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
Musicians beware! The OP-1 is a synthesizer that some may love and others may dismiss as a mere overpriced toy.
For myself, Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 has been an indispensable addition to my synth arsenal: partly because it produces sounds I can’t find elsewhere and partly because it’s so incredibly easy (and yes, even fun) to use. (See video below.)
The color-base interface took me by surprise! There’s practically no learning curve for adjusting the eight separate sound engines (and effects) — the machine is highly visual in this regard. In fact I love handing my OP-1 to non-musicians and watching them as they almost instantly begin “programming” a sound. For a performer, this kind of ease-of-use is power: to effortlessly turn a few knobs and get to the sound one is after. No fiddling around. In this regard, the OP-1 is a musician’s instrument.
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Anyone working with metal should be aware of these two tools. They make finishing metal a smoother experience. I prefer these two attachments over composite disks, belt sanders, or orbital sanders.
I learned about them as a construction worker while prepping process pipe for welds on oil refineries. Both tools are standards in the steam fitting trade. I’ve since used them on robot creations, blacksmith projects, and anywhere else metal is involved.
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Cold brewing has recently become my preferred method for brewing my morning cup.
I love my coffee iced, but I never loved my typical approach: brew hot coffee, cool it, store it until I’m ready to drink. Half the time I forget to brew ahead and I end up drinking it hot.
Cold brewing coffee works like this: combine ground beans with room temperature (or cooler) water and let steep for 12 to 15 hours. That’s it.
I love the smoother flavor of cold brewed coffee. From what I’ve read, some folks consider the resulting coffee to be a concentrate in need of dilution. Not me. Maybe it’s the ice.
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Here’s a great “off label” use of an old product for a completely different application that a guitar player turned me on to years ago. The Zenith Tibet Almond Stick is an oil- and cleaner-impregnated plug that comes as a tightly rolled up cloth in a metal can. Its original use is to “efface 1,000 scratches from pianos—radios—furniture—etc. It’s amazing!” I use it to refresh old strings on guitars, banjo and mandolins. Just swipe the stick along the strings, then pinch each string with a rag and slide along its length. All the nasty bits of rust, dirt, and finger cheese come right off. It’s especially good at helping to remove the crud that get trapped in the coils of wound strings and restores that brilliant “new string” sound. I also like the art deco inspired litho steel tube it comes in.
By the way, it will last forever: my 40 year old stick is still going strong! -- Bob Knetzger
Tibet Almond Stick: $6
This is a lifetime piece of kitchen equipment, made in Finland of quality stainless steel. With almost no mess or work, it turns quantities of fresh fruit into clear, sterile, hot juice which you can then pipe directly into Mason jars, where it will self seal with no further processing.
Picture a multi-layer double-boiler sort of arrangement, the size of a big soup pot. All stacked up, it’s 16″ high, and about 12″ across. The lowest pan gets water in it, to boil for the steam. The topmost pan is a 10.5 quart colander basket, where you put the fruit; this has a lid. The middle pan looks like an angel-food-cake pan, with a conical hole in the center. This is where the juice collects.
In a brilliant move, they attached a hose to the lower part of the juice-collector pan. This has a spring clamp to close it off, which clamp also serves as a hook, to park it on one of the side handles when not in use.
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We like to let our dogs take us outside for both our benefits and theirs. But keeping them hydrated without letting them resort to slurping up who-knows-what from puddles has been a sort of a problem.
We’ve tried a variety of doggy-intended canteen things. Nalgene bottles & floppy bowls. Little buckets & bottles. Everything was either a pain for us or the dogs weren’t interested in some stinky wet plastic — no matter how thirsty they were.
I recently bought some bottles from H2O4K9.com. The dogs took to them immediately. The bottles themselves are stainless steel. The “insulated” version’s dog-trough is big enough that both our dogs get water at the same time, sorta, and it looks like it’s big enough for large-muzzled pooches.
The insulated “K9 Unit” and non insulated bottles are both 25 ounce capacity. There’s a 9 ounce model for dogs-who-are-cat-sized too. -- Wayne Ruffner
H2O4K9 Dog Canteen: $10 – $15 | Insulated model: $20
I converted from a toolbox to this Craftsman tool bag last year and I could not be happier. I live in an apartment in Singapore with no tool bench and limited space. Over the years I’ve kept my tools in a series of metal and plastic toolboxes. The boxes always seemed to be too full.
