Review – Swingline Tot (Mini) Stapler

I’ve been using an old Swingline CUB stapler at my desk for years now. The combination of small size and standard staples makes it perfect for me, a person who doesn’t have to staple often. I also have the super small Tot-50 stapler in my pencil case, and while the size is good it does use a different type of staple to most other staplers. But now Swingline has a middle ground even between those two with the Tot, a stapler that is just about as small as you can get while still using regular sized staples. But how useful could that be?

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The Tot is about 2½” in total length, 1¾” tall, and 1¼” wide. These measurements are a bit larger than they could have been due to the rounding of the stapler body; there are no sharp edges on it. At the back there is a curved piece of metal sticking out to serve as a staple remover. It works fairly well, though unlike the standard “jaw” type it does have the tendency to fling used staples across the room. On the top and bottom of the main body there are relatively comfortable divots in which to place your fingers when stapling. And the entire thing is a sort of teardrop shape, narrow in the back and widening near the front before suddenly dropping off.

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Underneath is a small rubber “plate” (for lack of a better word) covering with a handy mark representing staples stamped into it (in the previously mentioned divot), though if I didn’t know they were supposed to be staples I wouldn’t have figured it out. Peeling this back from the nice little nail nick (it’s held in place with tabs in slots) reveals a small storage compartment with enough space for a regular block of standard sized staples, and enough space for (someone with smaller) fingers to get in and grab it. Below these staples is the general information about the product, save for the brand name which is proudly displayed on top. This rubber piece is fully removable, though it is a bit finicky to get it past the staple remover on the back both when getting it on and off. I can also say, from a spill on my desk, that the rubber seals well enough to be water resistant (but I wouldn’t count on it).

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As with most Swingline products stapling is as easy as can be. There’s a surprisingly good amount of leverage in this design and it connects pages cleanly and neatly together. Its use of regular sized staples and a mouth about as wide as your standard desk stapler means that it will basically perform the same function, with its only limiting factor being capacity (and durability since it is made of mostly plastic and most staplers are metal). My only general complaint is the top; it’s quite easy to open and hinges back far enough to make loading a breeze, but the tab that holds it in place when it’s supposed to be locked down is very weak and I’ve found it to pop open with slight provocation, or even without provocation at times. And that’s slightly worrying: I don’t want staples everywhere. But the spring holding it down is fairly strong, and if kept on the desk or in a case this shouldn’t be a problem.

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So, if you’re not one that staples often, have limited desk space, or want to carry a stapler with you but not special staples (but maybe with a bag or case) this little guy will work great. It’s small, easy to use, and gets the job done. It isn’t as durable as the larger versions (or its metal predecessor the Tot-50), but with care it will work for a long time (but maybe not as long as my CUB) and for how inexpensive they can be I’d say they’re definitely worth it (and they come with a box of staples, which is cool).

Review – Master Mechanic Carton Cutter

With so many options, one carton cutter review just wasn’t enough, and I am now back to review one that has a higher price. But does that make it better quality?

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The short answer is yes: it is better quality, but I’ll just go over a few things. The cutter has a bent and nicely shaped/joined sleeve made out of an unknown metal (probably steel), with an insert that is a folded piece of metal that will hold a razor blade. It also has a cutout “spring” that creates the tension instead of the body doing that, making it more pleasant to use. The sleeve also has a nice, easy-to-hold white paint applied, which makes it easier to see. The Master Mechanic logo that is printed on top of this looks nice but wears off easily and looks unsightly when it does.

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Use is easy and smooth, tapping (a hard surface) both to deploy and retract the blade-holding mechanism (placing the back on a hard surface and pushing firmly will deploy the blade, and doing the reverse with the blunt part of the front will retract it), but it does have a way it “likes” to go in and works better that way. The razor blades that are included are also slightly better than the cheaper knife, but in general one won’t get much use out of single-edge razor blades, which are sharp but cheap and prone to snapping or deforming.

