Toolbox: The tools of summer

Toolbox: The tools of summer

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.

As we head down to the tail end of summer, and Labor Day, we figured it might be a good idea to look at some of the tools we use to cook outdoors, to camp, to party on the beach. Here are a few of our faves, with some goodies from the MAKE vaults.


Sweet penny stove

When we put out the call for ideas for this column, a number of people immediately came back with links to the ever-popular “penny stove” or “soda can stove.” People love these little guys. They’re fun and easy to make and super useful. Mark Adams, of HacDC, writes:

My daughter and I are planning our fall camping trip right now, and were testing out our supplies to get ready. Of course, as soon as we saw this email we had to take some pictures of our penny stove in action — any excuse to “test” stuff out… It actually works great, and as you can see, all packs neatly into the cooking pot, along with a potstand made from coat-hangar wire and a simmer ring from some steel duct material we had around. It easily brings a pot of water to a boil in about 6min with a couple ounces of alcohol. All in all a lot of fun and easy to make, too!


Mark and his daughter’s “Penny Stove.” More pics on Flickr.

Instructables has a number of projects for building variations of the penny stove. Here’s one to get you started.

DIY Charcoal Chimney
My pal Jon Singer recommended a charcoal chimney starter as an essential bit o’ summer cooking kit. You can buy one, but you can also make your own. Above is a piece that Becky posted here a couple of years ago. Jon pointed us to this page of tips and other info related to this handy summer tool.

Little Blue Egg — flower-pot grill
Low and slow. In a big flower pot smoker you cooked up yourself.

Combination grill/smoker from steel drum

HOW TO – Revive a near-dead gas grill


PS3 Grill
We couldn’t let a piece that included grills go by without mentioning the PS3 grill. It’s one of our all-time most visited posts on the site. Unfortunately, the site it links to is no longer, but climbing into the Wayback Machine

Self-immolating wood oven
You could just forgo the grill altogether and let the wood do all the work.


We wrote about the SteriPEN years ago. Now it’s in widespread use, a way of nearly always having access to drinkable water, no matter how putrid the source water. Recommended by Andy Walker of HacDC.

[As always, thanks to my HacDC and Dorkbot DC peeps for the Toolbox braintrust.]

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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