The Antique Art of Cable Lacing

The Antique Art of Cable Lacing

The cable ties that bind.

The cable ties that bind.

An email exchange after last week’s newsletter with maker O.G. Steve Roberts reminded me of the wonders of cable lacing, an old-school method of bundling cables together, using a lacing needle and waxed twine. Here’s an ode to cable lacing I wrote on Make: many moons ago as part of the “Lost Knowledge” series I did on the website in support of an issue of the magazine with that same theme that I guest edited. The whole series is worth checking out.

The Joys of Bluing

Blue Steel!

Blue Steel!

In this Adam Savage tool tips video, he extols the virtues of machinist’s layout fluid. Aka “bluing,” this blue ink is brushed onto steel stock that you’re planning to cut and/or drill and then a scribe is used to mark out your cutting and other layout marks. In the video, he recommends his favorite Starrett scribe and layout fluid.

Lazy Person’s Pinstripping

Gold makes it fancy.

Gold makes it fancy.

On Hand Tool Rescue, as Eric restores a Victorian food chopper, he reminded me (25:40) of this simple and effective method of painting perfect lines around a circular object. He tapes down a gold marker at the height he wants his line and then rotates the cylinder to paint the line.

TOYS! Spring-Bottom Oiler

Old school!

Old school!

This is one of my very first memories of a tool. My granddad had a spring-bottom oiler on his basement workbench. It was one of the first tools that I associated with making. I loved the click-clack sound that it made when you pressed on the bottom. I still do. I have a soft spot for all of the Goldenrod oilers. Even the modern ones feel like old-school tools.

Making Your Own “Japanning”

Black, always in style.

Black, always in style.

Japanning is black tool finish commonly found on hand planes, antique sewing machines, and other older (and some modern) tools. It is a 17th century European interpretation of traditional Japanese black lacquering (dating all the way back to 2000 B.C.). There are many different recipes for making your own Japanning. On Hand Tool RescueEric tested a number of formulae and ended up recommending a mixture of 50% turpentine, 30% asphaltum/gilsonite, and 20% boiled linseed oil. See the video and video description for the full details of the recipe.

Making a WD-40-like Penetrant

Everyone loves to reach for the WD-40 when a penetrating oil is called for. But did you know that you can cheaply and easily make your own? There are dozens of recipes out there (do a YouTube search). Here are two that get high marks from many basement penetrant chemists:

Recipe 1: 4 parts charcoal lighter fluid, 4 parts mineral spirits (or paint thinner), 1 part lightweight motor oil.

Recipe 2: A 50/50 mix of acetone and transmission fluid

The Essential Craftsman Reviews Carolina Boots

This Old Shoe.

This Old Shoe.

If there is a go-to shoe within the maker community, it is likely the Carolina boot. Maybe that’s because, as a company, the company is very smart about sending out free boots to YouTubers and other online influencers. (I’m still waiting for mine, Carolina!) In this Essential Craftsman videoScott breaks down why he’s sold on the 8″ Domestic Moc Toe Wedge work boot.

RIP, Sharon of Figments Made

Sharon in her element. [Photo by Jon Williams]

Sharon in her element. [Photo by Jon Williams]

Last week, the maker community lost a light. Sharon from Figments Made passed away peacefully in the night on Tuesday. I never met Sharon in person but I felt like I knew her. She always had a kind word, a helpful suggestion to my Instagram project posts and tweets. She liked and shared EVERY SINGLE ISSUE of this newsletter on social media each week since the week it was launched.

Sharon may have made me feel special, but I was far from alone. She was this supportive and generous of spirit to everyone. When news of her passing began to circulate, everyone shared stories of her generosity, huge heart, and her wicked sense of humor. Sharon genuinely loved the maker community, loved making things herself, and she really enjoyed sharing what she knew with others, especially children.

I only knew Sharon a little, but that little meant a lot. Her impact had weight. May we all be so lucky in our lives.

The smiles have it.

The smiles have it.

Maker’s Muse

What could possible go wrong?

What could possible go wrong?

