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)
For some reason my ears get clogged up with earwax (cerumen is the technical term) about two to three times a year. When it first happened, I was told to use a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide and one of those rubber bulbs you use to clear a baby’s nose. This strategy never worked for me, and I would inevitably end up in a doctor’s office hard of hearing.
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This little gadget hones your razor after each use, and extends its usefulness by keeping it sharp longer. It’s a strip of silicone rubber in a plastic holder. You push your razor along the strip a dozen or so times after you’ve shaved. I’ve used it for about two years and it works well – it gives me at least double or perhaps triple the number of shaves before the blade becomes too dull to use. I’ve tried other similar things but this is the one that works best. — Stephen Saxe
Blade Buddy ($20)
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good kitchen novelty, and it was certainly that affliction that initially drew me to the Boska Holland Toastabags, but it turns out they’re both practical and really useful too.
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Shaving in the shower this morning I was trying to think of a tool that is really useful as I’ve appreciated all the tips others have provided.
Then I looked at the fogless mirror I’ve been using for nearly two years now. (Never ran across the smaller Shave Well shaving mirror recommended here back in August. Shave Well is 6×4″ as opposed to 7×5″ for this product.)
This fogless mirror, with the unfortunate company name of Toilet Tree, is the best we’ve found for this task.
Nothing fancy, just a mirror filled with hot water in a container. But it works. Even the silicone glue has been working great in adhering to the shower tile.
Simple and utilitarian, it the “#1 Selling and Ranked” product in its category by customers on Amazon. -- Ira Altschiller
Fogless Shower Mirror with Squeegee ($30)
I have been using a rubber finger tip for about 4 months, 5 times a week, 2-3 times/day for approximately 5 minutes a session. It enables me to flip through a large stack of pages quickly.
If you want to flip through a large stack of matte paper, your finger just won’t do. The oils on your finger are not enough to grip letter paper and licking your finger to improve grip gets tiring, is messy, and leaves you… parched. This tool leaves no mess, is cheap, and highly consistent in its usefulness. Different sizes available. -- Josh Miller
Rubber Finger Tips ($3/Doz.)
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.
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I was introduced to Hugo's Amazing Tape several years ago by a colleague. He uses the tape to keep board game boxes closed for storage, and it has quite a following in the board game and collectible card game community.
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When I travel I often use earplugs at night (E.A.R foam are my preferred brand) to mute the sounds of strange places and get a good night’s sleep. Only problem is, the pathetic “eep eep” sound of a typical travel alarm cannot penetrate the earplugs. For years I have searched for a truly heavy-duty portable alarm, and finally found a good candidate at the Petro Truck Stop in Kingman, Arizona: The Screaming Meanie.
Also available from online sources, the Screaming Meanie is not a clock. It is a countdown timer. You set the number of hours and minutes between now and the time you want to wake up. You can also set the volume, either to “loud” or “frighteningly loud.” In case 110 decibels is not enough (“loud enough to wake the dead!”), they have a 220 decibel version too!
When you start the Screaming Meanie the alarm is ON by default. This eliminates my habit of waking up five or six times just to check whether I set my travel alarm correctly. You just know this thing is going to work. You can’t possibly sleep through it because while the 10 and 5-minute warnings can be turned off with one button, it takes 3 buttons pushed simultaneously to silence the final alarm. My only quibble is that it should be smaller (it is a rounded plastic block, 1″ by 2.25″ by 5.25″) but hey, it was designed for truckers. -- Charles Platt
Screaming Meanie ($25)
I often mix stuff into my coffee: cream, coconut oil, medium chain triglycerides, taurine, even some resistant starches like inulin as part of my low carb life. Previoius to getting the slickfroth, I had to choose between a small hand blender or a spoon. I did not expect much (you know, a battery powered small toy) but I have found that this device works much better than I expected as a mini-handblender for liquids and powders. While it will not chop up the contents of thick smoothies, it will mix liquids together or powders into liquids very well. It offers a very useful tool in-between a hand blender (over-kill for many situations) and just mixing with a spoon (often not adequate). -- Dale Simpson
Kuissential SlickFroth 2.0 ($18)
When you are pulling together a meal, anything you can do to minimize prep time up front — or more importantly, along the way — helps make things run more smoothly and cleanly.
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This is the electric bike I recommend for anyone on a tight budget. The Ezip Trailz is a bargain in terms of how much it can affect your life on little dollars. It is by far the best selling electric bike in the United States, for good reason: For less than $500 it is a decent electric bike with reasonable performance. At this price point if you just ride the bike regularly it will pay for itself quickly.