Then I visited a friend in England who had a wonderful canvas tool bag, which held assorted screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, hammers, tape measures and other tools compactly and efficiently. Though I could not locate a canvas bag in the United States, I found this synthetic bag at Sears. I’ve consolidated my tools from my hard toolboxes into the bag and am pleased with the accessibility of my tools and the compactness and portability of the bag.
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I have used this for 2 years. It is very effective in narrow spaces such as IDF (Intermediate Distribution Frame) closets, where I have to add switches or UPS units to rack units. The wand shape makes using this screw driver very effective since it gives me the additional length from the chuck to the screw that a normal electric drill configuration fails to achieve.
I wish it also had a LED illumination adjacent to the chuck, which Dewalt is adding to its newer electric product line. -- Stephen S. Wizowski
Dewalt DW920K-2 1/4-Inch 7.2-Volt Cordless Two-Position Screwdriver Kit $70
As a new parent, I bought an expensive jogging stroller, thinking it would be all I needed. After trying to steer it around the mall and through crowded city sidewalks, I changed my mind. I bought a cheap umbrella stroller, and liked the convenience of it, but it was difficult to push, difficult to open, and my baby seemed uncomfortable.
Finally, I caved and bought the UppaBaby G-Lite. While at around $150 it’s more than I wanted to spend, it has been one of my most-used pieces of baby gear since I bought it a little over a year ago, and I can use it for several more years since the weight limit is 55 pounds. Other lightweight strollers I looked at seemed too bulky, didn’t have a sunshade, looked difficult to clean, or were plain ugly.
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As a locksmith, holding open a door while working on it (or preventing it from relocking) is a daily event at least, for me. This little bar will jam neatly under most, holding it solid. (In one direction at least. I also carry a 160mm version which will jam it in the other direction too, if needed, or, of course, a second door.)
It turns out it has many other uses, many of them things I’d either not have bothered with or would have (ab)used something else to do the same task. Now I miss it whenever I misplace it. -- Nigel K Tolley
Vaughan Mini Pry Bar 5-½" $6
My cable modem and WiFi router are on one end of our long house. The signal peters out before it gets to my daughters’ bedrooms, and because they like to do their homework in their rooms, I needed to come up with a way to extend the range. The Amped Wireless SR20000G Range Extender did the trick. I placed it in our dining room and it greatly extended the wireless signal. Setup was trivial and hassle-free. The speed of the data transfer did not noticeably diminish (i.e., my kids don’t complain when they watch Netflix on an iPad). I recommend this quick solution for spreading Wi-Fi around your house. -- Mark Frauenfelder
Amped Wireless High Power Wireless-N 600mW Gigabit Dual Band Range Extender, Model SR20000G $140
I take at least two daily showers and have problems with cotton towels getting damp, smelly, and yucky because they can’t dry quickly enough in the hours between. I recently turned to an item I’ve had for a year and used for the opposite intended purpose — the Ergodyne Chill-Its is designed to keep someone cool on a hot day by absorbing a lot of water and evaporating gradually. But, since it’s moisture-absorbent, it can also be used for the effectively inverse purpose: GET YOU DRY FAST!
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I bought this USB charging unit because I have a lousy sense of direction. I get lost in buildings and in cities, even ones I’m familiar with. My iPhone’s GPS map is a godsend. I use it when I’m driving, walking, and taking public transportation.
When I was in Tokyo in June, I brought along a small Android phone installed with a local data SIM card. I used the phone as a wireless hotspot for my iPhone, and appreciated having access to the online map to guide me from my hotel to the subway station, and to attractions like the Tsukiji fish market and Kabuki-Cho. It was also nice to call home using Skype, and to post Instagram photos. The only problem was that the batteries on the Android phone and iPhone drained after a few hours, forcing me to ask people, chikatetsu wa doko desu ka? in badly-accented Japanese, to find the nearest subway station.
