19 July 2024

Gar’s Tips & Tools – Issue #180

Weekly-ish (ish) access to tools, techniques, and shop tales from the worlds of DIY

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

In Praise of Handwritten Notes

8-10 years of pocket notebooks.

In the early hours of the 21st century, I noticed something interesting. I was losing my ability to write longhand. I was exclusively using a keyboard and my handwriting was suffering as a result. In high school, I’d taken a mechanical drawing class with dreams of becoming an architect, engineer, graphic designer, or similar creative field, and I’d begun practicing an attractive technically inspired print writing style. That was all gone by the 21st century. I could barely write out my own name without making a mess. I could no longer read my own words and was struggling to form the letters. I decided to get a pack of Moleskine Cahiers pocket notebooks and write out all of my daily notes, ideas, sketches, writing research, etc. by hand. I’ve never looked back. Some 20 years on, I’m never without a notebook and a Varsity fountain pen in my pocket. I can’t say my handsome writing style has come back, but then, I haven’t really tried. I do love looking back on several dozen years of notebooks, seeing my thought process in, say 2012. Now, I’d love to get back to regularly drawing/sketching, another analog muscle that has long atrophied.

Designing a USB-C-based Breadboard Power Supply

I love this little USB-C-based breadboard power supply that Zach of Digi-Key’s Byte-Sized Engineer created. This is an update and improvement over an earlier breadboard power supply he built. This one uses a CYPD3177-24LQXQT power management IC, a custom-designed PCB, USB-C power, and a custom 2-color 3DP enclosure. Zach can select voltages between 3.3V, 5V, 9V, 12V, 15V, 20V on both rails of the board. By the time the project is over, he already has changes he wants to make on the next iteration. But as he points out, you need a version 1 to know what changes you want to make on version 2.

Refreshing Bit Driver Magnets

You don’t even have to watch the video to get the gist of this little repair job. If the magnets inside your bit holders get weak, you can add a new rare earth magnet with superglue, and your driver is good as new.

Getting Started in Non-Welding Metalwork

If you’ve ever flirted with the idea of getting into metalwork without having to know welding, this fantastic 38-minute video is a must-watch. In it, seasoned maker, YouTuber, and humorist, Wesley Treat takes you through the essentials of metalworking with aluminum—no welding required. He starts by poking fun at the competitive nature of welders, then quickly gets into the nitty-gritty of tools and techniques. You’ll learn how to cut aluminum using a variety of tools, from electric shears to jigsaws, each explained with tons of practical tips along the way. Deburring to remove rough edges and bending methods using everything from hand seamers to full-sized metal bending brakes are covered in detail. Drilling and fastening techniques, including the use of rivets and screws, are also discussed, providing a surprisingly comprehensive guide to working with aluminum. Wesley also shares valuable advice on sourcing materials and adding finishing touches to ensure your projects look professional. Along the way he also shares his favorite, like the DeWalt 20V Max XR jigsaw, the Harbor Fright horizontal bandsaw, and the Klein Tools Notcher. This vid is packed with insights and practical advice, making it perfect for both beginners and experienced makers looking to expand their skills.

Cleaning with Tub ‘o Towels

I’ve heard praises for Tub ‘o Towels before, the heavy-duty shop cleaning wipes. In this video, The Tool Bandit extols their virtues in cleaning up greasy, dirty tool handles.

Maker’s Muse

What’s that humming? Does anyone hear a hum?

Consider a Paid Subscription

Gar’s Tips & Tools is always free. But if you if you find ir truly useful to you, consider a paid subscription ($8/month). This keeps me in coffee and potato chips while I’m working on this labor of love. If you really want to show your patronage, consider becoming a Hero of the Realm. I will send custom packages of goodies (books, tools, zines, and more) to all my Heroes.

Thanks to all those who have already subscribed. You are the Kapton tape on my 3D print bed.


18 July 2024

Slow Travel Nomads/Least-visited Europe/Frozen Everest Garbage

Nomadico issue #113

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

I Could Live Here

An old friend and occasional freelance contributor of mine, Ellen Barone, has a book out called I Could Live Here. It’s detailed account of being a slow travel nomad for four years, spending roughly three months at a time in different places. Most of it was in Latin America, with a bit of Portugal and New Mexico in the mix. Unlike the wide-eyed collection of giddy adventures this would be in younger hands, her book is a more introspective look at what it feels like to be ungrounded, second-guessing, and forming fluid friendships on the road as an older traveling couple. Get it at Amazon here.