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

Offgrid Mindfulness Alarm Clock

After finally establishing a meditation routine, I wanted something to guide me that wasn’t my phone. When I used my phone and an app, I found that I was checking email or news or other alerts on my way to the meditation app before sitting down. And then I was picking it up immediately after meditating — even if I was just using a timer — and be thrust right back into my digital life. I wanted the benefits of a meditation app timer without the phone. I’ve known about the Zen Alarm Clock for a long time, but the cost ($150) and reviews describing frustrations with the quality gave me pause, so I kept looking.

I’ve been using the Offgrid Mindfulness Alarm Clock for over seven months, and it fits my mediation needs perfectly.

  • I can set the timer duration of my choosing
  • I can include a warm-up period of my choosing
  • I can set interval chimes every X minutes
  • It counts up after the timer is complete, in case I want to track how long I continue to sit
  • I can shut off the screen so I don’t see the timer at all
  • It has a simple meditation chime (can be set low or high)
  • It can be briefly backlit with the press of a button

Added benefit (and this might be its best feature long term): it’s replaced my phone as an alarm clock and removed my phone from my bedroom. In the morning, the meditation alarm clock goes off. I pick it up and take it wherever I’m meditating. It’s the perfect digital detox companion if you’re trying to break up with your phone.

It’s also great for travel. It takes a little bit to get comfortable with all the settings, but after a week or so I was able to change everything in the dark. The low chime setting is still a bit loud at 5 am for my partner (what alarm isn’t?), so I added some duct tape over the speaker grill to dampen it further.

-- Greg Schneider-Bateman

Available from Amazon

What’s in my bag? — Joan Westenberg

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Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian PR director, contemporary writer, and creative. She is the founder of PR and communications firm Studio Self, and the Director of Content at Linktree. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.


About the bag

I use an Oroton bag (I can’t quite recall what it’s called) with a crossbody strap. It’s a high quality bag and it looks sleek and stylish while being minimalist and elevated. Plenty of room, and it’s easy to drag around with me!

What’s inside the bag

iPhone SE: I downgraded my iPhone recently from an 11 Max Pro to an iPhone SE. It’s so much smaller and simpler and more manageable, and being able to operate it with one hand while I’m out and about makes my life easier. It also means I spend far less time staring blankly into a screen…and I prefer a fingerprint reader to a damn face recognition algorithm any day!

Mask: A mask is the absolute must-have accessory this season and probably permanently from now on. Mine is handmade and handcrafted by my friend, costume designer and maker Duckie Designs. It’s super breathable, it’s gorgeous and the fabrics are lovingly chosen. You’ll be able to buy your own in a week or so, make sure you keep checking back!

KVD Go Big or Go Home Mascara: I am not leaving the house without this. Ever. It’s the best I’ve found to work with my look, it’s long lasting, and it’s 100% vegan too.

iPad Pro: My iPad Pro is my main computer. Sure, I use an iMac for a lot of the hands-on stuff, but most of my writing and comms happen on this. It’s an 11-inch 2019 iPad, and I’ve just lost the pencil for it, but I absolutely adore it. Plus, you can entertain a kid with it or binge Lucifer on the go in a pinch.

Spider and insect glue board traps

We have used these traps for about a year now. They work great, and are a nice alternative to using pesticides indoors. We still spray outside of the house, but these caught 3 to 10 spiders and bugs each over the last 6 months in our house. They are dirt cheap too. You can get 100 for around $20. We have 10 of them deployed in our 2,200 sq. ft. house. So, that 100 would last us 5 years if we change them every 6 months which seems appropriate. I wish I had known about these sooner!

-- Brad Hodge

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2016]

Catchmaster Spider & Insect Trap and Monitor Glue Board Traps

Available from Amazon

$80 Solid Titanium Crowbar From Russia

Titanium Pry Bar, Nail Puller, Crowbar (550-650mm)

