Best small flashlight

My friend Rob gave me the ThruNite Archer LED Flashlight ($30) and it is the best small flashlight I’ve ever owned. It throws a bright beam, and because it’s made from aluminum, it feels solid. Importantly, it uses AA batteries instead of less-common batteries often required in bright flashlights. I bought one for my father for Father’s Day because I knew he’d appreciate it. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Maker extreme

I enjoy the way Adam Savage, formerly Mythbuster co-host, builds complicated things. He has a new show, Savage Builds, running on Discovery Channel. In the first episode he made a “real” bullet-proof, flying Ironman suit, which is inspiring. For the next 7 days only, that episode is streaming for free on the internet. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Toolshop tips

I’m enjoying Gareth Branwyn’s new email newsletter, Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales. Each weekly issue has several handy tidbits about interesting tools, novel ways to use tools, and how to maintain your workshop. The latest issue has a tip from Adam Savage on where to store infrequently used tools: “'If I didn’t have it right now, where would I look for it?’ And that’s where he stashes it. He tries to not get clever, not overthink it, but rather, he goes with the first place that pops to mind.” – MF

The Joy of Pressure Washing

I borrowed a friend’s gasoline-powered pressure washer to clean the mossy-covered bricks in my back yard. The machine was noisy and smelly and I had to keep refilling the tank, but I loved the results, so I bought an electric pressure washer (the Sun Joe SPX3200 for $168). It’s superior in every way to the gasoline-powered washer. It’s quiet and goes into idle mode when you release the trigger. It has five different nozzles, including one to spray soap. If you have never seen what a pressure washer can do, this subreddit will make you a true believer. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Renting Tools

Reminder: Your local Home Depot or other big box building store rents an amazing array of tools. Not just carpet shampooers, but carpet dryers, concrete cutting saws, pipe locators, ditch diggers, stump grinders, wallpaper removers, cherry pickers — all kinds of tools you will use only once in your life. Check out their selection. It’s a great way to try out a tool. My rule is if I want to rent a tool a second time, it’s worth buying. Last year I rented an electric power-washer. This year, I bought one. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Best wirestripper

The Vise-Grip self-adjusting wirestripper is the best wirestripper, period. It perfectly strips the insulation off of small wires for electronic projects, or large wires for running power. No muss, no fuss; it just works automatically. This hand tool fits kids, and pros. It’s the one I grab. This is not just my experience, but also the opinion of Donald Bell who tested 10 different wire strippers for Cool Tools. This is the wirestripper you want. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Good cordless driver

I finally upgraded my one-speed cordless driver with a variable speed drill driver ($35). Made by Tacklife it has adjustable torque, and speed is controlled by how much you pull the trigger. A built-in light turns on when you use it. I wish I would have bought this a long time ago. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Plastic razor blades

These look like old fashioned safety razor blades, but they’re made of plastic and you can’t shave with them. You can’t cut paper with them, either. But they excel as scrapers. Put one into the included handle and you can cleanly remove labels and stickers stuck to almost any surface (add a bit of Goo Gone to speed up the process, if you wish). I used one to clean the labels off a cigar box for a project I recently made. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Wide angle LED headlamp

This battery-powered headlamp ($15) has a bunch of LEDs spread across the front so it throws a very wide beam. I used it recently to bring trash cans in at night and it was much better than a flashlight or traditional headlamp because I could see everything in front of me without having to turn my head. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Dual scale tape measures

In my ongoing campaign to make myself literate in metric (used everywhere in the world except the US), as much as possible I try to measure only in metric. I got a Komelon dual scale measuring tape (both metric and inches on one side) and after a month or so, I can think in metric. I really like Komelon measuring tapes because they are inexpensive but high quality. They have four in different sizes in dual scale from 3.5m/12ft for only $5, to a 9m/30ft for $8.50. The 9-meter one is big in the hand but an incredible bargain; however their 5-meter is probably a good size for general use. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Best Maker YouTube Channels

Most of my discretionary media time is spent watching YouTube. I derive immense pleasure in finding out how things work and how to make and repair things. Over several years of watching all kinds of video, lousy and great, I’ve collected a bunch of channels for dependable high-quality content. In a long post on our blog Cool Tools, I review the top 30 YouTube informational channels that I subscribe to. (#1 on my list is Cody’s Lab.) — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Cheap new tools

It is easy to mock the importer Harbor Freight for their insanely cheap Chinese-made tools, but in fact I’ve had great success with the tools I’ve bought from them. I may only use them a few times a year, and for that frequency their quality is more than sufficient, and their self-proclaimed “ridiculously low prices” are in fact a tremendous bargain. Over the years I’ve bought a welder, a larger sanding wheel, a buffer, and recently a new compound miter saw for less than $100. – KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Freeze dried taxidermy

Occasionally a small bird strikes one of our windows and dies. Rather than bury it, I freeze dry it. I insert the whole bird into a baggie with a pack of desiccant to keep it dry. The desiccant gel slowly absorbs the moisture in the bird even after it freezes. After a year it is fully dried, and can be kept on a shelf or display indefinitely with all its feathers. This works on birds the size of a sparrow or smaller.  — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Watch this guy put things back together

My sister texted me and told me to watch the YouTube series called The Reassembler. I was 7 minutes into an episode when I texted her back: “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on YouTube.” I don’t even think I was exaggerating. Each episode starts off with host James May in a workshop, standing over components of something that has been taken apart (like a lawnmower, an electric guitar, or a model train set). He then puts it back together, narrating as he does so. As he says in the introduction, “it is only when these objects are laid out in hundreds of bits and then slowly reassembled that you can truly understand and appreciate how they work and just how ingenious they are.” — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson