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So Good They Can't Ignore You - become expert in something, and the passion will follow

"Follow your passion" is the dogmatic advice for building a career. But it is woefully incomplete and even misleading for some people. Better advice is “Become so good they can’t ignore you”; that is, become expert in something, and the passion will follow. In other words, flip the mission from “find your passion so that you can be useful” to “be useful so you can find your passion.” Acquiring expertise is a lot of work, requiring deliberate practice, patience, shrewd acceptance of control of your time, and other meta skills. While this book changed my mind about how skills trump passion, I consider it the only first word in outlining how one goes about this. But it’s good enough for framing the question that I gave all my young adult kids a copy. -- Kevin Kelly

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport

Sample Excerpts

Blendtec Home Blender: powerful home blender can chop, juice, grind grain, and more

I’m tempted to say that this tool is a life changer, but I’m prone to exaggeration, so I’ll just say it’s a game changer. The game being that by mid-day I’m usually rolling with my writing or book layout and don’t like to take the time to make a decent lunch.

Enter the Blendtec and “green smoothies.” I combine greens plus fresh or frozen fruit, vitamins, protein powder, almonds, hemp seeds and whatever else I see around, turn on the Blendtec and have a delicious drink while working. I do it 2-3 times a week.

I’m getting fresh-from-garden raw greens — parsley (which is fragrant in drink), kale, chard, or lettuce, whatever looks good, plus fruit, protein, carbos, vitamins. There are tons of recipes for green smoothies. I use Gold Standard vanilla whey protein — good flavor, high protein (something like 55 grams in 2 scoops).

This is a big powerful machine and it can be used for any number of things. It’s nothing like the blenders most of us are familiar with. In addition to smoothies, you can chop, juice, grind grain, and make soup or ice cream.

I got it for $400 from Amazon. Expensive, but high quality, highly useful, long lasting.

Here’s a comparison between the Blendtec and the other super blender, the VitaMix. You can also do a search for “Blendtec vs. VitaMix” in Google for more comparisons.

-- Lloyd Kahn

Blendtec Home Blender $360

Best beginner telescope: Celestron FirstScope

The Celestron FirstScope is the best pick for an absolute beginner level telescope. Most entry-level scopes are crap, and most useable scopes start at $300. Since the FirstScope costs only $42, you might be tempted to dismiss it as more useless junk. But I’ve been using the FirstScope, and it is sweet. It needs a sturdy chair or table to perch on, but otherwise is easy to handle. It is compact for storage; it can fit onto a shelf — and it is the perfect size for a small kid. Pretty durable, too. With its 3-inch mirror you can see moons of Jupiter, ring of Saturn, and lunar craters. (I missed that recent comet.) Many other buyers mention that if you substitute decent eyepieces (from another scope) it improves the view tremendously. With one of those you can view a few bright galaxies. It will also focus as close as 30 feet away; we’ve used it as a terrestrial telephoto lens to scan the wildlife on the mountain behind our house.

This is an adequate first telescope to try out sky watching for a small investment. If you want to invest into a higher quality telescope, I recommend Ed Ting’s reviews at ScopeReview. It was Ed Ting’s raves about this little gem that turned me onto the FirstScope in the first place. - Kevin Kelly

Celestron 21024 FirstScope Telescope $42

The Good Life Lab: A modern manual for living off-the-grid

When I was editor of Craft magazine, I always looked forward to Wendy Jehanara Tremayne’s next “Re-Fitted” column, which profiled a waste-conscious maker and included a how-to project by that person. A few of the projects included making textiles out of plastic bags, turning used clothing into a quilt, and building a beautiful outdoor fence with found branches and tie wire. Even more inspiring than her articles, however, were our phone conversations between magazine issues. After chatting about her next article idea, she’d briefly enchant me with her snippets of how she and her husband, Mikey, left their high-powered jobs in New York and moved to Truth or Consequences, NM, to live as waste-free and off the grid as possible. Always in a rush, I would hang up and then wish I had gotten more details.

