A Good Thing In a Small Package
Companies send us all sorts of tools and gadgets to review; my office is full of them (no, I'm not complaining). When the Screwpop Company sent me its key chain utility knife, I was intrigued but not excited. I stuck it to my metal desk intending to give it more consideration at a later date. Since then, I've used it almost daily to open letters, dog treat packages for Roxy (she comes to work with me every day) and, ironically, packages containing other products for review.
The genius is in its size and simplicity; it's not much bigger than a standard utility blade. I'm going to buy a few more to keep with my bicycle, ATV, tackle box and camping bin. The Screwpop Utility Knife 2.0 is available for about $8 at screwpoptool.com and other online retailers.
Mark Petersen, Associate Editor
Nifty Blade Height
I've always relied on small blocks of wood to set the cutting depth on my table saw blade. Even though I labeled each block, they would inevitably get knocked onto the floor and swept into the trash, and I'd have to make another one.
I no longer have that problem because I picked up a set of Mag Shims from FastCap. Mag Shims are 1/8-in. magnetic spacers. If you need a blade height of 7/8 in., simply stack seven spacers, and raise the blade to match. They also work great for setting the depth on router bits and drill presses. I stick them right to the backside of my fence, so they're always at hand and never get lost. A pack of eight 1/8-in. spacers and two 1/16-in. spacers costs $25. Buy a set at fastcap.com.
Mark Petersen, Contributing Editor
Cut the Cord clutter
It seems like everything I buy these days has a cord. My desk, car and toolboxes are full of them. Sure, some products say they're cordless, but that just means until the batteries run out and they need to be charged ? with a cord! I've tried a few cord management methods, but Nite Ize Gear Tie Cordable Twist Ties are my favorite so far. They're little rubberized cables that hold their shape when wrapped around cords. They have a stretchy loop on one end that fits over a USB plug, which keeps the tie attached so it doesn't get lost. My cord conundrum has officially been solved. The ties are available online and at home centers. I got a four-pack of 6-in. ties for $8. But other lengths are available.
Vern Johnson, Art Director
Long power strips are a great invention, but some electrical plugs are such space hogs that you can't use all the available outlets. And what about your phone, tablet and other USB devices?
The E-More Cube has four three-prong power outlets as well as two USB charging ports. The outlets are configured so there's no competition for charging space. The Cube is power-surge protected and takes up less space than a strip on a workshop or countertop. Plus, it looks cool! You can get one for about $23 at many online retail sites?just search for 'power cube.'
Marcia Roepke, Art Director
The Mitt That Can Conquer the Cold
I was never that fussy about gloves or mittens until I bought these pigskin mittens at my local hardware store a couple years back. These mittens are great! Not only do they fit somewhat like a glove, but they are comfortable, tough, water resistant and, best yet, warm. The inside of the mittens pairs up the index and middle finger and gives the ring and pinkie their own compartment. You can pick up lumber and actually carry bigger tools to the job site with some dexterity. You're not going to be picking up dimes or nickels off the sidewalk, but that's not a job for mittens anyway. They're so good that they usually sell out before the season ends, so order early. Find the Kinco Lined Pigskin Mitt at gearx.com.
A Wire Stripper and So Much More
This smart little tool does a lot?it works as a wire stripper, sheathing cutter, wire bender, measuring gauge and a wire nut wrench. But what it really excels at is stripping sheathing from nonmetallic cable (Romex). The little tooth inside slices through the sheathing as you slide the cable through. The tooth won't damage the individual wires, and because it's inside the tool, it won't slice your fingers like a utility blade could. Buy an Ideal Lil' Ripper Stripper online or at home centers for about $6.
A Better Work Light
You've probably used halogen work lights. And you've also probably burned your fingers on them, cussed the fragile bulbs and sweated from the heat they generated. Now there's an alternative.
The Husky Portable LED Work Light is cool to the touch, can take abuse, won't heat up a tight work space and costs only $35 at The Home Depot. I've been using it for various small projects, and I love it. Especially the fact that I can knock it around a bit. And since it's got an LED, its power use is minimal.
All that is great. But one thing you need to know: It can't match the brightness of your typical halogen work light. A traditional halogen work light might produce 8,000 lumens, 10 times the output of this light. But for small jobs or tight spaces, it's just the ticket.
LED Vacuum Nozzle
Seems like every tool on the shelf has a built-in LED. Some are pretty handy, others not so much. Here's one that works for me?a lighted nozzle for a wet/dry vac. My car has a whole bunch of dark nooks and crannies. With the Ridgid LED Lighted Car Nozzle,, I can see exactly what I'm doing (and how much of a slob I really am!). This lighted nozzle comes in 2-1/2-in. and 1-7/8-in. sizes. The light will shine for about 13 hours on the two coin-style batteries. The larger one costs $12 at The Home Depot.
A magnetized screwdriver or driver bit makes starting screws a lot easier. It's like having an extra hand to hold the screw. I like to magnetize my screwdriver when I'm working with tiny screws that are nearly impossible to find if I drop them (been there?). You can use a magnetic bit holder in most cases, but not in tight quarters. Instead, you can just magnetize the bit. I've even magnetized tweezers to help pick up tiny parts.
Magnetizers like the one shown above are a cinch to use: Just slide the tool into the hole, rub it back and forth, and it's magnetized. You can also demagnetize. Made by a variety of manufacturers, this handy tool is available for about $5 at home centers and online.
To Build a Cabin
If you've ever dreamed of building your own cabin, you should read Cabin Lessons: A Nail-by-Nail Tale. It's written by our very own Contributing Editor Spike Carlsen. He and his wife, Kat, found a challenging but beautiful piece of land on Lake Superior and built their dream cabin on it together. Cabin Lessons recounts their entertaining and instructive story of building together, with plenty of lessons for a would-be cabin or house builder. It's also a meditation by a kind, modest and genuinely funny guy on building a marriage, a blended family and a life. You'll be grinning. Guaranteed. Get yourself (or someone you love) a copy at bookstores or online. It's from Storey Publishing and it'll run you about $15 at major booksellers.
Hands-Free Tablets and Phones
Here's a simple gadget that makes it easier to entertain your backseat passengers. The GoGear Automotive Universal Tablet Holder straps onto the back of a headrest and uses rubberized elastic cords to keep a firm grip on tablets and phones. Now you can let your kids watch a movie on your iPad or phone without having to worry about them trashing it. At The Home Depot, the GoGear Automotive Universal Tablet Holder is $16.
One Tough Marker
As a siding contractor, I carried a permanent marker in my pouch at all times. I used it to mark stud locations, keep track of measurements and scribe the cutting lines on the siding. I bought them by the dozen because it only took a week or so for the tips to wear out. Now Sharpie makes a marker for pros that lasts 50 percent longer than before on abrasive surfaces. It also works better on wet and oily surfaces. Get the Sharpie Professional for $2 at The Home Depot.
Mark Petersen, Associate Editor
Protective headphones equipped with a radio have been around for a while. Some models offer an auxiliary jack so you can plug in your phone or MP3 player, but good luck keeping that irritating cord plugged in for more than five minutes at a time.
ION has solved that little problem with its Tough Sounds Hearing Protection Headphones with Bluetooth & Radio. Now, while mowing the lawn or running a chain saw, you can tap into your Bluetooth-equipped device and listen to your own tunes or a podcast. These headphones have a built-in rechargeable battery that lasts up to 20 hours per charge.
Sure, a funnel works great at keeping fluids from spilling all over, but when you're done pouring and pull it out of the hole, the fluid leftover in the funnel drips all over the place. I use this Hopkins FloTool On-Off Refill Spout (No. 10101) to keep that from happening. I have one on my windshield washer fluid and antifreeze containers and one on my gallon jug of chain saw bar oil. There's no mess and no cap to fumble around with?just twist and pour.
Hopkins FloTool also makes a Spill Saver Oil Spout (No. 10107) that fits quarts of oil. I'm not sure I know where my funnels are anymore.
Mark Petersen, Associate Editor
I have two sets of chargers for all my electronics and always keep one set at work. That way I don't have to climb under my desk to unplug a cord when I want to go mobile. I just discovered this Sugru product, which works great for securing my collection of cords so they don't fall on the floor every time I take home my laptop or tablet. It can also be used to repair frayed cords, or add protective bumpers to a phone or camera.
Sugru feels like Play-Doh when first removed from the package but cures into a silicone rubber that adheres to a variety of surfaces. A three-pack will cost you about $12 at home centers and some discount stores. Find out about more uses for Sugru at sugru.com.
Vern Johnson, Art Director
Shim In a Bag
We've had a few of these Winbags kicking around the office for a while now, and even though they're designed as temporary shims for window installers, we've used them for all sorts of other jobs. I brought one home to raise my heavy truck tires a bit, which made it easier to align the lug nuts with the rims while rotating tires. Our set builder used one to shim under a door during installation. Another editor grabbed one to assist in leveling a washing machine. Only one guy in the office thought they were silly. Needless to say, he didn't get one (and I think he secretly regrets it). A Winbag can lift 220 lbs.! They cost $20 apiece online and at Home Depot.
Mark Petersen, Associate Editor
If you spend a lot of time working and playing outdoors in the winter, good gloves are a must. These Kinco insulated work gloves really stand up to the test. Even sled-dog mushers swear by them. The pigskin palms are very tough and don't get stiff after they've been wet. The insulated lining works surprisingly well, and the cloth back lets your hands breathe. They're available with safety cuffs (easier to slide on) or elastic cuffs (keeps snow out better). Best of all, they're only about $18 a pair. Buy a pair of Kinco gloves online.
Electrical tape will always be useful for certain applications, but for a strong, flexible, watertight connection that won't ever unravel, you can't beat liquid tape. We used it a few months ago to fix a bunch of frayed electrical cords in our shop, and so far it's held up great. It's also perfect for protecting wires on motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, cars, trucks and trailers, or any connection that's subjected to vibration or exposed to the outdoors.
You'll need to apply a few coats of liquid tape to get a good, thick layer (five minutes between coats), and it's a little messy to work with, so plan on a few drips. The product shown here is made by Gardner Bender and is available in black, red, green and white. You'll find it for $7 in the electrical department at home centers.
Josh Risberg, Set Builder
Cramped Quarters? No Problem!
I have to admit that when it comes to swinging a hammer, I'm a bit out of practice these days. With air nail guns designed for every task, my hammer gets very little use. And since buying a Porter Cable Mini Impact Palm Nailer (model No. PN350), I use my hammer even less.
This air nailer is small enough to fit into my nail apron and powerful enough to drive an 8d sinker nail in less than two seconds. The compact design gets it into corners and spaces where my gun nailer or hammer can't go. It's available at The Home Depot
David Radtke, Contributing Editor