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In the Make: Online Toolbox, we focus mainly on tools that fly under the radar of more conventional tool coverage: in-depth tool-making projects, strange or specialty tools unique to a trade or craft that can be useful elsewhere, tools and techniques you may not know about, but once you do, and incorporate them into your workflow, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. And, in the spirit of the times, we pay close attention to tools that you can get on the cheap, make yourself, or refurbish.


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Our fearless editor Gareth has fallen victim to the giant blizzard currently hitting the east coast. The last we heard from him, he was trapped under tons of snow, he’d lost Internet access, he was out of cereal, and manflesh was starting to sound pretty good. So, assuming that Gar may be too busy fighting for survival to write his regular Toolbox post, we’re putting you, the reader, on the job.

What is your favorite tool right now? My new baby is a SOG Specialty Knives B61-N. It’s tough as nails and packs a Colonel Kurtz-esque black oxide finish that makes Leatherman tools tremble.

How about you, readers? Post your favorite tools in comments.

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[I'm back! The net is back online, the power has held, and I haven't had to resort to chewing off my own arm. Yet.

When I think of my favorite tool, besides my trusty Leatherman Wave, a surprising device springs to mind, the Aerolatte. Here's part of my review from Street Tech a few years back. I drink far less coffee now than I did then. Six to eight mugs as big as my head each day? No wonder I had a heart attack! -- Gareth]

The Aerolatte ($14-20) is nothing more than a battery-powered stainless steel mini-whisk. You use it to quickly froth milk for lattes, cappuccinos, milkshakes, frappes, etc. It seemed like nothing more than a fun toy when we played with one at a relative’s house one Christmas. Now that we own one, it’s become a daily-used kitchen tool. I’m finding it has all sorts of side benefits besides just making tastier coffee (it seems to bring out a beanier flavor in the brew).

I’m an unrepentant coffee addict. I drink six to eight jumbo mugs a day. I usually pour probably 2-3 tablespoons-worth of cream or Half n’ Half into each mug. I also use three Equal tablets per mug. In the course of a day, that’s a lot of rich dairy and depression-friendly Aspartame. With the Aerolatte, I’m now using regular milk instead of cream, and I find the coffee tastes sweeter when infused with the frothed milk, so I only use two Equal tabs. Because the milk thickens and froths up to nearly half the volume of the mug (you froth the milk in the cup first, then add the Joe), I’m also drinking less coffee. I still drink six to eight mugs a day, but it probably works out to be as much as one mug less of actual coffee. And I swear that I get a bigger buzz. Maybe it’s just placebo effect, but who cares? Better buzz, less fattening dairy, less coffee, less artificial sweetener, and a richer flavor. It’s also a cheap thrill to whip the bejezuz out of the milk. What’s not to love?

BTW: Ikea sells a knock-off of the AeroLatte for like $2 each. The parts are a lot chintzier, and I don’t know how long the motor will last, but hey, $2!

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I know the tools section on MAKE tends to favor small multi-tools, but lately, I’ve been using the heck out of my small wet-dry vac. Even though I have a larger 6 gallon vacuum, I almost always use this 2 gallon model instead. I got mine on sale for $20 a long time ago and I probably use it every other day. — Tgmake

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Not sure if this is really a tool, but I’m finding that I’ve made use of Gorilla Glue more than I ever thought I would. Elmers makes a variation of the stuff, too, so pick up whatever’s on sale. Never really thought about going to the Gorilla Glue website until I wanted to get a URL for this comment, but I’m glad I did. They have a nice chart that helps you pick the best glue for your situation. — Tgmake

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Leatherman Squirt 94 Make: Warranty Voider I got at Maker Faire. As a stagehand, I have a toolbelt full of tools, and during work, I carry a Leatherman Wave in my pocket and always a Surefire L5 LumaMax, and a few Photon keychain lights. But on my keychain, this is always with me, even when I am not working — the Warranty Voider! — Kent Barnes

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Opinel No. 7 Pocketknife — This simple French folding pocket knife has one blade which is locked with a twist of a metal barrel. It is inexpensive, but the steel of the high-carbon model I have is excellent and can take a wickedly keen edge: great for woodcarving and whittling. — Oceaneer99

[These knives keep showing up on my radar as of late. I first saw one at the last Maker Faire Bay Area, and since then, they've been popping up all over the place as recommended. I'll have to pick one up. -- Gareth]

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Stanley 99 Classic Retractable Utility Knife — I have one of these in each work areas. It’s great for general purpose cutting, and the blades are replaceable if you break or dull them. I like to touch them up with a strop before use to get them really sharp. I use them for everything from cutting picture frame mats to trimming sheetrock to size, and for rough carving of wood projects. It’s also excellent for marking where you want to cut with a crosscut saw. If you follow with an angled cut on the waste side, you make a triangular groove for your saw to ride in, improving accuracy. — Oceaneer99

John Baichtal

My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net


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Comments

  1. Angus says:

    But it’s not gonna save Gar from Snopocalypse !!!