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Consumer guide to drugs: Tripology

Because most psychedelic drugs are illegal, reliable consumer information about them is rare. For many years I have been looking for a comparative survey of available “head drugs” that would truthfully and simply provide basic info on each. What is it? What effects does it have when you take it? What’s a typical dose? What is the trip like? What are the dangers, risks and side effects? I looked everywhere for this kind of information, but with no success. Most people get their info from friends of friends, and it is usually unreliable. I finally found what I was looking for in a small book published by a non-profit drug treatment and advocacy center in the UK. The thin cartoonishly illustrated booklet is aimed at young people who use drugs and it is simply stating the facts: Here’s what the drug is, why people use it, and what the effects and downsides of using it are. In addition to the highs, the book realistically addresses the “costs” of use, overuse, and abuse. (Note: their discussion of the legal status is UK-based.)

This is the best consumer guide to mind-bending drugs I’ve seen. If you know of a better one, please comment. Don’t just say No. Say Know. -- Kevin Kelly

Tripology

35-Cent Money Clip

After nearly a lifetime of getting Costanza’ed in the bottom by my wallet, I began to use this 35¢ tool and have never looked back, so to speak.

It firmly clamps bills and even cards in place until use, is easily removable and has caused much envious conversation.

The only drawback is that I bought a box of 12 (the smallest I could find) and am still using the same one after six years.

Appropriate technology rules!

-- Mark Kiemele

Ideal Document Clamps $4 / 12 clamps

OXO adjustable measuring cup

OXO has a serious presence in my kitchen, but the one- and two-cup adjustable measuring cups I added four months ago might be the last items I would sell. They are darned near perfect.

I’ve used other plunger-and-sleeve style adjustable measuring cups, and they were great for measuring odd quantities or volumes without using several different-sized cups (or one size several times), but sticky or oily stuff got in between the plunger and the sleeve, making reuse impossible without stopping to disassemble and clean the cup.

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Parker Jotter Pen: Lightweight, smooth-writing pen

Earlier this year I purchased a Parker Jotter stainless steel pen based purely on its cool factor as being the pen that James Bond used in the 1995 film Goldeneye, as I had seen on the Bond Lifestyle web page. I searched for it online and ended up purchasing one from my local office and art supply store. I appreciated its sleek design and modest price coupled with the cool factor instantly… but the more I used the pen during my work days the more I came to appreciate it, for you see this pen ultimately changed my life.

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Bamboo wok brush: easy, no-soap wok and pan cleaning tool

I use well-seasoned cast iron and carbon steel pans for the better part of my cooking. To clean them, I’ve used the same bamboo wok brush than I bought at a corner market in Sacramento in 1990. I’ve been thinking of buying a new one, just so I can phase it in over a few years while I slowly retire the original. It only takes a few swishes around the inside of the pan with hot water (no soap!) and a rinse to clean a pan. In the time I’ve been using it on my iron and steel pans, including the wok I use occasionally, I’ve gone through countless sponges, scotch-brite pads, and those looped-plastic scrubbies that I use on stock pots etc., all of which get pretty hinky once put into use and have to be run through the dishwasher to get free of food particles. It also looks dignified and fine sitting on the countertop by the sink, has just gotten more seasoned, and never needs more than a rinse to get clean. The edges of the cane bristles are pretty blunted by now and a new one might work better for attacking the occasional nuclear cooking mess. On the other hand, it’s gentle enough on the built-up seasoning in my pans that they keep getting non-stickier and shed scorched cheese like schmutz on teflon.

The brush I bought way back when has flat bristles, about 11 inches long by 3/16 wide, and stouter than most of the wok brushes I’ve seen recently in Asian groceries. I can’t imagine that there’s been much innovation in wok brush technology in the last 3000 years, but quality is probably inconsistent on an item like this, even from the same seller. Unless you have access to Asian markets and can shop around while you’re out making your weekly durian run, Amazon has a variety to choose from, all about $7.50 with shipping. The Wok Shop seems to be reputable, but it might be prudent to order a few just in case yours only lasts as long as a good hamster. -- Brian Garber-Yonts

Bamboo Wok Brush $7

Sign Game: tricks of the trade from a professional sign painter

It’s always fun to cruise through Fantagraphics’s store in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. You never know what you might stumble across amid the new comics releases, independent zines and assorted odd runs and old stock there. I happened upon a copy of Justin Green’s Sign Game (ST Publications and Last Gasp Of San Francisco). It's an 80-page paperback collection from 1995 of the monthly comic strips Green did for the sign painter’s trade newsletter Signs of the Times from back in the 1980s and 90s.

