General Purpose Tools

Cool Tools 2019 Holiday Gift Guide: Readers’ picks


Gift suggestions from Cool Tools readers

The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from our website, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. This week: reader suggestions!

Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 4.35.08 PMBramble Mini Baby Quilt Kit ($54) – Makes a 31″ x 34″ quilt. Includes fabrics and pattern. You can choose your center panel… I love it because it’s a no hassle, pre cut, pre designed quilt with everything you need in one pack. — Dustin

A high visibility reflective vest or reflective jacket ($5). Many people walk or bike during the early morning hours before sunrise, sometimes on the road, or just have to cross it. I can’t see them until I’m a few feet away unless they are wearing something light colored, and even then it is a problem. There are now clothes made of the same reflective technology that lets you see street signs from a quarter mile or more. Even if it is just to change a tire, any safety vest is better than nothing. And you can often find a basic version for a few dollars in a closeout or surplus store. — TZ

Where’s Waldo? The Phenomenal Postcard Book” ($8) is a book of postcards with Where’s Waldo? puzzles on the front. I bought a book, put stamps on each card, pre-filled one card with my address on it, and gave it as a gift. I love getting postcards like these, it’s delightful to find a Where’s Waldo puzzle any day of the week. Giving out the postcard book is a great way to encourage your long-distance friends to stay in touch. — Celia Cunningham


Metal pot scrubber ($7) (aka grill cleaning pad): This is the best metal pot scrubber, ever. Way better than the copper version or the chainmail type. Stainless steel, doesn’t throw off shreds of metal, and super inexpensive. Gave one to all 15 of my family members. — JLR


Fish sauce ($10): I gave a bottle of Thai Kitchen fish sauce to each of my (large) family, with a note sharing my discovery that this is THE secret ingredient for improving any savory dish, and reassuring them that it won’t make the dish taste “fishy”. (Red Boat brand gets better recommendations, but I find that Thai Kitchen is more generally available in regular grocery stores.) — JLR

Screen-Shot-2019-12-04-at-4.48.42-PMAnimals from Heifer International. Most folks I know don’t need more stuff. Heifer mission is to “to end hunger and poverty in a sustainable way by supporting and investing alongside local farmers and their communities.” With your donation you get a Christmas/Gift card you can personalize and send to your recipients. So donate early. They send you a batch of cards and you’ll have plenty of time to send them to friends and loved ones. There are a bunch of choices in what to give. If buying, wrapping and sometimes mailing isn’t your scene this is a great choice. If you can’t stand just sending a card add a small present that matches the animal. For bees I send local honey. For a pig I send gourmet applesauce. You get the idea. — Michelle

Coffee mug with the family coat of arms ($15) and a framed “surname history” (more expensive). Given to a good friend with a fairly uncommon surname who knew very little about his family background. — Rob Thomas


I love the Tyflyz Toolz Hackle Tweezer ($15(. I am an avid fly tier (lashing fur and feathers onto a hook for fly fishing). One common, but tricky task in fly tying is wrapping a fine feather around the hook. Feather are very delicate and slippery, especially at the tip, and some sort of tool is required to firmly grasp the tip of the feather without cutting it. The Tyflyz Toolz Hackle Tweezer is a simple, elegant solution to this problem. It works much better than similar tools, and is inexpensive at about ten dollars US. I especially like you can put your finger into the metal loop and rotate the tool, with feather tip attached, around the hook. — Zak Griefen

Screen-Shot-2019-12-04-at-5.01.36-PMNylon Web Belts ($11) Good value. Useful and fits with most outfits. I would give this to any man. I have used it for over a year and still love it. – Abner Solano


Sansa Clip MP3 Player ($35). I use mine to listen to audiobooks I download from the library. It’s easy to use and has a long battery life. I gave one as a gift to my mom, and she loves it, too. They are indestructible. I’ve had mine for years. — Kim Laird


Lavatools P12 Javelin Instant Read Thermometer ($25) — Jacob S.

71T-xWb8ZAL._SX569_Rocketbook ($30). It’s a reusable notebook that uses a special pen whose ink is erasable with water. There are several icons at the bottom of each page that you can link to various popular cloud services you already use. After taking notes, you choose and check a box then scan the notes with the Rocketbook app on your phone. They get sent to your work or personal email or cloud storage and there’s even an option to transcribe your handwriting. Once the notebook gets full, erase and begin again. It’s from a start up that used Indiegogo and they take user feedback into account for upgrades! — Justine’

Napa Shearling Mittens ($80) — Karl Chwe


Etekcity 1022 Digital Laser Infrared Thermometer ($20). It’s a laser infrared gun thermometer. It isn’t precise enough to use for critical work (only accurate to +- a couple %), but it lets you know “Is the bath/water/stove/oven/fire/etc. hot” quickly and safely. They’re fun to use, inexpensive, and useful. The integrated laser pointer can also be useful. There are cheaper ones out there, but this particular model also has a “max” mode where you can scan over an area and see what the max temp was while you were holding the trigger, and can configure the emissivity for a given surface if you need more accurate results. — Alan Hoyle

The Yeti 20 oz Rambler ($30) is my favorite coffee cup ever, because of its lid. Some beverage containers’ lids have closing mechanisms, which for me seem like bacterial havens I can’t seem to get clean enough. This one has only two parts. They are held together by powerful magnets, and can be disassembled for thorough washing (even by hand). Easy to pop back together, the design is just simple and elegant. — Anthony

Tool Belt ($70) I am awful at putting simple things down (tape measure, pencil, hand tools) during a project and taking forever to find them. I have JUST started using a belt, and it has made my frustration level go way down since everything is on me! — Dave Phillips

81pMw7CC0-L._SL1500_TWIXT I played this board game as a kid and loved it, but I had to buy a copy on Ebay when I wanted to share it with my kids because it had been out of print for decades. The rules are as simple as tic-tac-toe–anyone can start playing immediately. The goal is to build a bridge from one side of the board to the other while blocking your opponent from doing the same. The tactics to make that happen are where the game gets interesting. The good news is that the original copyright on the games seems to have been abandoned, opening the door for a new company to re-release the game. — Alexander Gray


Novelty Band-aids (or other bandages). When I look for stocking stuffers, I am always looking for things that are some combination of cheap, practical, and/or amusing. Not many items check all 3 of those boxes. Novelty band-aids or other brands of bandages do! My godsister has been contributing these to our family stockings for years, and I’ve stolen the idea for use with my in-laws. I write this with a pickle bandage on my finger, which is giving me a huge smile. And protecting a small hangnail issue. The Archie McPhee company makes many, including my pickle one (~$6). Band-aid brand has band-aids with Disney and Star Wars characters, collabs with design bloggers and more ($3). And in looking this up, I see that Target’s Welly brand has some fun ones that come in reusable boxes ($7)!– Caroline Moore-Kochlacs

611r2csG1GL._SL1280_iFixit Pro Magnetic Project Mat ($20), most of my friends and family are fixers, builders and makers, they have just about every tool I can think of or I already gave it to them last year. This is something I didn’t have and like so I’m hoping they will too. — Steve Golden

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Criterion Channel ($100/yr) – Great movies that you won’t get elsewhere. This channel is produced by Criterion – the folks that make great DVD/and blue ray editions of classic (old and new) movies. The Channel has lots of these editions (with extras) as well as a rotating collection of other curated films, both old and new, foreign and domestic. — Adam Herbst

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Reciprocal Museum Admissions – A great gift is a membership to a local museum at a level that offers reciprocal museum admissions. For instance, I live in Northern New Jersey, so for me that museum is the Newark Museum. $150 buys a Patron level membership which, in addition to admission and events at the Newark Museum itself, gives one free access through a several reciprocal museum programs to scores of museums across the country. If you know someone who enjoys museums and is likely to visit others in different cities, this is a great gift. — Adam Herbst

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Squiggles and Squares is an art activity for kids that keeps them busy and focused and is not electronics. They use their hands and It requires concentration and is something my kids really enjoy and get in the flow. Plus it’s only $10 for a book and would be a great gift for anyone with kids. — Peter Gruman

81mkB+13llL._SL1500_Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery 50 g Sunscreen SPF 50 – This stuff comes from Japan. It is very watery sunscreen. My doc tells me to wear sunscreen every day. What is the problem with sunscreen: either it is thick as pudding and gross or you spray it on and feel like bug spray, also gross. This is not viscous. I don’t mind putting it on and my kids (teenagers) don’t mind wearing it either. I buy a bunch when the price dips. — Adam Herbst

See our other 2019 gift guide picks to date. Want more? Check out our 2018 Gift Guide picks, as well as our 2017 Gift Guide, 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide, 2014 Gift Guide and our 2013 Gift Guide


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