The Least-visited Countries in Europe

Looking to avoid the crowds? The majority of the least-visited countries in Europe are tiny ones. This article highlights the nations receiving the fewest annual visitors, though a few are really micro-states. They range from great values (Bosnia-Herzogovinia and Moldova) to playgrounds for the rich (Monaco). See the full rundown here.

My CityPASS Experiences

If you’re going to do a lot of sightseeing at one time, attraction passes can be a good way to bring the cost down. I recently used CityPASS in Atlanta and San Antonio and found the selection choices good, but not overwhelming. In Atlanta, our family of three visited the World of Coca Cola, The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Georgia Aquarium (maybe the best one I’ve been to anywhere), and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History for $94 per pass, a savings of $42 each and no lines to wait in. In (Europe, look for similar deals from Turbopass and others.)

The Great Mt. Everest Garbage Clean-up

The story that often gets lost when talking about Mt. Everest summits is how much garbage and human waste has collected there, in a landscape where it all stays frozen and preserved. This year a group of government-funded soldiers and Sherpas started cleaning it all up at South Sol Camp (altitude 8,000 meters) in a project that will probably take years. The AP says they’ve already processed 11 tons of trash and multiple dead bodies dug out of the ice. See more here.


17 July 2024

What’s in my NOW? — Luisa de Lachica

issue #182

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Im just a traveller girl enjoying life while on planet earth. — Luisa de Lachica


  • my plants—they bring me grounding, peace and comfort, and they make me feel at home and remind me about the magic of impermanence.
  • my art books—I am a happy art historian that really enjoys flipping through my many art books and catalogues, and even though it’s never the same as seeing the artworks in person, it gives me the pleasure of enjoying some of the amazing places and museums I have been lucky 🍀 to visit.
  • the art hung in my house—there’s something magical about seeing everyday a piece of art that made your heart happy the first time you saw it. This piece is by an amazing artist that worked and lived in Mexico many years; Jan Hendrix. His works is very organic, nature inspired and amazing.



“Leave your front door and your back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.” — Shunryu Suzuki


16 July 2024

The Snow Queen / An Ideal Boy

Books That Belong On Paper Issue No. 23

Books That Belong On Paper first appeared on the web as Wink Books and was edited by Carla Sinclair. Sign up here to get the issues a week early in your inbox.


The Snow Queen: A Tale in Seven Stories
by by Hans Christian Andersen (Illustrator), Sanna Annukka (Illustrator), Jean Hersholt (Translator)
Ten Speed Press
2016, 88 pages, 5.0 x 0.6 x 9.0 inches, Hardcover

Buy on Amazon

The Hans Christian Andersen classic, The Snow Queen, is a quick and enjoyable read, made all the more so with printmaker Sanna Annukka’s gorgeous illustrations. You’ll likely recognize the textile designer’s aesthetic from Marimekko and, not surprisingly, many of her illustrations make full use of her bold, geometric patterns through the characters’ dress. Her landscapes look like fabrics, too. A panel that shows a wintry countryside looks like it could be a weaving and I wish I could buy another, a garden in full bloom, by the bolt.

The story itself is not what I had expected. In many ways, the titular character is a minor player. The heroine is a young girl, Gerda, who journeys bravely and earnestly, escaping numerous villains by virtue of her devotion to her young friend and playmate, Kay, who has been lured away by the Snow Queen. Kay first fell victim to the heart-numbing trickery of the devil himself, who had accidentally broken an evil mirror crafted to reflect and amplify only the most wicked and ugly things in the world. When the mirror breaks, pieces “smaller than a grain of sand” are sent flying around the word, one of which sticks in Kay’s eye, and another which pierces and chills his heart. As the Snow Queen further freezes Kay’s heart with a kiss, Gerda braves witches, haunts, thieves, and icy winds to save her friend.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mom who is worn out on Frozen, the Disney smash hit (which refuses to die, despite every parent’s best efforts) that was loosely based on the fairy tale, but I wish that the movie more closely echoed the actual story. The Snow Queen is a story about the good and strength inherent in children, in which a young girl saves a young boy for a change. Though the movie maintained some of this (and, of course, the “love thaws a frozen heart” moral), I think it did an injustice to the young audience who could have seen themselves, as they can in the book, in a persistent heroine their own age.

