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For this week’s Cool Tools video review, I’m going to show off these wearable magnifying glasses. These run around $14 on Amazon, and by using the link in the video description you help to support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

I bought these a year ago looking for a way to get a better look at soldering up small stuff. They really are perfect for those times when you’re wiring or painting or glueing up something tiny and delicate. Plus there’s a little LED on the front that helps put a little extra light on things.

These come with an interchangeable set of lenses. The most powerful one gives you 3.5 times magnification and is the one I leave on all the time. I honestly wish these went up a little higher, as the lower lenses really don’t do much for me.

The lenses are plastic, so they can get scratched if you’re not careful, which I’m guilty of. On the upside, compared to glass these are lightweight and can be worn for long periods without hurting your face. The lens also flips up and down so you can kick in the magnification just when you need it.

But by far my favorite use for these is put these on and surprise people. They make you look so super nerdy. They should really file these things under birth control. They are quite possibly the unsexiest pair of glasses ever...

When I was a teenager I remember reading a science-fiction story which predicted that by the 21st century, information would be piped directly into the brain. In this story, a character encountered that most archaic object, an old-fashioned book, and felt appalled that people in the 20th century had been forced to endure so much physical discomfort, holding books and turning their pages manually — or trying to prevent the pages from turning if there was a breeze.

Well, here we are in 2006, and yet another science-fiction prediction has failed to pan out. While we’re waiting for wetware implants, we’ll just have to make do with a stopgap solution: A plastic thumb aid.

-- KK

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006]

The Thumb Thing ($3+)

Available from Amazon

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $362 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


Our guest this week is Jane Frauenfelder. Jane was born and raised in Southern California, she co-hosted a podcast called Apps For Kids for two and a half years, and now attends a robotics academy at her high school. In her off time, she designs video games and she aspires to be a video game designer when she’s older.



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Show notes:

“Quizlet is very, very popular among most, like middle and high school students, but it’s a way of studying. It’s a website online, and you just simply type in a bunch of terms as if they’re flashcards and then they have many different many ways that you can learn them through writing them down and they can generate quizzes themselves. They even have games you can play to memorize them. It’s just a wonderful way to memorize facts or terms or memorize anything for school. I used to use it for Spanish class all the time and history and English, and...

How do you keep a camera lens clean? You cover it with a filter. But how do you keep the filter clean?

I floundered for many years with streaky Kodak solutions and other goofy products, till I was referred to a mysterious product called Pancro by an extraordinary AC named David “AC Dave” Wendlinger. Pancro comes in industrial white bottles with a big sticker on the front, “PANCRO Professional Lens Cleaner Non-Streaking Non-Residue Non-Toxic Fast-Drying” (almost poetic).

Who knows what it is. But it works like magic. Now my lenses are spotless. This stuff cleans anything with glass; binoculars, telescopes, cameras, rearview mirrors. I carry a little bottle of it in my pocket for my eyeglasses. A pack of Rosco Lens Tissue goes well with it.

Best practice for cleaning the lens/filter? First, hold the camera upside down with the front lens pointing down. Use a little blower with SOFT bristle brush to blow off any particles from the lens surface, particles which will fall off the lens aided by gravity. Put a few drops of Pancro on the Rosco lens tissue and softly polish the lens in a circular motion. Rotate use of the 4 corners and both sides of the tissue so that you always are using a clean part of the tissue to avoid grinding grime into the lens surface. Repeat upside down brush operation if necessary. Inspect with extremely bright flashlight pointed at angle to the element. Some people recommend a cloth instead of...

Like many others, I’ve been in pursuit of the “perfect” drink bottle for basically my entire adult life. Plastic, metal, glass, hybrids, they all have their pros and cons. No bottle is perfect.

About a year ago I needed to get new bottles for my kids to take to school and camping and wherever else we might end up going. Since I had kids in mind, I needed it to be durable (glass is out) and small enough for little hands to handle easily. I also needed them to not leak. Like, seriously, no leaking. At all. Ever. No. Leak.

In general, I’m not a big fan of bottles with straws. The straw is very difficult to clean and is the most vulnerable part of any bottle. Straws require replacement often in my experience. More generally, bottles where silicon/plastic pieces bend/pinch tend to fail often. Bottles designed with a straw in mind are also usually susceptible to some level of leaking. As you now know, we don’t like leaks here.

I found the Microlite Flip bottles from GSI Outdoors at REI. They are of a small enough diameter that my kids can hold onto them, they disassemble into manageable pieces for very thorough cleaning, and they’re durable enough to take wherever. The bottle is aluminum and the cap is plastic with fully removable silicone seals. The way the bottle cap disassembles is actually quite ingenious and I’d recommend going to a store just to try breaking...

