Boing Boing 

Bifocal safety glasses

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

Dark mornings: tool to help you calculate gloomy commutes

gmoomyThe toughest part of the Winter season isn't the cold, the blues, or December's annual cramming of a full month's work plus last-minute whatevers into three actual work weeks (are you on Boing Boing pre-holiday procrastinating? Hey, me too!) The hard part is commuting in the dark.

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Want to try making a video game? Visit the Sorting Hat

sortinghatIf you have ever read anything I've written about video games, you will have heard me insert notations about the democratization of tools. The business of making games used to necessitate access to bureaucratic, white-guys-only organizations and their social and professional lexicons. But now there are radical tools that anyone can use to make games about anything they want.

That's good in theory, but how do you know where to start? Developer Zoe Quinn has made a simple new online utility designed to help experimental developers and new creators alike see which tools are right for their vision. Sortingh.at makes recommendations depending on your aspirations and existing abilities, and also provides links to resources online you can use to learn how to use those tools.

Lowering traditional barriers to entry and de-mystifying aspects of game creation is a great way to welcome new creators to the table in a space that arguably needs some fresh voices and different perspectives.

Innovation in lockpicks: the "hall pass" and the EOD speed-picking set

The Hall Pass is a stainless steel, credit-card-sized pick designed to be slid between the door and the jamb (saving you from cracking your credit cards); the EOD is an extensive speed-pick set that is nevertheless optimized for portability and compactness.

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An Introduction to Hand Saws

Steve Hoefer offers another tutorial in basic skills that everyone should know.

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Gerber's money clip/utility knife


I've used a money-clip for years as an alternative to a wallet, and the idea of having a small, sharp blade (Gerber makes great tools!) built into it is immensely appealing, especially given the copious positive reviews for Gerber's $19.26 version (but I worry that I'd forget it and lose it to a TSA checkpoint).

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Foolproof tool sharpening

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

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

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

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

How to stay safe in the workshop

Steve Hoefer still has all his fingers.

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Guide To Wire Strippers

Steve Hoefer explains how to use your teeth to… wait, that’s what he says not to do.

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Carabiner box-cutter with a ceramic blade


Slice's $19 box-cutter is a clever design -- a combination of carabiner and a knife, with a long-lasting, replaceable ceramic blade. It comes in orange and yellow, and gets myriad positive reviews.

Slice 10400 Box Cutter with Ceramic Blade (via Canopy)

Hand crank extension cord winder

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

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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Beautiful circles for makers


Tim sez, "WindFire Designs Circle Tools are made for beautiful circles. Specifically designed for countless uses, they provide elegant and precise utility. Graceful progressions of sizes in curated sets of circles find a balance of scale between the maker, the studio, and the work. Unlike many products these days, they have zero built-in obsolescence. Instead, like a truly great tool, they are archival objects that will get used by today's makers, and, at least in our imagination, they will be passed down through many generations. In response to the most common request, we are releasing a new larger model, the CTØ11. These are tools that we made because we needed them ourselves. They are hand-finished here in our studio in small batches, and made entirely in the USA."

Circles are hot. Stainless steel is cool (Thanks, Tim!)

Massive lockpick set


Michael from Sparrows Lockpicks writes, "Specifically designed to feed your lock picking addiction The MONSTRUM features ten new lock picks and four wrenches. No Doubles, No Garbage. If you are looking for your first lock pick set grab something else. This one's not for you. The MONSTRUM set is a collection of truly exotic lock picks but it does not have the basics that any lock picker no matter what their skill level needs in their arsenal."

These are the nice folks behind the lockpick handcuffs from last year.

Monstrum Lockpicks (Thanks, Michael!)

From the Whole Earth Catalog to Cool Tools

My friend and Cool Tools review website partner, Kevin Kelly, made a cool video about the making of his new book, Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. He says: "The Whole Earth Catalog was a bible for DIYers in the last century. Cool Tools is the same for this century. Here is what you can expect from this huge oversized book."

Craftsman reinforced tool bag - holds lots of tools in a small container

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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Nobel Prizes 2013: Computer models that can mimic life

We talk about computer modeling a lot in the context of climate science — powerful algorithms that help scientists get a better idea of how climate systems work, how they spin off into weather, and how the systems and the weather are altered by both nature and humans. But modeling plays a huge role in other sciences, as well. In fact, on the flip side of the climate change coin, modeling is an essential part of designing better solar cells to turn energy from the Sun into useable electricity. If we ever do master the art of artificial photosynthesis, we'll have the three men who just won this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry to thank.

Back in the 1970s, Martin Karplus of Université de Strasbourg, France and Harvard University, Michael Levitt of Stanford, and Arieh Warshel of USC, were instrumental in constructing the first computer models capable of predicting the effects of chemical reactions — including ones that happen far too quickly to be observed. Today, their work touches the daily lives of chemists all over the world, doing research from solar cell design to drug development.

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Dewalt DW920K-2 Two-Postion Screw Driver Kit

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

Surprisingly handy small crowbar

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

Help ocean scientists build open-source research tools

CTD units are incredibly important to ocean research, measuring three basic factors of sea water — conductivity, temperature, and depth. Almost every major research vessel has one. But the units are part of what ensures that it's expensive to get started doing ocean science. Each one can cost between $5000-$25,000. Now, a group of ocean scientists are trying to finance the design of an open-source CTD that could be built by anyone for less than $200. You can help fund their efforts at Rockethub.

A smart knife for surgeons

Researchers at Imperial College London have invented an electric surgical knife that comes equipped with a built-in mass spectrometer. Electric knives cauterize wounds as they cut, which produces smoke. The iKnife will be able to analyze the chemistry of that smoke to determine, for instance, whether the tissue that was just cut was cancerous or not — allowing doctors to make decisions in the OR that would, today, require them to take samples, send those samples to a lab, and maybe schedule a second surgery.

Kickstarter for a multifunction wrecking bar with crowbar/hammer/angle measuring tool

The Cole-Bar Hammer is a multifunction wrecking bar on Kickster ($65 gets you an earlybird tool, with shipping). It unfolds and locks into place to serve as a crowbar; it also can be used as a hammer and as an angle-measurement tool, and it has a lovely, brutal elegance:

The Cole-Bar Hammer is essentially a hammer... ...with a full crow bar built in! Using it's patented locking gear mechanism, the Cole-Bar can be opened and extended from 0-180 degrees and locked in place at 15 degree increments. The only hammer in the world that turns into a full crow-bar! A patented gear/ratchet system that locks into place at every click! Further more, the Cole-Bar can be separated with a button release turning it into a demolition tool.

As mentioned previously, I love multifunction wrecking bars -- they're just the right blend of apocalyptic and functional. This looks like a promising addition to the genre.

The project looks exciting, but as with all Kickstarter projects, you should be prepared to get nothing for your money; the project founders' bios don't list any directly applicable manufacturing experience.

The Cole-Bar Hammer (via Core 77)

World's largest tunnel boring machine lands in Seattle

Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.

I feel this warrants your attention for two reasons:
1) If you live near Seattle, you can actually go get a look at this massive beast before it starts chewing its way through the city. If you like looking at giant machines (or know someone who does) now's your chance. She's coming into the Port of Seattle, Terminal 46, as you read this and there will be ample opportunities to get a look as the pieces are assembled and moved into the nearby launch pit. The Washington State Department of Transportation has suggestions on places to go to get a good view.
2) If, for some reason, you were looking for a new way to lose massive amounts of time on YouTube, Bertha (and boring machines, in general) can help with that. Here's a cutaway animation explaining how boring machines work. Here's a video of Big Becky, another boring machine, breaking through to the other side of a tunnel at Niagara Falls, Canada. (In fact, boring machine breakthrough videos are, in and of themselves, a mesmerizing genre.) And in this video, you can watch the massively long line of support equipment go by in the wake of a boring machine.

Champions of wood planing

In woodworking, planing is the process of using a very sharp blade to shave off pieces of wood. The people in the video above are some of the best at it in the world. The shavings they skim off are less than 10 microns thick. For comparison, the thickness of a sheet of standard copy paper is about 100 microns. (via @colossal)

The bug killing tool preferred by mosquito researchers

Meet The Executioner.

Earlier today, I got a tour of the mosquito breeding facility at North Carolina State University. Basically, it's a small room — about the size of my bathroom at home — where scientists breed and grow the mosquitoes they use in scientific research. The downside: Mosquito enclosures are somewhat less than foolproof. Which means the mosquito breeding facility has a significant number of loose mosquitoes. That's where The Executioner comes in. There were multiple Executioners in that one small room. Then entire time I was talking with the scientists, they were simultaneously swinging around these electrified tennis racquets to zap any mosquito that blundered into their personal space.

Personally, I consider this a hell of an endorsement for any bug killing tool.

Why put magnetic paint on ants?

It seems like a weird past-time, magnetizing ants, but it has some practical purposes. At his blog, media engineer Andrew Quitmeyer explains how he mixed magnetic powder into insect-safe enamel paint, and what he was able to do with it.

The big benefit to something like this is that it could allow scientists to easily alter the populations of social insect groups. Each colony of ants functions, in many ways, like a single organism. So what happens to that hive mind if you remove all the ants doing one particular type of task? Instead of painstakingly picking out each worker with a pair of tweezers every time you want to try this, you could create a colony in which all the workers have had magnetic paint daubed onto their abdomens. Then, you could quickly and easily collect some of them, or all of them, using a magnet. Hunting ants with a tweezer once > hunting ants with a tweezer over and over and over.

Another, possibly less legitimate, use of the paint is demonstrated by Quitmeyer in this video. (Quitmeyer, for the record, is not a social insects researcher.) Using single painted ants in a population of unpainted ants, he plays around with the way colonies remove unhealthy members of their own community. When a magnetized ant starts flopping around erratically in response to a nearby magnet, nearby ants quickly react.

As Quitmeyer says in the video, this demonstration quickly passes from science into mad science (or, at least, YouTube science).

Thanks to Leah Shaffer!

Pedal-powered scroll saw

My little brother and I went to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center in Asheville, NC, today and ran across this very cool piece of maker history — a scroll saw operated by a pulley powered contraption resembling a stationary bicycle. Pedal punk?

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Science proves that you should wear glittens

They're the mullet of cold-protective clothing. Half glove, half mitten — really, fingerless gloves with a handy mitten flip-top.

They are also fantastic.

Now, partly, this is a matter of personal opinion. But partly, it's just good science.

Before you spend your weekend outdoors, or take your next chilly commute, let's talk briefly about glittens — and the science that makes them superior hand covering.

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Leatherman multi-scissors for medics

Leatherman has announced the Raptor, a set of folding multi-scissors for medics, which include "a carbide glass breaker, a ring cutter, a ruler, an oxygen tank wrench and strap cutters that can be deployed one-handed." It'll be out in May 2013.

Leatherman Raptor For Medics

Dremel's EZ Drum sander mandrel -- about damn time


I have the Dremel tool drum sander mandrel on the left. I don't think the design has changed since 1962, and it sucks mightily. Sanding drums get stuck on it and new ones don't fit on it (at least not for me). I just read Stuart Deutsch's post on Make about the EZ Drum Sanding Mandrel, which sounds like a game-changing improvement on the black rubber mandrel.

Dremel has introduced a couple of new “EZ Lock” rotary tool accessories in recent years that allow for tool-free bit/disc/pad changes. The newest EZ-change addition, a sanding mandrel, has quickly become one of my favorites. With the old-style sanding mandrel, you must toil with a small screw before and after swapping in a fresh sanding sleeve, but with this one you just push and pull.

I have been quite pleased with the direction Dremel has been headed. They dominate the rotary tool and accessories market, so they don’t really need to upgrade little things like mandrels, but they have been doing it anyways. Recent models, such as the 3000 and updated 4000 series rotary tools, feature a built-on collet wrench, and it looks like the upcoming Dremel 4200 will feature a new completely tool-free collet-lock mechanism.

Tool Review: Dremel EZ-Change Sanding Mandrel