Cool Tools


Best collapsible umbrella: Totes Compact

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

Long-lasting portable illumination: 4AA Pack-Away Lantern

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

Scotch Tear-by-Hand packaging tape

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

Post It Labeling Tape: Post-It paper by the roll

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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Superb robust tweezers for general purposes

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- Wool Dryer Balls

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

Cool Tool: Swingline Guillotine Trimmer

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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Cool Tools Show & Tell Worldwide Meetup: 12/4/2013

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.

Foxgloves - gardening gloves that don't dull your sense of touch

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

OP-1 Portable Synthesizer by Teenage Engineering

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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Fast metal finishing with flap wheels and flap disks

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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Easy cold-brew coffee with a French press

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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Tibet Almond Stick - Refresh old strings on guitars

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

Stainless steel steam juicer: turns fruit into juice for jarring

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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H2O4K9 Dog Canteen: water + bowl on the go

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