The Tools I couldn’t live without

cappuccino hack


You are being chased from your home forever, you don’t have long and you can only grab what you can get in the boot of a small car. What do you take?

I’d go for all my tools.  I kind of think the only reason we segregate “tools” and “kitchen appliance” is because of outmoded gender roles. But I am in the kitchen as often as Hayley my wife is, so if I say it’s a tool it’s a tool, I should know because I am a man (joking BTW).


The role it played while we were renovating our flat was essential. Without a microwave and a relic book from the 1970’s The Book of Microwave Cookery our renovation would have gone over budget just from eating out.

I love the fact that microwaves have become so derided. It is because of the association with microwave meals, and people who can’t cook. But in the absence of an oven and stove it is amazing what you can make with one that is tasty. I have done a spaghetti bolognese, a whole fish supper, risotto but where the microwave excels is with eggs and sauces such as a bechamel.

If you want perfect poached eggs every time, crack two into of bowl of boiling water and microwave for 1min 20 seconds.

I know you don’t believe me, but in extreme circumstance there is little I couldn’t make in a kitchen with a microwave (and blow torch.)

(FYI don’t boil just water in the microwave: it’s only safe once the eggs are in the water, google: nucleation points and/or badly scolded by superheated steam)

Bike maintenance set:Halfords Mike Maintinace set

People often say don’t buy cheap tools. I think that is right, except for the £34 Bike Maintenance set Halfords do. If you want to buy yourself something that will pay for itself quickly get this, not least because it contains a chain whip and the little jobby that you use to remove the cassette (back gears). If you can find a bike shop that is willing to remove the cassette for you for less than £30 please tell me about them. It is a job that takes minutes and will keep you out of the shop and saving money on services for years. One thing that isn’t in there you should also buy is a chain gauge.



I am learning a coding language called python. One of the points made in the book I am following is that my computer is not this mysterious box of magic: It is a tool. I include it because of online videos. Anything you want to know how to do, from playing the ocarina, to building a hydroponic system, marketing your company to working out how to change the cables on your bike can be found by searching for online videos. Ironically, I find online videos most helpful with computer stuff, such as how to do things in MS Word and in Excel or indeed learning to code. Basically computers are great at doing repetitive tasks very fast. They are universally programmable machines. So if you find yourself doing stuff time and time again, I bet there is a way you can get your PC to automate it.

Stills camera:

In terms of self-expression it is hard to find a tool that lets you do more. Also a picture really is worth a thousand words, so if you have a company or event to promote then a stills camera is a must have. If I am stuck for entertainment, shoe leather and my SLR are all I need to a have a great day. There is nothing more fun than walking around trying to get that amazing shot you’re really proud of. I think it taps into that deep human instinct to hunt.

Smart phone

The saying ‘the pen is mightier than sword’, should be: ‘My smart phone is my weapon’. Nothing is more protective than having a video camera in your pocket. Getting a parking ticket that you shouldn’t be, being chucked off a bus for no reason, seeing something you don’t like, finally I have the ability to gather evidence and disseminate it in real time. Log my position, to find things I have left in the field to collect later or just use the SatNav function to navigate while traveling. Catch up on the news; in fact they are so universally helpful perhaps the real tool I should point out is the Micro-USB car charger. The battery is the most common single point of failure with smart phones so for the princely sum of £1.59, why not have one of these in your glove box?

Kindle3:kindle 3

This technology does have its problems but on balance I would still say it’s amazing and worthy of the list.

We have kindle 3, 4th gen kindle, and kindle paper white. Both my 4th gen kindle and my kindle 3 are broken. So how can I possibly put something on my list that I am doing without? Well when my second kindle broke, I did feel a little stranded, and finished the book I was reading on Hayley’s paper white, which I can do because they are all on one Amazon account (TOP TIP BTW).

Despite this failure by having two on linked accounts we have enough redundancy. So the “a book never runs out of batteries” argument that luddites use is redundant. My kindle doesn’t run out of battery either as I live in a country full of power points and the battery last a month anyway. and my kindle mean I have a window on the greatest minds the planet has ever known for free instantly. One of the most moving experiences I have ever had was writing a treatment for a show about Thomas Huxley “Darwins Bulldog” and then thinking “I wonder if his book is on Gutenburg?” in seconds I was hearing his voice in my mind as I read his book. I literally time traveled.

Kindle makes books searchable, and instantly available, which is why a paper book is not a tool and a kindle is.

Why kindle3 specifically? You can repair it when the screen breaks, which it will. 4th gen kindle is glued not screwed together. This makes it cheaper. Or more to the point means pulling it apart to fix it, you break the circuit board. So it can’t be fixed and Amazon still profit from a lower price point.

