21 June 2021


Sanding Belt Cleaner

Increase the life of your sanding belts and discs

I have used belt sanders for many years for the usual things — smoothing rough lumber, evening out surfaces, spot refinishing hardwood floors (carefully!), etc.

A couple of years ago, I made a simple block to hold the belt sander in place so I can use it as a table sander. As expected, after using a belt for a while it gets clogged up with sawdust, paint slag, and glue schmoo.

In the past, my solution was to put more weight behind the sander until it was just heating the stock without taking much off — a sign it was new belt time.

Then one day whilst picking up some new belts, I noticed a king kong-sized rubber eraser labeled “Sanding Belt Cleaner” on the store shelf. It was about $10 so I figured “Why not?”

It languished in the sanding tool drawer for a few whiles/months until I was sanding some old painted window sashes for restoration. As you might anticipate, sanding old painted wood really clogs up the belt fast. When I went to the drawer for a new belt, I saw the Sanding Belt Cleaner and decided it was a good time to give it a try. Boy howdy, it was a revelation.

After a few seconds of pressing it on the running sander and the belt looked like new. Not only that, it worked like new too! The Sanding Belt Cleaner is literally a super-sized gum rubber eraser. I believe the rubber gum melts a little on the running belt, catching and rolling up all the wood dust, paint flakes, and plywood glue schmoo into rubber eraser slag. Not unlike using tape to lift hair and dust off clothing.

Now I always use it before putting the sander away so it will be clean and ready for the next use. The sander belts not only work way better clean, they last way longer. I guesstimate I get 5-10 times more use per belt by keeping them clean. You can probably find one at your local tool/hardware store but of course, Amazon has a bunch of vendors too.

-- RJ Godin 06/21/21

20 June 2021


Flush/Pattern generator/Phantom Kangaroo

Recomendo: issue no. 257

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Nearest toilets
When you got to go, you got to go. Flush is a free iPhone app that shows on a map all the nearest public toilets. It is indispensable. — KK

Online pattern generator
This easy-to-use doodad.dev pattern generator has a distinct 1980s graphic design vibe. Use it in your designs or just play around with it to see what cool patterns you can make. It would be fun to use this to make book covers or fabric pattern designs. — MF

An eerie place for poems
Poetry is my true love. The imagery of poetry and abstract concepts ignite new connections in my brain. A creation of mine is Phantom Kangaroo — an online and print poetry journal. Over the last decade I have published 300+ poems by poets who write about the surreal, supernatural and occult. I chose these subjects because the otherworldly is what awakens me. This year, I stitched together issues 1 through 23 and published them in a hardcover anthology that you can thumb through whenever you need to break out of the mundane. Issue 24 is free to read online and features a creepy rhyming poem about cats, canonization of women, and incarnating into a body that feels like kiwi. Check it out here. — CD

Four digital note boards
Four Note Boards is an online app and private text tool where you can paste and drag text around into one of four boxes. It’s perfect for when you need to compare blocks of text. I used it to compare and select poems for the new issue of Phantom Kangaroo. It’s simple and allows you to think multi-dimensionally. — CD

Wolf warrior diplomacy
Pundits are calling China’s new diplomacy “wolf warrior” mode. This is in reference to a pair of patriotic films that were the highest grossing Chinese films of all time. If you want to get a sense of China’s new sense of pride and view of itself, watch Wolf Warrior 2. This is a super slick action film (subtitled), with Rambo, James Bond, and the Avengers all rolled into one, and the Americans are the evil bad guys. — KK

Inexpensive tool set
I bought this $20 Cartman 39-Piece Tool Set for a young relative moving out on their own. It has everything you would need to handle 99% of the simple repair jobs around an apartment. — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 06/20/21

18 June 2021


Alana Aamodt, Toy Designer

Cool Tools Show 283: Alana Aamodt

Our guest this week is Alana Aamodt. Alana is a toy designer and educator from Denver, Colorado. She has a background in physics and art, and a love of Rube Goldberg machines. The combination of the three serve as the inspiration for her company, Momentix Toys, which uses chain reactions to teach design skills through joyful experimentation and hands-on play. You can find Momentix Toys on Instagram @momentix_toys and on Facebook @MomentixToys.

