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42 in. Off-Road Farm Jack

22 May, by mark[ —]

Homesteading involves lots of pulling, prying, yanking, and tugging on things — everything from ripping out stumps, moving structures, to dismantling fences. Mechanical advantage is a must. There are a lot of tools out there that can give you the needed leverage, but one of the humblest and most versatile is the farm jack. The farm jack is a lot like any other jack you might have used, reduced to its simplest form. The entire thing has about seven parts, and it works with a simple spring loaded ratchet-and-pawl system that is nearly indestructible. I’ve had the Pittsburgh farm jack for a year and I’ve used it for a variety of tasks that would otherwise have been either a big nuisance or just plain impossible, including moving a 400-pound chicken coop, pulling stubborn U-posts out of the ground, and lifting equipment into an elevated position for repair. This jack is rated to 3.5 tons and has a maximum lift of 42 inches. The base has bolt holes in case you want to mount it to a board for better weight distribution, and the jack prong is just the right size to hook under a 2×4 to prevent marring whatever you are jacking up. You’ll also often see farm jacks strapped to the hoods of Jeeps among those who go off-roading — if your vehicle flips, it’s useful to have something available to help flip it back. As a testament to the value of this particular jack, it’s one of the few pieces of equipment at Harbor Freight that almost never goes on sale — but with a 20-percent coupon you can get it for under $50.

Midland ER310 Emergency Radio

22 May, by mark[ —]

I picked this up for around $60 on Amazon. I never thought I’d pay that much for a radio, but I’ll show you why I did, and if you want for yourself, the Amazon link in the description helps support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

Chalk it up to paranoia or the fact that I live in earthquake country, but I’ve recently been bolstering my emergency supplies. Browsing through an emergency prep guide on The Wirecutter, I came across this radio as a clear, standout pick, and something I didn’t have anything like.

What you get is this relatively light, plastic brick with a ton of features, all of which can be run from an included rechargeable battery that you can recharge from the sun using the built-in solar panel, or by cranking it, or with a USB charging input. AA batteries can also be used as an alternative. The rechargeable battery is rated at 32 hours.

For features, you get an AM/FM radio, plus a National Weather Service radio band that can tell you about current and upcoming weather conditions. With that, you also get a weather alarm you can turn on that’s tied to the weather service. So if a weather alert goes out, this thing sounds an alarm.

There’s a nice, sturdy antenna here that gets good reception. I also like that there’s a bright Cree brand LED flashlight on one side, which is also powered by the rechargeable battery. It has two brightness settings and an SOS flash mode.

Below that there’s this ultrasonic dog whistle, which you activate with a long press of the flashlight button. You can’t hear it, but if it works, it’s supposed to help rescue teams locate you.

Finally, on the other side you also have a USB output so you can use the radio’s battery to recharge other things, like your phone. There’s also a headphone output if you want to be able to listen to the radio without bothering anyone else.

All-in-all, it feels like a well-constructed, well thought out device. I keep mine set up in the window so it stays charged. And, I sleep better knowing that I have it. For me that’s $60 well spent.

Oyster Mushroom Growing Kit

22 May, by mark[ —]

Over a year ago, I received a mushroom-growing kit as a gift. Since I often find that novelties like this can require time and attention to detail that I didn’t have, I kept putting it off until finally last week I decided enough was enough. The thing was causing unnecessary clutter in my life, so I thought I’ll just throw it out. But before tossing it, why not at least open it up and see what happens.

The kit is a cream-colored log-shaped object encased in a plastic bag. The instructions say it needs an environment where the temperature varies by about ten degrees through the course of a day, and it must be not be in direct sunlight. Springtime in the Northwest certainly meets that requirement, so I cut off the top of the plastic wrapping with a scissors, hand-sprinkled a little water on it, and set it outside under our front doorstep. That’s it.

I forgot about it until a week later my son happened to be under the steps again and noticed that the thing was covered in mushrooms! The mushrooms share a single root, so I simply grabbed the base and pulled out the entire flush, and then separated them into smaller strips. A little olive oil, pinch of salt, a couple teaspoons of sugar and soy sauce and five minutes later we were eating enough mushrooms for our family of four. I can’t believe how easy this was. The instructions say that I’ll get multiple flushes if I continue to feed the log. I haven’t tried that yet, but even if I don’t, that one single meal was maybe a pound of fresh, organic mushrooms that at a farmers market probably would have cost me close to the $16 price of the kit itself.

Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs

21 May, by cc[ —]

As a former cook in four restaurants, I’ve found these simple tongs to be an indispensable utensil day in and day out. Stirring, cooking and tossing pasta, flipping steaks, and grabbing anything hot including pans. They become an extension of your hands. I continue to use them in my own kitchen. I often see a lot of inferior, cheap and just plain useless tongs included with BBQ sets. They are usually too long or poorly designed to be effective. Get these: Williams-Sonoma Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs, or a pair of OXO Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs.

— Alan Hachey

I learned how indispensable a decent pair of tongs can be around the campfire while working as a river and ocean kayak guide. We cooked as much of the meals as possible on a grill over the fire to conserve fuel on multi-day trips. I still cook this way whenever possible and use these OXO Stainless Steel Locking Tongs to not only move food around on the grill, but also to move hot coals or briquettes! These tongs lock closed for easy storage and have a ‘hook hole’ for hanging up. The non-slip rubber grip has held up for years in the dishwasher. Available in 9-inch, 12-inch, and 16-inch models. For obvious reasons, I would suggest the 16-inch ones for outdoor cooking. Buy one of these for that unfortunate soul still using — gasp! — a fork at the barbecue.

— Lewis Duffy

[Readers Adam Fields and Lisa Williams also recommend the OXO Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs. These sport handy rubber grips, lock closed for storage, and are the ideal surrogate hands in the kitchen. It's the pair we have. -- KK]

Chrome tips/Favorite coffee maker/Repair holes in shirts

20 May, by cc[ —]

Chrome tips
Title of this article says it all: 27 useful things you didn’t know the Chrome browser could do. Pretty neat. — KK

My favorite coffee maker
I drink coffee every day, and I use the Bialetti 6-Cup Espresso Coffee Maker($40) more often than any of my other coffee making machines (I have a few). I fill the lower chamber with water, add ground coffee in the funnel, screw on the top, and put it on the stovetop. In about three minutes I pour a cup of strong, delicious coffee. — MF

Fix holes in shirts
This hack for repairing holes in shirts worked! I have a few shirts that fit really well on me, but the cotton is so thin that it easily gets holes. I followed the video using this fusible interface and now the hole is gone. It looks a tiny bit bunched up, but I don’t mind. — CD

Metal prints from Costco
Everyone is now a photographer and our audience is on the small screen. But there’s a real joy in seeing a large image on a wall. The best way to do that is via the Metal Print from Costco Photo. You send a digital file to the online Costco and then you pick up the piece at your local store. Your image is printed in gorgeous quality on a thick piece of aluminum sheet so that it is perfectly 100% flat and glossy – much flatter than can be done by framing. No glass or plastic cover required, which makes this style very light weight even for big pieces. And since it is frameless, hung with an internal French cleat, it is cheap. A huge 24 x 36 inch picture, printed and ready to hang in your room, or gallery, is $120. A large 11 x 14 is only $34. These show pieces really wow; even a decent shot from a new phone will work. — KK

Send yourself a future email
FutureMe is a tried and true free service for sending yourself letters in the future. I use it to remind myself of goals I have or enlightening quotes I want to be reminded of. — CD

Netflix viewing activity
Netflix bases its recommendations on what you watch. If you want to change what its algorithm sees, or if you are just curious to see everything you’ve watched on Netflix, go here. You can delete a show from the list by clicking the X next to it. I was surprised to see that the oldest item on my list was Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, which someone in my family watched on 12/12/11. — MF

Paint Roller Cleaner

20 May[ —]

This is the best way I have found to clean paint rollers.

After squeezing and/or scraping as much paint out of the fur of the roller as possible, it only takes the Roller Washer about a minute or two to blast water deep into the roller and rinse away the remaining

I usually then give my rollers a “shampoo” with some liquid soap, and moving the roller up and down inside the Roller Washer until the soap bubbles disappear. This is followed by spinning the roller on the frame with an air compressor blow gun to remove the water and fluff the fibers.

Manufactured by Wagner

Lodge Pan Scraper

19 May, by mark[ —]

I’m Donald Bell for Cool Tools and in this video I’ve got a tool that in a perfect world would come with every cast iron skillet. This is a pan scraper from Lodge. A 2-pack cost me around $4 on Amazon.

