Best wirestripper

The Vise-Grip self-adjusting wirestripper is the best wirestripper, period. It perfectly strips the insulation off of small wires for electronic projects, or large wires for running power. No muss, no fuss; it just works automatically. This hand tool fits kids, and pros. It’s the one I grab. This is not just my experience, but also the opinion of Donald Bell who tested 10 different wire strippers for Cool Tools. This is the wirestripper you want. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Good cordless driver

I finally upgraded my one-speed cordless driver with a variable speed drill driver ($35). Made by Tacklife it has adjustable torque, and speed is controlled by how much you pull the trigger. A built-in light turns on when you use it. I wish I would have bought this a long time ago. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Plastic razor blades

These look like old fashioned safety razor blades, but they’re made of plastic and you can’t shave with them. You can’t cut paper with them, either. But they excel as scrapers. Put one into the included handle and you can cleanly remove labels and stickers stuck to almost any surface (add a bit of Goo Gone to speed up the process, if you wish). I used one to clean the labels off a cigar box for a project I recently made. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Wide angle LED headlamp

This battery-powered headlamp ($15) has a bunch of LEDs spread across the front so it throws a very wide beam. I used it recently to bring trash cans in at night and it was much better than a flashlight or traditional headlamp because I could see everything in front of me without having to turn my head. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Dual scale tape measures

In my ongoing campaign to make myself literate in metric (used everywhere in the world except the US), as much as possible I try to measure only in metric. I got a Komelon dual scale measuring tape (both metric and inches on one side) and after a month or so, I can think in metric. I really like Komelon measuring tapes because they are inexpensive but high quality. They have four in different sizes in dual scale from 3.5m/12ft for only $5, to a 9m/30ft for $8.50. The 9-meter one is big in the hand but an incredible bargain; however their 5-meter is probably a good size for general use. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Best Maker YouTube Channels

Most of my discretionary media time is spent watching YouTube. I derive immense pleasure in finding out how things work and how to make and repair things. Over several years of watching all kinds of video, lousy and great, I’ve collected a bunch of channels for dependable high-quality content. In a long post on our blog Cool Tools, I review the top 30 YouTube informational channels that I subscribe to. (#1 on my list is Cody’s Lab.) — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Cheap new tools

It is easy to mock the importer Harbor Freight for their insanely cheap Chinese-made tools, but in fact I’ve had great success with the tools I’ve bought from them. I may only use them a few times a year, and for that frequency their quality is more than sufficient, and their self-proclaimed “ridiculously low prices” are in fact a tremendous bargain. Over the years I’ve bought a welder, a larger sanding wheel, a buffer, and recently a new compound miter saw for less than $100. – KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Freeze dried taxidermy

Occasionally a small bird strikes one of our windows and dies. Rather than bury it, I freeze dry it. I insert the whole bird into a baggie with a pack of desiccant to keep it dry. The desiccant gel slowly absorbs the moisture in the bird even after it freezes. After a year it is fully dried, and can be kept on a shelf or display indefinitely with all its feathers. This works on birds the size of a sparrow or smaller.  — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Watch this guy put things back together

My sister texted me and told me to watch the YouTube series called The Reassembler. I was 7 minutes into an episode when I texted her back: “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on YouTube.” I don’t even think I was exaggerating. Each episode starts off with host James May in a workshop, standing over components of something that has been taken apart (like a lawnmower, an electric guitar, or a model train set). He then puts it back together, narrating as he does so. As he says in the introduction, “it is only when these objects are laid out in hundreds of bits and then slowly reassembled that you can truly understand and appreciate how they work and just how ingenious they are.” — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
One-minute tool reviews

Recomendo is produced by a tiny team of people who are passionate about tools. In addition to this newsletter, we have a website called Cool Tools with thousands of reviews of useful tools, and a new YouTube channel with brief hands-on video reviews every other week. If you like Recomendo, it’s worth your time to check them out. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Maker tips

Every week Gareth Branwyn gathers the best workshop and maker tips he finds online and posts them on the Tips section of the Make website. There’s always a couple of good ones. Like last week: use the search term “grandfather’s” when searching Craigslist for bargains such as old tools, lumber, and other materials generated when someone clears out grandfather’s stuff. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
IKEA as platform

People have been hacking Ikea furniture forever, customizing and upgrading its modular units. Now Ikea has become a platform that highend designers create skins for. You buy the economical guts of an Ikea kitchen, shelving, or a sofa, and then apply new doors, handles, countertops, or fabrics created by legendary designers. This is a great New York Times summary article describing the ecosystem with links to the many companies that offer refined design layers for the Ikea platform. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Get PDF first

Owner manuals and installation guides contain far more information about a product than either the sales brochure, the online descriptions, or even Amazon reviews. The manual will have exact dimensions, all the parts, and caveats about what it can’t do. So my rule of thumb these days is to always download the product’s manual before I purchase the item. Impossible in the old preinternet days, it’s a no-brainer today. It has saved me many times. Regrettably, not 100% of products have PDFs that are findable, but the better products do. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson