Category Archives: tools

Write it down

Getting ideas out of your head and onto paper is a good thing to do.

cool esThere’re a couple of reasons for doing it. One is about timing. You always think you’ll remember an idea that pops up, but mostly you’ll forget it as another idea displaces it. It’s often a matter of seconds before an idea dissipates, so jotting down an idea before it fades away helps you outsmart yourself.

The next reason for getting an idea onto paper, is that it frees your mind and your memory for tackling other thoughts.

Why keep trying to remember stuff that’s more easily remembered in ink or electronically? An idea you’ve written down won’t fade or distort like ideas can do when they’re just kept in your memory.

Using a pen and paper is always handy. There’re also a couple of convenient ways to do this on your computer. You can use your email account or blog as a place to put your ideas, park them in the draft folder and come back later. I also use a clipboard extender program called Jumpcut to cut and save lots of clippings from the computer instead of only one cut and paste operation at a time. It’s super easy to get and use. And it’s free.

But acting quickly is the hardest part of this, although the reality of writing down an idea is easy when you do get in the habit of doing it.




What’s used most often?

If you’re a regular guy, not making your living using tools, which tools are essential or used most often?

I have 40 or so tools, including sets (like a ratchet set). Since most things follow the 80/20 principle, which ones are the 20%, or 8 tools, that I use 80% of the time?

I haven’t kept notes on this, but here’s what I think I use most often, from top to bottom in the photo.

1) My Stanley narrow, snap blade, utility knife gets used the most, cutting heavy fabric, rope, green branches, sharpening a pencil, scraping stuff, and cutting anything I don’t want to cut with a nicer knife. I’ve heard these have replaced pocket knives for some tool heads because they’re always sharp, light, easy-to-use, and cheap to replace.

2) Next, I’m always measuring stuff, so my Stanley 16 foot tape gets a workout.

3) My favorite tool of all is a pair of Channellock 8″ linesmen pliers. They hold on tight, cut through thick wires, and will hammer something if called upon to do so. These are tough, I found them on the street about ten years ago so I don’t know how old they are but they show no sign of giving up.

4) A #3 Phillips head screwdriver. The majority of screw heads I run across are handled by this screwdriver.

5) An old paint scraper that gets used for scraping, lifting, and light prying along with scraping paint, which is common in the tropics.

6) An 8″ adjustable wrench that works occasionally on bikes or plumbing.

7) An old ice pick. This thing marks, probes, makes holes, and can chip ice too.

8) A standard flat blade screwdriver that’s in semi retirement, see item 4 above.

Pretty basic. Actually the first four tools on my list see the most action.

None of these tools are fancy or expensive, the priciest one is linesmen pliers. If you think about which tools you use most often, I wonder if they’d be as basic as the ones I use the most?

Cool Tools

I was a big fan of the now defunct “Whole Earth Catalog” (WEC) and wrote about it here in January.

The WEC was a very large “coffee table book” size paperback printed on coarse, unbleached paper. There were tools, resources for independent study, and things that weren’t already common knowledge. If something was inexpensive, or high quality, and was readily available by mail, then there was a good chance it would show up in the WEC.  Also accompanying each item were excerpts from submitters, staff reviewers and if it was a book, quotes.

A sort of WEC is on the web it’s called “Cool Tools.” I look at it a lot but didn’t think about its similarity to the WEC when I wrote my post in January.  “Cool Tools” is one section of Kevin Kelly‘s site. He was involved for a time with the WEC as the editor, so it all kinda makes sense.

There’s a daily post of a cool tool that’s been submitted by readers. Depending on your interests, the posting might be galvanizing or a yawn but they’re usually at least interesting. The categories span “general purpose tools” to “big ideas.” For example, on different days you could find a recommendation for a small pry bar or a cool espresso maker or the best rechargeable batteries.

I’ve been a fan of Cool Tools for years and I think if you were a fan of the WEC you’ll like it too.

What are the Kitchen Essentials?

What do you absolutely need to have in a kitchen? What are the cooking tools you use daily?

