Take out an Unclassified in this newsletter to reach fellow makers.
Which Ratcheting Screwdriver is Best?
There are few hand tools that people seem to have more opinions about than ratcheting screwdrivers. And, now we have some decent testing of this everyday tool by Todd at Project Farm. Todd tests 14 different brands for efficiency, precision, and durability. Tests included working arc swing, ratchet back drag, magnet strength, bit retention strength, build quality (shaft wobble), shaft rotation in the locked position, bit failure load, and screwdriver failure load. Bottom line? The PB Swiss screwdriver, at a whopping $144 (at time of testing, now $178!), performed the best. This was followed by the $70 Linus Tech Tips driver. The Megapro and Williams also performed well, at $34 and $36, respectively. I have the Williams driver and have no complaints.
Tips on Quickly Learning a New Skill
In this video, engineer Jeremy Fielding drops a ton of wisdom via 26 strategies for learning a new skill, fast. Many of these might seem obvious (you must be motivated, mistakes will happen), but it’s in the unpacking of these ideas and the case examples he uses that make this video most valuable. And, there are a number of tips that one might overlook or not consider, like asking family and friends if they have resources related to the skill you wish to learn, not being afraid to ask someone to teach you what they know, and the idea that you only need to learn the essentials first, then you can dive in and learn by doing.
Making Clay Out of Common Soil
As my Southern mamma used to say: “Put a new wrinkle on your brain every day.” Here’s today’s wrinkle: I had no idea that you could derive clay, suitable for making pottery, from common soil. I thought you had to find a vein of red clay and harvest that. Sure, such clay is obviously preferred, but you can also render out clay using reddish soil (which has high clay content) or really any type of soil. All you need to do is suspend the soil in water and filter out the heavy materials. After straining through a cloth, you are left with clay.
Jargon, slang, and tech terms from the diverse worlds of DIY.
Hero prop – In movie-making, a detailed prop designed for close-up shots and closer scrutiny from the audience. In contrast, action props are used where the audience will not see the prop in close-up.
Scumbling – In painting, to soften (the color or tone of a painted area) by overlaying opaque or semi-opaque color applied thinly and lightly with an almost dry brush. I learned this one from my artist wife, Angela White.
Weeding – In vinyl cutting, the act of removing all of the unwanted vinyl around your cut design.
TOYS! Better Sink Strainer
I watched a video a few weeks ago on Cool Tools where Donald Bell extolled the virtues of this OXO sink strainer. Like him, I hate the design of most metal-basket strainers. I ordered one of these and was so impressed with it that I wrote a Boing Boing post about it. Hundreds of BB readers followed suit and many of them are as happy with theirs as I am with mine, so I thought I’d share it here, too.
I made two racks for my Stanley and Harbor Freight sorting boxes. One I welded and later decided it was way overbuilt. Too heavy especially once loaded with full trays of screws, etc. The second one I built a simple frame from 2 x 4s, then slid small shelves out of thin material like Masonite across both sides. It may not be as easy as baker racks, but I’m pretty sure it’s the cheapest way to build a rack in terms of materials. Plywood would be nicer all around, but 2x4s are cheap new, and almost free used.
Reader Jim Landis wrote:First, thanks for all the fascinating information you keep publishing. I’m a big fan. I’m sure others have discovered this, but some readers might find it useful. When I’m knocking together a quick model out of soda straws and paper clips, etc to get a feel for a project, 1 centimeter to 2 inches is a very convenient scale to use.
1. It’s easy to double or halve numbers without too much mental effort.
2. There’s always a ruler nearby with both inches and centimeters marked in parallel.
3. It’s very close to a 1:5 scale, so models are a nice size for desktops. For context, the original GI Joe dolls, -ahem- action figures, were 1:6 scale.
A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. All reviews on this site are written by readers who have actually used the tool and others like it. Items can be either old or new as long as they are wonderful. We post things we like and ignore the rest. Suggestions for tools much better than what is recommended here are always wanted.
Microplane began making micro-blades for woodworking use, but they’ve diverged into making fantastic kitchen tools. Their kitchen graters will turn a little block of Parmigiano-Reggiano into a huge cloud of billowy cheese wisps. Vegetables grate into little strips that almost melt in your mouth. My favorite use is with citrus zest. My lemon bars, lemon tarts and key lime pie have a much greater depth of flavor than ever before.
