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Cool Tools


Cellulose fibre filler - cure for stripped screw holes in wood

For years, I was frustrated by stripped screw holes, particularly with wooden doors. To get a screw to stay in the stripped hole, I stuffed wood pieces, plastic anchors, basically anything I could find that would fit in the hole. Usually the fix failed, and I was again searching for a MacGyver fix.

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Bungee cords with a ring for gripping

I camp a lot and picked up six Power Pull bungee cords last year.

I thought the pull ring was a good idea after having more than a few regular bungees slip from my hands while stretching. The ring makes these easy to secure. Even better, the ring provides an additional tie down location. This works out great when latching locations are limited. My wife really loves them, a huge plus. A simple, very useful, innovation. -- Patrick Leary

Best sippy cups for toddlers

There’s no end to the amount you can spend on gadgetry for child-rearing, and yet I’ve been amazed at the poor design and shoddy construction that seems to dominate even the high-end of the parental gear spectrum.

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Gadget review: Leatherman Multitool OHT

I’ve had many multitools: Leatherman, SOG, Kershaw, etc. but the Leatherman Multitool OHT ($88) by far the best.

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Schrade Key Chain Pry Tool: a half-ounce multitool

multi

I got the Schrade Key Chain Pry Tool as a birthday gift and it’s been on my keychain since. It’s about 3.25 inches long and about an inch at its widest. It has several tools including: pry tool, bottle opener, seat belt cutter, screw-driver, and a wrench driver that accommodates a variety of bolt/nut diameters.

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Zojirushi stainless steel mug: leakproof travel thermos

I bought my first Zojirushi stainless steel mug as a Christmas gift for my wife. She likes to take a lot of coffee with her to work for the day, typically filling both a travel mug and a thermos. I was looking for something that would keep a couple of servings of coffee hot for a long time, but would be easier to drink from than a traditional thermos. I came across this product, with extremely good reviews, and decided to get one for her to try.

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Sony Pocket AM/FM Radio - $13 and no service contract!

It doesn’t have stereo reception or digital tuning or even a darn clock, but my little Sony Pocket Radio has been going strong for a decade. A pair of AA batteries supplies me with months of music, news, and sports broadcasts. Its reception is strong and steady, the volume is more than adequate, I’ve dropped it a few times without harming it, and it’s about the price of a sandwich. Sure, I wish it came it cute colors. Yes, it tends to tip over on occasion. And it’s so easy to carry from place to place that my biggest complaint is that I sometimes don’t know where I left it. But in the age of HD and wireless and internet media, this pocket radio proves that stuff doesn’t have to fancy in order to be great. -- Jeremy Jackson

Stanley Tripod Flashlight: Portable, hands-free LED lighting

I replaced my D battery Mag-Light with this small LED light that only needs AA batteries. I get whiter light, longer life, and more intensity. Tripod lights have always been great tools (I work at Amazon, so I see a lot of gear). The problem with the traditional ones is they get very hot, use lot of battery power, and burn out fast. Stanley’s tripod light – the first LED version – takes all the advantages of LED and combines it with the convenience of a fold up stand.

I have already used it for a variety of household projects since I bought it last year. The best use has been to install dimmers. Usually I’d have to do this during the day or ask my wife to hold the flashlight. With the tripod light, I can now do it by myself at any time. -- Jason Goldberger

Hands-free workbench magnification

This is a 5-inch diameter magnifying glass mounted on a swing arm, and the assembly has a vice clamp to mount itself to the edge of a table or desk.

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Hol-ee Roller - dogproof chew toy

A friend gave my dog the Hol-ee Roller ($6) in January, and my dog and I like it so much that I have since started to phase-out other dog toys. It is durable. My dog is a strong chewer, and has destroyed many a lesser toy. It is attractive. Who doesn’t love a geodesic dome? It is light and squishy, bouncing off objects denser balls would damage. It is large. This might not seem important, but my dog has been known to attempt furniture disassembly while attempting to retrieve a ball that has rolled under the sofa. Despite its size, it is easy to pick up. Dogs can chomp on a vertex, and I can hook it with a finger. Touching it is not disgusting. Despite its size, it has little surface area to get slimy. And no tennis ball fuzz. -- Jonathan Harford

An automatic smart driving assistant that streams car data to your phone

The "quantified self" personal measurement tools all seem too constricting to me, at least at this point in my life. But, as one who cringed when I needed to buy my late-model Mazda3 for a commute, the concept of a "quantified car" makes a lot more sense. Buying a car means investing a decent sum of money in a depreciating collection of metal that requires sizable ongoing investments. Even when experiencing the joy of the open road, I'm still haunted by how much this contraption costs me. So, to ease my heartburn over car ownership, I bought the Automatic "Smart Driving Assistant" ($99) in early 2014.

