Interesting purchases for $30-$50.
May 18, 2007 9:26 AM   Subscribe

What is the most interesting* thing you can buy for $30-$50? *(By my definition: non-consumable, long-lasting, functional.)
posted by archagon to Shopping (63 answers total) 177 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools (with its emphasis on interestingness, utility, and availability) is the first place I'd go to look for answers. I thought this non-contact thermometer (US$45) was pretty interesting, but you'll probably find something different you like.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:35 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Jack Halpern's New Japanese-English Kanji character Dictionary
posted by KokuRyu at 9:37 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Also interesting: Metal Pen (US$30):
"The solid metal 'nib' consists of a metal alloy, that leaves a mark on most types of paper. If you use the sort of paper typically used in printers and photocopiers, the pen leaves a mark that looks as if it was made by a pencil. However the line will not smudge, and cannot be rubbed out.

Since there is no ink, there is nothing to dry out, so the pen will work just as well in 25 years time as it does today. And of course it never needs sharpening!"
Non-consumable, long-lasting, functional.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:39 AM on May 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Swingline 747 Classic Stapler. Depending on your point of view, may or may not pass the "interesting" test, but it passes all the others (non-consumable, long-lasting, functional). It just. can't. die.
posted by contessa at 9:42 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Incra Precision Marking Rulers, for the ultimate in analog measuring and marking precision. One of these beauties and a .5mm mechanical pencil=the most accurate, striaghtest lines you will ever need...
posted by Chrischris at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My vote is on the Pocket Ref, and then $20-$40 worth of something else.
posted by vytae at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: You appear to be an (aspiring) musician, so if you play guitar, the Third Hand Capo is a great tool that will presumably give the long-lasting pleasure that music stuff almost always does. It lets you capo a specific pattern or chord so that the open strings play that, but without retuning, so all the notes you fret, barre chords, etc. are still in standard tuning (or any tuning you like). This makes a good slice of stuff playable that normally isn't, and I can't really see why more guitarists don't already use them. They're under $20, but I suppose you can do even more with two. Many music stores have them, but I can't remember if the packaging is such that they'd let you take it out and try it.
posted by abcde at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2007

A guinea pig.
posted by tastybrains at 9:50 AM on May 18, 2007

Hand-crank radio/flashlight.
posted by typewriter at 9:56 AM on May 18, 2007

A guinea pig is totally consumable! (I mean, it will consume. But I guess people eat them too...)
posted by typewriter at 9:57 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Consider a shortwave radio.

You can listen directly to stations from around the world without the intraweb and hear all kinds of new and interesting things, music, news, propaganda, etc.

There are plenty of under $50 radios and many web sites that give frequencies and times of shows.

It definitely meets your criteria and is even useful in emergency situations with AM/FM tuning built-in as well.
posted by Argyle at 10:03 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I didn't think E-Bows were that cheap, and overdrive is way overrated (there are so many other ways to screw up a signal). But a wah is a thought, assuming he doesn't have one (which in turn assumes our still-speculative idea that he has a guitar).
posted by abcde at 10:12 AM on May 18, 2007

A guinea pig is totally consumable!

Well, I guess it's consumable in that if you wanted to, you *could* eat it, and that it won't live *forever*. But it is long-lasting and interesting.

A rat actuallty might be more interesting though since they have more personality & intelligence.
posted by tastybrains at 10:16 AM on May 18, 2007

The Prybaby pocket tool. Actually a line of different tools, but they're pretty solid and useful.
posted by Mercaptan at 10:31 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

A wok.
posted by donovan at 10:32 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

A wind-up flashlight and cell-phone charger. (Note, I'm not familiar with this particular model, but love the overall concept of a flashlight that never needs batteries.)
posted by alms at 10:35 AM on May 18, 2007

The Prybaby pocket tool. Actually a line of different tools, but they're pretty solid and useful.