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

Show notes:

Epilog Zing Laser Cutter
The one I have the most experience with is the Epilog Zing laser cutter. I use the 40 and the 60 watt. I would love to work with the more high-powered ones, but I was consistently using laser cutters to prototype out of plywood usually. So quarter-inch plywood was my favorite material. To make kind of flat-pack designs and then glue them together really quickly to make a three-dimensional design, I could do so quickly on a laser cutter. Way easier than working a CNC or trying to make it in a wood shop, at least for me. My experience with making has been shaped around makerspaces and my experiences with them in community makerspaces and college makerspaces. And Epilog’s interface is really easy to work with in making it available to community members. In all the makerspaces I’ve been in, it’s always been Epilog. I ran a makerspace in college, and whenever I had an issue, it was really easy to call them up and be like, “I don’t know why this isn’t working,” and they would give me instructions right away.

Fusion 360
Cost was a driving factor in being that I wanted to design things in college. I went to a liberal arts school, so it wasn’t like we had a big engineering department to teach me how to model. So I had to go the free DIY, YouTube instructions route. And Fusion is free for college students, so I used that for a long time. And then Fusion is also free if you have a startup for like three years. So I have yet to pay for Fusion, which is a big pro. This is an AutoCAD program or a computer-assisted design. I think they have a version that maybe works on the web as well as kind of an app or desktop version, if I’m not mistaken. If anybody ever wants to go play around on Tinkercad, I feel like the really, really basics of Fusion kind of mirror Tinkercad. You have this shape. You pull and extrude it, is the basics. I really appreciate how you can add the different materials in there, so you can make it function like it’s made of wood or made of steel or whatever. And it’s just been really helpful for trying to communicate something I’m designing that doesn’t have anything similar to it. Especially with manufacturers, I can be like, “Oh, it needs to move like this,” and I can animate it to move like that. And it’ll generate drawings from your 3D model, which is the drawings I’ve sent to all the factories I’ve worked with before. So I don’t need to make any technical drawings. It will do it for me.

Mini-Nalgene 12oz water bottle ($9)
This is my favorite tiny water bottle. Having grown up in Colorado, I always carry a water bottle with me everywhere. The altitude. I need to be hydrated, but this is one I usually take when I’m camping. I love to camp. I love to canoe and go in the back country, and I feel like I have my best ideas when I’m out there. And I always take this with me, and it’s one of those objects that I feel like has served many purposes in my life. In a camping setting, very useful for if you want to have coffee or a tea or lemonade or something, and you don’t want to empty your entire water bottle for. And if you just want like a little bit of coffee or something like that, it’s the perfect size. It’s also very lightweight and small. When I’ve been camping or backpacking in really cold places, at the end of the night when you heat up some hot water, put it in the small water bottle, and kind of like tuck it into your armpit or you can sleep with it. It’s not as bulky as a big water bottle.

Googly Eyes ($9)
They’re just really joyful and silly. And if you need a break to go put some googly eyes on something, it just forces you to acknowledge it in a completely different way, which can be a really fun design-thinking exercise. And this is kind of a way to kind of personify the objects around your house, which I know we’re coming to the end of quarantine. But when we were all stuck in our house for a long time, I was definitely seeing how many googly eyes I could put around my house and not have my roommates notice them, which they still haven’t noticed most of them. Objects take on a character of their own. Suddenly, you’re looking at something that had one identity, and now it’s got a completely different personality to it. I think it’s just a healthy way to approach many things, and googly eyes feel kind of like the embodiment of that practice.

About the Momentix MotionKit (Launching Summer 2021):

The Momentix MotionKit is a modern wooden toy set whose pieces nudge, roll, spin, and tilt, transforming household objects into Rube Goldberg machines. We designed it to be simple and colorful, so anyone can practice creative thinking by reimagining the world around them while. We also run workshops and offer open-source resources on our website for educators.


17 June 2021

Edge Gluing Tip

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #91

This is going to be a somewhat brief newsletter. Still in the throws of moving and have little time, but I wanted to get something out.

The final installment of the block mold skill set is postponed again. Thanks for your patience.

Edge Gluing Tip

Smear the glue over the edge, not down along it.

Smear the glue over the edge, not down along it.

North of the Border is a YouTube channel where crafter Adam makes really clever book nooks (little dioramas that go on bookshelves). During this Mines of Moria infinity mirror episode, he shares a great tip. When gluing two pieces of material together (especially something you want to keep clean and glue-free, like mirror glass), don’t apply the glue all the way to where the two pieces will join or smear the glue down along edge (as it will accumulate as you go). Apply a thin bead of glue along the edge and then smear it out and over the over the edge. This way, when you join the two pieces, there will be no glue squeeze-out along the seam of the join. (See the video if this to too confusing).

The Virtues of Vacuum Forming

Mattel Vac-u-Form toy flashbacks.

Mattel Vac-u-Form toy flashbacks.

In this Tested Tools videoAdam Savage talks about the utility and wonders of having a vacuum forming machine in your shop. In specific, he talks about a 5″ x 5″ budget dental vacuum former which you can get for around $150 online. This device is perfect for scale modelers, terrain and prop makers, prototypers, and anyone who wants to reproduce small plastic parts.

Upping Your YouTube Game

In this nearly 30-minute video, YouTuber Zach Fredman shares a lot of really great tips on how to improve your own video content. All online content creators should watch this.

Packing Box Tip

See what's inside from all 4 sides.

See what’s inside from all 4 sides.

Moving. It’s something most of us hate doing. So many boxes to pack, move, and then unpack. You can makes things go a little smoother with a few simple improvements. Using uniform, reasonably-sized boxes, such as banker boxes, can help in easier moving and efficient stacking. And clear and smart labeling. Often, people write on the box lid, but the lids can get mixed up, or they write directly on the box (and cross out and write over the labels for a subsequent move or other reuse). I find the best way is to use two 3×5 cards per box, folded over the two opposing edges of the box. This way, a box label is visible regardless of how the boxes get stacked. The cards can then be removed or new cards taped over the old ones for future moves or other uses.

Yard Sales: Arrive at the End
Everyone knows the yard sale wisdom of getting there at the very beginning of the day to snag the prime pickins. But showing up at the very end of the day has its rewards, too. Most people don’t want to haul everything back into the house, so they’re in the mood to sell super cheap or just give stuff away. We had a yard sale last weekend and after it closed, people were still coming. We didn’t want to deal with any of it (we were so exhausted), so we just told people to take whatever they wanted.

Shop Talk

Dummy Centaur rocket tank wired by newsletter reader Dave Porter.

Dummy Centaur rocket tank wired by newsletter reader Dave Porter.

Mistakes were made [my mistake, not Fran’s]. Dave Porter writes:

Thanks for the piece on WD-40. Just a correction, it was used on the Atlas rocket program (not Titan). I was a rocket technician at General Dynamics Space Systems division in the 80s and we heard about WD-40, though I don’t remember ever using it. Atlas was a General Dynamics rocket, Titan was not. GD also built an upper stage rocket called Centaur that was often paired with Atlas, and also with Titan.

The part about the tanks being balloons is what really blew my mind when I started working there. When we were testing tanks we had to have a 24-hour watch on them to make sure the pressure never fell or they would collapse. Also, when working around them every tool we used had to have a tether on it because one little ding in the tank from a dropped tool could be a disaster.

I included a photo of a dummy Centaur rocket tank that I wired with strain gauges and thermocouples for a stage separation test. The white blocks on the tank are where the rocket motors would attach.

When I worked there, it was at a short-lived commercial division of the company that sold launches.


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

17 June 2021



Secure wall plugs in problem surfaces

The toilet paper holder in the bathroom was loose because the holes in the wall were crumbling, and too big for anchor plugs. I used bigger plugs, but that only made the holes bigger. I wasn’t sure how to fix the problem, so the holder remained loose for a few years, much to the consternation of my wife and daughters.

I stumbled across a product called Wetnfix, designed to “secure wall plugs in problem surfaces.” I had my doubts it would work but I thought it would be worth a try.


It comes with 20 cotton mesh discs treated with gypsum plaster.


I dipped a disc in a glass of water and wrapped it around a wall plug (not included). Actually, I used two discs per wall plug because the holes were so large.


Then I stuck the plugs in the hole and tapped them with a hammer until they were flush with the wall. A few minutes the plaster was set and I fastened the toilet paper holder to the wall.


It worked! I suspect it’s likely to hold, at least until my nephew stands on it so he can look out the window.

-- Mark Frauenfelder 06/17/21


img 06/16/21

What’s in my desk? — Jayme Boucher

What’s in my desk? issue #106

img 06/16/21

High Temperature Glue Gun

For better bonding to metal, wood, plastic, ceramics, magnets, and other nonporous materials

img 06/14/21

Magnetic tool holder

Keeps tools within easy reach

img 06/14/21

Lineman’s Compound Action Pliers

Compound leverage design increases cutting pressure by 50 percent

img 06/11/21

Invitation to Show and Tell

Submit your short video reviews

See all the reviews



Cool Tools Show 283: Alana Aamodt

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 282: Mike Senese

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 281: Seth Raphael

Picks and shownotes

16 June 2021


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