Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 88

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 The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work.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.

Photochromic safety, sun specs

Mag-Safe Safety Glasses

These photochromic safety glasses have an ANSI Z87.1+ rating, which means they’re shatter-proof even when struck by a 1/4-inch steel ball at 150 feet/second. The lenses are polycarbonate, so a significant scrape against sand, ground, etc. would probably scratch them. In the six months I’ve been using them, I’ve dropped them lightly a couple times and they’re still pretty much like-new.

The benefit of these photochromic safety glasses is not only their low relatively-low cost and snug fit, but also their versatility. The lenses run almost perfectly clear to a nice, dark tint in the sun, with nearly 100 percent UVA/B protection. When they are dark they keep off glare when I’m driving. They also protect me from wind when I’m biking — day or night — and shield my eyes when I go to the machine shop to work on projects.

Over the summer, I worked in a machine shop lathing, sawing, drilling, tapping metal and wood twice a week for 3-4 hours and a couple weekends straight through until Burning Man. Unlike the cheap, standard shop glasses which I’d constantly put on and remove and occasionally forget to put back on, these are so comfortable I rarely take them off. It’s important to note they do not seal all the way around your face the way some safety goggles do — i.e. the ones with flexible rubber sides that press up against the skin. On the one hand, that’s why these are much more comfortable, but then again, that makes these potentially unsuitable for tasks where full coverage is recommended. For my usage, though, which is primarily partial-coverage tasks, they’re great. Definitely one of the most functional things I own, and considering they’re safety glasses, they look pretty good. — Eric Nguyen

Best cheap eyeglasses

Zenni Optical

For the past 5 years I had been using Zenni to purchase inexpensive prescription eyeglasses online. Zenni offers decent glasses for super cheap, is quick to deliver, has a better selection than other online services, and their website is much easier to use and order from. Reordering from the same prescription is a no-brainer, too.

Over the past 5 years I’ve ordered about 10 pairs of glasses from Zenni for different family members and myself, in all different strengths and styles, including sunglasses. The frame quality is okay (great for the price) and the optical quality is A+. My wife has extreme corrections, and I have a very odd combination of factors, while my daughter’s prescription is mild. I’ve ordered single, bifocals and progressives – and the results have all been good. A simple correction and simple frame can cost as little as $10, but our typical glasses will cost about $35. Still a fantastic bargain. Even if you are style conscious, these are great for backup pairs.

One detail you have to pay attention when selecting a frame online is the width of the frame, which varies between models. Pay attention to the size indicator. I once ordered a pair too narrow. Delivery takes only about 2 weeks to my home in California. — KK

Break-away eyewear

CliC Readers

For anyone requiring reading glasses intermittently, these specs are heaven sent! The frame breaks in the front and clicks together once resting on your nose by way of two magnets. When not in use, they stay out of the way — the glasses have a hard frame ‘loop’ that slips around your neck. As soon as you need them, you reach down and pull them up into place. I’ve tried lanyards — they get caught on your seat belt strap and tangeled around your collar. I’ve tried my pocket — they fall out. Nothing seemed to work, so I ended up buying eight or ten pair of cheap glasses and leaving them all over: habitat, car, at work, etc. CliCs are a wonderful way to avoid all that clutter. — Dennis Brittain

Safety bifocals

Bifocal Safety Glasses

I happened upon these while on vacation in a hardware store (yes, I go to hardware stores while on vacation). These safety glasses ($12) provide great eye protection and the bifocal lens allows me to perform close-up tasks without resorting to pulling them off for my reading glasses. Essentially a perfect solution for those who work in a shop with ‘older’ active eyes. — Mark Ramirez

Magnifying safety glasses

Pyramex Onix Plus Reader

The outer lens of these safety glasses flips down for welding, and when you’re done, you simply flip them up. Nothing special. However, I’ve been wearing the recommended Mag-Safe safety glasses for years, and the Onix Plus is the only flip-up pair I’ve found that also has a reader’s bifocal lens. The inside lens is available in two magnifying strengths (+1.5, +2.5), and outer lens in two different IR shades (3.0, 5.0). Makes it much easier for me to see while welding. Preferable to spending an arm and a leg for prescription safety glasses. Quicker than switching between protective eyewear and reading specs. — Byron Hill

Keychain pince-nez

Pocket Eyes Reading Glasses

I’ve stashed cheap reading glasses everywhere else in the house. But inevitably, when traveling around the planet, I have struggles with menus and bank documents and so on. A convenient pair of portable readers can be a blessing.

I started with one of those slim fresnel lenses, shaped like a credit card, in my wallet. They’re fine for emergencies but useless for comfortable or extended reading. An ideal solution would be a small pince-nez. But the cheapo versions – with a plastic nose-bridge – soon break, or they pinch and hurt.

What you want is for the bridge to be made of flexible metal, squeezing the two lenses against your nose with just the right pressure. They can slip off, if you’re sweaty, and there are (ahem) some places you do not want to let them drop-off. But the good ones can squeeze together so the lenses overlap and they fit into a tiny pocket pouch. It’s surprising how comfortable they can be, feeling so natural you forget they are there.

Alas, my first trio of pocket pince-nez all broke in the same place; where the metal bridge was riveted into the glass. I searched all over and finally found better ones from Pocketeyes. These have an improved, adjustable metal-to-glass attachment, a corrugated spot on each lens to help grip the nose, and a split pouch that lets you keep the lenses from rubbing against each other in your pocket. The keychain grommet is another plus.

They also have a fun factor. People do double-takes and even strike up conversations asking about them. They won’t help with driving or distance. But if all you need is readers to help while traveling around, this may be your answer. — David Brin


© 2022