Features August 1, 2004 Issue

Multitools Revisited

Several new offerings and an impending upgrade prompted this renewed look. For versatility and quality we like four particular models, and among those, the Leatherman Wave is our best buy.

The expense of a good multitool—a specialized apparatus containing small tools that most sailors already own individually—is justified by the increased convenience and efficiency this combo affords. With a good multitool, you have most of the tools you need, they're all in one place, and they can travel with you wherever you go—even in the water. Of course the weight and size of a multitool can be much less than a single, stand-alone hand tool; and often a multitool's use can be extended via interfaces with dedicated accessories or standard items like hex bits or sockets. 

The three newest multitools on the market are all from Leatherman. Above is the Charge Ti.

Our full-length evaluation of multitools in the November 1, 2001 issue blanketed the field in terms of tool sizes and manufacturers. Yet we recently decided to re-sample the offerings of high-end, full-size tools because three new models have become available, and one tool is being upgraded.

Unless you're a new subscriber, you're likely aware of our crusade in favor of personal tools for the mariner. Carrying is what makes them personal. This is chiefly a matter of safety for you. Foremost among these tools is your personal knife, followed closely by your multitool. We strongly advise that, at least when you're on board, you make carrying them a firm habit, and attach them to your person by way of a lanyard. The same advice goes for your crew.

So here's a rundown on the multitools (alphabetically by tool name within each brand). For complete lists of features see the manufacturers' websites. Unless otherwise noted, all tools have lanyard attachments and are furnished with a belt pouch.

Gerber MP800 Legend Full size and weighing about 9 oz., the 800 features independent tool rotation and all locking tools. Plier jaws (which we wish opened a bit further) have rotatable, triangular, replaceable tungsten/cobalt carbide wire-cutter inserts, which Gerber claims can cut through #2 hard carbon steel fishhooks, 1/16" piano wire, and 278-lb. stainless steel offshore fishing leader. A sawblade holder accepts any ¼" universal shank jigsaw blade. All tools except the pliers are directly deployable into position without opening the handles. The tension of the tools and the handles can be adjusted with the supplied Torx wrench, and there's one–hand access to pliers/cutters, knife blade, and scissors. Street price: about $60.

Kershaw Multi Tool #A100CX. In the same tool class as the Leatherman Crunch (described later), this locking-jaw model is longer and heavier than most multitools. Its long, tapered jaws are fixed (they don’t fold). One handle contains a hacksaw blade, two screwdrivers, and a can opener, all non-locking. The other handle has a locking knife blade (in its own compartment, which invites one-handed opening, but due to two interacting design flaws, we recommend using two hands to open it).

We consider locking-jaw pliers—especially in this case where you must bring the handles together in order to close the jaws—more appropriate for auxiliary use than as a primary or solo multitool. This one has no lanyard attachment. Street price: $68-$90.

Leatherman Charge Ti. Positioned to "establish a new top end in the multitool category," the new ChargeTi features exotic and upscale materials: light, corrosion-free titanium for the handles, and high-carbon, high-chromium, 154CM stainless steel for the main knife blade. Features include a quick-release lanyard ring and a removable clothing clip; in addition, all the improvements noted below for the new Wave model are standard on the Charge, including modularized, double-ended proprietary tool bits that fit into two holders in the handles: a total of 42 tools is available. A nice touch is the slender slotted/Philips bit for tiny fasteners such as those on eyeglasses and watch cases. Although the Charge has many incremental improvements over previous models, the radical change lies in the modularized tool-bits.

The knife blades open easily with one hand and lock open. As the handles are separated to open the plier jaws, both knife blades are cleverly locked closed, further enhancingsafety. You can choose pocket clip or lanyard ring, or neither; but you can't affix both at the same time. Inch and metric rulers appear on the edges of the handle, so the scales aren't interrupted by the contours of the handle. The pouch has a pocket for the plastic 10-bit carrier, and you can insert the Charge with its plier jaws extended or folded. This tool can be worn in four positions on your belt. It's 4" long and weighs 8.4 oz. Street price: n/a; MSRP is $124.

Leatherman Crunch. This company's only model with locking-pliers, the Crunch can clamp up to a 1"-diameter pipe. Its design allows the plier jaws to fold into one handle, making a package about 4" long and weighing 6 ounces. The pliers-dominant configuration limits the total tool complement and relegates the folding blades (all of which lock) to one handle, but provides a ¼" hex-bit holder on the locking side (first remove the jaw-tensioning bolt), and a wire stripper in the jaw linkage. 

Since its jaws can be closed without closing the handles, some use as ordinary pliers is possible. But if you store or carry it with the jaws folded away, the Crunch becomes a two-handed tool, which effectively relegates it to an auxiliary role afloat, meaning that it's better as a complement/backup to your main multitool. Street price: $58-$68.

