13 December 2023

Gar’s Tips & Tools – Issue #169

Weekly-ish access to tools, techniques, and shop tales from the worlds of DIY

Gar’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here.

Hidden Tools Within Tools

Leah Bolden has done some eye-opening videos in the past about tools and common tool functions that many casual makers may not know about. Watching this recent video, I knew most of the hidden tools-within-tools she reveals. The ones that were new to me were the 90- and 45-degree angles built into handsaws and the tool inside of a retractable box cutter knife for snapping off the blades. Of course, this only applies to some models of saws and utility knives. My saws and knives do not include these features.

Project Farm’s Top Ten Products of 2023

It’s that time of year again and Todd of Project Farm has posted his top ten products for the year based on his year of product testing. Tools on the list include 3-Ton Jack StandsBubba Kinetic Energy RopeDrill Doctor Drill Bit Sharpener, and the YESWELDER MIG welder.

How to Properly Use a Crimping Tool

I don’t know that much about crimp connectors, but I thought I at least had a solid command of the basics. Then I watched this video. In it, James Gatlin covers identifying different gauges of connectors, the difference in crimping insulated and non-insulated connectors, tips on using a crimping tool, how to properly execute a crimp, why you don’t want to scrimp on your crimping tool, and lots more.

Maker Slang

Slang, jargon, and technical terms for the many realms of making things

[Value of Measurement] Strong (Example: “4-5/8 strong”) — Meaning the stated measurement (4-5/8”) plus a little extra, but that extra (4-11/16”) doesn’t matter at the resolution you care about measuring (e.g. framing a wall).

Baby fat
 – Used at JPL to describe extra storage space that you will soon grow out of. [Via Adam Savage]

Interference fit (also known as “press fit”) — A form of fastening between two parts where the parts are so tightly fitted together that the interference of their surfaces results in a secure join. Used in machining.

Peck drilling – A method involving periodically retracting the bit from the hole being drilled. The primary purposes of peck drilling are to improve chip removal, reduce heat buildup, and enhance lubrication of the cutting surface.

Shadow line – In industrial design, a feature where a narrow, recessed gap is created between two surfaces or panels. This gap is usually very precise and intentional, creating a visual effect that mimics a shadow. Shadow lines are often used to enhance the aesthetics of a product, giving it a more defined, sleek, and modern appearance.

Untying Knotty Knot Tangles

I’ve really been enjoying the Instagram excerpts from Kevin Kelly’s book, Excellent Advice for Living. I appreciate that they range so widely, from philosophical life lessons (“To manage yourself, use your head, to manage others, use your heart”) to the very pragmatic, as seen above.

Shop Talk

Readers offer feedback, tips, tales, and tool recommendations.

Michael Una writes:
In your most recent Tips & Tools, you mention that buying old tools is a great way to get started. I wholeheartedly agree, and I’ll offer a tip here: If you ever see an estate sale, go into the garage or the basement and try to find the old guy’s stash of tools and parts. Oftentimes, the estate sale company will grossly undervalue tools and let them go for $1-5 apiece. And, as you say, they are generally of high-quality, old American steel. I have acquired many clamps, saws, drill bits, chisels, copper wire, wrenches, pliers, and various hand tools from estate sales. Sometimes you might find an old table saw or drill press as well.

My old pal Andrew Sasaki sent in this tip:

If you remove different-length screws from a device, say the bottom cover of a laptop, it can be difficult to remember which screw goes into which hole. Placing the removed screws on a stable surface in the same relative positions they were removed from (see above pic) helps reduce the trial-and-error when you need to screw them back in.

Introducing The Whiteboard Deck!

My latest product — 10 US Poker-sized (2.5″ x 3.5″) dry-erase cards wrapped in a paper band and stored in a muslin drawstring bag. The deck also comes with a fine-point dry-erase marker that has a sponge eraser and built-in magnet. The Whiteboard Deck is $10 with $5 shipping (foreign orders at the shipping rate to your country). Order up to five decks for the same $5 shipping.

The Whiteboard Deck can be used for everything from to-do lists, to notes around the shop, to idea brainstorming, to game design, to… Imagine the Possibilities! If interested, email me for payment arrangements.


11 December 2023


Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 64

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Precise sharp slicer for kitchen

Microplane Grater

Microplane began making micro-blades for woodworking use, but they’ve diverged into making fantastic kitchen tools. Their kitchen graters will turn a little block of Parmigiano-Reggiano into a huge cloud of billowy cheese wisps. Vegetables grate into little strips that almost melt in your mouth. My favorite use is with citrus zest. My lemon bars, lemon tarts and key lime pie have a much greater depth of flavor than ever before.

With most zesters, you end up with too much of the pithy white rind of the citrus fruit, but the Microplane takes off only the very thinnest layer of the outside of the fruit, the part which contains the intense and volatile citrus oils. Hands down, these are the best tools I’ve tried for fine-grating and zesting. — Jeff Zimmerman

Tears through tomatoes

Tomato Shark

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. Some were quite expensive and most were probably only used once or twice (I’m looking at you, Mother of Pearl Caviar Spoon!).

But there’s one tool that cost me less than $2.00 at a restaurant supply store over 10-years ago that I still use on a fairly regular basis, at least during the summer. Anytime I need to core a tomato or hull a strawberry I reach for my Tomato Shark.

It’s a simple little metal spoon with sharp teeth that digs into your tomato or strawberry, removes the core or hull cleanly, and leaves you with just the fruit to work with. Unless you have super sharp knives and great paring knife skills you are probably used to coring a batch of tomatoes for sauce being a time-consuming and sometimes messy job; the Tomato Shark makes this job easy, tidy and quick.

This is one of those items where you should buy the actual Tomato Shark brand. I’ve found similar items just don’t hold up over time: the teeth get dull quicker, and you just don’t need to spend the extra money on a fancier version (unless you have problems with your hands and need a plastic handle for ergonomic reasons). — Caryl Shaw

Quick apple peeler and corer

Progressive Apple Peeler

My wife’s grandmother seems to effortlessly make dozens of wonderful apple pies. And yet, she has poor hand strength due to advanced rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, we convinced her to pass along the secret behind her pie-making success: She uses one machine to peel/slice/core her apples.

Simply poke the three prongs into the base of an apple and turn the crank. Before you know it, a lovely spiral of apple skin will unfurl before you, leaving a perfectly cored and peeled apple that can be quickly cut into quarters and thrown into a pie.

As soon as you see the device in action, it’s obvious just how elegant the mechanism is. It’s safe for children to use, once the apple is situated on the prongs. Best of all, it makes prepping apples so simple you’ll wish you had one years ago. There’s a version that clamps to a kitchen bench, but I find the models with a vacuum base are the same price and are far easier to set up and use. — Steve Allen

Healthy snacking in 30 seconds

OXO Apple Divider

I like apples but I’ve never been a fan of the form factor, which tends to be tough on the teeth and jaws. The OXO Apple Divider cores and chops in one fell swoop. Total prep time, including rinsing the apple beforehand: 30 seconds max, 20 if I’m in a hurry. Like other OXO products I’ve tried, the OXO Apple Divider is a well-designed, well-built version of a classic tool. The company’s included its trademark “good grips” and sharp blades.

I appreciate it every time I use, it because I’m a chocoholic with easy access during the day to cookies and hot chocolate. Bringing a plastic container filled with wholesome, fresh, organic apple chunks makes it easier for me to resist the lure of chocolate. Even if you don’t consume apples as frequently as I do, the OXO Apple Divider is one single-use tool that’s worth keeping around. — Jonathan Steigman

We we bought this and use it regularly on potatoes to make oven fries. Slice the potato, toss the pieces in olive oil and spices of your choice, and bake on a non-stick sheet for 20-30 minutes at 450F, turning once. I didn’t even know this device was actually for apples until I saw it on Cool Tools! — Julee Bode

Best garlic and ginger press

Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press

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 (below) 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

Bulk pineapple slicer

Pineapple Slicer/Corer

I’m not usually a big fan of single-use tools, but this is by far the only tool for this job. We had a party where I needed to core and slice three cases of pineapples, and what could have taken all day took but a few hours. No skill is needed. You just cut off the top of the pineapple and screw down the corer. Once you are at the bottom, pull out the meat and you’re done. The pineapple is evenly-sliced and you are left with a usable hull (for serving fruity drinks in, of course). I have seen these on sale for as little as $7. —Walter Susong III


10 December 2023

Retro Recomendo: Toys & Games

Recomendo - issue #387

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

Our subscriber base has grown so much since we first started seven years ago, that most of you have missed all our earliest recommendations. The best of these are still valid and useful, so we’re trying out something new — Retro Recomendo. Once every 6 weeks, we’ll send out a throwback issue of evergreen recommendations focused on one theme from the past 7 years.

Like Sudoku, but with colors

ColorKu is a nice looking wooden game board, with holes that hold colored wooden marbles in nine different colors. Game play is just like Sudoku, but this version makes it fun to play with others. It comes with about 100 starting problems, but you can use any Sudoku problems by assigning each color a number. I gave this to my sister for her birthday and she loves it, too. — MF

Excellent dartboard

My wife bought me a dartboard for Christmas last year and we play darts a few times a week now. She got a high quality dartboard — a Winmau Diamond Plus Tournament Bristle Dartboard — and it’s much better than the cheap dartboards I had as a kid. The darts rarely bounce out, and the board has held up well, showing little signs of use. — MF

Beautiful puzzles

Pomegranate’s Charley Harper puzzles are beautiful and sturdy. Each piece is glossy and locks well with other pieces, and it’s a fun distraction for a few hours. I’ve bought two so far — Tree of Life and Exquisite Creatures. — CD

Favorite social puzzle

The simplest toys are the best. Our favorite family social puzzle is a tangram, an old classic from China made of 7 geometric pieces that you arrange to fulfill a required silhouette. With two sets you can race to finish. It is much harder than it looks, yet doable and fun for small folk. You can make a tangram from cardboard, or 3D print one yourself, but the version we grab is Tangoes, a tidy travel case with two sets of pieces, plus cards (with solutions) for all the target images. We own 3 or 4 Tangoes ($11), enough for larger groups. — KK

Play a cold case detective

Unsolved Case Files is my new favorite game to play with my husband and friends. Each case file comes with evidence photos, suspect interviews, coroners report, witness statements, newspaper clippings and more. The objective is to work collaboratively and solve three mysteries before you can “crack the case.” So far I’ve solved the Harmony Ashcroft and Max Cahill case and each one took a couple hours. They can be challenging, but it is so satisfying when you’ve completed one. The quality of the documents and materials are so good, that these made-up characters actually come to life and it’s hard not to let it all get to my head when I’ve solved one of the mysteries. It makes me feel like a real detective! I just ordered my third case on Amazon because they are often out of stock, so now I’m just gonna grab one when I can. I also signed up on their website to be notified about new cases that will be released later this Spring, and I discovered if you sign up for their email list, they will email you a free mini-case that you can download and print out. — CD

Werewolf, intense social game

When we meet for family reunions, or gather with friends, our favorite group game is Werewolf. Classrooms and corporate retreats also play Werewolf. It’s a deduction/deception game, extremely social, that is as much fun to watch as to play, so it can involve everyone. The games are exhilarating, surprising, and addictive. The only gear you need are some cards. While you can get by with an ordinary deck of cards, a set of dedicated Werewolf cards makes it much easier. After you’ve played a number of basic games, it’s easy and fun to play with variations, which are supported by this deck of Apostrophe Werewolf cards ($13). — KK


08 December 2023

Casper Kelly, Writer/Director

Show and Tell #394: Casper Kelly

Casper Kelly is a writer/director of weird TV and movies including the viral short Too Many Cooks and the 2023 horror movie Adult Swim Yule Log. His website is casperkelly.com and he’s on Twitter and Instagram @heycasperkelly.

0:00 – Intro
0:43 – Chromadepth glasses
4:53 – Mage.space
21:51 – Tiny Habits
25:04 – Focusmate

To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.


07 December 2023

Hard Drive Crashes/Onward Tickets/Immigration Smiles

Nomadico issue #81

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

Are You Backed up?

I am so dedicated to you dear readers that I am typing this at a chain hotel business center. My laptop suddenly won’t boot up and it is now sitting in a Costa Rican repair shop. I am praying to the computer gods, who are surely artificial beings, that I haven’t got a dead hard drive. I think I’m mostly okay if that happens because I back up photos from my camera to Amazon (a Prime benefit) and a lot of things are in the cloud these days via LastPass, Google, and Dropbox, but I haven’t backed up article documents and the like to my external hard drive for…not sure how long. Use this lesson as a reminder to back up often, preferably in more than one place!

The Onward Ticket Problem

I am in Costa Rica right now and for only the third time in my life, I got asked for an onward ticket before I could board the plane. This just ended up costing Volaris money because it wasn’t really required by immigration and I cancelled the refundable ticket I had to purchase as soon as I landed. If your airline doesn’t offer this though, there are services like OnwardTicket.com that will basically rent you an online ticket that goes to your e-mail or can be printed, then you’ve got your onward ticket to show when questioned. You will only be out $10 to $20 for the service.

Be Nice to Immigration Officers

While I did get a little testy with that airline gate agent since this was not my first time to Costa Rica without having a ticket out and they give you 180 days now anyway, I do always put on my best face and behavior forward for immigration officers. The latest reminder of why that’s important is the story of an American real estate investor who has been banned from the Philippines for life for causing a scene and supposedly writing profanity on his immigration form. Details are sketchy, but it’s a good reminder to remember who’s in charge and that you don’t get entry to the country without passing that gate. “According to the immigration bureau, it has excluded and blacklisted 44 foreign nationals it deemed ‘disrespectful’ in 2023.”

About that Live-aboard Cruise Ship…

Just because you read about something in 50 places and saw it 100 more times on social media doesn’t mean it’s actually going to happen. That cruise ship where you could buy a cabin and spend three years traveling the world? There was just one tiny detail they hadn’t worked out: they did not actually have a ship locked down and in their possession. So never mind, all you people who sold your condo and put everything in storage. Details here.


06 December 2023

Book Freak 147: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality

Surprising facts from Andy Clark's "The Experience Machine"

Get The Experience Machine

Imagine your brain as a master illusionist, constantly weaving the fabric of your reality from the threads of expectation and sensation — this is the premise of The Experience Machine by Andy Clark. He explains how our minds shape our perception of reality based on predictions and expectations, and examines various phenomena and theories in cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience to argue that human experience is built from a combination of our own expectations and actual sensory input. Clark, a professor of cognitive philosophy, demonstrates through various examples how our brains constantly predict and process information, affecting our understanding and interaction with the world around us.

Three quotes from his book:

Transformative Potential of Psychedelics

“Psychedelics… may help relax the grip of our existing model of who we are, what we will do, and what is most meaningful in our life. We can then experience the world, ourselves, and others in new and liberating ways… Much of the distinctive experiential feel (the ‘phenomenology’) of psychedelics may be explained in this broad fashion.”​

Your Body Keeps a Budget

Just as a financial budget tracks income and expenditure, a body budget tracks and anticipates the use and replenishment of key resources for maintaining bodily life and functioning. These resources include water, salt, and glucose. To renew them, we engage in familiar activities such as finding and consuming food and sleeping. Allostatic mechanisms are vital to this process.

If we feel thirsty, Barrett notes, we may take a drink of water. We immediately feel less thirsty, even though it will actually take the water around twenty minutes to reach the bloodstream and deliver the required effects. Yet the brain delivers the sensation of a “quenched thirst” right away. You (your body) can afford the wait since the sensation of thirst was activated in advance too. In other words, both the feeling of thirst and the feeling of having quenched your thirst each reflect anticipatory processing.

The Power of Honest Placebos

A fascinating range of cases involves the use of “honest placebos.” In these cases, potent predictions of relief can still be activated despite the person knowing perfectly well that there is no standard or clinically active ingredient present.Honest (or “open-label”) placebos have proven effective in cases ranging from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to cancer-related fatigue. In one 2010 study, Harvard Professor of Medicine Ted Kaptchuk gave an honest placebo to eighty patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and found clinically significant improvements in 59 percent (against 35 percent in a control group), commenting in a later interview that “Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had ‘placebo’ printed on the bottle…. We told the patients that they didn’t have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”



img 12/4/23

Everyday Carry

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 63

img 12/1/23

Marc Payne, IT specialist

Show and Tell #393: Marc Payne

img 11/29/23

Bookfreak 146: Your Self-Rewiring Brain

Key Ideas from David Eagleman’s “Livewired” on Neural Plasticity and Adaptation

img 11/27/23

Home Schooling

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 62

See all the reviews


img 10/23/06

Animated Knots

Best knot teacher

img 07/22/04

McMaster-Carr Online Catalog

The ultimate hardware store

img 04/2/18

Mosquito Netting

Cheap worry-free sleeping

img 09/13/06

Butane Burner

Compact portable hot plate

img 06/23/03

Diagrammatic Chart of World History

5,000 years of history in one square meter

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #394: Casper Kelly

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #393: Marc Payne

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #392: Theodore Gray

Picks and shownotes

22 November 2023


Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

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We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is claudia {at} cool-tools.org.

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