In case anyone balks at the price of a tiny prybar, I'll second this. Have a prybaby and love it. I've got my eye on a number of Atwood's other pocket tools, but they're even more expensive.
posted by callmejay at 10:42 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

A leatherman.
posted by drezdn at 10:43 AM on May 18, 2007

A decent wallet.
posted by lubujackson at 10:51 AM on May 18, 2007

A cast iron skillet or three. Once seasoned they're nonstick, can cook anything, and will probably outlast you.
posted by true at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2007

The Nanda Clocky looks pretty cool if you struggle with early morning rising.
posted by ga$money at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: A fountain pen. I recommend anything from Lamy, although there are many more makers of good fountain pens.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2007

Consider a shortwave radio.

You'd need to buy an external antenna, which would raise the cost a bit.
posted by oaf at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer:

'nuff said.
posted by phritosan at 11:20 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: I would get a subscription to Make, about $ 35. When I subscribed I got a free copy of the Pocket Ref too.
posted by yohko at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2007

Metafilter subscriptions for a bunch of friends?

Does thing have to be tangible?
posted by meowzilla at 11:30 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: A 3watt LED flashlight (only consumable if you count the batteries). At 3watts, many LED flashlights are now brighter than the xenon police/ tactical flashlights of just a few years ago.

Or a good pocket knife.
posted by quin at 11:32 AM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Two guinea pigs (of opposite sex).

A Zippo (albeit it consumes fuel).

A good pocket knife - but it's kind of hard to find a really nice on for $30-50.

Hmm, this CRKT assisted opener looks decent. AUS8 has excellent corrosion resistance, takes a reasonably good edge, and retains the edge reasonably well.
posted by porpoise at 11:37 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Almost all tools -- well made metal ones, anyway -- qualify for this. But depending on what kind of stuff you do, you might not get a huge amount of use out of most of them.

If you're not a 'workshop' type of person, maybe a single, good-quality kitchen knife? For $35 you could get a single J.A. Henkels 8" Classic French Chef's Knife; forged steel. If I could only have one knife, that would be the one, and if you take care of it (no can-opener knife sharpeners!) your children will probably be slicing tomatoes long after you're done feeding anything but worms. (And if you wanted to increase your budget slightly, they're far cheaper in sets and might be less likely to get lost over time as a group than singly.)

Also seconding cast-iron skillets, since I have several belonging to my father. "Lodge" brand is the way to go there. If you prefer baking to cooking, Pyrex glass dishes last practically forever (until you drop them, of course). I'd get clear glass, because they probably won't become (stylistically) dated, which tends to be the death of dishware, moreso than mechanical failure.

For writing instruments, you can't beat Rotring pens and pencils, IMO, although many of the good metal ones will set you back more than your price range.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:45 AM on May 18, 2007

porpoise's Columbia River Knife and Tool suggestion is a good one. I switched over to carrying CRKT knives a few years ago when I realized that if I lost a $150 Spyderco, I'd be pissed. I use the M16-12 and like it very much, but all their knives seem to be pretty good quality.

Also, Kadin2084 reminded me of Rotring pencils. I love the nice heft they have.

And if you are going to go for kitchen cutlery, I'd suggest either the JA Henkel or the Wusthof Trident 6" utility knife. It is the perfect kitchen tool.
posted by quin at 12:02 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: A harmonica
posted by boots at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Interesting? As in stimulating, challenging, useful, entertaining?

Gotta vote my favorite book series...

"The World of Mathematics" anthology by James R. Newman. It's dated, but covers 4500 years of history and has original and relevant writings of some of the best minds in Western (and other) civilization. Takes a few years to read. You'll have 20 bux left over. (Get the 1988 Microsoft Press version from eBay, if possible. It's larger and easier to read.) This book does not require a PhD in math to read. It is very accessible and believe it or not, hard to put down. (How about a title for an article like 'The statistics of deadly quarrels'?) Best cheap thing I've found in ages. Total geek fest material.
posted by FauxScot at 12:09 PM on May 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Pocket Rocket vibrator and your imagination.
posted by matildaben at 12:13 PM on May 18, 2007

A knife holder?
posted by caddis at 12:17 PM on May 18, 2007

I'll second the suggestion for a Leatherman Tool. I've been carrying them since 1984 or so.