– Mk Smith Despres


Ideal Boy, An: Charts from India
by Sirish Rao, V. Geetha, Gita Wolf (Editors)
Dewi Lewis Publishing
2001, 120 pages, 6.9 x 1.0 x 9.4 inches, Hardcover

Buy on Amazon

Cheap visual charts were the main educational aid in Indian classrooms until recently. Meant to teach children good behavior, and to assist their reading skills, these inexpensive posters were plastered everywhere by local printers. They have a naive art aesthetic since the artists were unschooled themselves. Generally the charts follow a formula of filing in a grid with examples. Like comic books, their garish colors and simple forms have their own innocent charm. This book rounds up a hundred samples of what is now a rare folk art.

– Kevin Kelly


15 July 2024

Writing Paper

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 95

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Water-resistant writing pads

Rite in the Rain Notebooks

Whether you’re a hiker, biker, backpacker, camper, naturalist or simply someone who’s ever been caught in the rain, you’ll treasure these classic all-weather notebooks. The cover is Polydura and the pages are made with a substrate, giving the paper a wax-y feel. The effect: water beads off them, meaning no pulpy mess and no bummer over any lost thoughts or data. They are not a new invention by any means. Back in the 1920s, they were developed for Pacific Northwest loggers. These days, the manufacturer makes both bound and spiral bound books in an impressive array of sizes and types (e.g birding!). I keep a pocket-size, 24-page, staple bound mini-book in the small pack I take cycling and hiking. In the event of a downpour, all my ah-ha moments are safe. If you plan to be in really harsh conditions and want to go the extra mile, you might try one of their all-weather pens. Note: I have not used them — a pencil or standard ballpoint does the trick for me. —Steven Leckart

Analog copy/paste

Saral Transfer Paper

Before I start a new painting, I usually draw what I want in Adobe Illustrator, and then transfer a printout of that drawing to canvas or board to paint. I’ve tried opaque projectors, but the image is faint (at least on the el-cheapo projector I use) and I don’t really have room to set it up. I’ve also tried using a piece of paper that I’ve rubbed pencil or charcoal on, but that produces a blurry line.

Like an idiot, it wasn’t until recently that I considered the possibility that there might be a transfer paper for artists. Of course, there is one. It’s called Saral Wax-Free Transfer Paper, and it works like a dream. It comes in five different colors, but I can get away with blue and white. It leaves a clear, thin line that erases easily and doesn’t mess up the color of the paint I use. I’m already hooked on it for life.

If you send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Saral, they’ll send you free samples in all five colors. — Mark Frauenfelder

Better graph paper


Anyone doing technical or design work has burned through reams of graph paper. I’m a designer, and I use Whitelines to do technical drawings in accurate scale, which are then turned into 3-D models and die tooling diagrams. Whitelines is the best graph paper I have ever worked with.

The concept is simple and powerful. Ordinary graph paper is paper with a graph of lines printed on it in a light color, often blue or gray. Whitelines is paper with a very light gray grid of squares printed on it. The graph is unprinted, hence, white lines.

This is genius. Pen strokes, and even pencil, are startlingly clear against the background. The distracting visual noise of a printed graph is gone entirely, while retaining the precision and ability to see scale, which is graph paper’s reason for being.

I’ve been using Whitelines extensively for the past few months, mostly for technical drafting on the MakerBeam project, an open source metal building kit like Meccano for the Arduino set. The grid is 0.5 centimeter pitch, perfect for working on a metric standard. With ordinary graph paper, pencil lines are close in color weight to the lines themselves. When scanning pencil marks on ordinary graph paper, the pencil lines often vanish completely. With Whitelines, I can scan a pencil sketch, if I’m satisfied with it, without having to go back over it with pen.

Available in A4, A5 and pocket sizes, as tablets, spiral bound, perfect and hardbound, both lined and graph. Better graph paper makes better drawings, and this is genuinely better graph paper. — Sam Putman

Custom-printed graph paper

Free Online Graph Paper / Grid Paper PDFs

OK, so I wanted to sit down and workout a grand plan for my new garden, so I figure a pencil and some graph paper is the way forward.

Just finding some simple 2mm graph paper with 1cm semi bold and 2 cm bold turned out to be a near impossible task. Then I discovered the Graph Paper PDF Generator at incompetech.com .

It does plain paper, lined paper, multi width, hexagonal, even semi-bisected trapezoid! All completely customizable. And it’s free! — Mark Coffey

Notes under water

Shower Slate

Ever have an idea in the shower and have no way to record it…and then it’s lost forever? I use a “Dive Slate”, a small (~4″x6″ ) sheet of sturdy white plastic with a plain old fashioned golf pencil attached. They’re cheap (around $5-$8), available on the net at various dive shops, fit nicely behind the soap holder or hung in the shower and work well; they’re meant to be written on underwater by divers, so unless you shower under Niagara Falls, your thought will be captured until you erase it. — Vincent Crisci


14 July 2024

Papers, Please/Will We Ever Get Fusion Power/Magic Color Picker

Recomendo - issue #418

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Papers, Please
Over the weekend, my daughter and I played an unusual video game called Papers, Please. In this single-player game (which came out in 2013), you work as a border checkpoint inspector for Arstotzka, a fictional country resembling a 1980s Soviet state. Your job is to examine the documents of people attempting to enter the country and decide whether to grant them entry. The game presents moral dilemmas as your daily pay is usually insufficient to cover rent, food, and heat. Your family constantly faces the risk of starvation and illness. This raises the question: Should you start accepting bribes and other dubious offers from spies and smugglers to make ends meet? Despite its intentionally crude graphics, reminiscent of 1980s video games, I found myself completely engrossed in the gameplay. — MF

Prospects of fusion energy

The arrival of reliable cheap fusion energy on Earth would be a revolution nearly as important as AI. Fusion is a synthetic sun, with relatively benign byproducts. For 70 years, experts have predicted it to be “20 years away;”  It is still 20 years away. This excellent summary of the state of the art in fusion energy explains why progress has been so slow and why it may speed up now. Or not! Easy to read and smartly informative, Will We Ever Get Fusion Power is the best thing I’ve read on fusion, a brief and succinct article, highly recommended. — KK

Magic Color Picker

Here’s a fun new way to explore and pick out colors. The Magic Color Picker converts your text descriptions into precise color codes. For example, here is the color generated for “sunny day but overcast”. — CD

Self-sharpening pencil

I like this hi-tech mechanical pencil from Japan because it sharpens itself so that it produces a very consistent line, no matter how long you use it. The Uni Kurutoga Advance ($9) contains a novel mechanism that rotates the pencil lead each time it touches the paper, so that it wears evenly and maintains a uniform point. So clever! It currently is only available for very fine 0.5mm lead. — KK

Email like a boss

This is a useful guide to emailing like a “boss” that I found on Reddit. It lists the most positive and effective way to rewrite your messages based on the intention. Here are some examples I want to adopt: If your intention is to say “You’re welcome,” instead of saying “No problem/No worries” say, “Always happy to help.” If you want to know if the recipient understands something, instead of asking “Does that make sense?” say “Let me know if you have any questions.” When you want to convey that you know what your doing, instead of saying “I think maybe we should …” say “It would be best if we …”. — CD 

Virtual city walks

City Walks is a website of videos taken by people walking along the sidewalks of cities from around the world. Just click on a city from the list and the video starts playing. Most cities have more than one video, so you can click the city name to load a new one. Make sure to click the sound toggle on, too. I found the video of a busy open-air market street in Rawalpindi, Pakistan to be especially interesting. — MF



img 09/19/05

Total Immersion Swimming

How to swim like a fish

img 01/10/07

Get Human

Access to human help

img 06/30/03

Griphoist (Tirfor) Hand Winch

Better than a come-along or winch

img 05/30/11

Snark SN-2

Best Clip-On Instrument Tuner

img 03/8/13

Pogo Connect

Best iPad stylus

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #404: Adam Hill

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #403: Mia Coots

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #402: Josué Moreno

Picks and shownotes


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.

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