As detailed in Green’s comics, that was a turbulent time of transition for sign painters. Just as desktop publishing and digital photography transformed the graphic design and photography businesses (ask bankrupt Kodak about that!), the dawn of the computerized vinyl letter cutting machines undid the business of hand-lettered and painted signage.

Each densely rich comic takes on one arcane aspect of this dying art, from the ins and outs of doing gold leaf lettering, or how to wield a mahlstick, to the fine points of font design and brush technique needed for painting on the corrugated surface of metal trucks. Green’s sardonic tone and hilarious perspective also illustrate each hard won lesson of running a business, filled with characters like hard-boiled artists, chiseling customers, and back-biting competitors.

As a comic, Green’s one-page masterpieces employs a myriad of graphic techniques: send ups of Johnson Smith & Co. catalog layouts, Goofus and Gallant-ish profiles, Dick Tracy Crimebsuters comic crooks, and an endless supply of cartoon lettering intro panel gimmicks that ape plexiglass, peeling vinyl letters and stencils.

One installment is most telling: his predictions for the sign biz from 1994. Many were already coming true then, like computer-less mini vinyl letter-cutting systems. One thing he did NOT foresee: the current hipster renaissance for all things artisanal—like hand painted signs and lettering! A brand new book and documentary film Sign Painters by Faithe Levine and Sam Macon promises to tell that tale, and I hope it will be as funny and informative as Green’s Sign Game. -- Bob Knetzger

Sign Game, by Justin Green. 1995, 80 pages. $12 and up (out of print)

Casio Pathfinder Solar Atomic Watch

I’ve owned a Casio Pathfinder Solar Atomic series watch for about 5 years. The best things about it: 1) it’s solar powered (I don’t like replacing batteries) and 2) it’s linked to an atomic clock.

I only have to change the time zone when I travel, which can be done at the push of a button.

It's waterproof and does the things most digital watches do (alarms, stopwatch, etc.). It also has a compass, barometer, altimeter, and thermometer, all of which get used when I go backpacking. The compass gets used the most. The barometer is good for predicting weather changes.

I have one small gripe about this watch. It recently needed to be repaired because it displayed “OPEN” on the front. A metal plate inside had shifted. I was able to fix it easily with a PH000 screwdriver.

Its a very tough watch that has been through a lot. After 5 years I still enjoy it immensely. -- Carl Mixon

Casio PAW1100-1V Pathfinder Atomic Solar Watch $145

Inexpensive smooth writing pencil: Mirado Black Warrior

The Mirado Black Warrior pencil is made in the USA from high quality materials, available practically everywhere, and, very importantly, cheap (hey, it’s a pencil, after all).

The Black Warrior’s No. 2/HB graphite is darker and softer than standard No. 2′s and has a wax additive to make it smoother. The writing experience is noticeably superior to most other pencils. It’s easier and more satisfying to write with, with less effort involved. The barrel is round, with a good hand feel, but that also means it rolls off inclined surfaces. One other con: the Pink Pearl eraser has pumice in it, which can abrade paper, unlike nylon erasers.

Other than that, it is flawless (and the cedar is pleasingly aromatic when freshly sharpened). Cheaper pencils aren’t a bargain if they’re hard to sharpen, scratchy to write with, and the lead tends to break. More expensive graphite pencils that are more suited to artists, along with the frequently mentioned Blackwings, don’t seem as practical at $20 for 12, in my opinion. They’re like the Ferraris of pencils, and harder to source than the Mirado.

I’ve used these pencils for over a year, and haven’t found one that has more bang for the buck. Paired with the Kum sharpener, these are a no-brainer part of my EDC (every day carry).

-- Tom Anvari

[On my friend Michael Pusateri's advice, I ordered 3 dozen of these pencils. They are about 90% as good as my favorite pencil, the Blackwing 602, which costs five times as much as the Mirado Black Warrior. I now use both! -- Mark]

Mirado Black Warrior Pencil $3.50 a dozen

Magnetic pick-up tool

While opening my Mac Mini to add RAM and replace the hard drive I dropped two screws. They rolled under the couch to be lost in the dust bunnies. The hard drive screw was only about 2mm in size. My old eyes weren’t up to spotting the tiny thing. I found my magnetic pick-up tool, extended it and swept it under the couch. Click! Screw #1! Another minute of sweeping. (Shoo away the dogs.) Click Screw #2! And THAT screw is almost microscopic.

I had no idea the tool has an LED light on it. That was a pleasant surprise. It helped me see down the recessed screw holes. -- Mike Andrews

Craftsman Magnetic Pick-Up Tool with Light $21

High density foam rollers for post workout massage

I didn’t know I had knots in my calves, but I did. I spend a lot of time at the computer, and I play some video games, which means that I tense my calves involuntarily and and they get knotted.

When I started working out about a year ago, I hired a trainer. The end of each training session included a massage treatment with a foam roller. That’s when I learned that I had knots, because the roller made my calves feel better.

Its nice if you have someone else to “roll you out,” but you can also put the roller between your calves and the floor and roll yourself back and forth, using your body weight to apply pressure. You can also use it on your back and arms.

It’s also improved the “restless leg syndrome” for two people I know.

I have the 36 inch version, which is bulky. I think the 18 inch version would do just as well. -- Carl Mixon

j/fit Super High Density Foam Rollers: $14 – $35 depending on size

Ra Chand Citrus Press squeezes every last drop of juice from fruit

Living in Southern California, we have an abundance of citrus nearly year round — lemons, limes, kumquats, grapefruits, and more. I also have a household of beverage enthusiasts, from my kids who love to make lemon-, lime-, etc. -ades, or “kid drinks” as they call them, to my wife and I who are crazy about cocktails, flips, fizzes, and sours. This is why I graduated from my fine, but slow, hand juicer, to the monstrous, restaurant-calibre Ra Chand J210 Bar Juicer. It makes quick, efficient work of juicing tons of citrus. Rather than dread all the labor, I’m now happy to juice enough fruit to make a full pitcher of Ginger Limeonade with my kids to sell in their DIY juice stand.

The Ra Chand is dead simple. No motors or fragile plastic parts to break — in fact it only has six parts, made of cast aluminum, plus a wire return spring and a few bolts. The mechanical advantage it provides is tremendous. With its long lever and offset pivots, even my six-year-old daughter can use it to easily squeeze a half-lemon dry. The Ra Chand is big enough for me to juice a medium grapefruit — when I have a larger-sized one to contend with I quarter it (and secretly wish I had the even-larger model, the J500).

The straining cone (which looks like a half beehive) allows juice and the occasional small seed through, but very little pulp. This is also due to the fact that pressing (rather than twisting like a motorized juicer) bursts the cells of the fruit, but doesn’t shred the membranes.

If I have one complaint it is that the juicer can be tipped forward easily until you get the hang of pulling the lever down, not down-and-toward-yourself. I’ve gotten used to this, but I do hold onto the base when my kids use it to avoid a mess.

In all, the Ra Chand is hands-down the best citrus juicer I’ve used. I appreciate its size, speed, power, ruggedness, and simplicity. I imagine it’ll be in our family for many years, hopefully providing juice for generations. -- John Edgar Park

Ra Chand Citrus Press $194

Microplane professional extra coarse grater

This cheese grater has become essential in my kitchen. It won’t take up extra space and grates better than any others I’ve owned. Cheeses ranging in hardness from Parmesan to mozzarella transform almost effortlessly into shreds perfect for nachos or pizza. Though I have a food processor with a cheese grater attachment that works well, I prefer using the Microplane grater since it’s quick, doesn’t crumble the cheese, and is a breeze to clean up.

While there is just one grating surface, I don’t miss the others that were on the Kitchen-Aid box grater I had before the Microplane grater. I also own the Microplane zester/grater, and find that the two sizes are all I need. Even together, they take up much less space in my kitchen than a box grater.

Made entirely of stainless steel, the grater features 35 extra-sharp cutting blades. Fortunately, it comes with a plastic guard for when it’s not in use. I’ve owned this grater for almost two years, and even with almost daily use, it’s still incredibly sharp. -- Abbie Stillie

Professional Extra Coarse Grater $22

Victorinox Swiss Army Manager Pocket Knife

The Manager Swiss Army Knife has been in my pocket for nearly 2 years. This compact tool has all the useful stuff you expect from the line of Swiss Army knives: blade, scissors, tweezers, file, bottle opener, and separate flat-head & Phillips-head screwdrivers.

What makes it a must-have is the retractable ballpoint pen. It’s smooth writing and hasn’t dried out on me in the past 2 years. I’ve taken meeting notes, written checks, and signed receipts. Just extend the combination Philips-head / bottle opener tool for a more comfortable grip during extended composition sessions.

The Manager comes to the rescue time after time for occasional writing needs and tiny DIY tasks because it’s always in your pocket. (I just changed the batteries in a Nerf gun with the Phillips-head screwdriver.) It’s more comfortable to carry in the pocket than a normal pen and more useful, too. -- Sean Singh

Victorinox Swiss Army Manager Pocket Knife $25

Chef 5 Minute Meals: Self-cooking meal-in-a-box

I bought six of these two weeks ago just because the technology — a totally self-contained heating element that gives you a hot meal via steam heat in 10 minutes or less no matter where you are —- seemed so amazing.

Guess what?

I’m sitting here eating one of these meals right now, with no power since 14″ of snow descended on my podunk town overnight, and it is delicious.

Cheap at twice the price.

And the delight of preparing it: you simply open the included pouch of salt water, pour it on the heating element, place your sealed food container on top, put the whole shebang back into the insulated box, and wait and watch in wonder and delight as:

1. The box starts to puff up

2. Steam starts pouring out

3. Sounds — amazing sounds — emanate from the box

4. The smell of cooking food pervades the immediate vicinity

5. You open the box and peel back the plastic lid and darned if your chicken cacciatore isn’t all piping hot and smelling scrumdiddlyumptious — tastes great too!

Fantastic stuff. -- Joe Stirt

Chef 5-Minute Meals: 6 meals for $32

Indoor/Outdoor Humidex Thermometer

We plan activities around weather forecasts. However, the information is often from sensors far from our location. I want data from my backyard with the convenience of not having to go outside to read it. I have been using the wireless Indoor/Outdoor Humidex Thermometer for over two years. It is perfect for my needs. I have placed it in a central location in the house and I take a glance at the readings every time I pass it (at least ten times a day).

Setting it up is a snap. First insert two AA batteries into the back of the monitor and two more into the remote outside sensor. Press the reset button on both and you should begin receiving data which is displayed on the monitor. Look for a suitable place to locate the sensor. A shady area is recommended for accurate readings. The maximum transmission range is 45 meters but that is in open spaces. Walls will cut down on the separation distance. A signal detector icon indicates how strong the connection is between the two devices. Using this will help you find the best place to put each of the two gadgets. The remote sensor is splash proof but it should not be exposed to heavy rain. I have put mine under the eaves of my garage. The monitor can be mounted on a wall or placed on any flat surface.

This particular model is perfectly suited for cold Canadian weather. The remote temperature sensor is good for -50°C to 70°C (-58°F to 158°F). The main difference between this monitor and the competition is that this model provides decimal temperature readings, which is a rarity. A temperature of 16.6°C to 17.4°C would register as 17°C on most monitors. I appreciate this precision because I am sure I can tell the difference between these two readings. On the monitor there is a battery indicator icon, letting you know when the power is starting to go. The batteries should last about 12 months.

Besides the indoor/outdoor temperatures, the monitor also displays the outside humidity and a “Humidex” index to indicate how comfortable/uncomfortable the temperature really is outside. -- Marcel Dufresne

Thermor Bios Indoor/Outdoor Humidex Thermometer $32

Cerama Bryte Cooktop Cleaner

I’m no neat freak, but nothing looks more disgusting than a stove caked with splattered grease, melted cheese and old marinara sauce. And while I don’t think I’m exactly sloppy, my wife would argue that I don’t do a good job of cleaning up after myself. And so, without fail, our “easy to clean” glass cooktop is a perennial mess.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to keep it clean. The Windex/409 combo that I tend to use on every other surface in the house at least removes the loose stuff from the cooktop, but at best it’s only passable. Even if I did manage to get the thing really clean, every solution I’ve tried leaves some form of unsightly haze on the surface, which prevents it from ever looking truly clean.