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Is it worth it to buy a better version of such simple product? Probably not for most people. While this is a better carton cutter than cheaper ones, it isn’t really less dangerous or easier to use per-se. The fit and finish are as good as one could reasonably expect on a product this cheap; the amount of friction on deployment is constant; and the device will likely last for a long time. Still, a carton cutter isn’t a tool most people will be worrying about, and the less expensive ones would be easier to replace if they were misplaced or damaged.

Review – Master’s Touch Palette Knife

I’ve been painting recently, and have a new appreciation for palette knives (foolishly I never used them before), both for controlling paint on a palette, and for painting. Unfortunately I’ve found no real resource that says if there are consistent sizes and shapes for palette knives, and I don’t believe there really is. So instead of this being a review of a specific size or shape of knife, this will be a general look at the quality of the Master’s Touch brand of inexpensive and easily accessible palette knives.

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The particular knife style here is slightly unconventional, and appears in the least amount of photos I see online, though it is the shape used by Bob Ross, so it’s got that going for it. The handle is a light, okay finished wood with a lanyard hole and the Master’s Touch logo imprinted on it. It’s sturdy enough and it works. Following that is what appears to be a “brass” “section” ring that is dented and losing its finish. It holds the blade in place, fairly sturdily, but also not centered. The blade is stainless steel, quite flexible and tapers down to a very usable edge. It is finished well enough, and doesn’t get thin enough to cut easily, but I suppose if one really tried they could make it dangerous. In some places the brushed finish isn’t nearly as well done, but these places don’t really matter in the scheme of things.

Overall it’s a nice introductory tool. It obviously has some quality control issues, but they aren’t major and don’t prevent the tool from functioning or make it dangerous. It’s inexpensive, and I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t sure if they really want to paint and are just trying to get into it, upgrading in the future is always possible and still isn’t a lot of money. And even if one doesn’t this tool will likely be able to last a painting lifetime.

Review – Q-Pins Pushpins

Pushpins can be a problem. But they are what they are, right? There’s no getting around them. That’s what I would’ve thought until I heard about Q-Pins pushpins, which claim to have updated the pushpin to a more modern and easy-to-use design. How do they hold up?

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Full disclosure before I begin: I was sent these to review by the company. With that out of the way, let’s look at the features: Q-Pins are designed to deal with the problems one encounters when using regular pushpins. They’re shaped like a capital “Q” and use the tail to hold paper to the board, rather than the pin itself. If one doesn’t use the pin on a regular pushpin, the amount of force required to hold the document up will leave an unappealing mark. I used to get around this by using thumbtacks, which has less grip for your fingers, but more for the document. I’d best describe Q-pins as a cross between the best parts of a pushpin and thumbtack, with a little more ergonomics. The edges of the bowl on the Q are curved inwards, creating a nice grip for the thumb and index finger that is more than enough to get it out.

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They come in either packs of black and white opaque or a pack of green, blue, purple, and yellow translucent. Personally I wish there were more color sets, but these work well.

Now, it’s kinda hard to talk about what a pushpin does, even though I have done that quite a bit, it looks like. In any case, I decided to try and beat up a q-pin by throwing it across the room and at the floor with a moderate amount of force. The results were not a scratch, and I’ve seen pushpins shatter under similar conditions (though rarely). I tried bending the tail off, and my fingers began to hurt as the plastic started bending. I’m sure they can be broken, but it almost has to be intentional. And for a bit of fun, I grabbed the metal pin itself with pliers and pulled firmly in both directions. The pin and its plastic case are not easily separated.

So, are they better than pushpins? Yes. Are they perfect? No. If one is very careful or hangs up thick documents, the pin can be used to hang an object without a mark. But sometimes even a natural amount of force can lead to a straight indent in the document being hung. This is certainly better than a hole, and in my opinion it’s also better than the circular indent coming from a pushpin or thumbtack used with friction. In this scenario, the Q-Pin also has superior holding capability, though it is quite close. Removing the Q-Pin is also much easier than either of the two other options. It’s a clear winner, but it is a bit more expensive. If you don’t lose things and want a better pushpin, possibly for life, you should try some Q-Pins.

