23 March 2023

Last Country Opening/A Swiss Bargain/Travel Towels

Nomadico issue #44

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.

The World is Fully Open Again

The last travel border domino fell yesterday: you can now apply for a visa to travel to China again. The country has been closed for three years solid. If you hurry, you might be able to visit the Great Wall or the Forbidden City without having to share the wonders with a parking lot full of tour buses.

A Travel Bargain in …Switzerland?

I’m posting this newsletter from the Swiss Alps, where I’m alternating skiing with laptop time in a community space with a snowy mountain view. I’ve avoided Switzerland for decades because of its reputation for being super-expensive, but the Ski Hostel program offered here is only 800 euros for a week of half-board lodging, skiing at three nearby resorts, airport transfers, and rides to the ski areas from the village. (To put that in perspective, a 4-day lift ticket alone is $896 at Vail.) Or come in warm months and alternate work and hiking with Coliving.Fringue, bunking down in a dorm for as little as 500 euros per month.

Packable Travel Towels

Don’t forget to bring a towel! While regular hotels and apartment rentals will supply towels, many hostels and co-living spaces will not. Regular towels can take up a lot of room in your bag though, so apart from just buying one locally and leaving it, the best solution is a compact microfiber towel meant for travel. I am using one from Eagle Creek that they no longer make it seems, but other options are available on Amazon from Sea to SummitRainleaf, and others.

Vacation Time Disparities

If you’re American, it’s probably not news to you that the USA lags nearly every country in the world in the number of paid vacation days for workers. Averaging 10 per person, the country is tied with tiny Naura and barely better than Micronesia (a US territory). At the other end of the scale, the top-10 countries average 42 days or more. According to this map, all European countries grant at least 20 paid leave days. If you’re a self-employed nomad whose boss is in the mirror though, how many are you giving yourself?


22 March 2023

Adding Foot Switches to Your Shop Tools

Gar's Tips & Tools - Issue #151

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

– Send me a tip or tool recommendation.

Tell me a shop tale.

-Buy my books (Tips and Tales from the Workshop Vol. 1Vol. 2).

Advertise your product, service, newsletter, app, book, tool, or anything you’d like to share with GT&T readers.

Adding Foot Switches to Your Shop Tools

Several years ago, I got a jeweler’s flex-shaft rotary tool. It came with a foot switch and I instantly fell in love with it. Once you power a shop tool with a foot switch, you won’t want to use anything else. In this video, Adam Savage installs a foot switch upgrade to his mini tabletop bandsaw. The switch is especially nice and addresses a problem I have with my rotary tool swutch. If I leave it plugged in, I can inadvertently step on the switch which sits off to the side of my main workbench. This switch has a toe-kick safety cover that prevents it from being engaged by accident. Adam doesn’t identify which foot switch he’s using, but it looks like a Linemaster. These are not cheap (at over $200 each), but he says you can often find them new or used on eBay for as much as half that price.

Building an Elevator for Your Shop

Like many makers, Wesley Treat has a loft in his shop. Such a space is great for storing materials, supplies, and equipment you rarely use, but getting stuff up and down from the space (usually via stairs or ladders) can be difficult, if not dangerous. Wesley solved this problem by building an electric-powered mini-elevator. I bet everybody with a shop loft is going to want one too after seeing this video.

Making a One-Handed Access Tool Wall

There are dozens of videos on building tool walls from lumber scraps, similar to this one. But Rex has some good ideas here that should be noted. For instance, all of his tool access is designed to be one-handed and most of the tools pull straight out rather than up and out. This way, you don’t take up valuable space on the wall.

Reading “Tools”

One of my all-time favorite DIY books is Tools and How to Use Them by Albert Jackson and David Day. I had a copy for years but donated it, along with a bunch of other maker/DIY books, to an artists maker/studio space when I moved to the west coast in 2021. After seeing it on a Digi-Key tweet a few weeks ago (where my tips book was also mention!), I realized how much I missed it. I ordered a used copy on Amazon for a whopping $2.98. I’ve decided to read it cover to cover to give myself a thorough education in common and not-so-common hand tools. Every few weeks, I will post an except here that I find particularly interesting, unusual, or informative. This week’s entry is the screw pitch gauge.

Things to Do with Sawdust

Woodworking creates sawdust. Lots of woodworking creates A LOT of sawdust. This waste material can be reused in a myriad of ways. Here are just some of them. If you have another use for sawdust, please share.

  1. Use it as a mulch in your garden: Sawdust can help retain moisture and prevent weed growth.
  2. Mix it with soil for composting: Sawdust can be used as a carbon source in composting, and it will break down slowly over time. Note: Sawdust can affect the pH levels of soil or compost. It’s important to monitor pH levels when using sawdust in these applications. When using it for composting, it should be mixed with other organic materials to ensure a proper balance of carbon and nitrogen.
  3. Create pathways in your garden: Sawdust can be used to create natural-looking pathway in your garden and help prevent muddy paths.
  4. Use it as a bedding material for animals: Sawdust can be used as a bedding for animals like chickens, rabbits, and goats.
  5. Use it as kindling for fires: Sawdust is highly flammable and can be used as kindling for fires.
  6. Mix it with wax to make fire starters: Sawdust can be mixed with wax to make fire starters that are easy to light.
  7. Use it to absorb spills: Sawdust can be used to absorb spills of oil, paint, or other liquids.
  8. Use it as a filler material in construction: Sawdust can be mixed with other materials like cement, clay, epoxy to create lightweight, durable building materials.
  9. Use it as a traction aid: Sawdust can be spread on slippery surfaces like icy sidewalks or driveways to provide traction.
  10. Mix it with birdseed: Sawdust can be mixed with birdseed to make it go further and provide a more natural habitat for birds.
  11. Use it as a cat litter alternative: Sawdust can be used as an alternative to commercial kitty litter, as it is highly absorbent and can be composted.
  12. As a mushroom substrate: Sawdust can be used for growing mushrooms.
  13. Make wood filler: Sawdust can be mixed with glue or epoxy to create a wood filler for filling in gaps or holes in wooden surfaces.

Caution: If the wood that the sawdust came from was treated with pesticides or chemicals, it could be harmful to use for things like animal bedding and garden mulch. It’s important to know the type of wood, how it’s been treated, and whether it is safe to use. Engineered woods like plywood, MDF, and particle board should be avoided for many of the above uses involving plants, animals, and composting.

Maker’s Muse: Grandpa Amu

If you haven’t seen Grampa Amu’s channel, subscribe now. I get inspired every time I see a new video. In this episode, Grampa Amu is given an old, cherished cooking pot that’s been used for so many years, a hole has been burned clean through the bottom. Using only the simplest of hand tools, he replaces the entire bottom of the pot with a metal pan. He manages to hammer the two items together with what at least looks like a leak-proof seal — no soldering! It would’ve been helpful to see the pot in-use, and full of liquid to show that it doesn’t leak.

Shop Talk

Last month, after I posted a video about Turning a Drill Press Into a Disc Sander, reader Chips ‘n Bits had a question.

“I have a question about the drill press as a disc sander. Would the friction and rotation of the disc put any lateral force on the quill? I ran into this issue (and gave a Makita drill driver about 1/8″ of runout) by mixing something too-viscous with a mixing paddle. Drill presses are made of sturdier stuff, but they’re not designed for lateral forces like routers/shapers. Hence: my question.”

Has anyone used a sanding disk on their press like this who wants to answer the question?


20 March 2023


Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 26

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Hitchhiking encouragement


This a website promoting hitchhiking. You didn’t used to need a website to hitchhike, only a thumb and pulse. I’ve spent a lot of time standing by the side of the road with my thumb out, and it led to some of the best days of my life. Times are different now.

What this site offers is mostly encouragement. Stories of other hitchhikers having a blast, reassurances that hitching is safe and legal, and suggestions about where in the world the natives are friendly to hitchers.

If you’ll hitch, I’ll pick you up. — KK

  • Isn’t hitchhiking illegal in many areas? The short answer is: no.
  • Hitchhiking is not as popular in North America as it was 30 years ago, but it is still legal if one follows the laws of each state. Also, hitchhiking is still a viable mode of transportation in many other areas around the world, including Europe, parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, etc.
  • The most common law related to hitchhiking in the United States has been established in the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC). It states:No person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride.What many people fail to realize is that a roadway is defined (in the same UVC) as:That portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the sidewalk, berm or shoulder even though such sidewalk, berm or shoulder is used by persons riding bicycles or other human powered vehicles.As you can see, the law only states that hitchhikers cannot stand in a driving lane (good idea, huh?), but they can stand on the shoulder or sidewalk of a road. A further code mentions that US States have the right to restrict pedestrians (i.e. hitchhikers) from entering certain highways (interstate routes, for example), but must post a sign if this is the case. What it all boils down to is this. Hitchhiking is not only possible in the US, but also legal. Many US States have adapted the above code to their own liking, though keeping a similar wording. You can research more about current hitchhiking-related laws in the digihitch USA section.
  • I held up a sign in Japanese: “Kaze o fuku mama, ki no mukoo mama,” loosely translated to mean: “Wherever the wind blows, so too will my feelings take me.” A folk singer I met thought it would be funny if I tried hitchhiking displaying this old song lyric. It was funny. So funny, in fact, people stopped their cars to take pictures of me, and then drove away.
  • I had been stuck at an entrance ramp for hours [in Belgium]. I was joined by a six foot five fellow hitchhiker carrying what looked like a body bag. A car stopped for us, and the woman inside hit the button to lower the passenger side window. She peered out of the opening at us. “Are you dangerous?” I shrugged my shoulders and said “Not me,” turning to my fellow hitchhiker, “Are you?” “No.” She let us into the car. She was a child psychologist, specializing in abnormal psychology, claiming she could tell by our body language during the response that we were, indeed safe.
  • During the past fifteen years I’ve hitchhiked through over a dozen countries, spending months at a time begging rides. Everyone from grandmothers to soccer hooligans have stopped for me. Rebels pick me up to bond with a fellow outlier of the system, while law and order types give rides to keep me from harm, or to make sure I cause none. I’ve been treated to steak dinners, been given free lodging, plenty of free advice and even some cash. I’ve slept in driver’s mansions, in rest stops, and in road side culverts. I’ve traveled at 150mph with an executive in a new Mercedes across the German autobahn, and I’ve limped through the hills of central Japan in a sputtering Toyota van with a Japanese rhythm and blues band.

Best gateway to hostels


Hostels range in price but they are usually the cheapest lodging option in most cities. You can often find a bed in mega-cities for less than $20. A hostel has very little to do with youth, although there is still a network of official youth hostels, which anyone of any age can use. A hostel is simply a hotel where you sleep in a shared bedroom, or a dorm, instead of a private room. Shared facilities mean cheap digs. (The exception is South and Southeast Asia where private rooms are as cheap as hostels). Hostels also often have a shared kitchen which residents can use. This means hostels are very social places with lots of interaction between travelers.

Cool Tools previously reviewed the hostel booking site Hostels.com, but that site has fallen a bit behind the times after a change in ownership. Much better these days, with thousands of more hostels in their database, and a lot more friendly mojo, is Hostelz. It is the most complete and useable portal for global hostelling.