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Bifocal safety glasses

I happened upon these Bifocal safety glasses ($11) while on vacation in a hardware store (yes, I go to hardware stores while on vacation). These safety glasses provide great eye protection and the bifocal lens allows me to perform closeup tasks without resorting to pulling them off for my reading glasses. A perfect solution for those who work in a shop with "older" active eyes. – Mark Ramirez [I have a pair of these and love them -- Mark]

The $6 "Fantastic" ice scraper is fantastic

I bought the "Fantastic" Ice Scraper I have now in 1982 at a gas station in Wisconsin. It’s such a superior scraper that I’ve been careful to make sure it transferred from disposed-of vehicle to replacement vehicle four times since then. The thin, stiff, but mildly conforming brass blade slides easily between ice and glass and does so without scratching because brass is softer than glass. Oh, yeah, it still costs $2. Important: don’t use it to hack at the ice because you may deform the brass blade, after which it won’t slide between ice and glass well at all. – Jeff Morrow

Brass blade is the real deal. I’ve given these to friends and family because they are so much better than the crappy plastic ones. Brass is soft enough to not damage the glass. The blade is thin and not really sharp to the touch, but is great on ice. The plastic scrapers get dull pretty quickly and then just skip over really tough ice. – Scott Christensen

Had one of these for years and it was the best I have ever used. You just have to be careful about hitting the rubber gasket with it – it will cut. That is the reason the blade is not as wide as the blade holder. – Jim Sheafer Fantastic Ice Scraper with Brass Blade ($6)

Tally-Ho playing cards are great for magic tricks

As a practicing magician, playing cards are just one of the many tools in our “magical toolbox.” For the causal card player any pack of cards will most likely do. But for anyone who practices card magic or just plays a lot of card games, cards might be a subject of interest. If you’re looking for quality long-lasting budget playing cards, I highly recommend Tally-Ho cards. They’re inexpensive and can be subjected to being bent and abused, while maintaining their ease of handling. Tally-Hos’ durability can be attributed to its linoid finish, which also helps prevent the cards from sticking together. Unlike most other playing cards such as Bicycles or Bees, Tally-Hos are rather resistant to warping after heavy usage. In fact, a pack of Tally-Hos I own for five years and counting, still springs and fans just like it did first out of the box. -- Jefferson Deng

[The magicians who hang out at The Magic Cafe message board seem to agree that Tally Ho cards are more durable than Bicycle cards. Another interesting thing about these cards is that the Circle back design is slightly asymmetrical, which makes the cards useful for mentalism tricks. The one negative thing about Tally Ho cards is that spectators are usually more familiar with Bicycle cards and unfamiliarity raises suspicions about whether or not a deck is gimmicked. -- Mark] Tally Ho Circle Back Playing Cards ($6)

Hand crank your own freshly milled whole grains

I feel like I’ve discovered a sort of breakfast unified field theory. And it’s all thanks to an impulse purchase at an awesome new homesteading supply shop in our Los Angeles neighborhood, The King’s Roost. My credit card discharged from my pocket like ectoplasm at a 19th century seance when I spotted the KoMo FlicFloc.

The FlicFloc manually flakes oats, wheat, rye, barley, millet, spelt, rice, sesame, flax seed, poppy and spices. The breakfast possibility it opened to me? Fresh muesli is thy name. Finally a filling and healthy alternative to my Grape Nuts addiction.

The FlicFloc is elegant and simple. There’s not much to say about it. You put grain in the top, turn the handle and deliciousness discharges into a glass, thoughtfully provided. I’ve owned a KoMo grain mill for a year now and it’s been a life changer in the kitchen. I really like having access to freshly milled whole grains when I need them. It eliminates waste as ground grains spoil. And whole grain, including oats, get bitter if they sit around too long.

And cancel the Neflix – Below is KoMo’s Austrian/German design team demonstrating their products. All this video needs is Werner Herzog to narrate the English language version. Note the solar powered manufacturing facility and German breakfast porn. Also note the mouthwatering array of whole grain baked goods. -- Erik Knuzten

KoMo FlicFloc Flaker ($178)

Wear these sunglasses over your prescription glasses

I wear glasses. Mine are good ones, and I have little clippy sunglass “covers” for them that are polarized and work pretty well too. But they’re sorta delicate, and really take two hands to properly fix to my specs. Not ideal for driving, when I may want to stick something on quickly and with a single hand.

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Plastic storage caps for wide mouth canning jars

I use white plastic one-piece screw-top lids sized to fit either regular or wide-mouth canning jars.