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This small, flat, semi-translucent plastic card contains a sharp blade, an even sharper pair of scissors, a file, a tweezers, a toothpick, and a pen. They all slide into the card, and come free of it for independent use. The whole kit is the size of a credit card, and about three times as thick. It lays flat in my pocket and weighs very little. I use it daily. It prompts a smile most every time I do, and it’s a good conversation piece. Highly recommended and undeservedly under-popular. -- Gru
Victorinox SwissCard ($25)
I absolutely love these things and have used them for a couple of years. I enjoy wandering around with my kids and having them put it up to just about everything. (“Dad! this has a golden mean in it as well!” — I’ll never get tired hearing that). You can also use them to bring some simple relational beauty and balance into anything physical that you make.
You can go to this website for some very well made ones (and a little pricey) or just download some plans for a few bucks and make your own. -- Eric Warner
Golden Mean Calipers ($35)
From online discussions and reviews, it seems that nearly everyone who buys one of these non-stick, heat-resistant worksheets has the same initial reaction: “I paid $14 for THIS?” Quickly, that skepticism turns to appreciation, if not outright tool evangelism. I am one such skeptic. For too long, I’ve taken the “self-healing” billing of my cutting mat far too literally, subjecting it to paints, glues, epoxies, clay, heat — all sorts of indignities from which it never heals. Besides cutting, every other crafting/hobby activity should happen on some other surface, and for me, I now don’t want to use anything but one of these heavy duty (5 mil) PTFE (Teflon) sheets.
The Craft Sheet first seems rather fragile and insubstantial, but it’s virtually indestructible. Almost nothing sticks to it. And besides it acting as a protective surface, you can also use it for techniques like low-brow paper marbling (mix some paints on the sheet and swirl paper through it). To clean the sheet, you just wipe with a rag – good as new. You can buy direct from sealersupply.com for cheaper (and larger sizes), but you’ll have to pay for shipping. -- Gareth Branwyn
Ranger 15-Inch-by-18-Inch Inkssentials Craft Sheet: $14
For French press coffee geeks who also happen to be klutzes like me, no more broken carafes with this bad boy. I’ve had mine for years and it is still like brand new. Also for whatever reason, the plunger mesh is MUCH tougher than on the Bodum products and does not shred nearly as easily. Next time you smash your carafe on your Bodum just buy one of these. -- A.T. Salzman
Thermos 34-Ounce Vacuum Insulated Stainless-Steel Gourmet Coffee Press: $40
I can’t count how many cheap watering implements we’ve gone through since we bought this house fifteen years ago. Big box store watering widgets seem to last just a few weeks before heading to the landfill.
I think I’ve found a solution. During the Garden Blogger’s Fling I attended back in June there was a demo by a Dramm Company representative. What impressed me most at the demo was Dramm’s simplest products, the Heavy-Duty Aluminum Water Breaker Nozzle combined with their Aluminum Shut-Off Valve.
The breaker nozzle provides a gentle shower, much like a Haws Watering Can and would be appropriate to use on seedlings and vegetables. The shut-off valve is extremely durable. Neither item has plastic parts. They are sold separately.
While a lot more expensive than those plastic watering wands at the big box store, I have a feeling that these two high quality Dramm components will last a lot longer. -- Eric Knutzen
Dramm 82342 400AL Heavy-Duty Aluminum Water Breaker Nozzle: $16
Dramm 22373 Aluminum Shut-Off Valve: $17
I carry 3 red dice in my back pocket so that I can play a game called Cee-lo with people that I meet. Like most betting games, Cee-lo has a rough reputation. But played among friends, not betting for money, it can be rather wholesome.
I really like being able to play a simple dice game with people for a few reasons:
- it’s a really fun game!
- I’ve successfully played it with kindergartners and every age group above,
- I’ve gotten mixed age groups to have a GREAT time playing,
- It never runs out of batteries or needs to be upgraded,
- it’s very portable,
- it gets people to talk in real time,
- I don’t have to hand an expensive device to other people or count on them having one, or having one compatible to mine.
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I use several corded power tools around the yard and garden such as a chain saw, leaf vacuum, hedge trimmer, etc. Many’s the time I would put off a chore using them because I would have to uncoil the 100′ of power cord and probably have to untangle/unkink it before using it. After the job was done, it would take another few minutes to coil up the power cord and try not to tangle it in the process.
