Leatherman Squirt



When saving ounces, the Leatherman Squirt ($35) is the lightest multi-tool kit to carry. It’s got your knife, pliers, wire cutter, scissors, file, and two screwdrivers in only 2 ounces (57 g). Some folks use it as a keychain fob; I primarily carry it while backpacking and biking.

-- KK

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 ]

Leatherman Squirt PS4 ($35)

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Leatherman

Pneumatics for Arduino




Programmable Air ($175)

Programmable Air is a pneumatics kit for Arduino – for soft robots, grippers, microfluidics, art pieces, and more.

Guest: Alex Glow
Twitter / Insta: @glowascii

“Programable Air is a fantastic kit for Arduino Nano. It’s designed for soft robots. And I met the person who designed it, Amitabh Shrivastava… I’ve got mine set up to be a pressure sensor. But I’ve got another thing that I designed that works as a meditation timer to help you breathe.”

-- Alex Glow

Gingher Sewing Shears



Ask almost any tailor or sewer which scissors they use and you’ll hear universal acclaim for these venerable 8″ Gingher Shears ($19). They’ve been making them in this style forever (although they are now manufactured by Fiskars in Italy). Ginghers are durable enough to pass on to the next generation. These hefty scissors slide through layers of fabric with ease, are comfortable with long use, and stay sharp all the way to the tips. (Pair them with the previously reviewed Gingher snip scissors.) Bless them, they also come in a left-handed version. The key to keeping sewing scissors in top shape is to never use them to cut paper or anything else in the garage. A good idea for those who live in a large household is to tie a bit of fabric or ribbon on the handle as a red flag: “CLOTH ONLY. Do not even think about using this for anything but fabric.”

-- KK

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013]

Gingher 8-Inch Knife-Edge Dressmakers Shears ($19)

Available from Amazon

Divider sticky notes /Decibel X/Public speaking tip



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Organize your notebooks
I’m a notebook hoarder/collecter and regularly use 2-3 different notebooks a day for work, journaling, lists, brain dumps, etc. Sometimes I need to flag pages to revisit and instead of post-it notes, I’ve been using these Redi-Tag Divider Sticky Notes ($5). These are so useful for indexing your notebooks and annotating pages. I’m still spread out all over the place, but this helps me keep track of what’s important. — CD

Measuring noise with your phone
Decibel X is an app for the iPhone ($3.99 per month, also available on Android) that is a noise meter. It pretty accurately measures noise on a decibel scale. I use it to monitor the noise levels in restaurants and workplaces in an effort to increase quiet. When I am recording podcasts I use it to ensure there’s little background noise. It’s also entertaining and instructive to measure sound levels outside in nature and urban areas. — KK

The only thing you need to know about public speaking
“The only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence, or smooth talking. It’s having something worth saying.” This is from Chris Anderson’s book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. — MF

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 ($11). — KK

Battery powered security light
The Lumenology Portable LED Motion Sensor Light ($30) is powered by three AA batteries. It has a light detector and motion detector, so it shines only when it detects motion at night (saving the battery charge). It comes with two different mounts: one is magnetic and the other is a flexible tripod that can work as a regular tripod or be wrapped around a pole or a branch. I used the magnetic mount on my front gate and it shines a bright, wide spot of light for 30 seconds when anyone comes to the gate. — MF

More eyeballing measurement tips
Recomendo reader Wendy shared a follow-up tip to last week’s Recomendo, she says “Another tip I read once about eyeballing measurements is to take pinches of salt and place them in your other hand till you think you have a teaspoon, then measure it against a real teaspoon. Do the pinches over and over till you get a consistent amount per teaspoon. I figured mine out so that I get ¼ teaspoon per pinch. Super handy for salting stuff, but also works with herbs. But in the case of herbs, remember how much a teaspoon looked like in your palm.” — CD


If you’re enjoying Recomendo, check out Book Freak, which shares short pieces of advice from books once a week and What’s in my bag?— each week one interesting person shares four favorite things in their bag.

