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.

In our last Toolbox, we looked at “maker sartorial,” specifically, the clothing that makers wear that is optimized for the “work” they do (be it vocational or avocational). We got input from a bunch of people (mostly men), and it turns out, there’s something of a maker’s uniform, at least among these respondents: a collared, button-up shirt, with at least one pocket, a pair of cargo pants (or other extra-pocketed work pants), and a pair of combat (or other heavy-duty) boot. The main pattern to emerge was the insistence on lots of pockets and the durability of the clothing.

This week, we look at what some of these respondents said about what they carry in all those pockets (and over their shoulders, etc) as part of their most close-up and personal toolkit.

Particular About Pens

No surprisingly, makers are very specific about their writing tools. Here’s what some of them had to say about their pens.


Andrew Q. Righter, of HacDC and TheQLabs: “I, like most of my friends, are very particular about my pens. Lately, I’ve been toting around the amazing Sharpie Pen. It is, by far, one of the best pens I’ve ever used, especially for the money. Oddly enough, I have a bad habit of taking a pen if I see one that I like, especially from public areas. So, the first time I saw the Sharpie Pen was as we were signing our bills for a Famous Dave’s lunch run at work. The waiter obviously had a brand new pack, and at that point, I’d never seen one, so I swiped it and added $2-3 to the tip because I felt bad. Anyhoo, I’ve been using the pen ever since. It writes perfectly in a Moleskine, so they’re essentially the perfect maker/hacker pair.”


Andrew Righter again: “Along with the Sharpie Pen, I’m a big Zebra F-301/302 series fan. These pens are amazing, completely balanced, and the gel ink version (302) just glides across any notebook paper. It’s amazing how we never talk about our stationary obsessions, but anyone I seem to work well with has the same taste in office supplies.”


Jason Schlauch says: “I also have a “thing” for pens. Here are some highlights of what I use:

Sharpie Magnum (for large scale redacting and sign making)
Sharpie “Standard” Fine Point Markers
Sharpie Roller Ball Pen (I have no idea where I got this — it may be re-branded and sold as something else now)
The new Sharpie Pen (very fine point felt tip pen)
Marvy Uchida le Pen (in both black and grey) (ultra-fine 0.3mm felt tip pen, good for Moleskine diagrams).
Sakura Glaze Pen (rollerball that writes with raised ink — sort of a novelty pen)
Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen (which I like save for the fact that the ink isn’t waterproof)
Post-It Flag Marker (a standard felt tip with a page flag dispenser on the end — for flagging and annotating magazines, mostly)
Signo Uni-Ball Pen (general purpose roller ball)
PaperMate Ball Point Pen (because sometimes you just need a pen)”

I have written a number of times about the Varsity Disposable Fountain Pens. They are all I ever use. I have them stationed throughout the house and a box of them always in my stationary supply drawer. I usually have to special order them, or friends now give them to me. They come in multiple colors, but I only use the black ones. They can also be refilled (by carefully pulling out the nib and replacing filling with pen ink).

Notebooks and Paper PDAs

Of course, lots of people told us they carry the so-called Hipster PDAs (a stack of 3x5s with a binder clip) and/or a mini Moleskine. This is what I carry in my breast pocket. I buy the 3-packs of the black-covered, Cahier Moleskines, with blank pages. I’ve tried the graph-paper version, but like the blank version better. I always find a piece of art I like to decorate the covers and glue that on. I now have many old volumes of these notebooks, filled with my ideas and on-the-fly notes. For more longer-form brainstorming, I use my Maker’s Notebook.


Andrew Q. Righter: “I don’t go anywhere without a pocket-sized Moleskine (with graph paper and a black cover). Every time I get a new Moleskine, my girlfriend usually draws a robot and “Q” on the cover of it for me, symbolizing the fresh start of ideas, schematics, waveforms, and future projects (see above).”

You can read more about what makers prefer for writing tools in the Toolbox column I did on Writing/Planning Tools.

Of Backpacks, Purses, and Field Bags


Our very own Becky Stern writes: “For computer and bike stuff I have this messenger bag.”


Becky again: “I have an older version of this bag for toting around town. Since they don’t make ladies’ pants with pockets you can reliably put things into, I just go for a bottomless bag.”


Jason Schlauch writes: “I’m still on a Holy Grail quest to find the perfect man bag. I’ve come one step closer with my recent acquisition of the M-51 Engineer’s Field and Laptop Bag (available from various sellers on Amazon — do a search to find the best deal). It has on the order of two dozen pockets of various sizes that hold and organize my flashlight, multi-tools, cables, business cards, notebooks, pens, iPod, phone, magazines, mail and other actionable documents, contact solution, and my Thinkpad. And I still have a few compartments empty!”

Nathan Hoobler adds: “Seconding the M-51 bag. It’s not quite ideal (it’s missing a few pocket sizes I’d like, and has some I have trouble finding a use for) but it’s pretty darn versatile and wears like a canvas tank. I’ve actually thought about ‘modding’ mine (running headphones/a built-in USB charger/minty boost, etc.) but I’m not sure exactly what I’d want to do.”


MAKE contributor and creator of the LED Light Brick Kit, Alden Hart, says: “Nothing shouts GEEK! like a classic Hartman Zip Top Brief. Designed over 100 years ago with the notebook audience in mind, it accommodates a Macbook 17″, has a pocket that perfectly accommodates an iPhone, and has loops for three of your favorite pens. Best yet, when you zip the top closed, nobody would ever believe you’re carrying a computer in it.”


I’ve carried the Belkin Slingbag for the last couple of years. It costs a mere $49. I got it in 2007, for an online review. I’ve since been to three Maker Faires and half a dozen other trips, including one to Europe, with this handsome black and red sack slung over my shoulder. It’s still in pretty good shape and still serving me well. I’ve heard of at least one fellow geek, Mark Adams (see below), who bought his on my recommendation, has already worn his out, but he does a lot more traveling than I do. I still think, for the money, this is an excellent product.


Mark Adams: “I had the Belkin bag that Gareth had recommended on Street Tech, and I loved it to death. When I replaced it, I did so with the Incase Sling Pack, at a slightly higher price ($89). The Incase has proven to be much studier. I’ve kept using the cool little nylon zippered gadget bag that came with the Belkin to keep my power cables together — too cool.”


Aaron Propst sent us a link to his Flickr set on his “murse” (man purse) and all of its contents.



Several people, including Todd Wiley, of HacDC, mentioned that they carry a stainless steel water bottle around with them. We actually carry a MAKE (aluminum) water bottle in the Maker Shed. Might make a nice holiday gift for the dehydrated DIYers on your gift list.

Katie Dougherty Kunde, our account manager, responded to my query about what you wear or carry with: “Makers Notebook! Duh!!! :)”

Of course, most everyone mentioned carrying some sort of Leatherman tool (or other multitool/pocket knife), whether keychain or full-size, and either a Mini-Maglite or a super-bright LED keychain flashlight. For more on knives, see our Knives Toolbox.

So, what didn’t we cover here that YOU wear? We got some email complaining that we didn’t have enough about what women makers wear and carry. We posted about this column beforehand, to Make: Online, Dorkbot DC, and HacDC. We used what was sent in. So, if there are female makers reading this, what special clothing or carriables do you prefer?