It comes in handy all the time - you're a tool using animal, so you might as well be equipped.

I currently use their Charge Ti, but it's out of the price range you wanted. The Surge comes in close at ~$60.
posted by bitmage at 12:36 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: A good pocket knife - but it's kind of hard to find a really nice on for $30-50.

Actually, the Spyderco Delica, Endura, Native and the Benchmade mini-Griptilian are great knives for that amount.
posted by callmejay at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

And if you want something more dressy, you can't go wrong with a nice Queen D2 folder for around the same price.
posted by callmejay at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2007

Leatherman, I don't leave home without mine.

Things I couldn't live without:
a leatherman,
a sharp knife,
a good pen,
and my favorite Oakley sunglasses. Check Steepncheap, they list quite a few Oakley items, just last week they offered Oakley Minutes for about 50.00
posted by winks007 at 1:21 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: A Field Knife

Buy a cheap khukri from your local Army/Navy or from Sarco. Buy some canvas, webbing, and military belt clips for the sheath. Buy a mill bastard file if you don't have a grinding wheel. Buy some gun bluing compound. Sharpen the three edges to three different bevels.

Follow those instructions and for < $30 you will have a spectacular tool. it chops like an ax, it lops like a machete and , if you have honed the tip well, it slices like a much smaller knife. it is an excellent car knife or field>
I made a stack of these for Xmas gifts. Handy.
posted by Seamus at 2:07 PM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Mom says: a vase.
posted by mdonley at 2:11 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: -P-38 can opener: ~$2
-I got a nice leather bookmark from a college recruiter when I signed up; about 10 years out of school, it's still one of my most treasured everyday possessions. ~$5
-You ought to be able to find a used Mosin-Nagant rifle at a gun show for about $50, post-haggle. If you get the M-44 it's non-consumable, as you can stab people with the built-in bayonet when your ammo is out.
-A barbell and a set of plates is about $50 at your local garage sale. This is probably the best single investment you can make in your health.
-A good pair of wool socks will keep your feet warm at night for years to come. $5-20

Other than that, I second the Forschner or Henkels kitchen knife, CRKT M16 pocketknife (the models with the Zytel handle are within your price range), and cast-iron pan or dutch oven.
posted by vorfeed at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A ukulele. But make sure it's one that can be tuned and played -- a Mahalo won't qualify, but others will.
posted by davejay at 4:58 PM on May 18, 2007

If you can find a Firefli flashlight, you can probably get it for under $30. It's very small. You can read about it here.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:11 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: A really beautiful coffee mug, hand-thrown by a local artisan.
There's something wonderful about a well-made piece of stoneware, especially if yours is n-of-a-kind and well-crafted.
posted by lekvar at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2007

Hindmost suggested "Lots of preserved leopard frogs,
Trebuchet kit"
I would have to totally second that speaking that I looked at that frog, then at my next window with thte Trebunchet and thought of launching them around the neighborhood :)

Seriously though, A good leatherman, you could make a book from (personally love them), and a definate seconding Make Magazine.
posted by ForeverDcember at 6:03 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Curiously Strong Magnets are always fun. The page I linked to has sculpture kits, but you can buy just straight magnets too. These are all neodynium/rare earth, which are incredibly strong. They're lots of fun to play with, but there's all kinds of useful things you can do with good magnets as well. They're particularly handy if you work with tools a lot, because you can use them as hang points. That can include your pocket... stick a tiny metal ball in your front jeans pocket and you can hang a big pipe/spanner wrench from the front.

Be aware that the actual magnetic material is fairly fragile, so these are generally coated in steel or nickel for protection. Be careful when playing, because they're so strong that they'll easily smack into each other at high velocity and break their coating layer... once that goes, the magnet usually isn't long for the world.

