25 May 2020


Kuretake No. 13 Brush Pen

Best brush pen

I’ve been a brush pen user for years. I love them. They’re my primary sketching tool & I always have at least one in my bag and one in my car. My first was the Pentel Pocket Brush. From there I moved on to the Pentel Standard Brush and the Kuretake No. 8. Then I was given a Kuretake No. 13.

I still have all the others, and still use them, but the Kuretake No. 13 is the finest of the lot. Being able to move, in one stroke, from a thin, fine line to a fat, smushed line is what makes all brush pens so fun. Even my least favorite brush pen is a blast to use but it’s the Kuretake that gives me the most control. My thin lines are thinner, my fat lines are more consistent and I get more variety between the two than with any other pen. Further, after a broad, smushed stroke, the bristles return to shape immediately, allowing me to move onto a more delicate line without having to dab the brush back into shape on a piece of scrap paper.

Further, the ink flow is just right. A lot of brush pens, with a full ink cartridge, have a tendency to be “wet.” When you press the bristles down for a fat line, the ink can puddle on the page, leaving a shiny wet line just begging to be smeared across your sketch. Great, if that’s the effect you want. I rarely do. I like an ink line that’s controllable and dries quickly enough that I can move around the page without worrying too much about where to put my hand.

The pen uses water-based dye ink refill cartridges and the default ink is just a bit blacker than the default Pentel ink & reacts similarly with water. Because I’ve ruined two Pentel brush pens trying DIY refilling tricks, I’ve no idea how well the Kuretake reacts to other inks. If someone wants to try it, please let us know how it goes.



-- Barry McWilliams 05/25/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2014 — editors)

24 May 2020


Deep YouTube/Future self meditation/Vanishing Asia

Recomendo: issue no. 201

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Deep YouTube
My daughter told me about Astronaut.io. It’s a website that plays a few seconds of random YouTube videos with almost no views — like this video of a cafe in Vietnam with 1 view, and this one of goats eating weeds near a freeway in rural Japan with 0 views. After a few seconds, it starts playing another video. It’s addictive. Many of the videos aren’t in English, which is a plus for me. — MF

Meet your future self
I tend to use meditation to help me slow down and ease into discomfort or when I feel my anxiety flaring up, but I came across this 30-minute Life Visioning meditation on my Aura app and felt completely transformed after it. At first the breathing exercises and noises felt hokey, but it helped to put me into an almost hypnotic relaxed state, and then the narrator took me down a dark tunnel to meet my “future self” and I was able to see her so clearly! I was so moved by this whole practice. I’ve done it three times since, and each time I discover some new desire or goal that is buried within me. — CD

Time travel in Asia
With shameless self-promotion I recommend you follow my new Vanishing Asia Instagram. Every day I post one amazing photo I have taken of an exotic part of Asia that is disappearing because of modernity. The images are a few of the many thousand that will appear in my Vanishing Asia book later this year. In the meantime enjoy this ride in a time machine. Also available on TumblrFacebookPinterest, and Twitter. — KK

Cheap stock images and videos
Jumpstory is a royalty-free stock image and video service with millions of photos, videos, and illustrations that you can use for websites, books, presentations, and more. The images have been curated from public domain sources, and they’ve done a great job of tagging and organizing everything. I use Jumpstory images on my website, Boing Boing. A lifetime subscription is $99. — MF

Completely improvised comedy special
Before I watched Middleditch and Schwartz, the very little improv I was exposed to was not enjoyable. I get anxious when jokes don’t land and then I sympathy laugh and the whole thing is awkward. But now I’m stuck at home, and in desperate need of laughs and this have been the best comedy special I’ve seen. It’s like they’ve harnessed the superpowers of a childlike imagination and then threw it into adult situations, and it’s hilarious and magical to watch. — CD

Scenarios for the next 9 months
High uncertainty ahead, for sure. There is no consensus on what will happen in the next 9 months. Every scientist, economist, sociologist, and futurist disagree on what might happen, but we still need to make plans as individuals and organizations. A very helpful tool in a reign of high uncertainty is to use scenario planning. The best set of near-term scenarios I’ve seen is this one, Scenarios for the Covid-19 Future, available as 45 slides, which include instructions on how to use scenarios. You can’t predict what will happen, but you can rehearse for four different possibilities. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 05/24/20

24 May 2020


Dramm’s Breaker Nozzle

Highest quality garden watering nozzle

I can’t count how many cheap watering implements we’ve gone through since we bought this house fifteen years ago. Big box store watering widgets seem to last just a few weeks before heading to the landfill.

I think I’ve found a solution. During the Garden Blogger’s Fling I attended back in June there was a demo by a Dramm Company representative. What impressed me most at the demo was Dramm’s simplest products, the Heavy-Duty Aluminum Water Breaker Nozzle combined with their Aluminum Shut-Off Valve.

The breaker nozzle provides a gentle shower, much like a Haws Watering Can and would be appropriate to use on seedlings and vegetables. The shut-off valve is extremely durable. Neither item has plastic parts. They are sold separately.

While a lot more expensive than those plastic watering wands at the big box store, I have a feeling that these two high quality Dramm components will last a lot longer.

-- Eric Knutzen 05/24/20

23 May 2020


Power Cord Winder

No more tangles

I use several corded power tools around the yard and garden such as a chain saw, leaf vacuum, hedge trimmer, etc. Many’s the time I would put off a chore using them because I would have to uncoil the 100′ of power cord and probably have to untangle/unkink it before using it. After the job was done, it would take another few minutes to coil up the power cord and try not to tangle it in the process.

A couple of types of cord reels I tried didn’t work particularly well. So I bought this weird looking cord winder a few years ago. After installing the wall mount near the power outlet in my garage and winding my cord into the basket, I was quite surprised to discover I could pull out the 100′ of power cord, tangle/kink free in about a minute to the end of my driveway. I would do my chore (usually the leaf vacuum for lawn clippings and leaves) and, in another minute or two I could wind up the cord, detach the cord winder from the wall mount and put it on the shelf. Those chores now get done when needed instead of being put off since the cord unwinding/re-winding takes so little time.

-- Jim Service 05/23/20

22 May 2020


Ariel Waldman, NASA Advisor

Cool Tools Show 227: Ariel Waldman

Our guest this week is Ariel Waldman. Ariel is an advisor to NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. She led a five-week expedition to Antarctica to film microscopic life under the ice. Ariel is the author of the book What’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There and the global director of Science Hack Day. You can find her on YouTube @arielwaldman.

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

Show notes:

Nikon E-200 LED Microscope (with LED Lumencor SOLA Fluorescence attachment)
This is related to going to Antarctica. I have a Nikon E200-LED Microscope, which is kind of a basic microscope, as things go. It’s around $2,000 or so, which is a bit pricey if you’re just wanting to play around for fun, but if you’re wanting something as a professional tool, it’s rather affordable. I really love it because it’s LED. A lot of microscopes use halogen bulbs and they are just really not very fun to play around with because you get a lot of weird sort of lighting artifacts when you have bulbs. Having an actual LED microscope is really nice and it’s really modular, which is the best part of it, and it’s fairly lightweight as well, so I was able to take it down to Antarctica with me in a Pelican case. And the majority of all the microscopic critters that I filmed while I was down there was using this microscope. You could put it on a desk easily. It does have eyepieces, but I specifically get microscopes that have trinocular ports, which just means that you can attach a camera to a third eyepiece essentially. So what I do is I take my Canon DSLR 6D Mark II, and I attach it through a specialty tube to the trinocular port. And that’s how I was able to film a lot of the microscopic creatures in high quality.