Kindle 3 costs more as they only sell the 3G version of it now. However when the screen breaks because they are fragile, you can pop the back open, and replace it with a new one you buy on e-bay from China for about £30. (see how here)

If this wasn’t possible kindle would definitely be off the list. IFixIt’s motto is: “if you can’t fix it you don’t really own it”. I totally agree.


Mattock Mattock Mattock.jep


Just knocking my sledge hammer off the list. If you don’t know what this is, imagine the opening sequence to a prison movie. The guys by a road side working in a chain gang might be swinging one of these. It’s a sort of medieval tool for breaking the ground up. This list would be incomplete without something you can swing really hard and hit something with. I’ve only just discovered the mattock. The guy next to us on our allotment has lent me his. It is amazing. As I have written about here we are doing an intensive organic form of agriculture that should increase yields. The mattock has been fantastic for breaking up the ground like a rotavator would, but lets me do it in small patches and buy hand. When the apocalypse comes I am going straight to B&Q to stock up on these. Everyone will need one.

A notable absence:

Speaking of apocalypse, the one notable absence from this list is any form of projectile weapon. All tools allow you to control your relationship with the rest of society. The more tools you know how to use, the less you need depend on other people, and the more useful you become to others.

I eat meat, and I would like to shoot my dinner one day. However I’m not an American who is worried about my government attacking me so I don’t stock pile guns. As a result the gun is not on my list, though it should be, and because of this explanation it sort of is.

Basically I think it’s ok to just pay other people to kill animals for you to eat. Frankly, I am happy the police and the army have a monopoly on force and I don’t want to own a gun.

Cordless drill

If you are lady selecting a male partner I beg you to ask this question. “Does he own a drill” if the answer is “no”: AWOOOOGA! Run away, this man is a child.

It’s probably the first proper tool you buy. My one is a piece of shit. I bought the cheapest one Wicke’s do and that bastard thing is still working. But it runs out of juice quick and is pretty low on power. To be honest, I also get infuriated having to change the bits over. Which is why I have noticed, builders always have two cordless drills. Having two drills makes every job that needs one easier.  I think what I am in the market for is a set of these:

Basic Life survival kit:

These are tools that have come to my rescue at some point: Adjustable spanner, Mole grips, pliers. These all increase the force with which you can grip an object. If you don’t have one of these when you need them life gets pretty miserable pretty quick.

Tape measure:

Note when combined with string, the tape measure is a serviceable tailors tape measure.


Notable leavers that come in handy are crow bar for gaining access to um, anything and tire leavers, for dealing with bike punctures.

Dremel multi toolDremel

Dad-d-da-DA! If you know me, you probably know that this entire list has been in the service of this last item. The best way I can describe it is that the Dremel is as useful to a modern person as a water wheel would have been to a community in the middle ages. If anything it is much more useful. It’s really simple. It’s nothing more than an electric motor. They don’t have a lot of torch, but it spins insanely fast, several thousand RPM. So what a Dremel basically represents is a way to convert the power coming out of the socket in the wall into mechanical force so you can do work. There is a really simple interface that lets you attach any number of heads to it which can be used to Cut, Grind and polish.  To be honest what you can do with them is limited only by your imagination.

One morning I couldn’t find my bike lights, but did find an old set. The hanger for the original lights didn’t accommodate the lights I had, so in moments I modified the hanger with my Dremel buy cutting away a bit of plastic that was blocking the new light from being held. I wasn’t even late for work that’s how quick this modification was.

I have built large pieces of furniture using mine to cut the joins in the wood. Nothing else gives you the ability to hack like a Dremel. If you own one and a determined mind-set, a world of cheap alternatives opens up to you. For instance: a coffee maker is certainly not on this list. They are expensive, ugly and take up a lot of countertop space.  I make coffee using an Italian style percolator on my stove. I super heat milk in my microwave and froth it using an electric foam whisk to make the perfect cappuccino, or at least I did until yesterday when the electric whisk packed in. So I cut the little metal component that does the actual whisking and just stuck it in my Dremel. Now my Dremel is the worlds most durable and effective milk whisk ever!

So my Dremel is my most prized tool at the moment. But tools themselves are worthy of consideration as topic in their own right. I think we are at our most human when we are using tools to affect the world around us. Financial costs and frustration aside, if you can get to grips with a few tools, life becomes a lot more fun and a lot more interesting. Therefore if we lose the ability to use tools we not only fail to understand the world around us, but we also lose that which makes us most human.


Cant believe I forgot the bottle opener. That always happens.

(though to be honest who doesn’t know how to get into bottle of wine without one of these) here

cork screw


Hey! every week I try and write something interesting, sometimes about wine often about cycling, but I always do my best to be interesting or helpful in some way. It should be ok as I worked in documentary TV for the last 10 years.
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