Category Archives: Reviews

Four Favorite Tools

Cover of Four Favorite Tools

The kind folks at Cool Tools sent us a copy of Four Favorite Tools, which is a compilation of recommendations from the Cool Tools Podcast, including from the episodes we were on. I’ve had it sitting on my desk since it arrived, and I’ve been flipping through it pretty regularly. It’s been fun to look up the people I know and see what they recommended. It’s also fun to learn about people I don’t know from their browsing their recommendations.

Lenore's section in Four Favorite Tools

All of the information in the book is also included in each person’s podcast episode on the Cool Tool’s site (here are ours: Lenore and Windell), but I’m much more likely to flip through the book and happen upon something new than I am to go explore online. This book would be a great gift for the tool-users in your life.

Thank you Kevin, Claudia & Mark!

Tips and Tales from the Workshop

I’ve been meaning to post a review of Tips and Tales from the Workshop by our friend Gareth Branwyn, but every time I start, I get distracted by the book itself. I keep flipping through and learning new things or being reminded of tricks I once knew.

The subtitle A Handy Reference for Makers is spot on. I imagine that if you’ve worked in a particular kind of workshop all of your life, you already know pretty much all the tricks for your field. What’s great about Gareth’s book is that he sought out tips from those life-long workshop inhabitants and shared them with dabblers like me who like to try all the things or who haven’t had the opportunity to spend the years it takes to amass that knowledge.

One of my favorite tips comes just after the forward in the “Tips credits” where Gareth lists people he gleaned these from.

All of these people are amazing makers and almost all of them have websites and YouTube channels. Do a search. Having all of these people on your radar will yield an ongoing and inspired feed of great shop tips, techniques, and project ideas.

I was tickled to see a bunch of friends names in the list (including our very own Windell) but also pleased to see new names to go seek out for inspiration.

As for the book itself, the illustrations are wonderful, and the organization into types of tasks totally makes sense. When a tool is mentioned, the discussion often delves into details of how the tool works and why it’s designed the way it is.

It is all good stuff, including the quality of the book. I love the way a freshly printed book smells, and the paper used for this is a pleasant weight with a smooth, almost glossy finish.

Thank you, Gareth! This book is a gem!

Book review: What’s It Like in Space?

What's It Like in Space?

I’ve had What’s It Like in Space? sitting on my desk for a few weeks now. It’s a compact book that fits nicely in your hands, with a glittery starfield on the cover. Every so often I pick it up and flip it open to one of the vignettes of astronaut experiences Ariel Waldman has gathered together.

Mysterious Headaches

My favorite is titled “Mysterious Headaches” which tells the story of how NASA accidentally sent astronauts into caffeine withdrawal by providing them with insufficiently caffeinated (freeze-dried) coffee.

The brightly illustrated tidbits can be jumping off points for further exploration— inspiring the reader to learn more about a particular bit of science or history. They’re also just plain fun to read, ranging from silly to profound. This makes it great both as a coffee table conversation starter and for anyone with an interest in science and space.

Hands on with NanoBeam


Last fall we wrote about NanoBeam, a new super-miniature open source aluminum T-slot profile construction set that was on Kickstarter at the time. While comparable in design to industrial profile systems like 80/20, its cross section of just 5 mm × 5 mm is comparable to a stud on a lego brick.

We recently got our tweezers hands on a ‘beam, and yes, it’s real, yes, it works, and yes, it’s that tiny. And just wait until you see the fasteners.

Continue reading Hands on with NanoBeam

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.

Continue reading Cool Tools: Drill Press Plus by Vanda-Lay

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.)