With most zesters, you end up with too much of the pithy white rind of the citrus fruit, but the Microplane takes off only the very thinnest layer of the outside of the fruit, the part which contains the intense and volatile citrus oils. Hands down, these are the best tools I’ve tried for fine-grating and zesting. — Jeff Zimmerman
I have dozens of tools and gadgets in my kitchen. Years working in the restaurant and catering world left me with an inventory of items that I bought for this job or that party. Some were quite expensive and most were probably only used once or twice (I’m looking at you, Mother of Pearl Caviar Spoon!).
But there’s one tool that cost me less than $2.00 at a restaurant supply store over 10-years ago that I still use on a fairly regular basis, at least during the summer. Anytime I need to core a tomato or hull a strawberry I reach for my Tomato Shark.
It’s a simple little metal spoon with sharp teeth that digs into your tomato or strawberry, removes the core or hull cleanly, and leaves you with just the fruit to work with. Unless you have super sharp knives and great paring knife skills you are probably used to coring a batch of tomatoes for sauce being a time-consuming and sometimes messy job; the Tomato Shark makes this job easy, tidy and quick.
This is one of those items where you should buy the actual Tomato Shark brand. I’ve found similar items just don’t hold up over time: the teeth get dull quicker, and you just don’t need to spend the extra money on a fancier version (unless you have problems with your hands and need a plastic handle for ergonomic reasons). — Caryl Shaw
My wife’s grandmother seems to effortlessly make dozens of wonderful apple pies. And yet, she has poor hand strength due to advanced rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, we convinced her to pass along the secret behind her pie-making success: She uses one machine to peel/slice/core her apples.
Simply poke the three prongs into the base of an apple and turn the crank. Before you know it, a lovely spiral of apple skin will unfurl before you, leaving a perfectly cored and peeled apple that can be quickly cut into quarters and thrown into a pie.
As soon as you see the device in action, it’s obvious just how elegant the mechanism is. It’s safe for children to use, once the apple is situated on the prongs. Best of all, it makes prepping apples so simple you’ll wish you had one years ago. There’s a version that clamps to a kitchen bench, but I find the models with a vacuum base are the same price and are far easier to set up and use. — Steve Allen
I like apples but I’ve never been a fan of the form factor, which tends to be tough on the teeth and jaws. The OXO Apple Divider cores and chops in one fell swoop. Total prep time, including rinsing the apple beforehand: 30 seconds max, 20 if I’m in a hurry. Like other OXO products I’ve tried, the OXO Apple Divider is a well-designed, well-built version of a classic tool. The company’s included its trademark “good grips” and sharp blades.
I appreciate it every time I use, it because I’m a chocoholic with easy access during the day to cookies and hot chocolate. Bringing a plastic container filled with wholesome, fresh, organic apple chunks makes it easier for me to resist the lure of chocolate. Even if you don’t consume apples as frequently as I do, the OXO Apple Divider is one single-use tool that’s worth keeping around. — Jonathan Steigman
We we bought this and use it regularly on potatoes to make oven fries. Slice the potato, toss the pieces in olive oil and spices of your choice, and bake on a non-stick sheet for 20-30 minutes at 450F, turning once. I didn’t even know this device was actually for apples until I saw it on Cool Tools! — Julee Bode
I’ve used this tool for about 10 years and it’s still going strong. It’s probably the best garlic press in the world. It’s constructed very robustly from stainless steel; it has an unusual lever-action which is far superior to the one-to-one action of most garlic presses; it opens up easily and is trivial to clean.
To see a demo, have a look at America’s Test Kitchen Equipment Review (below) where they come to the same conclusion.
But note that Kuhn Rikon have another garlic press called the Easy Squeeze, which is a lot cheaper. It has a slightly different action and plastic handles. It’s not nearly as good. — Stuart Wray
I’m not usually a big fan of single-use tools, but this is by far the only tool for this job. We had a party where I needed to core and slice three cases of pineapples, and what could have taken all day took but a few hours. No skill is needed. You just cut off the top of the pineapple and screw down the corer. Once you are at the bottom, pull out the meat and you’re done. The pineapple is evenly-sliced and you are left with a usable hull (for serving fruity drinks in, of course). I have seen these on sale for as little as $7. —Walter Susong III