A couple of types of cord reels I tried didn’t work particularly well. So I bought this weird looking cord winder a few years ago. After installing the wall mount near the power outlet in my garage and winding my cord into the basket, I was quite surprised to discover I could pull out the 100′ of power cord, tangle/kink free in about a minute to the end of my driveway. I would do my chore (usually the leaf vacuum for lawn clippings and leaves) and, in another minute or two I could wind up the cord, detach the cord winder from the wall mount and put it on the shelf. Those chores now get done when needed instead of being put off since the cord unwinding/re-winding takes so little time. -- Jim Service
Wonder Winder Hand Crank Extension Cord Winder: $20
I have owned this rugged, splash-proof speaker for about six months. I purchased it for week-long bicycle tours and camping. It is a combination of solar charger, battery and speakers in one unit. I charge my phone and i-pod when off the grid. The speaker has blue-tooth and auxiliary (wired) input and indicator lights for battery status, etc. I use the two loops to strap the speaker to my bike bag for listening on the road. It sounds great for its size. It even fits in a large pocket of cargo pants. -- Bob Lewis
Eton Rugged Rukus All-Terrain Portable Solar Wireless Sound System $64
I do love popcorn, but usually don’t like to pop commercial microwave bags in the office. Although their contents are delicious when popped, commercial microwave bags release a cloud of buttery esters into the local environment for all to smell. They have a TON of added fat and salt, and one has no control over the contents.
There’s also a great deal of debate over the safety and stability of polyunsaturated fats in high-heat cooking, and corn popping is a very high-heat process.
Hot-air poppers aren’t suitable for an office environment, and anyway I haven’t found one that doesn’t eventually make the popped corn taste like it came out of a hair dryer.
I have used the Presto Power Pop corn popper ($16) for at least a decade, and found it to be an excellent solution to light snacking in the office. It doesn’t smell strongly of anything but the corn, and that can be controlled by keeping the lid on until I’m back at my cube. I can control the amount of salt or oil I use, if any. It acts as a serving bowl for the popcorn, and is easy to keep clean once emptied. It does an excellent job of popping most of the corn, even in lower-power microwaves. It typically will pop a batch in under two minutes, not three to four like commercial bags. (Which makes one wonder how much of the mass inside commercial bags is popcorn, and how much is just colored fat.)
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When I got back from a trip to Europe, the one thing I felt I needed more than anything, was a good sturdy umbrella. After much research I found this small Totes umbrella. In my past experience, most small collapsible umbrellas were utter garbage. This is simply not the case here. I have had this thing for about 2 years now. I bring it with me any time there is rain in the forecast.
It’s slightly larger than most collapsible umbrellas (about 14 inches long when collapsed). The handle feels strong and sturdy in hand. It’s comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The auto open and close button works brilliantly and opens with strong force. When open, it is a full “golf size” umbrella, able to easily fit two people underneath. In the wind, there is a magical springiness to it that keeps it from being unwieldy. I’ve had absolutely no issues in heavy wind. -- Sam Rosenblum
Totes Golf-Size Auto Open Auto Close Compact Umbrella $27
During a recent 27-hour-long power outage, we rushed out to find emergency lighting. While most people grabbed the biggest lanterns they could find, we centered on these handy Pack-Away Lanterns. They touted long run-times on 4 x AA batteries (20 hours on low and 8 hours on high), and they delivered!
We clipped three to our dining room light to provide plenty of light for card games. Then, we used one of the lanterns to provide overnight light for our cat that is scared of the dark (a true fraidy-cat!).
The lanterns are small, and the top pushes down for packing and storage. I throw one in my backpack any time I head to an event.
There’s a wire loop/handle at the top that folds flat, and a small clip that can attached to the handle. The clip could be used for attaching the light almost anywhere, like the inside of a car hood, a beltloop, or chandelier. -- Steve Simpson
Coleman 4AA Packaway Mini LED Lantern: $20
My family ships a lot of boxes during the holidays, and we go through a few rolls of packaging tape. Large pistol-grip tape dispensers don’t work well on smaller boxes — I have never been able to get the hang of using the serrated blade to cut off the tape.
I was happy to find out about Scotch’s Tear-by-Hand packaging tape. I (and more importantly, my wife) can easily tear off strips with our hands. It’s easy to get the length you desire, and the tear is perfectly perpendicular. Also, it’s easy to find the end of the tape on the roll by running your fingernail along it. This stuff is like magic. I never want to use any other kind of packaging tape. -- Mark Frauenfelder
Scotch Tear-by-Hand Tape, 1.88 Inches x 50 Yards $20
I found this product over a year ago. It comes in yellow, green, pink, and white, on a dispenser similar to scotch tape. The paper feels like the same paper used for the original Post It notes, and works well with a Sharpie pen for labeling. The back of the paper is fully-covered by the adhesive (unlike Post-It notes, which have a strip of adhesive only along the top).