Leatherman Wave (2004 version). A sweeping upgrade to this highly-successful model is scheduled for the coming fall. Based on photos and specs (that's all we've been allowed to see so far), there is little that isn't being improved. The Wave will have stronger and wider-opening plier jaws, all locking tools, independent tool rotation; larger knife blades with bronze bushings; larger wire cutters that the company claims will cut 12-penny nails without damage. Some of the features on the new Charge (above) are included, e.g., the blades lock when the pliers are deployed, there are modularized tool bits/holders, a quick-release lanyard ring and a removable clothing clip (the latter two sold separately).

So what remains from the old Wave (which was among the top rated tools in our 2001 article)? The base materials, and overall external configuration (four liner-locking blades in separate compartments, etc.) will be the same. The length remains 4", and weight is up ½ oz. to 8½ oz. The new pouch will permit carrying the Wave with pliers deployed. The current Wave model will be discontinued next year. Street price: n/a; MSRP will be $58.

SOG Powerlock T60G TiNi. This full-size, 9.5-oz. tool has a gleaming, gold-like titanium-nitride finish on its handles and plier jaws, which affords a tactile as well as operational smoothness, facilitating one-handed opening/closing of the handles. Alone in this collection, the Powerlock features compound leverage (about 2:1 advantage) for gripping and cutting—as well as crimping. Individual tools, of which there are 13, are easy to deploy, and lock open. One such tool is a ¼"-drive adapter interfacing with current socket technology and hex bits.

At the small end of the use spectrum, we were able to tighten eyeglass frames with the thinnest flat-blade driver, and change the battery in a remote car key using the Philips driver. The individual tools are retained by simple hex bolts, and the unit can be disassembled for cleaning or tool interchange (replacements are available from SOG). The Powerlock offers one-hand access to pliers and wire cutter. Street price: $84-$93.

Spyderco SpydeRench T01. Gripping things is clearly a dominant mode in this tool, for it not only offers two kinds of grippers (slip–joint adjustable pliers and adjustable crescent–style wrench), but comes apart so you can hold the work and turn a fastener. The two pieces also lock together in a straight line to double the leverage on the wrench or extend the reach of the screwdrivers or hex bits (of which it stores up to four).

SpydeRench also offers a locking knife blade that can be opened with one hand, and a diamond sharpener to maintain its edge. It comes with a clothing clip instead of a pouch. It's of modest size and weighs 8 oz. Street price: $75-$90.

Victorinox Swisstool Plus. Scaling in at over 9 oz. of gleaming stainless, this multitool doesn't feel fat in the hand. All the tools lock, and most of them closely resemble their cousins in Swiss Army Knives—except that unlike the latter, some of the Swisstool's blades were stiff and had to be pried open. We ascribe this to excessive spring pressure, a design feature that won't go away even after the tool is broken in. Another downside, the cutting area of the wire cutters is short.

The “Plus” feature is a separate tool with six hex bits and an angled holder/driver, all fitted in a plastic holder. We love Swiss Army knives, but we would like to see a little higher level of innovation in a Swisstool. Street price: $65-80.

Your multitool options are a little broader now than three years ago when we published our full evaluation; they include a new locking-jaw tool, a new model with some revolutionary features, and a revised best-seller with most of the latter's features. 

To help you decide, consider these strong points: If cutting wire and harder items is important to you, consider the mechanical advantage and overall smoothness of SOG Powerlock's compound leverage aided by one-handed opening/closing. If you must deal with some special fasteners like Torx, Allen, Posidriv and Robertson (square) drive, the modular bits included with Leatherman's Charge and Wave should appeal. The two locking-jaw models are, we think, chiefly helper tools, but are good at what they do. If you insist on trying to get by with one of these alone, we suggest the Leatherman Crunch, which comes closer to bridging the gap between Vise-Grip and pliers. If turning fasteners in larger, unpredictable sizes is a likely application, the SpydeRench by Spyderco allows you to turn and grip at the same time. If one-hand access to a maximum number of tools is key, look at the Gerber 800, which also has tough, replaceable cutting inserts. The Swisstool will appeal to Victorinox knife fans, but there's not much additional here beyond the pliers.

Of course, if you can predict your special needs in advance, you probably already have provided for them. Let's not forget that modern multitools are marketed ("Fend For Yourself" and "Now You’re Ready" are two of the manufacturers’ registered mottoes) at least as much for unplanned uses where they might be the only device you have available. We shouldn't forget that Mr. Murphy is always waiting out there on the water to test us with some devilish, unplanned problem.

In alphabetical order, the Gerber 800, Leatherman Wave (current and new), Leatherman Charge, and the SOG Powerlock models are designed for the most comprehensive applications, and one of these four would be our top choice, depending upon the features you choose to emphasize. Of course we recommend you acquaint yourself first-hand with whichever multitool you purchase.


Also With This Article
"Avoiding Multitool Corrosion"

• Gerber Knives, 800/950-6161, www.gerberblades.com
• Kershaw Knives, 800/325-2891, www.kershawknives.com
• LeathermanTool Group, 800/847-8665, www.leatherman.com
• SOG Specialty Knives, 888/SOG-BEST, www.sogknives.com
• Spyderco, 800/828-1925, www.spyderco.com
• Victorinox, www.swissarmy.com

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