Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 31, 2013
Coolest Catalog -- Lee Valley
It came as a catalog so small and modest that I almost tossed it by accident. The heading said
"Clever Tools ... Our Favorite Solutions for Everyday Living."
Now, personally, I don't think we need a solution for everyday living; in fact, I think everyday
living is the solution to a lot of problems. Just keep on living every day, and most problems
pretty much solve themselves.
But I know what they meant, missing antecedents and all.
Most "solutions" catalogs leave me bemused: Usually it looks as if carrying the "solution"
around and trying to use it would be more trouble than the problem it's supposed to solve.
Not this time. Though I won't pretend that every single thing in this tiny Lee Valley "extra"
catalog was ideal.
But as I turned the pages, I began to realize, with item after item: That really is an annoyance,
and if their tool works, it will be nice to have the problem fixed.
For instance, when I slide things into a preheated oven, I often don't use a mitt or hot pad. After
all, the pan I'm sliding in isn't hot, and I have no intention of touching the oven or the oven rack.
But then my wrist grazes the rack after all, and that sudden smell of sizzled meat is ... me.
Lee Valley offers Oven Guards, strips of the same fire-retardant cloth used by firefighters, with
snaps on them so you can fit a cloth on the front of each rack in the oven. Now if you
accidentally touch the rack, it doesn't burn you. It's hot, but you won't be rubbing Neosporin on
it for the next week.
Is it worth $22.50 for a pair of these? Not if you never, ever touch a hot oven rack. But since
I've done it several times in my life, I figure that each time I don't get a burn is worth way more
Then there's mixing cookie or bread dough in a bowl. Sometimes you have to tip the bowl to get
leverage to whip a really thick dough by hand with a wooden spoon -- the only way to work
with chocolate chip or snickerdoodle dough, as any good cook knows.
But the bowl slips and slides. If it's glass, it's heavy and unwieldy; if it's aluminum, it can leave
little metallic marks on your countertop.
If that's the worst problem in your life, you're doing just fine. But you still might think it's
worth $17.50 to get the Staybowlizer -- a silicone ring that you set the bowl on. Now the bowl
stays right where you put it, at whatever angle you choose, while you stir vigorously; now there
are no marks on the counter.
The Lee Valley Jar Opener is really just a bent metal strip designed to get under the lip of a
condiment jar and pop the hermetic seal. It doesn't actually open the jar, but it makes it far
easier to twist it off after.
The Seal Removal Pliers are designed to let you get a grip on the teeny-tiny edge of the inner
seal on medicine jars, so you can pull them off. What I've been doing is punching the seal in the
middle and then pulling it off from there; this is neater and cleaner and you're less likely to end
up with fragments of the seal clinging to the rim.
My favorite is the Long-Handled Spider Catcher. Spiders are icky. You don't want to leave
them wandering around because you (or one of your family) might wake up with nasty spider
Yet you also don't want to pick them up with your hands. If you have too much kleenex or toilet
paper, you might not actually catch the spider, and then it will race around the paper and up onto
your hand (that's when you scream and dance around for a while).
And there are tender-hearted people who don't want to kill the spider, just take it outside so it
can have the fun of sneaking in through cracks in your flooring, like it did the first time.
The Long-Handled Spider Catcher is like having a set of tongs, like the ones you use to reach
things off high shelves. Only instead of a couple of gripping prongs on the end, it has a round
array of long soft bristles.
You put it over the spider -- even a running spider -- and release it and swish, just like that it
has a firm but gentle grip on the spider's body.
You can carry the spider outside and feel really good about yourself. Or you can carry it to the
toilet, put the bristles under the water, flush and release. I make no moral judgments here.
The point is, it works. And we all have needed it. For twenty-five bucks they send you two of
them. One for upstairs, one for downstairs. Or the kitchen and a bedroom. However you wish
to allocate your pair of spider catchers, you'll be glad you had it.
Then there's the most brilliant tool of all. FreeKey is a key ring -- just the metal part -- that
should completely replace all other key rings on the market. They're $3.95 each, but they are so
They're designed so you pinch them in one spot, and the openable end just ... opens.
No more trying to pry the end up with your fingernail far enough and long enough that you can
work the key up under it. People with very short fingernails and people who are very clumsy --
groups I belong to most of the time -- can actually move keys on and off this ring easily, every
Think of how many minutes you've wasted trying to swap out keys -- not to mention all the
broken nails or jabs under your fingernails -- and you'll think that four bucks is a bargain.
You can order a catalog, or simply shop online, by going to http://www.leevalley.com . Believe
me, that tiny little catalog was just a sampler.
Of course, to find that kind of thing, you have to look for the teeny weeny "gifts" choice. That
brings you a new list, from which you'll choose, as recipient, "homeowner."
If you just browse their regular catalogs, you'll find lots of specialized tools for woodworking
and gardening and such. These are lots of fun, but how many different pruners or planes do you
need to examine?
The cool household gadgets are on the Gifts/homeowner pages. Worth looking for.