  2. tgmake says:

    I know the tools section on Make: tends to favor small, multi-tools, but lately I’ve been using the heck out of my small wet-dry vac. Even though I have a larger 6 gallon vacuum, I almost always use this 2 gallon model instead:

    http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_00917713000P

    I got mine on sale for $20 a long time ago and I probably use it every other day.

    Not sure if this is really a tool, but I’m also finding that I’ve made use of Gorilla glue more than I ever thought I would.

    http://www.gorillaglue.com/glues/gorillaglue/index.aspx

    Elmers makes a variation of the stuff, too, so pick up whatever is on sale.

    Never really thought about going to the gorilla glue website until I wanted to get a URL for this comment, but I’m glad I did. They have a nice chart that helps you pick the best glue for your situation:

    http://www.gorillaglue.com/glues/glue-guide.aspx

  3. KentKB says:

    Leatherman Squirt 94 Make: Warranty Voider from the Maker Faire.

    As a stagehand I have a tool belt full of tools, and during work I carry a Leatherman Wave in my pocket and always a Surefire L5 LumaMax,and a few Photon keychain lights.
    But on my keychain that is with me always even when I am not working, the Warranty Voider!

  4. trader.name says:

    My brain, which can make a tool out of anything that is available, and which can choose the best tool for any given job. And for everything else, there’s Mastercard.

  5. Oceaneer99 says:

    Opinel No. 7 Pocketknife: This simple French folding pocket knife has one blade which is locked with a twist of a metal barrel. It is inexpensive, but the steel of the high-carbon model I have is excellent and can take a wickedly keen edge: great for woodcarving and whittling.

    Muffin Tin: Yes, I used this surprising kitchen item all the time in the workshop. It’s great for sorting resistors, nuts and bolts from your “bolt bucket”, or for helping to remember which screw goes where when your disassembling something. I number each bin and put the screws and parts from each disassembly step in its corresponding bin. This is a big help when I try to reassemble the device.

    Digital Camera (iPhone works): I take notes when I’m repairing something, but sometimes nothing beats a photo, like when trying to figure out which direction that unpolarized connector should go together. Snap a photo at key stages to help you out.

    Nice set of jeweler’s screwdrivers: It’s hard to find a good set, but you can buy nice individual ones at a place like Sears. There is no substitute for the right size Philips screwdriver when you need to remove that tiny screw that holds something together. The tip of your pocketknife will thank you.

    Desoldering iron: yes, I used to use one of those spring-loaded plunger desoldering tools, but nothing beats a true desoldering iron, with its hot hollow tip. I use this for salvaging parts from broken electronics.

    RJ crimper: I have a nice-quality crimper for crimping the RJ connectors used in phone and network connections. I almost always make custom-length phone cables for connecting my land-line equipment so that I don’t have a big bundle of wire on the kitchen counter.

    Stanley 99 Classic Retractable Utility Knife: I have one of these in each of my work areas. It’s great for general purpose cutting, and the blades are replaceable if you break or dull them. I like to touch them up with a strop before use to get them really sharp. I use them for everything from cutting picture frame mats to trimming sheetrock to size and for rough carving of wooden projects. It’s also excellent for marking where you want to cut with a crosscut saw. If you follow with an angled cut on the waste side, you make a triangular groove for your saw to ride in, improving accuracy.

  6. Gilberti says:

    Several months ago I finally had it with my first soldering pencil, a 25W “wood burner” I bought from Radio Shack many years ago. Bought a Weller WESD51 Soldering Pencil/Station from Amazon and haven’t looked back. My last iron got uncomfortably hot at the handle, but with the Weller, I can, and have, soldered comfortably all day long. Plus the joints I’ve made with it are some of the cleanest I’ve ever made. Easily the best $130 I’ve spent in a long time.

    My other favorite tool is my trusty Buck 110 folding hunting knife, because sometimes a job just needs a big knife. It’s solid, relatively cheap, comes with a lifetime warranty (not that you will need it), and the belt holster means you never have to be without it.

  7. I Heart Robotics says:

    This mini crow bar / chip lifter from Wiha tools is great for taking things apart.

    http://www.iheartrobotics.com/2010/02/cool-tool-precision-crow-bar.html

  8. metis says:

    for a daily carry i’ve switched to a Gerber Crucial multi tool. it’s smaller, and covers the commonly used bits handsomely.

    for work/projects i still rely on my 1st gen gerber scout needle nose multi tool. dropped from 3 stories still snips a coat hanger neatly, and outlasted 3 leatherman tools. the other must have is the Klein 10-in-1 driver.

    the tool i probably use the most is my HTC G1 running CyanogenMod Android. gps, email, unit conversions, looking up MSDS sheets, watching old movies…. an iphone with out DRM, but with keyboard, multitasking, and root. information is a tool just like a hammer, but tends to want a more judicious application, and i like mine with fewer censors.

  9. Conor says:

    I have a Leatherman Skeletool CX that I love to death. It’s the one with the half-serrated blade, which I find to be most useful. I don’t need 72 and 1/2 tools to make it through my day; the thin-jaw pliers, cutters, knife, and basic screwdriver are all I usually need.

  10. johonn says:

    select Leatherman tools are available with black oxide, as well… My favorite tool from that company is the Surge.