal my ear canal, and make the noise cancelation so much better that I couldn’t even hear the toilet flushing. They are comfortable, too. — MF

Free great courses
I’m still bingeing on The Great Courses videos. These are the best university courses, without university tuitions. Even better, if you have a public library card in the US, you can get free access to The Great Courses through the Kanopy streaming service. I stream the Great Courses, via Kanopy, on my Roku smart tv. In addition to most of the catalog of Great Courses, Kanopy is a real treasure that also offers a very long tail of documentaries, old movies, and tutorials that are too niche even for Netflix. It’s like a public library of video. You are limited to 10 “plays” per month, except unlimited Great Courses. And it’s all free if you have a library card. — KK

Parchment paper update
Last week I recommended parchment paper for no-stick baking. Two readers emailed me with comments worth sharing. Michael Ham said he avoids rolled parchment paper because “it wants to roll up again.” He likes pre-cut half-sheet parchment paper: “King Arthur Flour sells it in rounds, in squares, and in the half-sheet size that fits a half-sheet baking pan.” But now mostly uses a silicone baking mat, because it lies flat, is easy to clean, and is reusable. Brendan Farley offered this advice: “You’ve probably noticed that parchment paper does not lay down well — it keeps its form. If you want to mold it to a pan, just rinse it in water, ring it out like a towel, and it will mold to any pan and keep that form.” Thanks for the tips, Michael and Brendan! — MF

Advice worth sharing
Below are some bits of wisdom I’ve found on blogs and newsletters over the last few months. — CD

On being true to yourself: “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” — Anne Rice [via The Magnet]

On finding inspiration everywhere: “I heard once about a Yiddish poet who lived in utter poverty and misery, a teenager, who never had seen anything beautiful in his life, and he made splendid poems about vegetables jumping into the soup pot. My idea being that for the sublime and the beautiful and the interesting, you don’t have to look far away. You have to know how to see.” — Hedda Sterne [via Austin Kleon]

On identity: “Some people have a lot farther to go from where they begin to get where they want to be—a long way up the mountain, and that is how it has been for me. I don’t feel I am getting older; I feel I am getting closer.” — D.H. Lawrence [via Wellness Wisdom]

On transforming your life: “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting tired of their own bullshit.” — Elizabeth Gilbert [via Sloww Sunday]

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 02/28/21

26 February 2021


Jordan Calhoun, Deputy Editor at Lifehacker

Cool Tools Show 267: Jordan Calhoun

Our guest this week is Jordan Calhoun. Jordan is the deputy editor of Lifehacker and author of the upcoming book Piccolo Is Black: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Pop Culture. You can find Jordan on Twitter and Instagram @JordanMCalhoun.

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

Show notes:

You know how they say that you only use 10% of your brain? I don’t know how true that is, but I feel that I only use about 10% of JustWatch and that there’s a whole world that you can get from it. JustWatch, as a site, is something that you can use to search for TV and movies across streaming platforms. One thing that was missing before JustWatch was being able to know if there’s a certain movie that I’m looking for where I can find it. You can obviously Google it, just sort of one-off, and sometimes you’ll find lists that are outdated because those things change all of the time. You’ll see something that’s going to be on Netflix or Hulu one day, will not be there the next month, so since it’s always transient, it’s really annoying to not have a centralized place to be able to find this stuff. JustWatch is a centralized place. If I wanted to find out where to watch Face/Off, one of the greatest action movies of the ’90s, I would be able to just plug that into JustWatch and it’ll tell me where exactly it’s available, where it’s streaming, where I can buy it, all of that type of thing. You can tell JustWatch the type of mood that you’re in or the types of things that you really enjoy, and if you give it enough preferences, then it’ll spit out things that are related to those. It’ll tell you things that are comparable and it will give you some context on why they feel it’s comparable. It’s a really good discovery tool that’s absolutely great if you find yourself spending a lot of time with sort of the paralysis that comes with how much choice we have and what it is we can watch.

Libsyn Podcast Hosting
For people who are interested in starting podcasts or already have a podcast. There’s a few ways that you could go about it if you want to start a podcast. The way that most people begin when they’re first getting their feet wet is when, I’m speaking specifically for distribution, you can go through the process with Apple Podcast and with Spotify and with Stitcher and for NPR One and for all of the different places that people listen to podcasts. If you want to do it a whole lot faster and have a concentrated sort of streamlined place to do that for you, then I found Libsyn or any sort of podcast hosting-type site is going to be worth the amount of money that you’ll spend on it. If you end up having one of these distributors for podcasts, you can upload it once. You’ll set it up everything sort of the first time that you set up your podcast on the site and you’ll choose which podcast apps you want your podcast to automatically go out to. It takes a one-time setup, and then from then on whenever you upload a new episode, it will automatically push out to all of the different places that you would want your podcast to be published. It’ll automatically push out to Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, wherever else, without you having to manually go to Google Play and then manually going to Apple Podcast and then manually go to Stitcher and manually go to Spotify. Then, there’s obviously going to be metrics and things that you can track, but it’s a way to just have a streamlined process for distributing your podcast and making sure that you’re capturing a wide net. There’s so many different apps out there and so many different sites and places where people sort of have their preference for where they like to listen to podcasts. To be able to capture that wide net, you’re either going to spend a lot of time creating an account with each one of them, or you can just have someone do it for you. The someone that I have used in the past has been Libsyn and that has been an excellent resource and it’s a whole lot faster than doing it the long way.

Twitch TV
This one is very much related to the pandemic for me, something that has happened in my life since I live in New York. I live in a small apartment. Since the pandemic started, I haven’t traveled much and I haven’t seen my friends and my family physically as much, but there has been something that’s made me feel as if I’ve seen them really often, and that has been interacting with them and playing video games together and being able to see them on Twitch while we do it. Anyone’s children at this point will be more familiar with Twitch than most parents. Most of your kids, you’ve seen them watching other people playing video games, and there’s two primary places that you’ve probably seen them watch video games, one of them being YouTube and the other one being Twitch. They’re basically competitors at this point. There’s YouTube Live where people will stream, and then there’s Twitch, where people will stream their video games.The thing with Twitch is that it’s evolved from being something that’s only basically used for streaming video games to now being a site that’s for a lot more things, including if someone’s recording a podcast and they want to stream that podcast live, what they might do is do the livestream interview on Twitch and then later have that audio and make it into a podcast. There’s also game nights that people then play together if you’re playing an online game and it’s something that strangers can jump in and participate in or be a part of the audience. We see each other and we get the type of interaction and experience as close as possible to what we might have if it weren’t the pandemic and if we were just hanging out together and playing video games and having a conversation. It’s been a really good way to stay in touch with people over a shared experience aside from just looking at each other and having a conversation over a Zoom call.

If I read 30 books this year and want to look back to see what I thought about them, that’s what Goodreads would be used for. Since then, Goodreads was bought by Amazon, and with that Amazon money, it became a whole lot of things. At its core, it’s still an online bookshelf, but there is a whole lot more that comes with Goodreads now that it’s part of Amazon. There’s book giveaways that happen, people use it as a discovery tool to find things to read, to get recommendations. People write a lot of reviews there. It’s powerful and important enough that the success of a book is probably more affected by its rating on Goodreads than it would be on Amazon. I would say a positive review or a positive page on Goodreads probably pales in comparison to being listed on The New York Times Bestseller List, but Goodreads is definitely a place that people go to log their books and to find out what their friends are reading and what their friends thought about books. Early on, and this is something that I continue to use Goodreads for, is they’ve always had this feature where I list the books that I read, you guys can list the books that you read, and if I wanted to, I could click on your profile, I could find the feature that says, “Compare Books.” Then, I could see, “These are the books that Mark read that I also read, and this is what Mark thinks about those books versus what I think about those books.” If there’s any overlap in our Venn diagram of reading habits, I could say, “Oh, Mark loved this book and I hated it.” Or, “Mark hated this book and I loved it,” and it’ll give you a percentage of how similar your reading tastes are. I could know whether I want to accept a recommendation from Mark based on our reading tastes being so similar. “Oh, we read so many of the same books and we thought the same things about them. He’s recommending me this book, it’s a fair bet that he’s right, that it’s something that I’m going to enjoy.”On the other hand, if I’m looking and comparing myself to Kevin and his books, we only have two books in common because we clearly don’t read the same things and we rated them vastly different, then it’s like, “Oh, okay, I have an idea of his reading tastes, I have an idea of my reading tastes.” It’s a good way to interact with literature and reading while also interacting with your friend and seeing what they think about what it is that you’re reading.

A little about the upcoming book: Piccolo Is Black: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Pop Culture
I’m finishing a book due this year, which is a memoir about race, religion, and pop culture. A lot of my writing is based on pop culture analysis, and writing the book has been the major focus of my past year. The book is about my time growing up and forming an identity in a particular context. That context is one of a deeply religious family and also one where I loved pop culture as a kid. I loved cartoons. I loved anime. I loved comic books. I still love those things, but it was growing up in a time where those things did not have very diverse representation. The book is about forming an identity in the context of pop culture where you’re learning a lot about yourself through characters and you’re learning a lot about race. You’re doing certain mental gymnastics to try to make sense of the world through the stuff that entertains you as a kid, which is cartoons and entertainment.


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


26 February 2021


Beadsmith Thread Zap II

Trim, burns, or melts thread with one touch

When sewing, dealing with the thread ends can be a hassle. Tying a knot to finish a stitch you often don‘t want too much leftover thread, but you also don‘t want to cut it so short that the knot can be undone when under a bit of tension. Fraying ends of braided threads are also generally undesirable.

A common solution for synthetic threads is to take a lighter and melt the end of the thread. This will typically result in a blob bigger than the thread diameter so knots won‘t easily become undone and also prevent fraying as the individual strands have melted together. The problem is that the heat of a flame is hard to control and can easily melt or burn more thread than you wanted, or damage whatever you‘ve sewn.