Started by a backpacker, the web site Hostelz list some 22,000 hostels and guest houses around the world. They encourage independent reviews by users and don’t censor negative reviews. In addition, they hire backpackers $7 to officially review hostels for the site. Hostelz graciously provides you with the complete contact and location information of each hostel so you can book a room yourself. But Hostelz also provides the option to book a room through them at the same price. Since they do not charge hostels to be listed, this booking option provides their only income, which so far is enough to keep the site going.

Hostels are a great, often overlooked resource, and Hostelz is your best bet for finding one. — KK

Cheapest homestays

Couchsurfing * Airbnb

I travel a lot. I hope to never book a hotel room again. I stay in people’s homes, arranged either by couchsurfing or Airbnb.

While I was traveling through Europe as a student I got tired of staying with other American travelers in hostels. I was looking for a more authentic and local experience so I began to stay in homes through Couchsurf.com. Over the years I’ve stayed in about 25 homes. Once you sign up you can search for locations and hosts with similar philosophy, interests, and traveling tendencies. There is no payment for sleeping on whatever couch/bed/futon is provided. To show my gratitude I make it a rule to cook a meal for my hosts. I’ve also reciprocated the generosity by hosting couchsurfers in my homes. CS runs on trust, interests and positive reviews. Since there is no payment, the main reason to join is to meet like-minded people who have stories and camaraderie to share. As long as you have a detailed profile, you will attract and find people with similar interests. Being a female traveler has never been an issue since I normally travel with a friend, or I choose to stay with primarily female hosts. I have met some of my best travel companions and friends through CS. You can find couchsurfing all over the world now.

Now that I am working I can also use Airbnb. Airbnb offers an elegant interface and large database of ordinary to extraordinary places to stay all around the world, at a reasonable price. The service they offer is the curation of unique places, as well as increased security. Part of why some people will stay in an Airbnb and not a couch on CS is because Airbnb treats security as its primary financial and legal liability. Airbnb offers a 24-hour hotline, secure payment platform, identity verification, verified photographers and profile reviews. They also show whether you have mutual friends with the host, which makes me more inclined to stay with them. I’ve discovered some unbelievably beautiful and unique places that I otherwise would never have had access to at a price lower than a conventional hotel, almost by two or three fold ($50 vs. $100-150).

Both CouchSurfing and Airbnb offer “local experiences” and a more affordable way to travel. However, CS requires more of a commitment to engage with your host (share stories, eat a meal together) in exchange for free board vs. Airbnb, which requires payment yet is more luxurious and less personal. Think of it as the difference between getting a ride in a taxi (Airbnb), vs. from a rideshare (Couchsurf). In the cab you sit in the back and you don’t need to talk to the driver if you don’t want to, while the rideshare is more intimate so you sit up front and chat.

When deciding which service I want to use, I always ask myself: Do I want surprise or security? CS always surprises me with interesting people and stories, while Airbnb offers local luxury at an affordable price. — Ting Kelly


19 March 2023

BookFinder/”Right Now” list/Opinionate.io

Recomendo - issue #349

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

Best used book finder

The best online source for used books is BookFinder. Its bare bones design is unchanged from 1997 and feels like a Craigslist for books. It’s an aggregated meta-search engine that simultaneously looks for a book on Amazon, Ebay, Abe, Alibris, Bibio, and 100,000 indie booksellers. It will find all copies available and arrange them by price, and supply the link for purchase from the source. (In other countries and languages it is known as JustBooks.) It reliably yields the least expensive option for a used book. — KK

How to trick your inner procrastinator

The Right Now List is a ridiculously simple approach to tricking your inner procrastinator. David Cain recommends grabbing a sticky note and writing down 2-3 things that you need to do right now to get started on your project. These tasks need to be absurdly easy for this to work. For example: 1) Open Microsoft Word 2) Find the document I was working on yesterday 3) Scroll down to where I left off. The trivialness of these tiny tasks is what prevents your inner procrastinator from objecting. It gets your foot in the door and before you know it, you’re making headway. — CD