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

Gareth Branwyn, Writer and Editor



Our guest this week is Gareth Branwyn. Gareth has been writing about DIY technology, media, and culture for over three decades. He’s a former senior editor of Boing Boing, a founding contributing editor to Wired, and the former editorial director of Make: Magazine. He’s the author of 10 books, including his most recent, Tips and Tales from the Workshop. He currently regularly writes for HackSpace, Boing Boing, and Better Humans. He’s currently writing a book about his life-long obsession with William Blake. He also has a weekly newsletter called: Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales. You can find him on Instagram @garethbranwyn.

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:

Mr. Hobby G-Tool ($27)
I do a lot of tabletop gaming modeling, modeling for fantasy and tabletop war games. So I do a lot of cutting miniatures off of sprues, hobby parts, modeled parts off of sprues. And you get little nubs leftover when you cut them off the sprues, and you have to sand it or file it or whatever. And sometimes, these pieces can get quite complicated with lots of little tie in points, and it could just take forever. I hate it. It’s one of my least favorite parts of hobby modeling. And I saw this guy demoing this little tool — it’s basically a rotary toothbrush, and it’s got these little sanding pads on the ends. I just went through a whole faction of miniatures, and there was a lot of parts to it. Each little model had 10 or 12 parts. They’re 28 millimeter, so they’re tiny. And I just blew through this sanding.

iGaging Absolute Origin Calipers ($40)
I am so in love with these things. They’re so beautiful and they’re super accurate. They are an impressively featured set of digital calipers that rival Mitutoyo models but cost three times less. Besides being a fantastic set of high-precision calipers, they use the common CR2032 batteries (and even come with an extra) and they have a data port so that you can connect the device to your computer and port measurements directly into CAD programs.

Disposable Scalpel Blades ($10)
I’m bad about replacing my Exacto knife blades when I’m working. And so I get to the point where I’m just working with an extraordinarily dull blade before I break down and change it. So my friend Andy Berkey recommended disposable scalpels, and I bought a box of those. I just love the fact that if I need something that’s very, very sharp, I can reach for that. I’ve had the box now for a month or two and I think I’ve used one blade. So I’m not going to use them very frequently. But it’s just a nice thing to have if you need something that’s sort of sinfully sharp. The edge itself is a lot thinner than an Exacto knife blade so it’s really good for getting panel lines and things on models. You can’t even get that G tool into things like under an armpit on a miniature. So I’ve been using the scalpel blade to just go in there and scrape the panel lines. It’s very pointy. I also use it now to pick up things. If I’m picking up pieces of plasticard to put onto a model, you can just stab it with the end of that. So it’s a really good pickup tool as well.

Replacement brushes for rotary tools ($7)
Sadly, many rotary tool, aka Dremel, owners don’t seem to know that when a tool becomes sluggish or stops working, it is likely only worn-out motor brushes. These are easily and cheaply replaced via two screws usually found on the sides of the tool. And if you open those up, you just replace the worn out motor brushes with these carbon brushes and you’re good to go. They literally take seconds to replace.

Also mentioned:

My monthly 2-page tutorials in HackSpace
For people that don’t know, HackSpace is a UK magazine that’s very similar to Make. It comes out monthly. There is a print subscription, but the PDFs are free to download. I do these two page tutorials in that.

How to Be a Better Writer
A piece I wrote on Better Humans collecting many of my tips on writing and editing that I’ve picked up over the years.

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $390 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link: https://paypal.me/cooltools.– MF

Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener



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


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


Hole 2 sharpens the graphite to a point, but does not shave the wood.


You can easily control the sharpness.


When it’s time to resharpen, I try hole 2 first. I can usually get a few sharpenings this way before I go back to hole 1. Because of the way it sharpens, pencils last much longer.

-- Mark Frauenfelder

Kum Two Hole Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener

Available from Amazon

Trauma Shears



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

Sometimes called EMT or Paramedic scissors, they were originally designed for emergency responders to cut through seat belts, zippers, denim and leather. The rounded tip and bent handle made to safely cut along skin also make them useful for cutting along other surfaces without snags or jabs.

