Toolbox: Maker sartorial, part 2

Toolbox: Maker sartorial, part 2

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?

14 thoughts on “Toolbox: Maker sartorial, part 2

  1. cde says:

    Are great. I love the blue ones.
    Only flaw is that the metallic shine on them flake off, so you end up looking like you have glitter on you.

    Additionally, a retractable sharpie marker to pair off with it.

  2. RocketGuy says:

    So far the reining champion in my darwinistic pen excellence deathmatch select-a-tron. (I try various pens I come across and opt for the best one I find).

    It writes reliably and well, never gloppy or smearing. No smears, ever. Writes great in moleskeins.

    I’ve heard teachers like them for the no-smearing part.

  3. Stephen says:

    For everyone who likes the Pilot Varsity, I suggest you take the Next Step Up and try a real fountain pen. My favorite is the Lamy Safari series, which includes the Safari (made of colored ABS plastic), Al-Star (anodized aluminum with ABS grip) and Vista (clear ABS plastic).

    If you’re interested in it, check out . There’s more excellent information there than I could possibly give here.

    1. Simon says:

      I say step up again and go for a Lamy 2000 fountain pen. Lovely pen, very understated.

      I am on my third! First one was lost in a drunken haze (in a taxi probably). The second one broke. The piston filler failed. Since these pens have a lifetime warranty I took it back to the place I got it. No reciept or anything, just the pen. They sent it off to the local suppliers who said they couldn’t fix it so it had to go back to the factory in Germany.

      I guess they couldn’t fix it either since they sent me back a brand new pen at no cost to me. All the way to NZ!

      That’s great service.

  4. codegeek says:

    I found a great murse made by Baggalini. It’s not as sturdy as the one Aaron wears, but it’s got a bunch of pockets and has metal rings to wear it either “portrait” or “landscape”. I haven’t done anything to it yet, but a few of the pockets could use some velcro or a zipper to keep them closed.

  5. Techrat says:

    I have found myself somewhat passionate on the topic of pens and notebooks. I think that my criteria for these items fits “the profile” so I will share it with you all. First the notebook. It is a must for me to always have a notebook on me to capture a great idea. Unfortunately, I am also repulsed by the way most small spiral bound notebooks look after exiting and entering the front pocket on a pair of jeans 20-30 times. I also hate ruffled edges on notebooks that have been around a while. I now have a solution that (in modified form) I cant say enough about: Wellspring Flip Notes This not only addresses the issue with protecting the pages, the pin to hold it closed is actually a pen. Not being satisfied with the extremely low quality pen that comes with the standard flip notes, I have modified the notebook to accept a Fisher Space Pen Bullet Together this is an awesome combination for a take anywhere pen and paper.

    For the “at the desk” writing instrument, I have settled on the Pilot Q7 Retractable. The writing is at the very high end of acceptable but what really sold me is the consistent availability of refills. Nothing irks me more than having a well “worn in” pen that runs out of ink and not being able to get a refill for it. A bit of a quirk but it works for me.

  6. paolo- says:

    No mechanical pencils !? I was sure that was the maker’s standard paper writing tool.

  7. jdkchem says:

    Maxpedition Versipack or Gearslinger.

  8. CameronSS says:

    My favorite pen is the Pilot VBall…not the stupid Grip, not that behemoth they call the RT, the orignial, sleek, beautiful Pilot VBall Extra Fine. Relatively compact, the ink flows at just the right speed, leaves a nice thin line, doesn’t bleed out…and you can’t buy them anywhere. >grumble< Quick note on the Sharpie Pen--they aren't pressure-proof. I got a pack in hopes of it living up to the VBall's glory (not as nice a line, and the ink dries to dark gray, not a deep black). I had one in my pocket one day when I went flying, went up to 3,500ft (airport at 1000ft, 2500ft gain), and went to fill out my logbook to find the seal around the nib had broken and was dripping ink into my pocket. That's probably not a major concern for most people, but if you're a pilot or a mountain climber, it may not be the best choice. I have a Fisher Space Pen now. The thing's rated for 12,500 feet. Doesn't write as nice, but won't crack at altitude.

  9. crushinator says:

    Leaving an extra 2-3 dollars as a tip is hardly worth the hassle of replacing it. Very inconsiderate. Very rude.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I’ve been a big fan of the Zebra pens for a long time. First starting with the F301s and then moving up to the F402 and F701 style. The F402 and F701 both fit better in a pocket in my opinion.

  11. Anon says:

    Actually, it’s interesting that you had the pen fail at seal around the nib. I have had two sharpie pens from seperate packs break at exactly the same point. I’m not particularily hard on my pens, and I definately wasn’t in an environment where the pressure was changing. I think it is just very succeptable to torque at the nib.

    Be warned! They work great but occasionally break if you like to keep pens in your jeans/shirt pocket. To be fair, the other two I keep in the lab have had no problems whatsoever.

  12. Zach C. says:

    As far as pens go, I keep a Pilot G-2 0.7mm gel pen in my pants pocket at all times. I’d like to see refills more available for them, however, and they don’t stand up to heat or sharp altitude changes as well as I’d like. I also keep a Sharpie fine-point marker and a sharpened pencil around just in case; these go in my bag, detailed below.

    I generally carry my Acer netbook with the FreeMind Java mind mapping app for keeping my to-do list and general daily notes; I have a huge To-Do mind map which includes branches for daily and weekly schedules, vehicle maintenance notes, celebrations, appointments, events, shopping lists, medical concerns, housework, and various projects I get ideas for or have started work on. FreeMind has been so useful for me that keeping separate lists for these things is no longer even a thought in my head, as long as I have access to my netbook. If I want to organize a project separately, starting a new mind map is as easy as “two clicks and an idea”, and you can link a node directly to the new map for easy reference from the main page.

    Without a handy computer, however, I often have a pen but no paper; I carry home a lot of notes and writing on restaurant napkins for this reason. I’ve tried pocket-size notebooks, but for whatever reason, they just don’t ‘click’ with me.

    For carrying stuff in general, I use a sturdy school backpack. The ones I choose are water-resistant (in case I’m out in the rain or something gets spilled on it) and made of sturdy canvas with double stitching on the seams (when I can get it). For me, they last between three and six years, now that I’m not slamming really cheap book bags between bus, locker, and classroom floor with a half-dozen hardbacks in them all the time.

    In the secondary pocket of my bag, I have a Mini-Maglite in a belt-loop carry pouch, a detachable bike light that doubles as a general purpose flashlight (it clamps onto any tubelike object, so you could put it on a water pipe while working in the basement, for example), and a strap-on headlamp (with white and red LEDs) for further hands-free action. Aside from flashlights, I also carry a palm-size adjustable wrench and a tire gauge, from the days when I rode a bicycle everywhere; there are times when both have come in handy outside of the cyclist context. I used to carry a small electrician’s screwdriver, but I lost that somewhere when I moved a few years back, and I very rarely had a use for it away from the shop bench.

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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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