My girlfriend is a very good cook who enjoys cooking. So she cooks great dinners every night, I’m very fortunate. I still cook during the day but the dishes are mundane. Between what I use for cooking and what I see that she’s used as I’m cleaning up, I’ve come up with a list of what we commonly use in our kitchen. This is our personal tool box:

An 8″ chef’s knife. It’s made by Global and we’ve had it for 5 years. In a supporting  role is a steel for maintaining the knife’s edge. The steel is old and I don’t know the brand but I use it every couple of days to maintain the knife’s sharp edge. We also wash the knife after using it and store it in a slot between cabinets to protect it. This seems to work; we’ve never sharpened it and it’s still wickedly sharp. And this 8″ chef’s knife is really the only knife either one of us uses for cooking.

12″ and 8″ Teflon saute pans. These guys get used so much that they’re replaced every year or so. The brand doesn’t seem to matter, they still wear out.

A bamboo spatula. We’ve had it forever. It’s what we use in the pans and for most stirring and severing too.

10″ Tongs. They’re as useful and used as often as the spatula. Ours has a built-in locking mechanism to keep them closed when they’re in the drawer.

Lemon squeezer. Very common in Mexico and it gets used a lot by us, mostly for limes which seem to get used in many dishes.

Large and medium size Pyrex mixing bowls. We use them for…mixing, and sometimes serving too.

14″ and  8″ cutting boards. For the last three years we’ve used boards by Epicurean. They’re thin manmade wood based cutting boards that are eco-friendly as well as knife edge friendly, you don’t want too hard a cutting board.

Scissors. Medium duty and sharp, they’re probably why we get along so well with just one knife.

Wine opener. A double hinged waiter’s friend type. No reason to use any other type, having been a waiter for many years I’ve used these to open hundreds of wine bottles, ‘nuf said.

Pepper grinder. Fresh ground pepper is good and we use it in almost every dish. We’re happy with an 8″ model by Peugeot that sports an all steel grinder, if you flip it, it’s like looking at the scary beak you see after you turn an octopus upside down.

Food storage. This system works really well. There are three different heights of plastic storage containers, they can nest into one another when they’re not being used and (that’s not all!) they all use the same size screw-on top. Very tidy, convenient, and easy. We turn away any other storage vessels approaching our shoreline, that’s how beloved the system is. Freedom from Tupperware chaos.

Appliances we use all the time are: a gas stove, microwave, blender, Cuisinart food processor, and once a week, every week, I use a Toddy cold drip coffee maker to make coffee for the week. We’re starting to use a Crockpot more and more.

The dishwasher is about 5’9″ and tips the scales at 70 kilos (about 155 lbs) and runs on meat and vegetables.

The PaperNet

With the new year I started thinking about influences on my life. Here’s one of them.

B.F. Skinner once said “education is what remains after what you’ve learned has been forgotten.” This is an homage to the “The Whole Earth Catalog” (WEC) because exploring the world of ideas both big and small in the WEC was a huge part of my education.

When I was a young teen I stumbled across the WEC and it became my portal to a parallel universe. I grew up in a somewhat restrictive environment in the deep South. If you accepted and followed the status quo things were easy, if not, there weren’t alternatives that were presented or encouraged. At that time the WEC presented so many different ideas and access to those ideas that for me it was incredible. It was a paper version of the internet.

The WEC was a very large format paperback printed on coarse, unbleached paper which added to the experience of immersion into a big world of possibilities. There were tools, resources for independent study, and things that weren’t already common knowledge. If something was inexpensive, or high quality, and was readily available by mail, then there was a good chance it would show up in the WEC. It really was an immersive experience for me. You could follow threads of related information all over the catalog, for example hopping  from house design to info on owner built houses to the best tools to use and why they were preferred. Also accompanying each item were excerpts from submitters, staff reviewers and if it was a book, quotes. Plus the WEC was a book about other people doing other things.