You can get cheaper grab bag magnets here. What sizes and shapes you'll get is unknown, but they're less expensive this way. Or, of course, you can just order exactly what you want, but you'll pay more.
posted by Malor at 7:52 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An apple peeler/corer/slicer called Frank.
posted by flabdablet at 8:37 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: An antique Maelzel metronome. You can find them on eBay for around $40.

An original ash-glaze bowl from master potter Ben Owen III.

A brass monocular with a nice patina and some provenance.

The Backstage Handbook together with the Rigging Handbook.

A well-made pair of Japanese geta.

A government-surplus marine sextant.

A bottle of Laphroaig. (While the sweet heaven inside is indeed consumable, purchase will gain you membership in Friends of Laphroaig, which grants you dominion over a square foot of peat on the distillery's land -- which you then rent to them at a cost of one dram of Laphroaig per year, redeemable any time.)

Want some more?
posted by milquetoast at 8:52 PM on May 18, 2007

flabdablet: "An apple peeler/corer/slicer called Frank."

I'm blown away; I must have one!
posted by sprocket87 at 8:56 PM on May 18, 2007

Best answer: Speaking of knives, the SOG Twitch II is holding up as an excellent lab/"gentleman's" (hah) knife. My previous edc was a CRKT Apache II; it was only replaced when I thought it lost.)

Completely forgot that it was in the $50 range.

Bicycle chain bottle opener.

If you're at all concerned about a zombie uprising, then an enternching tool may come in handy.

$50 will get you 2g of Iridium even though the market price is closer to $12 a gram. Iridium is "tied" as the densest element common to Earth. Having a big chunk of iridium on your my desk would be sweet.

Go to a local bum, and ask him/her/they what they could get their hands on that'd be worth $50 to you.
posted by porpoise at 9:44 PM on May 18, 2007

Fountain Pen or Aeropress.
posted by polyglot at 12:11 AM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

A pasta maker from ebay (or new if you can find it for the price you want). Get a sturdy one -- I recommend Atlas.

Once you learn to make pasta, it's fun and really rewarding. If you have a food processor, you can make the dough in that which is even easier and less messy.
posted by teem at 11:26 PM on May 19, 2007

i would go with a leatherman / swiss army knife

covers all categories
posted by radsqd at 6:16 AM on May 20, 2007

Best answer: I have a few of these stainless keychain pill fobs, and they're very non-consumable, long-lasting, and functional. I use one for advil, but if you have any sort of emergency meds (allergy pills, nitroglycerin, etc..), this may well save your life some day. They're well constructed (vastly superior to the cheap similar ones I've seen in the drugstore), totally waterproof, and pleasingly proportioned for fiddling with. With your budget, you could buy two.
posted by Caviar at 7:28 AM on May 20, 2007

A red paper clip...
posted by Copyunit03 at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2007

A cigar cutter.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:36 AM on May 21, 2007

Clocky - alarm clock that runs away from you
Petzl Zipka Headlamp - replacement for flashlight, frees up your hands
posted by youngergirl44 at 8:23 PM on May 21, 2007

Seconding Cool Tools... recent birthday gifts --
Access All Areas - Urban exploration tips; Stuntology - Practical jokes made practical.
posted by acro at 9:41 PM on May 21, 2007

A simple stainless steel colander.
Imagine a simple metal bowl perforated with a lot of evenly spaced holes, no fussy base (just 4 convex bumps on the bottom), no fussy handles (just a level rim) and a cost of about $20 CDN at a Chinatown kitchenware outlet.
posted by red canoe at 9:31 PM on May 23, 2007

9835; Imagine all the peepholes... 9835;
posted by Caviar at 3:44 PM on May 25, 2007

For multitools in this price range I would not choose a Leatherman but a Victorinox Swisstool Spirit. I love mine.
posted by davar at 2:46 AM on May 27, 2007

This site has quite a few clever items - all under $10

Personal favorites from the site include: Swedish FireSteel, Delete Eraser, and Bubble Chocolate.
posted by s01110011 at 5:22 PM on July 10, 2007

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