LabCam for iPhone ($240)
I’ve got a couple of things that are related to microscopy on my list. One is instead of using a Canon camera with a microscope, I often use a LabCam, which is a really great thing that attaches to an iPhone that allows you to actually just pop your iPhone into the eyepiece of most microscopes. And why I really like specifically LabCam is because it uses an actual machined metal that you can sort of just dip right into any eyepiece of any microscope for the most part, like every major name microscope, and even off-brand ones too, and having an actual machine piece of metal that allows you to dip it into an eyepiece means that you get perfect quality photos and videos, anything that you want to shoot off of your iPhone from any microscope. And why that’s really great is if you’re someone who, for instance, you get to visit other people’s microscopes, or you visit other labs or things of that nature, it means that pretty much, you always have a camera, no matter what microscope you’re using, and you don’t have to rely on really outdated cameras that are often attached to microscopes. The other good thing about it is that there’s a lot of 3D printed hardware out there that attaches to microscopes. But I’ve found that because they often use plastic only, and don’t really use machine pieces of metal, that they don’t fit that well, and they’re really finicky. So if you imagine binoculars, imagine being able to pop the lens out of one of your binoculars and instead insert your own lens attached to your phone. That’s kind of what this does. LabCam is somewhere around like $240-$250. Again, it’s something that I wouldn’t recommend unless it’s something that you’re doing a lot or you’re intending to do a lot because otherwise it’s way overpriced. As I said, there’s a lot of 3D printed solutions out there, that if you’re just wanting to use it once or twice, then I would go with a cheaper option that’s not as good. But if you need something to work perfectly every time and just be no hassle and you visit different microscopes all the time, then this is actually really worth it.

Macbook Pro 16” 8TB
When I came back from Antarctica, I had 500 microscope videos and 400 videos of the actual expedition, in separate files. I tried to keep them as organized as I could while I was there, but even when I came back, I spent two months reorganizing all 900 of those videos and I was doing it through file names and stuff like that. I’m probably doing it in the most archaic way possible. I’m both embarrassed and proud to say that I got the 8 terabyte MacBook Pro because it’s ridiculous, but because I do so much video work, and this is literally my only computer. It was really worth it. I specifically didn’t purchase a laptop for eight years. So I had the very first MacBook Pro Retina from 2012 and I waited eight years on that laptop and it still was working great to purchase a new one, but I do so much work in video now that having 8 terabytes as my main computer, and having it in a laptop is just really fantastic.

Mnemosyne 182 Gridded Notebook ($9)
For all the tech and everything, I am actually pretty analog. I started off in analog photography and I just like physicality in a lot of things, so I still write most everything. I use this notebook as a to-do list, as a habit tracker, as a brainstormer. There’s something I like about it because it’s more of a horizontal format notebook and it just feels that much more different. And so I can really just think about things differently. For people who are very physical like that, I guess that might make sense. It’s hard to put into words, but this notebook has probably been the most successful notebook I’ve had in terms of purchasing it and then actually using it and not just admiring it. It’s got a ringed bound to it. It means that you can just store a pen with your notebook at any given time really easily. Things like that I really appreciate because I do write down most everything that I’m doing.

About What’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There
This was just a really fun book to put together. It’s stories from astronauts about their time and space, but it’s more about the embarrassing, funny, silly times that they’ve had in space. Things that make it a lot more relatable about, “you spend your whole life trying to go to space and then you’re there and then you do something and you’re totally scared someone’s going to make fun of you”, or you do weird experiments with bodily fluids. It’s just a short and sweet book about the delightful fun aspects of space, as told from over a dozen different astronauts, which I think is important because a lot of times we’re given a very singular narrative about what it’s like in space and how people feel about it and how it’s either the greatest thing or not. I really wanted to show a variety of different narratives about what people thought about their time in space.


21 May 2020

A Place to Hang Your Sled

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #46

I am thrilled to announce that I have just signed a contract with Make: to do Volume 2 of my popular Tips and Tales from the Workshop. I had such a ball putting together the first volume and have already collected lots of great material for Volume 2. Given the current state of things, I’m not sure what the projected release date will be, but I’ll let you know as things progress.

A Place to Hang Your Sled

When possible, hang it where you need it.

When possible, hang it where you need it.