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I go somewhere on a plane at least twice a month. For over ten years I’ve used a Briggs & Riley roller carry-on, and I’ve been fairly happy with it. It’s heavy for its small size and the zipper pulls all broke off (I made replacements from binder clips and Sugru) so I’ve been keeping my eye out for a replacement. After hearing great things about the accessibility and capacity of the Skooba Weekender duffle, I decided to give it a try. It turned out the be the most convenient carry-on I’ve ever used.
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I am horrifically allergic to poison oak. I am also an avid mountain biker in northern California. This not a good combination. I have tried all the soaps and wipes, but none of them really help, especially if you are out all day and can’t get to a shower soon after exposure.
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Huck towels are durable low-lint cotton towels canonically used for wiping down surgical instruments after sterilization, but they are useful for many other tasks where a clean strong towel is optimal. They are praised by window-washers, auto detailers, and professional housecleaners, and they are very popular in my household.
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With three cats in the house, fur gets all over our furniture and clothes. I didn’t want to make a dozen Monkey Couch Guardians, so I bought a Love Glove to attack the problem at its source – on the cats.
The Love Glove looks like an oven mitt. The palm side is covered with rubber nubs. To use it, you simply pet your cat. The loose fur comes off and sticks to the glove. It’s easy to peel off. My cats go into throes of ecstasy when I use the Love Glove on them. They even get excited just seeing me approach them with the glove on my hand.
I have collected a lot of fur so far. My younger daughter is saving it because she to make the projects in Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat. -- Mark
Love Glove Grooming Mitt for Cats $6
This book could be titled “How and Why You Should Do Everything Possible to Avoid Getting Into a Fight.” The authors (both martial artists who’ve been around the block a few times and have the scars to show it) spend a good number of pages explaining why fighting is always terrible idea — even if you manage to win, you end up losing (your attacker’s relatives could sue you or seek revenge, you could go to prison, and for the rest of your life you could carry the knowledge of having crippled or maimed another person).
The authors also go into detail explaining how to recognize the first signs of a situation that could escalate into a fight and what to do. Only after they’ve convinced you to avoid a fight do they get to the section about effective ways of defending yourself.
The final third of the book deals with the often unconsidered aftermath of a fight: administering first aid and what to do to stay out of jail.
-- Mark Frauenfelder
How to Win a Fight
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I’ve used it three years. Keep it in my desk and use it much more frequently than my socket set. I always have the right size wrench handy in a single tool, and it rotates, so it functions more like a socket than a crescent wrench.
Design has been around for years. I own the newer Black & Decker model, but Craftsman makes one too. -- Elon Schoenholz
Black & Decker MSW100 Ready Wrench $26
No need to buy charcoal lighter fluid (or “boy scout water” as they call it in my home state of Colorado) or self-starting charcoal briquets. Just put two crumpled sheets of newspaper in the bottom chamber of this metal chimney and add briquets (I buy the large bags at Trader Joe’s for $7 each) to the top. Light the newspaper with a match and go back into the kitchen to prepare food for grilling. In 20 minutes the briquets will be cherry red and ready to use. Once you use this you’ll wonder how you grilled without it. Take a look at the insanely happy Amazon reviews (4.9 star average with over 800 reviews.) - Mark Frauenfelder
Weber Rapidfire Chimney Charcoal Starter $15
I cannot say enough about this key-shaped USB flash drive. The first model I purchased I owned for several years. It was only 2GB and I still have it on my keychain, alongside my new 32GB model that I picked up for $35. I use them almost every day. They stay on my keychain, and it means I always have storage space with me as well as pertinent documents I might need, such as the latest copy of my resume, and an ebb-and-flow selection of images from my portfolio.
It is indispensable in my daily activities. I use it to bring home work and exchange music with friends. I even use it in my car to play my MP3s through my usb port thats connected to my stereo. It’s a large amount of space in a small package that’s gone through the wash a few times and still works. I’m still surprised when I hand it to people to transfer files to and they have never seen one. -- Matthew A. Walker
32 GB LaCie PetiteKey USB flash drive $35
My 10-year-old daughter and her friends love playing with the Fort Magic kit. It’s a box of PVC pipes and connecters, along with clips to attach sheets or tarps. You can build all sorts of things with them, from dangerous blow guns (we use cotton balls and tape with a big needle) to clubhouses. See Fort Magic’s YouTube channel for other projects. We’ve had Fort Magic for a over a year and Jane has not yet become bored with it.