From the first edition in 1968 to last incarnation of the Whole Earth Quarterly in 1998 updated editions came out every couple of years with more ideas and information. Now with the instant availability of info and links on the internet it’s hard to recall what a breath of fresh air the WEC was. Just looking through it you were sure to be waylaid by something new to investigate.

Of course with the internet there’s no real place for the WEC anymore. It almost seems quaint now up against the internet, the way a Farmer’s Almanac compares to the weather report on TV. But before there was an internet the WEC was where I was educated.

A Manly Thing

An axe is a manly thing.

Axes have been used by homesteaders, loggers, folks living with fireplaces or wood burning stoves, and even executioners. The axe has been around for a long time, starting with our early ancestors chipping pieces of flint and fastening an axe head onto a sturdy stick.

Now guess what? There’s a more recent trend of selling axes to (usually, it seems) urban hipsters. I’d kind of noticed the trend on the internet awhile back out of the corner of my eye and was transported back in time. I felt like I did when I was eleven and saw an ad in the back of Esquire magazine for latex dresses. I wondered, “Umm that’s weird… I think… oh, I don’t know what I’m looking at or why someone wants to buy those.” I turned the page. Years later, I realized there were fetishes and latex clothing is one of those, I didn’t really get the “why” of latex, but I could see there’s a market for those people in need.

Several months ago, I was in New York City on vacation and came across a surf shop in SoHo. Being a surfer I went in to see what the big city guys surfed on. I knew there was surfing to be  had around New York City on occasion. There’s sometimes surf out at Far Rockaway near Coney Island and at Montauk on the tip of Long Island.

What I saw in the shop were some nice surfboards with strong nostalgic designs. And the prices were surprisingly good too.

I went a bit deeper into the surf shop and there they were: a whole rack of axes! They were colorfully painted and expensive.

Axes in a surf shop who’d have thunk? So now they were definitely on my radar. Sort of the latex dresses of the tool world. As I’ve said before, I’m always fascinated by subcultures. What was this about? And how did it start?

Here’s something similar. Several years ago big city hipsters started riding fixies (track bikes without brakes). Fixies have been ridden by bike messengers for years and so that type of bike was part of the big city environment. Fixes have street cred. But it’s hard for me to get a handle on the big city genesis of an ax fad.

I recently wrote about people striving for a minimal list of 100 or less personal items in A Jockstrap And A Bowie Knife. Someone with a designer axe probably is not a minimalist. Not that minimalism is the standard, but this represents a step in the other direction, towards extravagance. Fetishizing an actual tool.

I’m still not sure how the hipster axe trend began. They’re available at Best Made Company if you’re keen to check them out. Their site is where the photo above comes from. There’s even an elaborate sling for carrying an axe around on your back, if you’re so inclined.

Why this started is a guess too. Is this an overcompensation for some one who lives in a large city and is removed from a rural existence that’s out of reach? I don’t know. Could be that an outlier on the coolness spectrum bought one. And then since an axe is an unusual thing to own in a city and scarce, axes became cool.

Maybe in the ensuing years it’ll become more apparent to me, like the latex folks’ kink. Or maybe you’ll be able to buy a $200 axe at an aging hipster’s garage sale for under $5.

Useful Exercise

This is my first post about exercise. I’m only going to be presenting exercises I do and have found to be worthwhile.

But here’s the thing – the best exercise is, really, the one you like to do and that you’ll do (consistently). I’m starting out with an exercise that I think is useful and fun.

OK, there’re people exclusively doing  just this exercise and getting good results. I like it because it’s easy, quick, cheap, and leaves you prepared for real world activities like shoveling your driveway. All you really need is a sledgehammer. That’s right, a sledgehammer.

If you don’t have one, you can buy one easily enough. Better, borrow one from a neighbor who has lots of tools. A sledgehammer is a tool most people don’t use very often and so your neighbor probably won’t mind lending it to you to try this out.

Commonly, sledgehammers have heads ranging from eight to twelve pounds. Err on the light side. Eight or ten pounds is plenty. The ten pounder I use is pictured above. I painted bands on the handle so I could easily put my hands in the same position when switching sides.