They’re somewhat famous for being shown cutting through a penny, which they’ll do without too much trouble. More practically they’ll cut sheet metal, wire, cable, plastic, cardboard, staples, rubber, foam, branches, and small bolts, to name a few. They’re the scissors I reach for when I don’t want to ruin my good scissors, and you’ll find them scattered throughout my workshop. They’re also great for opening plastic clamshell packages and I’ve tied them into bows on presents to help get into gifts.

-- Steve Hoefer

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013]

Trauma Shears

Available from Amazon

What’s in my bag? — Kari Byron



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Kari Byron is best known for her role as a host on Discovery’s flagship show Mythbusters. Since then she has gone on to host and produce shows spanning several networks, from White Rabbit Project on Netflix to Thrill Factor on Travel Channel to Positive Energy on Nat Geo. Her most recent book is Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life’s Toughest Questions.

About the bag
I have been carrying a World War II Swedish gas mask bag for decades. It is tough, the perfect size and has a crossbody strap which makes it convenient.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones
When traveling I always have my posts noise canceling headphones. I have done a lot of experiments traveling with and without them. The noise from the airplane engine and the hum from the air system is exhausting. I am much more rested when I arrive at my destinations if I’ve popped on some quiet headphones. It also cuts down on the awkward conversation of the dude next to me trying to chat me up while I want to sleep.

Antibacterial Wet Wipes ($10/24ct, 5pk)
I don’t think you need to be a germaphobe to understand how disgusting the seats are on airplanes, trains and cars can get. I am on the move a lot and I don’t have time to get sick. I generally give wherever I’m sitting a good disinfecting with WetOnes before I settle in. Have you ever seen someone change their baby’s poopy diaper or put their slarvy feet on the food tray on an airplane? The cleanest place to sit on an airplane is the seat that I just left, it will be fully disinfected for you.

Bandannas are essential for me. They can be used as a headband, a hair tie, a dust mask, a rag, Kleenex, or even just a little pop of color around the neck when I am hosting Crash Test World. They also can be used for sun protection, and impromptu purse and if it’s really hot I soak it in water and wear it around my neck. I bought a rainbow pack off of Amazon for about five dollars. It has been an amazing wardrobe investment.

Skeletool Leatherman ($78)
I like to bring my Skeletool Leatherman wherever I go. This version is very lightweight and slim and fits well in my front pocket. If I have to go through TSA I switch it out for a basic Revlon nail file ($4). I know it is meant for a manicure but I have used it for broken airline seatbelts, loose screws in hotel rooms and once on an inconveniently locked door. It has a lot more utility than you would expect and you can also file your nails.

Note: I also carry a journal a pencil and a reusable straw pretty much everywhere I go.

Silicone Spoon Spatula



I’ve had this spoon spatula ($16) about four years and it’s the single kitchen utensil I use the most.

It’s perfect for mixing brownie batter, stir-frying vegetables, scraping jars, serving food from the pan into bowls, and pretty much anything and everything you can think of. I spread butter, jelly, and peanut butter with this thing. I use it to cut brownies, break apart cooking cauliflower, scoop cookie dough onto pans, scrape cut veggies off the cutting board, and I’ve even flipped pancakes with it (though I recommend the turner for that).

The seamless design is super quick to clean, doesn’t hold food flavors, and it’s never melted or deformed despite years of constant use and abuse (like being left on a cast iron pan of smoking olive oil). It can be cut though, as I found after carelessly stuffing it into my Vitamix!

Avoid using this with sharp blades and it’ll last a lifetime.

I also highly recommend the Silicone 13 Inch Turner as a complement to the spoon spatula, but the spoon spatula is really my go-to tool and rarely leaves the countertop.

-- Ian Hall

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013]

iSi Basics Silicone Spoon Spatula

Available from Amazon