27 November 2020


Julie Sokolow, Film Director

Cool Tools Show 254: Julie Sokolow

Our guest this week is Julie Sokolow. Julie is the director of the new documentary Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story. The film profiles an activist who walked barefoot across America to protest climate change. She’s also the director of the feature documentaries Woman on Fire and Aspie Seeks Love. You can find her on Twitter @juliesokolow and Facebook and Instagram @julie.sokolow.

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Show notes:

Transcendental Meditation + Catching the Big Fish + Transcendence
I’m a big fan of David Lynch and always sought to learn more about his creative process. I was so intrigued when he started to write about Transcendental Meditation. I read his book Catching the Big Fish, and followed it up with Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal’s book Transcendence. Both claimed that by meditating for 20 minutes twice a day, one could significantly improve one’s mental health and increase creativity. I learned TM about seven years ago and it’s helped me overcome anxieties that were holding me back. I love the sense of calm, confidence, and connectedness it gives me. I can’t think of a cooler tool than a mantra!

3’ by 2’ Cork Board ($25)
The first time I edited a feature-length documentary, I had no clue what I was doing. I felt completely overwhelmed by mountains of footage and no sense of how to organize it all. The end result was alright, but I needed a better system. For my second documentary, my producer got me a giant cork board and advised me to map out the story structure. Wow, what a help! I loved writing brief scene descriptions on notecards and rearranging the scenes on the cork board. It gave me a sense of control and a much-needed bird’s-eye view of the story I was trying to tell. I would recommend a massive cork board to anyone working on a big project. You have to break things down into manageable chunks (chapters, scenes, whatever). Also, standing at the cork board gets me away from the computer, even if it’s just for five minutes.

Timbuk2 Backpacks (varies)
I’m a city dweller and I tend to carry a backpack with me wherever I go. Back in the day, I used to buy flimsy bags that would fall apart in a year. Then, I discovered Timbuk2 backpacks, which are insanely durable. I’ve had the Spire for four years and it still looks brand new. It’s comfortable, waterproof, and has tons of pockets. I use it for lugging around anything from a 15 inch laptop to a bunch of groceries. Last year, I bought the lightweight and attractive Tuck Pack, which is perfect for the gym. The main compartment is spacious and easily houses sneakers plus a change of clothes. The water bottle pocket is perfect for a 20oz HydroFlask. I’m not using these bags as much during the pandemic, but I still like to preach the gospel of Timbuk2.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl ($9, paperback)
As many of us helplessly wait out the pandemic, it would be wise to read this inspiring book by Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He managed to derive meaning from the most intense and harrowing experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. He attributed his survival to his ability to find meaning and purpose, in spite of suffering. Frankl writes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves.” Frankl used his experience to found logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy focused on helping people find meaning in their lives.

About Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story:
My latest film is about a writer and activist who decided to walk barefoot across the country in order to protest climate change. He managed to walk over 700 miles completely barefoot. He was filming himself the whole time, posting videos on YouTube. He’s a very funny and very inspiring kind of person who the New Yorker called a compulsive social media diarist, and likened him to Andy Kaufman. So he’s just a really wonderful character. And sadly, people might remember the news coverage when he died on this walk. So the film is also about that. There’s interviews with his friends and family to give a portrait of his life and the walk and also make meaning out of that situation. The film is out now on Amazon and iTunes.


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


27 November 2020


Seven years of Cool Tools Gift Guides

A compilation of our favorite gift suggestions

For the past seven years, we’ve released a series of holiday gift guides. The selections are, for the most part, timeless. Here they are:

2019 Gift Guide

2018 Gift Guide

2017 Gift Guide

2016 Gift Guide

2015 Gift Guide

2014 Gift Guide

2013 Gift Guide

-- Mark Frauenfelder 11/27/20

26 November 2020

Using Dowels as Drawer Slides

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #70

Using Dowels as Drawer Slides

Clever idea for drawer slides.

Clever idea for drawer slides.

In this 3x3Custom video, Tamar experiments with a unique way of making slides for the drawers of a desk. Spoiler alert: She uses dowels. Besides the slides themselves, there are some other clever ideas here, like how she cuts, spaces, and sands the grooves for the slides. It’s also inspiring to see how she works around the limitations of her workshop where she has a very small planer and no biscuit joiner.

Palm Router Hacks

Not much to look at, but it gets the job done.

Not much to look at, but it gets the job done.

In this Donald Bell Cool Tools video, he talks with maker and author, Mike Warren, about his palm router. Mike offers some useful router tricks, like making a plywood sled that attaches to your router’s base plate and turns it into a crude planer. And he shows how he cut a hole in his workbench that accepts the router from underneath and attaches to a plywood base and fence to create a homemade router table.

3D Printed Metric Fasteners Guide

Yet another 3D measuring guide.

Yet another 3D measuring guide.

Here’s a useful fastener visual measuring guide on Instructables. It measures screw and bolts lengths, screw and bolts diameters, nut diameters, and drill bits sizes.

Kitchen Cleaning Tips

Cleaning silver with an aluminum baking pan, baking soda, salt, and boiling water.

Cleaning silver with an aluminum baking pan, baking soda, salt, and boiling water.

A few weeks ago, I had bookmarked a “kitchen cleaning hacks” article from Family Handyman and was hoping to run it here. But when I finally got around to reading it, I thought the tips were pretty dull and many seemed suspect. So, I was happy to see my Cool Tools colleague Claudia Dawson recommend this piece from TheKitchn. Same concept, much sharper ideas. One thing they recommend, which I just recently started doing myself, is to keep a self-soaping kitchen brush in your bathroom and spend a few minutes each shower cleaning the tiles. I’ve been doing this with an old toothbrush, but I think I’m going to trade up.

Just Say No to Drano

Stop pouring money down your drain.

Stop pouring money down your drain.

Drano and other decloggers are expensive, and if you have old, sluggish pipes like I do, you can spend a lot keeping the flow going. Like a lot of household products, there are a number of DIY alternatives that work just as well (or almost) and don’t cost much. For an easy pipe declogger, pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a ½ cup of white vinegar. Let it sit for half an hour and then pour about 2 quarts of boiling water after it. Repeat as needed. BTW: If you do use Drano, don’t follow the instructions on the bottle of pouring 1/5, 1/3, or a half of the contents as usually specified. They’re just trying to get you to use a lot of product. Pour about a shot glass at a time. Put a full kettle of water on, and when it whistles, pour it down the drain. Repeat until the drain is clear.

3rd Edition of the Maker’s Notebook

I made this!

I made this!

I am thrilled to announce the third edition of the Maker’s Notebook. This was one of the projects that I spearheaded when I first joined the Make: staff many moons ago. For this edition of the popular project notebook, I wrote a new introduction, corrected bad links, and added a bunch of new reference material, like 3D printing filament and microcontroller selection charts, top tips for makers, maker slang, and more. The bulk of the book is a lab-compliant graph paper notebook with an elastic closure. A sturdy pocket in the back is filled with fun vinyl stickers you can use to customize/storyboard the cover.

Maker’s Muse

Where there's a will...

Where there’s a will…


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

26 November 2020


What’s in my bag? — James Folta

What's in my bag? issue #77

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


James Folta is a humor writer and the managing editor of Points in Case. He co-created two satirical projects: The Neu Jorker and Paul Ryan magazine. He co-writes a weekly newsletter, A Newsletter of Humorous Writing, tweets at @jamesfolta, and has a website, jamesfolta.com.


About the bag

Dance of Death Tote | The Met Store ($35)
I have a lot of totes, but this one is sentimental: every month my two best friends and I spend a day exploring a part of New York City where we don’t often go. I got this tote at The Cloisters in Washington Heights on one of these Boys Days last year, between a ramble through Fort Tryon and a snack of Liebman’s hot dogs.

What’s inside the bag

Kaweco Sport Fountain Pen ($22)
Despite my bad handwriting, I prefer to do my note-taking, brainstorming, planning, plotting, journaling, and first-drafting by hand. I use this little Kaweco fountain pen a lot – it writes well, and is light and portable enough to use every day. I found out recently though, that on Zoom calls it can easily be confused for a vape. Lesson learned: it’s important to announce what is and isn’t a vape when you log onto a call.

Paperang Thermal Printer ($84)
I got this little printer a few years ago, and I love it. It’s a thermal printer, like a cash register uses for receipts, so the quality and longevity of the prints are low, but with some sticker-backed paper, it’s great for quickly putting little images, charts, and labels on things.

Muji Schedule Notebook ($10)
This is “The Book” — everything’s in my little Muji planner. In quarantine, I’ve taken to singing to myself, to the tune of “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: “My office is wherever I’m with my book.”

The Buddha Machine by FM3
This little speaker is a music loop player by electronic musicians FM3. And it’s the only thing in my bag that’s been reviewed by Pitchfork and the New York Times. It’s the perfect music to put on when I really need to get some writing done, and need to physically separate myself from my phone and computer.

Oxford® 3” x 5” Unruled White Index Cards ($3, 2pk)
As far as tech is concerned, you can’t beat the index card. Modular, portable, infinitely adaptable. I’m convinced that any problem, regardless of size, can be solved with enough index cards. Plus stacking them up into card towers is a great way to procrastinate.


26 November 2020


Pigma Micron PN Pen

A great pen for journal writing

I have used Sakura Pigma Micron pens for years (decades, actually) as my go-to illustration pens. Microns can’t be beat for ink density, precise line widths, color variety and archival quality. When it comes to illustration and sketching, there is no better tool. But Pigma Microns are just plain lousy when it comes to writing. The point easily splays, the pen is awkward when held at a writing angle, and the line tends to skip when the pen is moved at writing speeds.

I am very particular about what I want when it comes to writing in Moleskine or other journals. The line must be precise – neither too broad nor too narrow– but still expressive. The ink must be dark, but not so dark that it bleeds through the page. And the pen must write smoothly at a writing angle, and writing speed. As a consequence, my go-to writing tool is an obscure Japanese technical pen, which are difficult to find and have problems of their own, like a tendency to dry out if not promptly re-capped. I thus have always wished that Sakura would offer a pen that did for writing what the Pigma Micron was for illustration.

Well, Sakura has just delivered. The new Pigma Micron PN (“PN” stands for “Plastic Nib”) fills this void — it is a brilliant pen for writing that exceeds even my ridiculously high expectations. Same ink density, same color choices as the traditional Pigmas, but the new plastic nib works perfectly as a writing instrument. No skipping, even when the tip is moved quickly across the page, and it writes as well when held at an angle as when held in a near-vertical illustrating position. And best of all, the plastic nib is virtually indestructible, so no problem with splayed tips like the traditional Pigmas.

The PN gives a medium-width line that is perfect for writing in journals and wherever one needs to write with precision but no loss of expressiveness. It is also a terrific illustration pen that complements the line feel of the traditional Pigmas. I’ve been looking for the right journal writing pen for over two decades — the Pigma Micron PN might just be the end of my search.

-- Paul Saffo 11/26/20

24 November 2020

QuadHands Helping Hands

Flexible steel arms

Tools (Recommended):
QuadHands Helping Hands with PanaVise Mounting System

PanaVise 301 2-1/2″ Light Duty Multi-Angle Vise with Stationary Base K42480

PanaVise 203 Pv Jr. Vise Head With 5/8 Inch Shaft For 300 Series Bases

Hi, I’m Sean Michael Ragan, and you’re watching Cool Tools. If you’ve ever done any soldering you probably recognize this classic “helping hands” tool. It’s got two little adjustable arms with spring clips at their ends which can be used to hold a pair of leads together more-or-less securely during soldering, leaving your hands free to put the heat and the solder where they need to go. And these things work well enough for that purpose. But they’re fiddly to use, not super stable, and generally don’t play well with other workholding tools in more complicated setups. QuadHands is a US company, based in South Carolina, that takes a different approach to solving this problem. Instead of jointed arms, their system uses flex-shafts with supermagnetic bases that can be repositioned anywhere on a powder-coated steel base plate. Thumb nuts at the tips allow you to turn the clamps to whatever angle you want, then lock them in place, and the magnetic bases make the arms potentially useful in lots of other workholding situations. They sell a whole ecosystem of these products ranging in price from fifteen to fifty-five dollars, as of production, but I chose this one because it’s designed to mount the base of a three-hole mini-vise in the middle of the plate. They had the PanaVise system in mind when they designed it (especially the model 300 and 305 bases) but in fact any three-hole-pattern mini-vise with a chord length between 2-5/8″ and 3-3/4″, like this Dremel 220076 D-Vise, will work. I’ve only been using this system for about two weeks now but it has already transformed not just my soldering work, but also the way I use my mini-vise, because the steel baseplate is big enough and heavy enough, and the feet underneath are wide enough apart, that I’ve been able to permanently de-mount the vise from my benchtop, and can now move it around freely to use in other locations. It’s also really handy to have that corner of the bench free for other purposes when I need the space. OK, thank you for watching. As always you’ll find affiliate links down below the video; if you’ve seen anything here you like, please do check those out, as well as our blog and our podcast over at cool-tools.org. We’ll see you next time.

-- Sean Michael Ragan 11/24/20


img 11/24/20

Razor Tooth Pruning Saw

Best way to cut green wood

img 11/23/20

Scotch Tear-by-Hand Packaging Tape

Great tape for shipping boxes

img 11/20/20

Duane Swierczynski, Crime novelist

Cool Tools Show 253: Duane Swierczynski

img 11/20/20

Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl

Elemental sewing machine

Cutting too-small scraps on a diagonal to get the most out of them. 11/19/20

Making Every Scrap Count

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #69

See all the reviews


img 11/26/15


Crowdsourced design

img 08/20/06

Adventure Medical Kits

Full medical station in a pouch

img 07/28/17

Ortlieb Dry Bags

Heavy-duty waterproof bags

img 10/28/08

Ready Meals

Emergency hot meals

img 04/3/20

Bissell Natural Sweep

Fastest carpet cleaner

img 08/15/12


Direct line to a warm body

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 254: Julie Sokolow

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 253: Duane Swierczynski

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 252: Daniel Schaeffer

Picks and shownotes

26 November 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.