We’ve been using these parchment cups to bake muffins for a couple of months and they never cease to amaze. Each time I peel off the paper cup from my morning muffin I’m still impressed at how effortless this has become. These aren’t just “no stick”, they’re zero stick, which coincidentally is exactly what the manufacturer claims on the box…and they’re totally correct. I know these adjectives describing this product sounds like click-bait but, in this case, it is deserved. Interestingly, out of 285 reviews on Amazon, the product gets a solid 5-stars! How often does that happen? I mean it, the paper cup almost falls off, totally clean! You’ve got to try these.

-- Chuck Davey

Standard Paper Cupcake Liners / Baking Cups, 120 ($6)

Available from Amazon

It’s time for another Cool Tools video review. This time around, I’m going to show you a tool recommended by Adam Savage on episode 57 of the Cool Tools podcast. The spokeshave is a tool that rounds off the edges of wood. Versions of this tool date back to prehistoric time. It’s essentially a kind of plane, with an adjustable carbon steel blade in the middle, and handles on the side.

By taking a roughly square length of wood and working your way around, you can make smooth, round dowels or rounded fittings for chairs, or wagon wheel spokes if you plan on doing any time traveling. They’re also popular for making canoes and paddles, and bows and arrows.

The spokeshave here is made by Kunz. It’s made from cast iron and has a nice old fashioned heft to it. The handle is surprisingly ergonomic, with places for your thumbs if you’re pushing it away from you, and a nice grip if you’re pulling it towards you. You guys can debate which method works best, but both worked fine in my limited time with the tool.

You’re not going to get the precision and uniformity you’d get with turning something on a lathe. But for shaping something round and freeform, the spokeshave gives you nice, fine control.

If you’re curious to pick up this exact same one, you can use the link in the description, which also helps out...

When replacing your car battery, or even trickle charging it, it is often advantageous to power the car externally. Supplying power to the car while the battery is swapped out preserves ECU adaptation codes, time of day clock settings, trip meter values, radio security codes, etc. It also prevents sparking at the terminals of the new battery when when the cables are reconnected since the cables are already at 12V potential.

Powering the car can be be done through the cigarette lighter socket, but this has the disadvantage that this socket is usually switched, requiring the keys to be inserted and at least turned to the ACC position, energizing extraneous accessories and increasing the load/drainage on your external backup battery/power pack.

The car’s OBDII connector has a non-switched, always on, 12V pin (and GND). Connecting your backup power through the OBDII connector allows you to take your keys out of the car, lock it (with the fob, etc), and leave it, for days if necessary. When the car’s main battery is removed I will put a nitrile glove over the positive (red) connector as this connector is still energized by your backup power and you don’t want in touching some engine part and shorting. Just don’t try starting your car with power through the OBDII connector. At best you’re more than likely to blow a fuse somewhere.

-- Bruce Bowen

Outzone OBD II Memory Saver Connector...

This is by far the best tool bag I have ever owned. I am an Espresso machine field service technician and I use this bag every day. I purchased the LC version about a year ago and it doesn’t show a single sign of wear yet. In the previous 6 years I had completely worn out 2 different other tool cases.

The Veto just feels right in your hand or over your shoulder. The quality of construction is simply amazing. A molded polypropylene tray forms the bottom, the sides are 1800 denier nylon which is doubled up in many places and secured with double stitching. The bottom and handle are attached with rows of rivets, and the the zippers are massive. The large handle is attached directly to the center divider so that all the weight is carried by the center divider and end panels. There is no weight carried by the side panels and zippers. The bag comes with a wide padded shoulder strap attached with rugged metal swivels. The Veto bag is divided into two identical half’s. I keep my tools in one side and my electrical meters and plumbing hookup parts in the other. I like that this bag completely zippers closed. I don’t like the new trend for bags that are covered with external pockets, I want to know my tools are safe and secure.

Veto make two other sizes, an overall larger bag and a low-riding long one to hold carpenters tools.

In 2013 I hiked La Cloche-Silhouette, an 81 km trail in Ontario on the edge of the Canadian Shield. It was my first multiday (and solo) trip through extremely rugged terrain so I knew hiking poles would be a necessity. I scored a pair of Komperdell’s on clearance for $40 and off I went. They did the job but boy were they heavy — my arms were just as tired as my feet. By day 6 I was going to throw them off the top of “the Crack.” but since I needed them for the descent I vowed to replace them with an ultralight model instead.

Initially I considered carbon fiber but reviews of early products weren’t encouraging. People were reporting broken poles from minor flexing and they were quite expensive to replace. Other steel/aluminum models weren’t designed for ultralighters and were only marginally lighter than what I was already using. For a long time it seemed there wasn’t a good middle ground. After quite a bit of research I came across the Helinox Passport series. Many backpackers are undoubtedly familiar with Helinox’s line of camping chairs, but what isn’t well known is they also make ultralight hiking poles using an exclusive alloy from DAC. DAC is the OEM for pretty much every tent pole out there so it’s fair to say they’re experts in high-strength aluminum.

Despite a dearth of reviews I ordered the adjustable Passport TwistLock FL. 290 grams for a pair of metal poles is...

This time around for my Cool Tools review, I’m going super cheap. How cheap, Donald? How about $3. That’s what I paid for this block of poster tack as an Amazon add-on. I’m going to show you why you should keep some in your toolkit. And if I do a convincing job, be sure to use the link in the video description, which supports my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

If you do any soldering you probably have a pair of helping hands, or some bulky heavy thing like this that can hold your project or components steady while you wire them. They’re useful, but a little clunky to travel with, and often overkill if you’re just splicing a wire or two.

In terms of price and portability, poster tack is a great alternative. The first problem it solves is what I call the wandering board problem, where you’re pushing your project around the table as you’re trying to soldering it up. Using a glob of tack to temporarily fix your board in place makes the job a lot easier.

The second problem solved by tack is component to component soldering. You need to put a resistor on a leg of an LED, or splice two wires together. Everyone has their way of doing things, but in terms of convenience, few ways are faster than just sticking the pieces down with tack, and hitting it with some solder.

I know I’m...

My wife and I searched the length and breadth of the land in search of a bottle for our kids that meets the following criteria:

  • easy for a toddler to operate, but big enough for older kids
  • easy to thoroughly clean (no crevices that are accessible to milk but inaccessible to cleaning, will fully dismantle into a few pieces, amenable to cleaning tools such as the OXO Good Grips Bottle Cleaning Set). The real test: how quickly can I go from a bottle full of milk that rolled under the couch four days ago to clean and ready to use?
  • tough, will survive being dropped and thrown and stepped on and used as an impromptu weapon
  • insulated, will keep milk from spoiling for the better part of a day
  • unlikely to spill or leak

The Thermos Funtainer meets these criteria better than any other bottle we have found over the last 5 years, with some caveats. The following is gleaned from about 1 year of daily use.

  • easy for a toddler: may take a few frustrating tries for younger toddlers to operate the opening button, but within a day our two-year-old got it down.
  • big enough for older kids: the 12oz size is ideal, not too big for youngsters to carry around but large enough for anybody else with a moderate thirst. I find myself using it from time to time. A 16oz version also exists.
  • easy to thoroughly clean: Time from curdled mess to clean is ~30-60 seconds. Dismantle (4...

For families that travel overseas, there is the small but repetitive problem of handing out passports at borders/railroad stations/hotels/etc. To manage this, we put a one-letter label on the outside back of each passport. Any label will do: we use the first letter of our first names. The point is to be able to hand out the right passport without having to fumble to find the ID page.

-- Ed Murphy

2017 recomendations
For your convenience and as a refresher, Claudia has compiled our first 73 weeks of Recomendo and crafted a pretty cool website that displays all 450+ recommendations. Items are grouped by subject, so you can see all the travel tips, workshop gadgets, etc. in one place. The links have all been checked/updated. It’s a smooth way to access our current faves by topic. Might be even more useful for folks. The complete Recomendo website is also a great way to share recomendos with friends or on social media. Here is an easy short link to copy:

Let us know what you think. — KK

Best Explainer Podcast About Bitcoin
I’ve read a lot of books about cryptocurrencies and have listened to many podcasts on the subject. This episode of After On has an interview with Fred Ehrsam, the founder of Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US. If you’re curious about bitcoin, this will get you up to speed with basic concepts and where the technology could be headed. —MF

Binge-worthy show about relationships
Last weekend I binge-watched two seasons of Easy on Netflix. The show focuses on the tension and love that arises in relationships of all kinds. Sometimes it’s frustrating to watch, but that makes it true to life. Although the characters are connected, you can watch each episode as a standalone. A word of warning — it’s rated TV-MA because there is a lot of nudity and sex. The best part about...

I’m in the process of restoring an old lapstrake wooden boat. The MultiMaster with a saw blade was the perfect tool for cutting out a section of a board. The boards overlap each other, and the travel of the blade of a jigsaw or reciprocal saw was too great to target the piece of the board that overlaps another board. Even doing it with a handsaw was too difficult to control on this tough wood.

The MulitMaster tool is just a vibrating head. So it vibrates this little sawblade and it cuts right through with great accuracy. The blade itself has very little travel, making it perfect for this application. I shoved a thin piece of sheet metal between the overlap of the planks to keep from sawing into the other board, and I was able to cut exactly where I wanted to. I know of no other tool that I could do that with, though I’d love to hear of any alternatives.

-- Monty Zukowski

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006]

FEIN FMT250QSL MultiTalent Start Q StarlcokPlus Oscillating Multi-Tool with snap-fit accessory change ($150)

Available from Amazon

Who wants coffee? In this video I’m going to show you the Hario Cold Brew coffee pot. It’s just $17, and I learned about it through the Cool Tools blog. You can find an Amazon link for it in the video description which helps to support my videos and Cool Tools.

Cold brew coffee is crazy popular right now, and for good reason. It’s arguably the tastiest, most drinkable coffee you can make and perfect for a hot afternoon.

This cold brewer from Hario makes it easy to make your own. You dump 80 grams of medium-to-coarse ground coffee in the built-in filter, drop the filter in the carafe, and then slowly fill it up with cold water, careful not to overfill it and stirring it occasionally. If this part feels a little too precious, I’ve also had fine results just filling the carafe with water, putting the basket in, and giving it a stir.

When it’s full, you put the cap on and stick it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, you have smooth, perfect iced coffee.

Cleanup is easy. The carafe just needs a rinse. And the basket comes right out and has a twist off bottom to make it easy to empty. I usually compost it, but you guys really don’t want to see my compost bin.

My only complaint about this thing is that it’s awkwardly tall and doesn’t make a ton of coffee, which might be a blessing. I get 4-5 glasses of coffee out...

My office building’s climate control is like a pendulum — it swings back and forth in the general area of comfort, but never quite reaches it. I have long used small table fans, but have to leave a suitable gap between the fan and the wall/partition behind it, to avoid blocking the air flow. Now I use a Lasko “squirrel cage” blower, which takes in air from the sides, allowing it to be placed flush against any wall. The blower head is adjustable in a vertical direction. An added plus — its design is extremely quiet, making it perfect for the office environment.

-- Bryan Quattlebaum

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006]

Lasko Fan ($65)

Available from Amazon

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $328 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Our guest this week is Dr. Barbara Dace. Barbara has been a compounding pharmacist for 32 years, creating custom medications, educating pharmacy students as well as the public, and improving health and quality of life for hundreds of patients. She loves to sing and play the autoharp, and has become an award-winning songwriter.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Consumer Reports (online and/or magazine)
“An independent, nonprofit organization that tests, rates and compares all kinds of products, from cars to chocolates; they also advocate for improved consumer protections ‘to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world.’ They’ve been doing this for 80 years, have never accepted advertising, and have been instrumental in fighting for improved national policies in hundreds of areas, including seatbelts (which saved my life, for one), limits on predatory lending, fighting for net neutrality, prescription drug safety, etc., etc. Your subscription isn’t merely giving you access to a vast and reliable source of consumer information—it’s making the world a better place, as well.”

Pepper mills are easy to find. Some are electric, some are pretty, some are expensive, but the Ikea spice mill is none of those things. What it is, is about the size of a 12 ounce soda can, which means it’s very easy to grab hold of, and torque down on to grind out a lot of whatever it is you’ve got in the spice jar, and that matters a great deal for hands that are older,or arthritic, or have other issues working grinders that have smaller components. The grinding size is easily adjusted by way of the black knob on the top, and while I have no issues reading the dot sizes on the knob, the lack of contrast may prove an issue for some. And they’re durable. I’ve had my two grinders for nigh on 15 years. A glass jar means you can see what’s inside, and it’s a top loader with a wide mouth that makes for easy filling. And it’s the same jar as their IHÄRDIG Spice jar, which they sell in a four pack, so you can just take the grinder top off its regular jar, and put it on another if you have a need to.

-- Bruce Dykes

IKEA IHÄRDIG Spice Mill ($6)

Rotobroach – a tool to replace a twist drill bit for “drilling” larger holes is thin metal. Often when cutting, say a 3/8″ hole in metal 1/8 thick, I end up with a hole that is kind of triangular. If I’m trying to insert a 3/8 rod in that hole I have to clean it up with a reamer to get it to work. I think the triangular hole is due to how the flutes of a drill bit “walk” around the hole as it is cutting.

I have tried different speeds but could never solve this problem until I tried a rotobroach. A rotobroach is like a plunging end mill with a spring loaded center punch to keep the tool centered. It cuts a perfectly round hole quickly and can be used with a drill press or a hand drill. A key to using this tool is to create a good divot with a center punch (included) to keep the tool aligned and try to keep the tool perpendicular to the surface so that all edges stay somewhat equally engaged in the material you are cutting. That said, it’s not tough to use with a hand drill. Another plus is you can cut large holes (1/2″ +) without needing pilot holes. This tool is made for body shops to cut spot welds out of car bodies, but it can be used for so much more.

I’ve used a rotobroach for about 4 years but I’ve...