A lot of people will debate the best way to care for and season a cast iron, but everyone agrees they should never touch soapy water. This makes cleaning them a challenge, though, especially if you have some burnt, baked on crud.

This pan scraper from Lodge is a simple but effective tool for degunking cast iron, or really any cookware. It’s made from a polycarbonate plastic that holds up to scraping, through it can melt — so don’t use this on a hot pan.

A big advantage to using this instead of a spatula or your fingernail, is the shape. You have a flat side and a curved side, and the edges are rounded in just the right way to clear out the curves in you pan.

I’ve also found them handy for scraping food from Pyrex cookware and from cookie sheets or muffin tins.

Outside of cooking, I see a lot of reviews from people who use these for removing stickers from cars without damaging the paint or glass.

So that’s the Lodge pan scraper. It’s one of those cheap but immediately useful tools you’ll wish you’d gotten years ago.

Previous Cool Tool Review

[Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews]

Solid Ribbon Epoxy

19 May[ —]

I just had occasion to fix my daughter’s eyeglasses. They had snapped at the hinge, in a place where neither glue nor tape would find any purchase, and we needed a way to repair them until we could replace the frames. For about $5 at Home Depot I got a tube holding enough epoxy putty to last for years of small repairs.

Epoxy putty is your standard two-component epoxy in concept, but like plasticene in initial consistency. You mix two strips by cutting an equal length of each and kneading them together with your fingers until it’s even in color. Once it’s kneaded, you mold it into shape with your fingers or the same kind of craft tools you would use on clay or plasticene. When it hardens, after about a half hour, it’s like rock–you can pound it with a hammer with no apparent effect. I’ve used it to make handles for broken pocketknife blades, for fixing glasses (like this time), for temporary patches on water pipes, and for a variety of other repairs and odd tasks.

[Magic-Sculp epoxy clay was featured in Cool Tools on March 3, 2005 but is packaged in a much larger quantity, at a much higher price, for larger repairs and sculpting. -- KK]

Logitech Create iPad Pro 9.7 Backlit Keyboard Case

18 May, by mark[ —]

The Logitech Create iPad Pro keyboard has changed the way I use my iPad. Mainly, I’m using my iPad much more often, now that I can enter text with a keyboard. If I’m on a short trip, I’ll often take it with me instead of my bulkier MacBook Pro. It works well with Google Docs, which is how I do most of my work.

It has a backlit keyboard, which is essential. The keyboard is smaller than a standard keyboard, but it’s not so cramped that I resent it when I have to do a lot of writing. I appreciate that it is powered directly from the iPad Pro via the Apple smart connector, because I don’t need to remember to charge it. It also doesn’t need Bluetooth pairing — just insert the iPad into the case and start using it.

The top row of keys have controls for common things like one-tap to home, screen brightness adjustment, search, language switch, keyboard backlighting adjustment, media controls, volume controls, iPad on/off sleep/wake.

The case itself is textured so it won’t slip easily when I carry it, and when closed the entire iPad is protected.

It’s surprisingly thin and light, too. I wish I’d started using it sooner!

Finger Pro Self-Adhering Safety Tape

17 May, by mark[ —]

I’ve used Finger Pro self-adhering finger tape for several years, but not for its intended purpose. I suffer from dermatillomania which, in layman’s terms, means that I’m a nervous picker. When undergoing stress, I find that I pick at the skin around my fingernails, often to the point of making it bleed. And once it’s picked, it’s harder to stop picking at the skin.

I can’t remember how I discovered Finger Pro, but it’s mainly marketed as a finger protection tape for jewelers who work with files or abrasive wheels. It’s self-adhering, so doesn’t stick to your skin but can be securely wrapped around your digits. It molds to the shape of your fingers and, as long as you don’t wrap it too tight, is comfortable to wear. The tape is woven fabric with a “sticky” element that helps it to adhere to itself, but not other stuff that you touch. Even so, it can also aid with gripping things — tightly-sealed jam jars quiver at the sight of it!

The only downsides I’ve discovered are that Finger Pro is (as far as I can see) only available in green, which makes it a bit obvious when half my fingers are strapped up. A more neutral shade would be preferable. Also, after a few hours of use with my Logitech MX Master 2S mouse (another cool tool!), there can sometimes be a slight sticky residue where the tape has been resting against the rubber of the mouse. But it’s no real bother, you can gently rub it off.

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