Tyler Winegarner writes on Facebook: “I saw Adam Savage’s video on making his tiny hammer and thought ‘Why isn’t my crosscut sled living on my table saw?,’ so now I have this in my life.

Turning Old Gloves into Rubber Bands

Image from FamilyHandyman.com

Image from FamilyHandyman.com

This one is from the “I never thought of that” file. Family Handyman has this tip on cutting up old and worn heavy-duty rubber gloves to create rubber bands of various lengths and thicknesses.

Bolt and Fastener Info

Know your bolts.

Know your bolts.

When I was working on the Maker’s Notebook, I discovered the Bolt Depot’s bold and fastener charts. I thought they were so fabulous and would make a stellar addition to the reference section in the back of the notebook. I reached out to them countless times and never got a response, so I gave up. I just ran into this page again and thought I’d share it. The PDF set includes bolt anatomy and composition, sizing charts, size/type markings, and more.

Shut-In Artbot Fun

Hours of fun for kids of all ages.

Hours of fun for kids of all ages.

My friend Steve Davee posted this wonderful Instructable on creating watercolor “vibrobots” out of old keycaps, Q-tips, and pager motors. This would be a great project to do with your kids.

Making Your Own Bandy-Clamps

Turning spring clamps into bendy clamps.

Turning spring clamps into bendy clamps.

Here’s a video on how easy it is to make your own band clamps using basic spring clamps and a bike inner tube.

The Maker’s Muse

Yeah, that works. Spotted on Facebook.

Yeah, that works. Spotted on Facebook.

Shop Talk

For a buck each, you can afford to stash many of these around the shop and house.

For a buck each, you can afford to stash many of these around the shop and house.

On the subject of “homely tools,” reader Smudgy writes:

“I love these cheap-ass 4-in-1 screwdrivers, a la this Habror Freight special. $2, or $1 if they’re on sale, or free if you’ve got a coupon, it gets about 98% of what I need done, done. It says it’s a 4-in-1 screwdriver but it’s actually a 6-in-1: the sockets for the two dual screwdriver tips happen to be sized exactly for the two most common hex-head machine bolts in your average household appliance. Whether I’m fixing up my washing machine or my furnace, I can get most of the job done with just this one gimmicky tool. And they’re pretty sturdy. I’ve had my current one for maybe 5 years. Sometimes, they wear out when the spring loaded bearing in the driver tips wears out, but that can be mitigated with a bit of tape for a snugger fit. Or sometimes, the rubber grippies on the handle wear off. The biggest risk is really just misplacing it. But for the price , it’s cheap enough to replace, and I’m not sure there’s a tool made that gives as much all-around household utility per dollar.”


On the subject of “maker sartorial,” I got a message from David Gordon. He’s a shepherds crook maker! How cool is that?

“I’m a stick-maker. I make shepherds crooks and all kinds of walking sticks, including with carved heads. Wherever I go, I wear a military style waistcoat designed for attachment of assorted pouches and other carrying pockets, originally intended for ammunition, a side-arm, and medical packs. Instead, I carry a Japanese pruning saw, for cutting shanks, a larger folding saw for cutting thinner tree-trunks into small logs to season, and assorted woodcarving knives, chisels, and rasps (especially acid-etched-tooth Japanese woodcarvers rasps). Effectively what most people would carry in a toolbox, I carry about on my person. The carrier vest is designed to be stab-proof, very important when cutting blackthorn or hawthorn, and the pouches can be attached as convenient for working.”


(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 05/21/20


How systems work

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Acme Crow Call

Produce the call of young and old crows

img 05/19/20

Totes Compact Umbrella

Best collapsible umbrella

wow_thumb2 05/18/20

Best Electric Precision Driver

Cordless Driver for Small Screws

See all the reviews


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Cheapest hi-quality photo scans

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A knife that will get through security

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Griphoist (Tirfor) Hand Winch

Better than a come-along or winch

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Snorkel Hot Tub

Wood powered hot tub

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 227: Ariel Waldman

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 226: Maggie Koerth

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 225: Rob Beschizza

Picks and shownotes

20 May 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.

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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.