So the other day when I was shopping for appliance parts for an unrelated kitchen catastrophe, I was pleased to discover Cerama Bryte on the store shelf. Wary of the descriptive yet unfortunate name, the friendly sales associate assured me that products like this tend to work well. So I bought it, used it and loved it.

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Trauma shears: Inexpensive plastic and sheet metal cutter

Several years ago I needed about half a dozen tools for a series of workshops I was hosting. I needed a hand tool that could safely and easily shape plastic and thin sheet metal, but not break the bank. I found trauma shears at the local hardware store for a couple dollars each and bought every pair they had. Although I had misgivings about the price they worked great. I still have them and they all get constant use and abuse.

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Best iPad stylus: Pogo Connect

I’ve been using this stylus like crazy and I am in love! It’s a touch sensitive stylus for drawing and painting on the iPad which works incredibly well. Because of its touch-sensitive capabilities, this is the first stylus that allows me to think of the iPad as tool for serious illustration. I love my Wacom tablet, but using this is a completely different and, in some ways, a much more direct way to connect to my work… especially once I’d found the right drawing app. I suggest Procreate, which is designed to take advantage of the Pogo Connect.

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Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer

I like the Exergen TemporalScanner because with a gentle stroke of the forehead, I can get a person’s temperatureaccurately and almost instantly — without having to stick something in their ear, mouth, or any other orifice. I can even check a child’s temperature while they sleep. It’s very easy to use — but do read the instructions to get the right swipe motion.

The device takes 1,000 readings per second, selects the most accurate among them, and adjusts for room temperature to give you the temperature of the temporal artery (near the temple) — which is an earlier signal of disease than rectal temperature. This temporal artery thermometer is more accurate than ear thermometers and is less affected by the sources of error that can make oral or underarm temperatures misleading. (However, for many purposes, temperature precision isn’t that important. Just knowing whether there is a fever or not is far more important than knowing the temp within a few tenths of a degree. And often fever is helpful, anyway.) But accurate thermometer readings can bring great peace of mind.

I use one of these at our home and carry one with me everywhere in my pediatrician doctor’s bag. -- Alan Greene, MD

Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer $31

Perfectly sharpened pencils

I use soft pencils and I bear down hard when I write. As a result, I have to resharpen the pencils frequently. A few years ago I came across this pocket-size two-hole pencil sharpener and now swear by it. It produces very sharp points and does so efficiently.

NewImage

Hole 1 shaves just the pencil’s wood casing , exposing (but barely touching) the graphite. You are left with a cylinder of graphite sticking out of the pencil tip, as shown below.

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The Glif: quickly mount an iPhone to a tripod

I use my iPhone to shoot video because the quality is excellent and I like the many different inexpensive video apps available for the iPhone (such as stop motion apps). I also like being able to email iPhone videos or upload them to YouTube directly from my phone instead of having to first transfer them to a computer.

The main drawback with using the iPhone to shoot video is that you can’t put it on a tripod — you have to hold it in your hand or precariously lean it against something. The best iPhone mounting solution I’ve found so far is the Glif, a tiny hard-rubber clip with a metal 1/4″-­20 thread that attaches to any tripod mount. Simply slide the iPhone into the Glif’s slot and you’re ready to go. (The Glif was one of the first breakaway hits on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, taking in almost $130,000 more than its $10,000 goal in late 2010.)


The Glif has one other function: it’s a “kickstand” that lets you use your iPhone as a mini-display on your desktop or airplane fold down tray.

If you want to use the Glif when you’re on the move, pay the extra $10 for the Glif Plus, which includes a separate plastic piece that locks your iPhone onto the Glif so there’s no chance of it falling off. - Mark

The Glif

Bike flat tire repair kit inside tire levers

Every cyclist should have a flat kit to enable them to deal with a flat tire. Most kits include simple levers to get the tire off the rim and a set of patches for repairing holes. The Lunar Levers combine these two needs into one. The levers themselves are better designed to help you remove and remount a tire than standard levers. Ingeniously, the levers store the patch kit inside inside the levers themselves, snapping together, forming a single unit, saving space. -- Michael Pusateri

Planet Bike Lunar Levers and Bike Tire Patch Kit Combo

Balance bike to teach kids how to ride

Balance bikes teach balance before pedaling. Learning to pedal is easy if you know how to balance. Learning balance is fairly easy, too. But learning them concurrently is hard. With a balance bike instead of a trike or a standard bike with training wheels, it’s much easier for a child to learn the balance, steering dynamics and handling required to ride a bike. My son, at 2 1/2, can go at least a mile on his Skuut bike, and is learning all the skills he’ll need, so that when I get him a normal bicycle, with pedals, he won’t need training wheels.

The design of a balance bike is brilliant -- it’s actually similar to the design of the first bicycles (velocipedes) that had no drivetrains. The particular brand of a running or balance bike for kids is not of much concern. Cool Tools previously featured the Likeabike, which was imported from Europe and lovingly crafted, but notably expensive. You can find cheap $50 metal balance bikes these days, but we use the current wooden standard Skuut which is good enough quality for $85. -- Elon Schoenholz

Skuut Balance Bike $63

Cool Tools: Create clamps in a pinch

This clever little tool forms clamps from stainless steel wire. As a commercial pilot in Alaska, I have used this many times over the years in emergency situations. I often operate in remote areas, away from any kind of support. You have to take care of yourself if something goes awry. Fuel lines, brake lines, air ducts seem to let go at the least opportune time. My Beach Truck used in commercial fishing has benefitted from a beachside radiator hose repair using the ClampTite. The hot water system made of Pex tubing in my log cabin has a few wire clamps on it because I didn’t want to endure a leak while flying 160 miles to the nearest hardware store.

The fact that you can customize the size of the clamp to fit pretty much anything makes it invaluable. With a few feet of wire you can quickly replace hose clamps for quick fixes. The tool is tiny, compared to most in my tool bag, and the stainless safety wire that it uses to form the clamp is something I always have on hand anyhow, because it has a million uses as well. -- David McRae

ClampTite
$30 for aluminum model, $70 for stainless steel and bronze

Available from Amazon

Weller Pyropen

The Weller Pyropen is one of the best portable soldering irons out there. I like them because I get almost an hour and half of heat, and I can move around — no cords. So, while I have an electric soldering station, I almost exclusively end up using this Weller, even when I’m near the station. I just find it easier. So, you switch it on, it lights the butane up, and it makes this cool high-pitched scream. And when it glows red, it's very hot. It heats up faster than an electric; it will reach full heat in about 30 seconds. I love these things.

-- Adam Savage

 

Weller Pyropen
$125

Available from Weller

 

Note: According to a spokesman at the manufacturer, the Weller Portasol (PS100), previously reviewed on Cool Tools here, and the Weller Pyropen are nearly identical products. The Portasol is about half the price and has a slightly hotter max temperature and is made in Japan. The Pyropen is currently made in Ireland. Both are considered the same high professional quality. --KK

Tegaderm

Use this 3M material, called Tegaderm, for applying dressing over a bleeding injury. It’s much better than adhesive tape or a big band-aid. Tegaderm is an air-permeable plastic film, as thin as cling film, but stronger and with an adhesive. I’ve found it adheres perfectly and because it is so thin it’s unnoticeable, especially on joints. You don’t even remember it’s on. Because of its thinness Tegaderm works really great under clothing. It’s breathable, too, and won’t come off in water. And since it is transparent, the dressing is not as visible, and you can see what’s going on underneath. It comes in sterile packaging about the size of a playing card, so you can apply it right over the injury, with the option to include some gauze underneath at first. I’ve cut smaller pieces for finger cuts, but I’ve found that waterproof bandaids work better for this.

-- KK

 

Nexcare Tegaderm Waterproof Dressing
$7.49

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nexcare

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