Hi, I’m Sean Michael Ragan, and this is Cool Tools. Here’s an object which I personally find quite amazing: a 21 inch (that’s 530 millimeter) crowbar made of solid titanium. It weighs just 1.5 lbs (or 695 grams) and though I don’t have an identical steel crowbar for comparison, this one is just 14% percent longer but weighs 150% percent more, which if you run through the math correcting for their different lengths and cross-sections, is about what we’d expect given the relative densities of iron and titanium. There’s also the spark color test, which is not really a nice way to treat your crowbar, but is a pretty good way to test its mettle, as it were. I bought this guy through a mail-order catalog 25 years ago, which was just 4 years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, where it was originally made. I paid a bit more than $100 for it at the time and considered that not just a good deal but an outright steal. Nowadays, you still can’t buy these on Amazon but you can get them shipped directly from the Russian Federation through eBay for even less in 2020 dollars than I paid back in 1995: just $80, including transoceanic shipping. At the time of production, the only even remotely similar tool available through Amazon in the US is this little skeletonized twelve-inch nail-puller which goes for almost exactly the same price, but is barely half as long. Alright, thank you for watching. As always, there’s affiliate links in the description field below the video. If you’ve seen anything you like, please do check those out, as well as our blog and our podcast over at We’ll see you next time.

-- Sean Michael Ragan


This stuff famously impressed the folks on Shark Tank enough to garner some investments. It’s not different in principle from using fiberglass and resin to patch something, but it’s a lot more convenient and tidier to use.

The package contains a little square of sandpaper to roughen up the surfaces a bit to enhance adhesion (although this is not addressed in the instructions and it’s something fix-it beginners might not know), a nice durable pair of vinyl gloves to keep your hands from getting glued to your garden tools, a sealed foil package containing a roll of the actual product (comes in varying widths and slightly varying lengths, but most readily available in 4″ by 60″ in big home improvement chains, etc.), a strip of vinyl which can be optionally applied to the outside of the fix before it hardens, then removed to leave a smoother surface, and a simple set of instructions.

The fabric doesn’t seem to be fiberglass, it appears to be some sort of polymer. The innovation here is the resin with which the repair tape is impregnated. The developers have managed to find something which is activated by exposure to water, hardens in minutes, is commendably sticky without being annoyingly hard to apply, and cures strong; all while being non-toxic (it says here). Thus, rather than trying to keep a wrap of fiberglass cloth tight with one hand while dabbing on resin with a drippy brush held in the other, you simply rip open the package, submerge the whole roll underwater for 15 seconds or so, then wrap it around what you want to fix. It grabs the substrate quite nicely and similarly grabs itself so that a nice solid repair is easy to make; 15 minutes later, it’s ready to use.

I used it to fix a digging fork which I habitually abuse horribly, whose wooden handle broke off at the end of the metal ferrule. Previous fixes have used a 6″ black iron pipe coupling which happens to be of the correct inside diameter, but that always eventually fails because the slight taper of the ferrule works itself loose from the inside of the pipe, even when epoxied in place.

The FiberFix, however, molds itself to the taper of the ferrule and doesn’t give it any wiggle room, in addition to adhering solidly to both the metal of the ferrule and the wood of the handle. When cured, the repair is now strong enough that I can’t break it with my overly aggressive levering on the fork; I expect it to last at least as long as the pipe coupling repair, and it was a heck of a lot easier and quicker to do. I was so impressed I went out and got a second package and did a similar wrap on my shovel, even though the handle is not yet broken, as a precautionary measure. (They never make the ferrules on these things long enough for me).

The wrap is designed to be used all at once when opened; exposure to the humidity in the air will activate the resin, so you can’t save half of it for next time. The package has a “best if used by” date approximately three years in the future; the package I used was purchased a year ago and has been sitting unopened on my shelf since then without any apparent degradation, so keeping a package around for emergency fixes of tools and returning them to service within half an hour without having to stop what you’re doing to go shopping is feasible.

The manufacturer suggests it can be used to fix leaky pipes as well, but I haven’t tried that yet.

-- Gerald Zuckier

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2016]

FiberFix 4 Inch Repair Wrap

Available from Amazon

OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set

The OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set is a great little set of brushes that will replace that worn out toothbrush you use for cleaning little corners and the like. With stiffer bristles, and a grippy angled handle these little brushes will go places a toothbrush cannot. The stiffer bristles will stand up to quite a bit of force and really get the gunk out of cracks and corners. The tapered brush even has rubber corner cleaner for those really hard to get clean spots. But what I think is really great about these brushes is how much easier they make it to clean another great Cool Tool, the Kuhn Rikon garlic press. I purchased the Rikon garlic press based on a review on Cool Tools. The review indicated that is easier to clean the many garlic presses and this is definitely true. Easier does not necessarily mean easy though. Then I got the OXO brush set. The straight bristled brush makes clean-up of the Rikon garlic press a breeze. I was so pleased to find two Cool Tools working together to make my life even easier.

-- Dan Mushrush

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2016]

OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set

Available from Amazon

Quote Investigator/The Booktrail/Thingiverse

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Verifying who said it
On the internet, according to Abraham Lincoln, no one knows you are a dog. But the internet is worthless for checking the veracity of a popular quote. For that job I always head to the totally reliable Quote Investigator. This Sherlock Holmes goes to inordinate lengths, almost a magazine article worth of research, to discover, verify (or dismiss) the source of a quote. His investigations are educational, fun, trustworthy, and completely satisfying. If you have a recurring quote whose source you cannot track down, you can submit it to him. — KK

Pick a novel set in a location of your choosing
Enter a location in The Booktrail and it will find books set there. You can refine the search by selecting a setting from a pull-down menu (e.g., a bookshop, factory/office, prison). I searched Chicago in a factory office setting and got Girl in Disguise, about a female Pinkerton agent in the 1850s. — MF

Library of things
Thingiverse is a free library of files for printing in 3D. Search or browse for a thing you want and there’s a good chance someone has already designed a model and posted a free version for downloading. Thingiverse has been around a while but I just got my first 3D printer so now I am singing its praises. Some models are easier to print than others, but the files are standard 3D format so you can easily edit, modify, or improve it any way you want. It’s like having a public library of e-things instead of e-books. Its existence is one of the reasons I got a 3D printer. — KK

Tricks used to make you pay more
Here are 29 Psychological Tricks and Tactics Used to Make People Buy More found on Reddit. A little embarrassing how many of these “buy more/buy now” tricks I’ve fallen for. To combat this, I have a “buy it later” list that I add links to and thankfully forget about, and I recently made a rule to no longer shop from my phone. — CD

Best creativity pep talk
I find it hard to sit through Ted Talks and avoid anything that gets too preachy about the creative process, but in this 9-minute video, “Give yourself permission to be creative”, Ethan Hawke likens creativity to a poet playing the fool and that is exactly my language. “Don’t read the book you should read. Read the book you want to read. Get close to what you love. Play the fool.” — CD

Almond Flour
I’ve been baking a lot with almond flour lately. It is low in carbs, high in healthy fats, and has almost no sugar. The brand I buy is Anthony’s. Start with a 2-lb bag and see if you like it. If you’re like me, you’ll soon be buying the 4-lb bags. (Try my recipe for almond flour bread) — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

Vanessa Mason, Research Director at IFTF

Our guest this week is Vanessa Mason. Vanessa Mason is the research director at the Institute for the Future, a 52 year old nonprofit organization that helps individuals, organizations and communities think systematically about the future. Her futures research explores how we can redesign and reimagine well-being and belonging across business, social, and civic spheres. Vanessa has written for and been quoted in several media outlets including NPR and Fast Company. She writes about the future of belonging at You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @vanessamason.

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Show notes:

Notion is a little bit of everything. They call themselves an all-in-one workspace, but you can think of it as a notes taking app. Think of it as something you can capture articles and things from the web. You can use it to create vision boards. You can use it to be wikis. It’s kind of a little bit of everything and because it’s also templatized, it makes it very easy to create your own space, both from scratch, the scratch can be from a template, or you could completely customize it. I really love Notion because I think of it as my digital brain. That’s where I put all the sort of random thoughts and ideas and concepts that I’m working on, or things that I want to read or have read and want to go back to. It keeps it in a very clean, easy to navigate interface with a lot of different customizable views that are done with one click. It’s available on mobile. I love it. It’s the one app that I truly love.

My boyfriend actually started with a Duolingo Plus account, and so now the both of us are using that to reinforce languages that we already have from having lived in other countries. I’ve been using it to reinforce a lot of my Spanish and Portuguese. I’ve started dabbling in learning French. And the part that actually has been the most engaging for it, is we’re really competitive people. And every five days, if you’re in the top 10, you end up in a new league. So we’re always competing to win the league. It’s a nice way of maintaining language capabilities that I already have, and doing it in a more gamified way. One of the rare instances where I actually like gamification.

The Bullet Journal Method
This is a practice that was done by Ryder Carroll, and he’s now written a book about it. I think he was a UX designer, and it’s sort of where productivity means mindfulness. You could buy a planner and certainly keep track of all the tasks that you’re doing, but part of the bullet journaling and creating your own custom set-up is again tailoring things that work for you. I think also just the conscious effort that’s required when you’re physically writing is part of the practice as well. So, taking time to slow down and think about what’s important, and prioritize what’s important.

Away suitcase
There are probably other smart suitcases, but I think this was the first one that was kind of billed as the millennial smart suitcase. It includes a battery inside the suitcase so you can charge your phone and one other device while you’re traveling. In general, I think that the creators of the suitcase are very into travel and did a lot of great user research before because a lot of the placement of the zippers and sort of sizing of the suitcase and how it zips open so that it falls flat just make a lot of sense for people who are traveling a lot. I love it because I’m someone who loves to travel. So when I was traveling, I could get away with just a roller suitcase that could fit in a cabin, or rather the overhead cabins, and could travel for up to 10 days, because it’s designed in such a way that you can fit all your clothes and everything very well.

About The Future of Belonging Newsletter:
The Future of Belonging is a newsletter that examines how we can redesign tools and remodel approaches to fulfill the basic human need for belonging over the next decade as loneliness, alienation, and exclusion become more pervasive. This was a newsletter that I started at the beginning of this year, just because I had a lot of curiosity about belonging. I just saw major trends like increases in loneliness, people not really being into belonging to social clubs and religious institutions, and so the newsletter has been an opportunity for me to both explore and write about and think about what does belonging look like over the next decade, and try to explore what are new ways and new approaches that people are using to fulfill this basic human need that we all have.

Engineers Field Book

I have been using these books for a little under a year at this point. I am somewhat particular about the notebooks I write and sketch in, and I had been looking for the perfect smallish notebook. I have used Moleskines, Rite in the Rain, and a few others and wasn’t completely satisfied, mostly because they seemed to come apart on me. I suppose I am hard on these notebooks, and they spend a lot of time in studios, around wet clay, hot metal, and in and out of a bag that has god knows what else sitting in it.

The binding on these holds up incredibly well to abuse, this is the point of failure I have found in most other small format notebooks. The covers are thick and hardy, and a lovely shade of orange — easy to spot when you’re hunting around a messy desk or studio.

The paper itself is graph lined on one side of the page and column ruled on the reverse. I find myself using these to draw, make notes, lists, and organize my thoughts. Being a bit disjointed in my thinking, having these rules has allowed me to group drawings, thoughts, and notes giving me better ability to parse back through my scribblings to find specific information.

The notebook has a bright orange hardbound cover. Manufacturer details: Ruled light blue with red vertical lines, 160 pages (80 sheets), Page size – 4 5/8″ W x 7 1/4″ H, Grid layout on the left – 6 vertical columns, Grid layout on the right – 8 x 4 to the inch.

The paper isn’t super thick, but it holds up reasonably well. I write mostly in pencil in these, but it does OK with a felt-tipped pen as well, though you do see some bleed on the reverse of the page you’re writing on. Elan says that the paper is 50% cotton and has some kind of water-resistant treatment on it — light rain beads well and can be wiped off without issue.

Being that these are designed for surveyors, these books also have curve tables, trig functions, and some basic conversions related to that field in the back. Admittedly most of these aren’t useful to me often, but they’re fun and an interesting thing to have on hand.

Overall I have been pleased with these, they haven’t shed pages, and their bindings show no signs of loosening or falling apart. In the past, my Moleskines usually start coming apart after a couple of months of use. I appreciate that these provide me a standard format to archive and refer to my notes.

-- Michael Lorsung

Elan Publishing Engineers Field Book Standard

Available from Amazon

This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2016