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How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding and Maintaining Your Home

How Your House Works is a great visual resource and introduction for anyone not acquainted with the workings of a house and is a great companion for more in-depth DIY guides.

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Review: Nest WiFi smoke and carbon monoxide alarm

Smart homes continue to get smarter and the Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (either battery or wired) is everything you would expect from the people who brought you the Nest thermostat.

We have had this 5 inch x 5 inch x 1.5 inch smoke and CO detector on the ceiling of our kitchen since it became available. What I think is especially cool about it is…

  • It can be checked for readiness from a simple smart phone app indicating its state as well as that of the battery (if that’s your choice of model).
  • When it does go off for reasons other than an actual fire (like your bacon is burning) or CO2 alert, simply waving your hand underneath it, turns the alarm off. The Nest also gives you a gentle verbal warning rather than an unexpected shriek. when an actual alarm is coming.
  • Testing consists of pressing the center most button and the Nest announces its intentions – to perform a simple test including a countdown. All steps are verbally communicated so you know exactly what’s happening.
  • Should you be a Nest thermostat user as well as a Nest Protect user, and should there be an actual fire, the Nest thermostat will shut down the gas furnace as that could be a further source of fire or ignition.
  • And, should the alarm go off for any reason, a message is sent to your smart phone.
  • Especially cool is that the illuminated ring around the center of the monitor acts as a night light when the lights in the room are turned out and also does such in the event of a power failure.
  • And for those who really care about such things, it’s beautifully designed.

Worth the $100 when you can get one for $15? If you’re into the smart home thing, certainly. But, even if not, it just seems more than worth it given the long lasting battery with no chirping to awaken you at night when batteries run low, really easy testing and just a bit more gentle on the senses than the standard howling alarm. -- Neil J. Salkind

Nest Protect Smoke Plus Carbon Monoxide ($99)

Bean-to-cup coffee with the push of a button

Let me start by saying I like coffee; strong, black coffee. Some years ago I treated myself to a proper home espresso machine. I also bought a burr grinder. I didn’t go as far as buying green beans and roasting them myself (I did consider it), but I did by small batches of freshly roasted quality beans.

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Make guitar picks from any flat plastic

As an amateur guitar player, this is a fantastic tool that allows me to achieve the following:

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OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Measuring Cup Set

The sheer number of OXO products available and the variety of price points they are built to makes it inevitable that some of them will be duds. Indeed, over time it has become clear that the presence of the brand on an item does not necessarily guarantee good design or build quality. That said, I have found their Good Grips steel measuring cups to be a great success in both regards. After more than a year of daily use, I still can’t think of anything that would improve them.

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Areaware Bottle Opener

This bottle opener takes a relatively mundane task and turns it into a pleasurable aesthetic experience. The beauty of this opener is in its design simplicity. It is made of a piece of wood, a bent nail and two magnets. That’s it. The leverage from the nail opens beer bottles easily, one magnet catches the bottle cap and the other magnet makes it easy to mount on a fridge or other metal surface.

I have owned one for over a year and it is always my go-to bottle opener above any of my skeleton key style bottle openers. The handle is comfortable and, while the magnetic cap catching capability might seem superfluous at first, I am always grateful for it once I’m a few bottles into the evening. The mounting magnet keeps the handle open from the perspective of the plane of the surface to which it is mounted making it easy to grab in a time of need.

I was originally gifted this tool and have gifted it myself on several occasions. All recipients have reported back with delight at this opener’s simple beauty and practical usefulness.

Of course, there are much less costly alternatives (including your teeth, the edge of a hard surface or the lighter trick) to opening bottles and the size of the handle does not make this tool something you want to carry around in your pocket all of the time, but that isn’t it’s point. This opener combines a sophisticated design sensibility with functional effectiveness that elevates the status of an every day utility to a cool tool. -- Eoin Russell

Areaware Bottle Opener in Walnut ($14)

Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag

This bag has been my indefatigable mobile office for the past 2 years.

I am a train commuter navigating from Boston’s suburbs into Kendall Square (MIT), Cambridge five days a week. Productivity is important to me during my commuting time and the bag offers outstanding organization and comfort to allow me to work anywhere.

This bag is loaded with organizational features, durably crafted and stylistically elegant (and customizable!). Few bags excel in all three of those critical elements. I use the large size, and while it can be roomy for lighter daily travel, having the extra space accommodates the occasional overnight trip or the large object that I need to tote into my work-space. -- Nathan Chesley

Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag 2014 Large ($109)

Breville One-Touch Tea Maker brews perfect tea every time

It is amazing how different the same tea tastes when you have the ability to consistently experiment with the brewing temperature and steeping time. Different teas require different brewing temps and steeping times to bring out the best flavor. I like green tea. The Breville allows you to set the temperature by degrees and the steeping time. Do you like strong tea? Set it to steep longer. Once you set it, it is all automatic. No more waiting for your tea to cool from boiling to drink it. Would like another cup of tea? The Breville will keep the tea at your set temp for 60 minutes.

Yes, this appliance is expensive. However, after using it nearly each day since November 2010, it is totally worth the money, and remains one of my favorite purchases and is very reliable. I’ve had zero problems with it. Breville makes great appliances, and they are very well made, with excellent customer support. -- Kevin Lindsay

Breville One-Touch Tea Maker ($250)

Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip gloves: thin, durable, grippy gloves

I ran across these gloves when I did a bathroom remodel around 2 years ago. Basically, they are a thin synthetic knit glove that has a palm and fingertip area that’s coated in a “polymer.” Traditionally, I’ve worn those cheap rubber dipped gloves when working with tile, but these gloves are far superior. The best part of these gloves is that they are really thin and allow for all the manual dexterity that you would have in a nitrile glove, but the Gorilla Grip gloves are much more durable. They’re great for wet work because they let the back of your hand breathe and dry out.

When I did tile work with them, they were really great for using with the wet tile saw. Even though they were wet, they didn’t slide around, get soggy, or come apart – even when soaked in water. I’ve used them as a go to general purpose glove for most home improvements. Just this past week, I used them on a drop ceiling project and an attic insulation project. They were great in that they protected my hands from the ceiling tiles and insulation while allowing me to switch tools and do fine motor tasks while wearing the gloves.

These gloves are the perfect medium between a disposable rubber or nitrile glove and a heavier work glove while being better than other rubber/vinyl dipped gloves. -- Chuck Balog

Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip Gloves ($9)

X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand

I’ve used this laptop stand for six years after discovering it branded and sold by Targus (where it can no longer be found). After losing mine, I found it again branded under “Hercules XStand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand” and “Opteka X-Stand Ergonomic Portable Airflow Cooling Stand.”

The stand is beautifully built, light (all-aluminum structure), and well-designed. It’s for 15″ – 17″ laptops, and easily folds down to something you could slip into a pocket. The stand tilts the keyboard a few degrees, which is nice, but its primary use is to allow plenty of airflow under the computer for cooling; I find it substantially reduces the temperature, which is not only nice for me, it certainly helps lengthen the life of my laptops. It has to be used on a flat surface – not your lap. I use it everywhere.

The stand is far-and-away the smallest and lightest laptop stand I’ve ever seen, and retails online for anywhere from $15 to $23.-- Barry Schwartz

X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand ($23)

EGear 30-Day Lantern - a month of light from three D cells

I have used this one for over a year. My grandmother was thrilled to have a couple during an extended power outage last year. When we got power back we passed the lanterns on to her friends until they had power restored. We never changed the batteries and neither did they. My grandmother gave one to all her friends last Christmas — best received gift ever. One of the best features is that it is actually bright enough to be useful. I love the hook on the bottom that lets me hang it from a fixture or pipe. (There was a huge battery shortage before, during and after the storm so now I keep a set of rechargeable batteries on hand for them.) -- Tim Stone

eGear 30-day lantern ($40)

Dahon Speed D7 folding bicycle

Of all the ways to navigate cities, I find I get to know them best on a bicycle: not too slow, not too fast, just high up enough to observe, and quasi-meditatively conducive to thought.

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Foolproof tool sharpening

Any chef will tell you, a sharp knife is the most important tool in the kitchen. I have tried many different types of sharpening methods, from stones to steels, electric to manual. Stones are hard to use because you need to maintain a very consistent angle while using it, and other gimmicky sharpening tools are just not good enough to give you a good edge. And very, very few can sharpen a serrated blade. I won’t lie — I can’t use a manual sharpening stone to save my life.

My dad got me the Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener and I swear I’ve never seen its equal. It is approximately the size of an electric drill and uses sanding belts of three different grits: 80 for repairing blades, 220 for sharpening, and 6000 for putting on that smooth polish. The sanding belts are very easy to change and last long enough for you to sharpening everything in the house, from your scissors and kitchen knives to axe and lawnmower blades. The head of the tool swivels so you can use it free-hand to sharpen very large items, like shovels.

One of the best features is the guards that attach to the tool that keep the sharpening angle perfectly consistent. The first guard offers a 50° angle for large hunting and butchery knives, and a 40° angle for thinner knives. The second guard allows you to sharpen serrated blades and heavier outdoor blades.

Best of all, this sharpening system only costs around $70 and packs of 6 replacement belts cost around $9. They also offer packs of 2 diamond belts for around $26 for sharpening those pesky ceramic blades. -- Joel Roush Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener ($69)