Watch AI debate itself

By using Opinionate.io, you can pose questions such as, “Do we truly possess control over our choices or is free will simply an illusion?”, “Is monogamy a product of nature or society?”, and “Is society better off with decriminalizing drugs than enforcing prohibition?” This tool will simulate a debate between two debaters and a moderator, providing an informative and engaging introduction to important discussions on any controversial topic you ask it. — MF

Weekly roundup of interesting links

Web Curios is a roundup of the most “interesting” links curated by Matt Muir —who covers everything from technology, culture and economics to sex, art and death. He’s been doing this for 10+ years and describes it as an absolute smorgasbord of links and words and ephemeral miscellanea. I always find something cool and fascinating (or sometimes terrifying) when I read it. — CD

Public domain art 

Artvee is where you can browse and download high resolution copies of classical and modern art that is in the public domain. It’s free and you can do whatever you want with it. Some of my favorite stuff on Artvee is the art from illustrated books. — KK

Typing trainer

It’s taking me a long time to overcome decades of muscle memory associated with hunt-and-peck typing and become a touch typist. After trying out several online typing trainers, I’ve settled on Monkeytype. Its easy-to-use interface, helpful feedback, and diverse range of exercises have made it my go-to resource. By spending just five minutes a day on the site, I’m slowly but surely improving my typing skills. — MF

Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson


17 March 2023


MagicFiber Cleaning Cloths

Extra large microfiber cleaning cloth for TV, eyeglasses, screens, windows, and mirrors

As a long-time glasses wearer, I’ve often found myself cleaning my lenses with the bottom of my shirt. However, there are times when this method simply isn’t enough, especially when my glasses become dirtier due to rain or work. Before discovering my new solution, I used to rely on an assortment of “free” postcard-sized cleaning cloths, which would often leave me fumbling for a clean corner, especially when I needed to use some spray to aid in cleaning.

That all changed when I ordered these extra-large sized cleaning cloths. Now, I can clean my glasses in just 10 seconds. These cloths have been a fantastic time saver and have significantly reduced the frustration that comes with keeping my glasses clean.

-- Reid Davis 03/17/23

17 March 2023

Matt Candler, Founder of My Next Electric

Show and Tell #357: Matt Candler

Matt Candler has been scaling companies and coaching people who lead them for 25 years. In 2010, he launched an organization called 4.0 to help entrepreneurs build better learning spaces and tools. More than 1,500 4.0 alumni now serve millions of families across the US. Matt’s been into electrification for 17 years. He started building electric motorcycles in 2006, mostly as a scheme to justify buying new tools; his bikes have been on TV shows like Ride with Norman Reedus and in books on the future of transport like The Current. In 2019, he began serving as an an advisor to B2U Storage Solutions, operator of the largest second-life electric car battery power plant in the USA. In 2021, he helped start one of the largest micro-grid projects in the US, Together New Orleans’ Community Lighthouse, where 85 houses of faith and non-profits will be equipped with solar and energy storage. Matt helps people switch to electric vehicles and appliances at My Next Electric.

0:00 – Intro
2:14 – Makita 9032 Belt Sander
8:13 – JackRabbit ebike
18:13 – NeoCharge Smart Splitter
27:39 – Rewiring America Inflation Reduction Act calculator
33:40 – My Next Electric

Matt would like to give the Cool Tools community a special discount of 50% off any class at mynextelectric.com — use “cooltools” at checkout. 

Additional Links:
Night Shift Bikes
Soft Skills Hard Tech



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LockJaw Self-Adjusting Pliers

Self-adjusting Vise Grips

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Photon Microlight II

Ultralight and bright

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Realtime budget overview

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Nolo Self-help Law Books

Do-it-yourself legal aid

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Personal outsourcing

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Engel Hot Knife

Superior textile cutter

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #357: Matt Candler

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #356: Sam McDonald

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #355: Paige NeJame

Picks and shownotes

22 February 2023


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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