Before I get to the particulars, I want to say I also like the way sledgehammers look and since they stand on their head with the handle up – they have a small footprint. So, in your office, spare bedroom, or garage it can be set in the corner when not in use; it looks cool and is easy to grab for a little workout. Of course it easily lives in a closet too.

The site shovelglove is the site I credit with putting me onto using a sledgehammer for exercise. Shovelglove’s Reinhard Engels says the genesis of using a sledgehammer workout began with this memory: “I remembered reading something in some French novel about coal shovelers having the best abdominal muscles of anyone the author had ever seen.”

His workouts consist of a 14 minute (timed) session Monday through Friday during which he uses his sledgehammer to mimic shoveling, paddling, hammering, and butter churning motions to name a few. You can make up your own motions. Do it on both right and left sides. And you’re done in less than 15 minutes which he sees as the shortest normally scheduled chunk of time. Checkout the shovelglove site to see videos.

You can listen to music, watch TV, wear whatever you like, and you’re done in a short time.

I use the sledgehammer this way too. But I enjoy other types of exercise (Engels doesn’t) so to be transparent, I want to say I use a sledgehammer workout to augment other exercises. For me, it’s part of a mix. But I think as a stand alone routine it’s great.

You might ask, what about actually beating on things with a sledgehammer, that’d be fun? You can and people do. Get an old tire and get medieval on it. But you’re going to need more room, have to do it outside and since it’s a faster motion you run a risk of injury.

And soon when the time arises that you need to shovel your driveway or drive a stake into the ground for the big top you’ll be ready.

My Latest Time Sink

My latest time sink is a site called EDC. That stands for “everyday carry.” The site is a Tumblr style blog of photos and comments on what people carry around in their pockets. The photo above, which I put together, shows what the EDC posts generally look like. I don’t carry all that crap around but if you’re to believe EDC, some people do tote around lots of things in their pockets. I’m not sure why but I think you’ll get sucked in, voyeuristically viewing similar yet different collections of gear sent in by who knows who.

There’s a not too subtle butch overtone to the items depicted. My guess from looking at the gear displayed, is that it’s mainly a dude thing. As one commenter on the site said    “… it seems like every other contributor is a sneak-attack-ninja-catburglar.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. But I’m drawn in anyway and maybe it’s because of that element, I can’t tell.

There’s a reoccurring pattern to most of the photos – usually at least one knife, a wallet, keys of some sort, a cell phone, a wrist watch and a flashlight. Sometimes there are shockingly large knives. Judging the owners based on the photos they send in, I wouldn’t think they’d be the type to use a man-bag but I can’t imagine how else they’d move through daily life with the arsenals on display in the pictures.

I’m always fascinated by subcultures and within this one there are sub-subcultures to be found and explored. One of those seems to be an obsession with small LED flashlights bordering on fetishism. These flashlights are anodized (usually black), beautifully machined,  powerful little masterpieces. They cost between $50 and $200. But really, wouldn’t a headlight be better, leaving both hands free to engage in your “sneak-attack-ninja-catburglar” thing? To be fair, I do remember one submission that was practical showing just a knife, wristwatch, and headlight (with a night vision saving red lens!). He struck me as the real deal.

I’m not sure what it is, but my guess is the feature photo of  the EDC site is a picture looking into the reflector cone of a flashlight.

There’s also a sub-subculture revolving around pens. And of course there’s the focus on (usually folding) knives for everyday carry. Some of these “pocketknives” are so expensive it’s hard to imagine the owner using his damascus steel blade to pry out a box staple or slice into a UPS overnight envelope containing the latest mini-flashlight model. It’s a little like saying “I’m taking the Lamborgini over to pick up the kids from school.”

It turns out there are other sites covering more or less the same genre. There’s something for everybody on the internet. I prefer this one, maybe only because it’s the first one I stumbled across.

I’ve always said “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” If you’re interested, visit but be prepared to waste some time.