Cool Tools: Drill Press Plus by Vanda-Lay

Drill Press Plus 8

While in the course of a recent project, we ended up needing a machine to perform a particular operation. The operation was one that falls squarely into the (rather narrow) set of things that you would expect a “Dremel drill press” to be ideal for. And so (1) we got one, (2) found that it wasn’t very good and then (3) found an excellent alternative: The Drill Press Plus by Vanda-Lay Industries.

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Maniacal Labs on the Three Fives Kit

Dan at Maniacal Labs posted a review of our Three Fives kit:

… yay for creative kits that cause you to go out and (re)learn stuff! The cool thing about the 555 chip is that it is very much a building block to bigger things. There are plenty of resources out there for 555 applications and project ideas. I’d like to thank Eric Schlaepfer for his awesome kit idea and Evil Mad Scientist for helping make it available to the masses!


Klein Bottle Openers

Klein Bottle Opener by Bathsheba Grossman

This is one of the coolest things that you can actually buy. It is a Klein Bottle Opener by Bathsheba Grossman.  It is made in the shape of a Klein Bottle, a 3D representation of a single sided shape.  And it opens bottles. It’s a 3D printed stainless steel sculpture that fits nicely in the hand, giving you just the right kind of leverage; an absolute pleasure to use.

Klein Bottle Opener

But— and this is where we were caught off guard— there’s a second great, yet completely independent, kind of Klein bottle opener out there: the Beverage Tool by Klein Tools. Klein tools is quite truly (as they say), “the #1 choice among professional tradesmen.”

We happened upon this gem at Hand-Eye Supply, the Core77 store, while visiting Portland, Oregon.  As far as we can tell, it was there because they like well-made tools, including those from Klein, not because they like mathematics.

Klein Bottle Opener

The tool has convenient “Tip-Ident” mark in the shape of a bottle cap so you can quickly find it among other tools.

And now, dear reader, you know where to get a complete set of Klein bottle openers.

The Cult of LEGO

Cult of Lego Front Cover

No Starch Press recently sent us a review copy of their new book, The Cult of LEGO by John Baichtal and Joe Meno of Brick Journal.

It is not a book for kids. It is also not about LEGO. Nor is it really about the amazing things that people build out of LEGO (of which a great many are featured). Rather, it is about those people. The Cult of LEGO is a beautiful and substantial work, exploring the breadth of communities that have been grown around LEGO.

Cult of Lego - PCB Spacers

The book is heavy with photos, cleanly laid out, and expertly produced– solidly built like a LEGO brick, right down to the astronaut on the cover. Fine touches throughout– like the chapter numbers built from basic blocks, or the title page in the style of an old LEGO instruction guide (“304 interlocking pages”) –add to the charm. I suspect that anyone who has grown up with LEGO will genuinely want to have one of these on their coffee table.

Cult of Lego Big & Small

As we do occasionally publish LEGO projects, John Baichtal interviewed me briefly in the course of researching the book, and a few of our modest projects (including organizing bricks and circuit board standoffs) are featured. Seeing our own projects as footnotes to gargantuan scale models of aircraft carriers, or to the the first Google server (in its LEGO case), or to working mechanical computers is thrilling. It is also quite humbling.

But the community is the thing. Sure, there is a lot to say about fandom proper and conventions, but LEGO also represents a shared experience to many people, a cultural influence, an artistic medium, and a common language. The Cult of LEGO explores each of these topics through interviews and topic-based descriptions of projects. It is easy to forget how important LEGO is to modern robotics education, or how much of a mark the mini figure has made on popular culture, and I’m glad to have been reminded.

Cult of Lego - printed legos

Because it is about the community (rather than the company), The Cult of LEGO is free to discuss “fan art” in all of its guises, and that leaves the book delightfully modern and in some ways irreverent.

Many people still believe in keeping their models pure, made of only extra-virgin LEGO-blessed ABS. But others these days are injection molding their own custom mini figure scale weapons. Or like our friend Andrew Plumb, beginning to explore 3D printing of custom bricks.


The Cult of LEGO is available this week. I give it my highest recommendation. If you grew up with LEGO, you owe it to yourself to get a copy.

Geek Books!

Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred

We recently received review copies of four relatively new books from No Starch Press. Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred is a collection of technically oriented how-to projects covering a lot of the same ground that we cover in our projects here; sewing projects, music projects, electronics projects and others.

Lego Idea Book

The other three books are Lego Technic Idea Books: Fantastic Contraptions, Simple Machines, and Wheeled Wonders. And these are a phenomenal collection of assemblies and subassemblies providing the kind of masterful insight into Lego construction that comes from many years of careful study.

Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred

Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred by David Erik Nelson is largely descriptive, with diagrams and pictures sprinkled throughout. It covers an amazing range of activities and skills, including sewing, glueing, woodworking and soldering. There’s even a nice how to solder section.

Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred

Interestingly, none of the electronics projects requires programming. Shred refers to music, as many of the electronics projects are audio based. Many of the non-electronics projects are also musically inclined, but there is plenty for everyone in this book, from boomerangs to rockets.

Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred is a good introduction to making stuff, and is clearly oriented toward doing things with kids. It would be nice if it had full-color photography. Some of the projects have supplemental material which is worth checking out on the Snip Burn Solder Blog.

Lego Idea Book

The Lego books, by Yoshihito Isogawa are slim and nearly wordless. The main exposition happens in the table of contents, where the symbols that head each section are described.

Lego Idea Book

The body of the books unfold with beautiful full-color photography. The contraptions are cleverly constructed of different colors to make the mechanisms and assembly clear.

Lego Idea Book

Many of the assemblies seem obvious in retrospect, but the thought that went into them is deep and clear.

Lego Idea Book

Not all of the assemblies are obvious at first glance, and many are quite complicated, like this gear reduction assembly that allows two speeds in addition to direct gearing. For anyone who loves Lego, prototypes in Lego, or loves mechanical assemblies, these books are definitely required viewing, and we’re not sure how we lived without them for so long.

(Full disclosure: we received these review copies from No Starch Press, and Evil Mad Science is mentioned favorably as a resource in Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred as a resource. That could have influenced our opinion. Also, we like Legos.)

Party Potato

Party Potato

Party Potato

We stopped by Japantown in San Francisco the other day and picked up an absolutely hilarious toy in the Japanese dollar store. Drawing straws meets the game Perfection in the “Party Potato”. Each person pulls a french fry out of the container. When the right french fry is pulled out, the spring is released and the french fries fly.Party Potato

You don’t have to be able to read Japanese to understand these fabulous instructions. Two of the french fries are attached to strings which trigger the spring. It is awesome to see the plastic fly!

Catalog review: Practicon Dental


We recently had occasion to order a lot of toothbrushes, and received a catalog with our shipment from Practicon Dental. There are few things better than a catalog specific to a particular industry. There are so many items that can be applied to various projects having nothing to do with teeth. I’ve never noticed a small vacuum former in a catalog before. There are compartmentalized storage boxes have plenty of utility beyond storing dental impressions. Diamond wire (listed as diamond floss) could be very useful to have around for filing in tight places. Another interesting tool I hadn’t seen before was a small sandblaster.

IMG_7021.JPGIf you know someone who need to be scared into proper dental hygiene, you can get gross-out posters of what happens when you don’t take care of your teeth. Speaking of scary, for your next ultra-creepy halloween costume, there are “Marvy Masque Cone Face Masks,” which are sure to frighten: especially the clown version. I’m not so sure they will “increase smiles, decrease anxiety” as claimed.


On the less useful, but more interesting front, there is information on dosimetry services so you can track your x-ray exposure. You can order business card dental floss packets. I’m thinking that “tidy tube winders” would make a great give-away for people with as many half-used tubes of glue as we have. But one of my favorite items were these adhesive-tip applicators, which “help you securely hold and place fragile or small” things. Those definitely fall on the useful side. I’m not sure what for yet, but I’ll think of something.

Clearly there are many tools and supplies in the Practicon catalog that are applicable to a much wider audience than just dental practices. We may have to order from them again, and not just for bristlebots!

Catalog review: Lee Valley & Veritas February 2008

Lee Valley and Veritas catalog

Thanks to Kaden‘s recommendation, we get the Lee Valley & Veritas catalogs. The February 2008 edition arrived not too long ago, reminding us of what a good catalog is all about. Lovely photos and clear, tempting descriptions are are often augmented by illustrations. Sprinkled throughout are tips on how to choose and use various tools.

The catalog is forty pages plus an insert. There is a nice assortment of items from their hardware, woodworking and garden catalogs. What more could you ask for in a catalog? How about a fold-out cable tie spread and a technical bulletin? Your wishes are granted.

Lee Valley and Veritas catalog

On page four there is a fabulous two-page spread of cable ties. The “Master Set of 1550 Ties” includes basic, heavy duty, and specialty ties. Specialty ties? Mounting ties, label ties, and releasable ties! One can never have too many cable ties.

If you can make it past the cable tie spread, you’ll get to the tools and hardware. I just don’t get tired of looking things like planes, picture screws, and drawer slides, and there is a truly impressive selection of the drawer slides. Right now I’m drooling over the double edged flush-cutting saw, which is used “to cut off a projection without damaging the surrounding or adjoining face.” I’m certain I will need one someday. I might have to come up with a project specifically for it, but I’m sure it will be worth it just to have an excuse to use the flexible yet rigid blade.

Lee Valley and Veritas catalog

The center insert had an added bonus beyond the usual order page: a technical bulletin. With articles on whittling utensils and using food-safe finishes it contains lots of interesting information and useful tips. The bulletin ends with this note: “These bulletins are intended as keepers, thus the three holes. We will publish them as often as we have something to say and as we have time to put it to paper.” I look forward to the next time they have something to say.