I can label anything, remove the label and reuse it. I do this frequently with food storage as I shift things around from one container to another. The labels don’t roll up at the edges or fall off after a few months. I first used the tape when I was moving, because I was using a lot of plastic storage boxes, which I couldn’t write on, and the tape (I bought neon green) was so much easier to use than masking tape.
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Today I used an old reliable tweezer and realized that most people probably had little idea of what a good tweezer can be. Nor where to find such a thing.
Of the several I’ve acquired, my favorite is the Excelta 00-SA-ET. It’s stainless, it’s got a special, formed-on foam padding (makes it not only comfortable, but very easy to maneuver), and it’s sturdy enough to get things done at a small scale.
Most good fine tweezers can be easily distorted and, once out of whack, almost impossible to align properly again. Once you start checking into good tweezers, you’ll see there are lots & lots of them, most specific to their task. Many are very delicate.
If you’d like a superb set that’s robust enough for almost anything normal people would use them for, try the Excelta 00-SA-ET. Or check Excelta’s whole line at their website. -- Wayne Ruffner
Excelta 00-SA-PI-ET $20
Woolzies are felt wool drier balls the size of a tennis ball. I have been using them for several months – after purchasing them on Amazon, and trying for the first time, I just keep them in the drier all the time now.
They save quite a bit of energy as the drying time is reduced by 30-40% or so. Woolzies also work better than plastic drier balls: I have noticed a marked difference in the quality and softness of the dried garments.
This product is efficient and environmentally friendly through and through: they’re made of pure wool so no plastic or other chemicals are used to make them. They drastically reduce the time required to dry clothing, they are gentler on the dried fabric, which also comes out softer and almost wrinkle-free. -- Denis Zaff
Woolzies- Wool Dryer Balls $34 / 6-pack
My wife is a teacher and we do lots of printing on card stock and cutting on card stock. For many years I used a paper cutter with a blade that slides down a channel. It worked fine for 1 or 2 pages of card stock, but beyond that the blade was hard to slide and the paper had a tendency to slip, especially when going quickly.
When the blade dulled, I decided to try a guillotine style trimmer. These are the trimmers I remember from my youth in school. The ones in school looked like they could cut wood. This is a home-appropriate version that handles 5-6 sheets of card stock with ease and probably exceeds the 10 regular sheets it claims.
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Do you have a favorite tool that you’d like to let other people know about? Then come to the first Cool Tools Show & Tell Worldwide Meetup on December 4, 2013! Bring your favorite tool (hand tools, maps, how-to books, vehicles, software, specialized devices, gizmos, websites — and anything useful) and be prepared to talk about it and (if feasible) demonstrate it to other cool tools enthusiasts.
To lead a local Cool Tools Show & Tell, visit the Meetup page and enter the name of the city or zip code of where you would like to host a meetup into the field in the upper right corner. Then, click on the community of your choice and RSVP.
If you are not yet a member of Meetup.com, you’ll be given the opportunity to sign up for a free account. Once you’ve joined your community and RSVP’d for the Cool Tools Worldwide Meetup date on Dec. 4, you can suggest a location for the event and begin inviting your friends.
Share on Facebook or Twitter or use your community URL (example: http://www.meetup.com/Cool-Tools/Boulder/) to invite local friends via email. Otherwise, use http://www.meetup.com/cool-tools to spread the word to people around the world. Please consider videotaping your local meetup and uploading the videos for others to see. We will post links on the Cool Tools website.
Bonus! If you are in the United States would like to lead a local meetup and are able to host at least 10 other people, we would like to send you a complimentary copy of Kevin Kelly’s new book: Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities.
I have a very hard time keeping gloves on my hands when I’m gardening, my fingers seem to long to skip and go naked in the dirt. Foxgloves are the exception to the rule, in part because of their extraordinary sensitivity. You can feel the texture of the dirt, grab remarkably fine weeds for pulling, and when you’re done, the skin on your hands is not dried, dirty, or cracked, and there is no dirt under your fingernails. They protect your hands from blisters, and provide a modicum of warmth. Best of all, they’re gloves I actually wear!
That said, these are not the gloves for dealing with spiky thistles or blackberry vines. The thorns pass right through these gloves as though they aren’t even there. But for grubbing in the dirt and weeding everything that doesn’t have spikes, these gloves are excellent.
-- Amy Thomson
Foxgloves Original $21