Here’s a video of Jane and her cousins showing me one of their creations. -- Mark
Fort Magic $200
The Cuttlebug is a non-electronic die-cutting and embossing tool for paper crafts. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and able to use embossing folders and dies from most manufacturers. I am an avid papercrafter and scrapbooker, make all my own greeting cards, and I use my ‘bug more than any other tool.
YouTube shows lots of ways to use it for various techniques, including letterpress. I’ve had mine for about 10-12 years, use it at least weekly, and am still using the same cutting plates it came with. It’s more intuitive to use, more compact when folded up than competing brands I’ve tried and works just as well. Dies and embossing folders are available in any craft store, but you can also create your own embossing designs with leaves, lace, etc. using rubber mats made by the Spellbinder and Scor-Pal companies. -- Polly Robertus
Frixion erasable pens are hugely popular in Japan, but relatively unknown in the States. I didn’t even hear about them myself until 2012, though the product has existed for 5+ years.
Frixion pens are not the smearing horror pens that you may have used in school — the ink is not rubbed away — it actually becomes invisible when heated with an erasing motion of the rubber tailcap. No eraser dust is generated.
This pen allows me to take correctable notes at work at the speed and detail I desire, yet have the text be dark enough that the resulting documents can be read when scanned.
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[Video Link] I ordered and received my Bug-A-Salt gun late last fall, pretty late in the fly season to really get to put it to serious use. Well, early spring in Western Washington and they are coming back. Over the years I became very proficient with rubber bands, hunting flies and yellow jackets – this takes it to a whole new level.
The Bug-A-Salt doesn’t “cream” the flies, leaves them pretty well intact, but it is quite effective. Non-toxic, environmentally friendly, it is spring powered and doesn’t eat batteries. Just table salt.
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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 [Video Link] 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
Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press $37
My cats have picked up the habit of chewing on laptop power cords. They’ve bitten clean through them at least ten times. I got tired of repairing the cords, so I went on Amazon in search of a solution. I ordered a product called Crittercord Micro. It’s 6 feet of split plastic tubing infused with “citrus scent and bitter taste” to discourage animals from chewing. It cost $10.
Crittercord works as advertised, but the solution is worse than the problem — the smell is unbearably foul. It reminds me of the nauseous odor of hair curling preparations. Everyone in the house complained about the penetrating stench.
I told my friend Sean Ragan about my gnawing cats, and he recommended ¼-inch split loom tubing. For $12 I was able to buy a 100-foot roll, which is more than enough for all of our laptop power cords. It has no odor, and it works beautifully. The cats want nothing to do with it. Perhaps the tubing doesn’t have the right mouthfeel or pleasant-smelling plasticizers that my cats love.
The tubing is flexible enough that I leave it on the power cord when I travel. -- Mark Frauenfelder
American Terminal SL250-100 1/4-Inch Split Loom Tubing, 100 feet $12
For the past few years I’ve been using an Apple Time Capsule as my WiFi router. The range was awful but I kept trying to boost it with Airport Express devices. Finally I threw in the towel and bought a new WiFi router, the ASUS RT-N66U. Suddenly we have amazing coverage all over the house, even way down in our basement. I’m kicking myself for not getting this little powerhouse long ago.
-- Dan Lyons
[After reading Dan's recommendation, I bought one of these to replace my Airport Extreme, which couldn't penetrate the chicken-wire Faraday cages in my house's walls. It greatly improved the range of our home Wi-Fi signal. - Mark]
ASUS RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless-N900 Gigabit Router: $141
This book is radical. It tries to persuade teenagers to drop out of high school — in order to “get a real life and education” as its subtitle says. This is a dangerous thing to give to your child, because there is a significant correlation between amount of formal education and almost any outcome you care about, including longevity, divorce and poverty rates. Yet informal homeschoolers and unschoolers are outside of that measurement, and by most accounts are doing super. As a college dropout myself, I am sympathetic to alternatives to school.
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