The convenient solution is a Thread Zap. It comes with a resistance wire tip that heats up at the push of a button, allowing you to not only cut the thread precisely where you want but also to manipulate and shape the melted blob as you see fit without risking damaging the material around.

I have mostly been using it for leatherworking, dealing with waxed synthetic threads, finishing knots without branding the surrounding leather. I‘ve had great success melting the ends of knots together and pushing the half-molten treads down so the knot becomes almost invisible while making it basically impossible to become undone.

Beadsmith did introduce a successor which uses 2 AAA batteries instead of one AA one and some other minor upgrades, but I‘ve never felt the need to upgrade as the Thread Zap II performs admirably well.

-- Kristian Reinhart 02/26/21

25 February 2021

Great Shop Tips from Colin Knecht

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #81

Great Shop Tips from Colin Knecht

Get a grip!

Get a grip!

YouTube woodworker, Colin Knecht, has a fantastic series of videos where he shares his top shop tips and tricks. While these are obviously directed at woodworkers, many of the tips are useful to makers of many stripes. His most recent video in the series is a prime example. There is one tip here about cleaning saw blades, but the cover things, like easily finding the center of a workpiece, trimming “acid brushes” to make them more efficient to use with PVA glue, and using non-skid shelf pads on your bench to hold items you’re working on for sanding and such – these are applicable to many situations.

Which Home Furnace Filter is the Best?

Filter finder.

Filter finder.

On the amazing Project FarmTodd wonders what the real performance characteristics and differences are between cheap furnace filters and the expensive ones. As always, he creates testing rigs and puts a whole pile of filters, from $1 to $50, to the test.

Tl;Dr: So which one won? It’s complicated. The thicker filters (2″ and 4″) performed better than the common 1″ filter size, but your furnace may not accommodate a larger size. The permanent, washable filter did not perform well. Nor did the cheap ones. Looks like you want to get the thickest filter your furnace will accommodate and one with the most pleats in the outer filter. Overall, 3M brand filters did really well, like the 6001085, and the 1900. (Obviously, you need to get the filter that is the correct dimensions for your furnace.)

Nerding Out Over Pencils

In search of the perfect pencil.

In search of the perfect pencil.

I got a big kick out of this Make Something video. In it, Dave Picciuto spends 13 minutes talking about some of his favorite pencils while constantly apologizing for spending so much time talking about his favorite pencils. Dave’s favorites (to date) are the Koh-i-Nor Mechanical Clutch Pencil (to keep in his pocket with his Field Notes notebook) and the Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencil for having many pencils around the shop.

The C-Thru Triangle

"Memories...misty watercolored memories..."

“Memories…misty watercolored memories…”

This video from Adam Savage tweaked my nostalgia circuits. Like him, I started my adult worklife as a graphic designer and some of the first tools I fell in love with where the rulers, triangles, mechanical pencils, and pens of that trade. Here, he celebrates a favorite of mine, too, the C-Thru brand (Westcott) gridded triangle. The grid on this thing is perfect for alignment and it has a metal edge so your razor knife doesn’t cut into the plastic. I think I still have mine around here somewhere.


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

25 February 2021


Biothane Gold Series Webbing

All-purpose strap material

I encountered Biothane Gold about a decade ago when a work project required a strap handle that could accommodate various decontamination procedures, fairly high temperatures (up to 150F), and withstand static load of 100 pounds.

Biothane is a standard webbing that is coated in thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). The result is a product far superior webbing in that it doesn’t fray, holds up extremely well to all weather and sun exposure, is waterproof, incredibly easy to clean, and can be cut with fairly standard DIY tools.

It also lasts pretty much forever, whereas webbing can dry rot, degrade from UV exposure, and get brittle and stiff over time.

The main benefit is that Biothane looks new after years of complete neglect, can accept pretty much any fastener (I have even had it sewn at an industrial sewing shop, but usually use snaps or barrel nuts), is incredibly strong, and can be used in any environment.

Outside of industrial applications, I have used Biothane to make dog leashes, grab handles for a Jeep, handles for a moveable chicken coop, and to replace rotted leather handles on a steamer trunk. I have since sold the Jeep, but the leashes have literally 3 scuff marks after 4 years of hikes and the handles to the chicken coop look perfect despite sitting in the San Diego sun and encountering the occasional weed whacker over the same time period.

My only experience is with 1-inch Gold series in black, but it looks like the line has been greatly extended to include different textures, colors and have reflective material as well. Great product that will stand up to pretty much anything you can throw at it.

-- Ross Carmichael 02/25/21


img 11/26/15


Crowdsourced design

img 03/7/08

Tech Web Belt

Last Chance Heavy Duty Belt * Tech Web Belt

img 12/11/03

Beyond Backpacking

Super ultra lightweight camping

img 10/3/12

Murphy Bed

Next generation of hideaway beds

img 12/3/15


Satisfying audio books

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 267: Jordan Calhoun

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 266: Travis McElroy

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 265: Seth Godin

Picks and shownotes

24 February 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.

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.