Review – Helix Architects Triangular Scale

Rulers. Well, we all need them at some point. Whether you need to draw a straight line or know the distance between two points, they come in real handy. But sometime the information you need is just not on your ordinary ruler. So you get an architect’s triangular scale. But which one? Let’s look at one of the cheapest: the Helix Architects Triangular Scale.

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First off, the plastic this thing is made out of is very brittle and sharp. Little burrs and notches line the sides. There are no rounded corners, and you can easily stab yourself on the triangle points. However, there seems to be no fear of shattering or snapping in the piece, it is quite sturdy.

The information is printed in a nice, readable black over the very-slightly off-white plastic. From what I can tell (truth be told I’m not entirely sure about what all the sides are for) they are accurate. I have compared them with several other units I have. The ink used is resilient, but also raised and will rub off with prolonged use as will most rulers and the like.

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Overall, for it being fairly cheap, it is a nice piece. It does its job well and will probably serve for several years before needing replacement with proper care, though there are many more comfortable or longer lasting alternatives out there.

Review – X-ACTO 3-hole binder Punch

Sometimes you need to do stuff with your art that isn’t art stuff. Sometimes you need to file it away, or keep it safe in a cover, or organize it in a binder. If you’re looking to do the last one, then you might need the X-ACTO 3-hole binder punch.

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This semi-sturdy piece of transparent plastic is designed to fit in a binder and easily punch holes through a few sheets of paper. I stress a few because on the box it says the limit is three. And yes, even three sheets is very stressful to this thing, and after that it just starts tearing the paper.

I said it was plastic earlier, but the punching apparatus is actually a nice metal piece on a hinge. It is easily as sturdy as any other hole punch I’ve used. The hinge, though, is so close to the paper that it is what you have to use to get a nice clean straight punch line and because it is a hinge this is very difficult.

Off to the bottom there is a guide that you can place your paper on and it works well. There is also a flimsy piece of loose-fitting plastic that I assume is supposed to act as a guide so the paper stays down, though it will hardly do this job well and seems as if it will snap at any moment. It also jiggles unnecessarily. On the front is a 10-inch ruler, which would be nicer if it was ruled correctly, as it is, it is about a quarter of an inch short.

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And finally on the back are a pair of fold-out binder loops that will allow you to stick this thing in any 3-hole binder you desire, though they will make a horrible grating sound and the plastic they’re screwed into looks like it can break in a hurry. They will never break off the binder rings on their own though.

Really this is just a cheap hole punch. The actual punch is quite nice, but its housing is lacking. If you only need to punch a few sheets every once in a while this is alright. Any more hole punching and this thing will be useless. It will certainly break within a year or two but it is quite cheap. So if that is what you want or need from your hole punch, go right ahead, otherwise try something further up the ladder.

Review – Westcott rulers

Well, when one is drawing, or drafting especially, it is useful, if not necessary, to have a ruler. And one might think that all rulers are the same. But they’re not. Some rulers have uneven edges, or mis-marked inches.

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A cheap ruler might cost half a dollar, and a good one might cost a full dollar. It’s not much difference and definitely worth it. The Westcott rulers that I have here are very functional, durable, and standard. Then have straight edges and correctly marked inches. One is clear acrylic and the other is steel. I use the steel for inking and the clear for sketching. I would recommend two rulers for that reason. And these are flexible, and the markings are wear-resistant. My only real complaint would be that the acrylic ruler scratches a bit too easily.

This sounds much more like a recommendation than a review, and it is, sort of. It’s a no-brainer to get a ruler. Getting a good one is not much more expensive than a cheap one, and these work great, they’re some of the best I’ve used.