The multitool is today’s version of the Swiss Army Knife. Equipped with sometimes dozens of blades and bits, multi-tools are useful in the widest variety of applications. If you have a multi-tool these days, it opens up an entire world of problem-solving, peace of mind and empowerment. It’s like always having a flashlight in your pocket…in a world that’s gone dark because of an apocalyptic cloud of dust from a nuclear holocaust. But then, you have other problems so we’ll just leave that issue for now!
If you don’t carry a multi-tool, you can’t imagine ever using it, but once you have it, you use it seven times a day. We spent three weeks fixing fences and cutting hay bale twine in rural New Hampshire with 19 multi-tools, and the Leatherman Skeletool CX was the best tool for most jobs. Its minimal lineup of well-executed essentials and sleek, lightweight design is easier to use and carry because it’s unburdened by an abundance of rarely used tools. In fact, the Skeletool’s pliers, knife, screwdrivers, and bottle opener were all we ever needed to deal with minor fixes and get on with our day.
In the world of multi-tools, there are lots of great players like Gerber, SOG and CRKT, but even with such heavy-hitters out there, there’s one name that stands above all so you don’t even have to say what the product is, just say the brand and everyone knows what you’re talking about (kind of like KLEENEX – no need to say “may I please have a Kleenex Tissue? …. “Kleenex” is good enough!)
Indeed there is a dude named “Leatherman”. I always thought it was because the tool often came in a pouch of leather! Let’s hear the real story right from head office!
Tim Leatherman (an Oregon native) received his Mechanical Engineering degree from Oregon State University. While on a budget trip to Europe in 1975, Tim and his wife Chau constantly came across leaky hotel plumbing and road-side fixes for their cranky Fiat. Tim realized the need for a pliers-based, multi-purpose tool. “I was carrying a scout knife and used it for everything from slicing bread to fixing the car. But I kept wishing I had a pair of pliers!”.
When Tim came back to the states, he took his “multi-tool” idea, some sketches he made on the trip and got to work.
When Tim started on the prototype for this new tool, he estimated it’d take him a month. Instead, it took the next three years to build the prototype he envisioned and file for a patent. With the patent application and prototype in hand, he set off to sell his idea. Unfortunately, the companies he approached didn’t bite. Knife companies thought his invention was a tool, and tool companies thought it was a gadget. Neither were interested.
For another three and a half years, Tim faced one rejection letter after another. Until he partnered with his college friend, Steve Berliner, and in the spring of 1983, they received their first order for 500 tools from Cabela’s and launched the first Leatherman tool.
The original tool was called the PST (pocket survival tool) and Tim and Steve hoped to sell 4,000 tools; instead, they sold 30,000. And over the next decade, they would sell over one million PST multi-tools. The rest is history!
This guide will tell you what you should look for in the best Leatherman multi-tool, the 3 top-selling multi-tools, and a recommendation as to which one you should purchase (if that’s not being too forward).
The more features a tool has, the better. Here are some main features to look for in a Leatherman (or any) multi-tool:
- Two or three different pliers
- Two or three different files
- A knife
- A serrated knife
- A saw
- Several different screwdriver blades
- A ruler
- A can opener
- A wire stripper
The best multitool should be sturdy and fit the hand will. Torque and leverage from any angle, considering the nature of different uses, should be stable. For example, if you are using the screwdriver function of a Leatherman, you should be able to lock the unit into position so that it doesn’t fold under your hand as you operate the screwdriver. By the same token, if you switch to a file on the tool, you should be able to use the file without losing your grip or being pinched by the other tools on the handle.
A well-made multitool will also come with a great warranty. Make sure that the warranty is for the lifetime of the piece and not limited to one year after purchase.
How to Tell if a Multi-Tool is Well Made
Sometimes, the pliers of your multitool will have power assistance, meaning that gears present in the pliers will assist you in your work. Look for Leatherman tools, also, that allow you to replace tools on the base unit, if they get broken. This is not a difficult procedure and can extend the life of your tool. The tool should be constructed so that any broken tools can be replaced easily.
Steel in the blades should be at least 420HC stainless steel. This will resist rust and corrosion, and hold an edge. The overall length of the tool when opened should be around 6 inches, so that you have a strong enough grip on the unit while performing the desired task.
The grip on your tool should be solid and built so that the tool does not twist in your hand while you operate it. While the blades of the knives should be high quality, sturdy stainless steel, the other parts of the tool should be equally sturdy. For example, screwdriver bits should be carbon steel at the least, and at least one file should have diamond dust for durability.
The individual tools should be easy to access. Take into consideration the shape of your own hands – many workmen have thick fingers with very short fingernails, making it hard to open particular blades on multitools. A paddle release is usually good, because it doesn’t require a lot of dexterity to operate.
Make sure, also, that the locking mechanism is sturdy and durable. You don’t want the tool to collapse while you’re using it. A cheap one will slip, often injuring the user.
Form Follows Use
Keep in mind why you wanted the tool in the first place. A camper, for instance, will have different requirements from their tool than an electrician. The camper may want a fork and spoon in his unit, while the electrician will want a wire stripper. There are as many varieties of multitools as there are uses, so shop carefully. You can probably find one that fits your specifications.
The 3 Top Selling Multi-Tools
Here are some reviews of some of the top multitools on the market, all from Leatherman.
- Brand: Leatherman
- Model: Wave Plus Premium
- Weight: 10.6 ounces
- Steel: 420HC Stainless Steel with Black Oxide
- Tools: 18
The Leatherman Wave Plus Premium contains 18 tools, and it’s Leatherman’s best-selling tool of all-time! That is saying a whole lot! Each part of the tool is made of 100% stainless steel to combat rust and corrosion. The “Premium” part of the name comes from the new feature of replaceable wire cutters in premium steel.
With this tool, you will have 4 exterior blades that are easily accessed when the tool is closed. The pressure opening makes it easy to open the knives, even for those with limited dexterity. The blades are equally easy to unlock and close. Other tools in the construction have generous nail nicks for easier access. Some of the more popular tools are a variety of pliers, replaceable wire cutters, wire stripper, plain and serrated knives, saw, spring-action scissors, ruler, can and bottle openers, files, and screwdrivers.
The Wave Plus is an international best-seller and it has all the essential tools of the original with the addition of replaceable, durable wire cutters as stated earlier. All 18 tools can be opened and locked quickly, conveniently to tackle any task. Many of these tools are outside-accessible, so you can use them when the multi-tool is folded and closed. It even has tools that can be deployed with one hand!
Reviews of this tool are almost universally positive. Consumers report that the tool has a good weight, without being so heavy as to tire the hand. It doesn’t torque or twist in the hand, which is a major plus. In each use, the tool is comfortable to the hand. Customers really like that, because so many multitools pinch or scrape the hand when certain attachments are being used.
Other reviewers said that the Leatherman New Wave has an excellent locking mechanism that doesn’t slip or give but is easy to release. They also state that, right out of the box, their Leatherman was easy to use, without the usual stiffness and inoperability that you often find with this type of tool.
This Leatherman comes with a 25-year limited warranty. The limitation is to defect in material and workmanship, so if you break off a knife blade prying a rock out of the ground, it’s not covered by the warranty. However, if the tool rusts or corrodes, the warranty will be in place for 25 years.
- Brand: Leatherman
- Model: MUT Multitool Premium
- Weight: 11.2 ounces
- Steel: 420HC Stainless Steel with Black Oxide, 154CM
- Tools: 16
- Main Blade Length: 3 inches
- Closed Length: 5 inches
The Leatherman MUT is the first Leatherman TACTICAL tool which is also practical for military usage. Some of the features include multiple areas on the tool that are threaded for cleaning rods and brushes, plus all the screwdriver bits are sized for standard civilian and military sighting adjustment work. The MUT is flexible in that it has designed into it the ability to replace commonly used parts on the spot! There’s a scope adjustment wrench included with the deal and it comes with a MOLLE sheath to make it practical for military backpacks and easy accessibililty.
In many cases, you’ll have only one hand with which to operate the MUT. Here’s the greatest part: You can use one hand to not only open and/or operate some of the tools, but you can use ONE HAND TO OPEN ALL (yes – ALL) the tools and you can use each one with just ONE HAND as well! It features a heavy-duty pocket clip as well and you can store an extra driver bit in the handle. It features replaceable wire cutters like the Wave, but it also includes firearm tools as mentioned earlier.
The catch with the MUT is the expense. Yes it looks cool. Yes it’s designed for military and civilian tactical use. But for that functionality and aesthetic, you’re paying a premium price as well!
The tool itself is black with a black MOLLE sheath so it looks unique and aggressive – just as I like it!
- Brand: Leatherman
- Model: Signal Camping Multitool
- Weight: 7.5 ounces
- Steel: 420HC Stainless Steel with DLC coating and Cerakote
- Tools: 19
- Main Blade Length: 3 inches
- Closed Length: 4.5 inches
Because of the way my life works, this is hands-down my favorite Leatherman. I’m an outdoors dude at heart, and I spend weeks every year in the great outdoors canoeing, camping and fishing. I usually have a toolbox in my boat, so I typically have a variety of functional tools at my disposal, but sometimes the Leatherman is actually better than even some expensive, purpose-specific tools.
This tool is incredibly light compared to most other Leathermans and it’s smaller. That makes it a joy to carry while in the boat (especially if your boat is a 16-foot canoe that becomes your home for 6 days!). The Signal combines 19 useful tools into a compact, 4.5 inch size. This multi-tool readies you for the unexpected with its fire-starting ferro rod, 420HC combo blade, and emergency whistle. Tighten gear with the customizable bit driver and anchor your tent stakes with the built-in hammer. A nylon sheath is included as we would expect!
Some of the more used functions on the Signal are the needlenose pliers and regular pliers, replaceable wire cutters, the replaceable HARD wire cutters, wire stripper, saw, hammer, awl and can-opener. Don’t forget the fire-starter and the emergency whistle. It’s amazing what can fit into these suckers nowadays!
- Brand: Leatherman
- Model: Skeletool CX
- Weight: 5.0 ounces
- Steel: 154CM Stainless Steel with DLC coating
- Tools: 7
- Closed Length: 4 inches
The Skeletool is really meant to be a minimalistic tool that disappears on your body even more than most other Leathermans. With that small-ness and light-ness come a tradeoff, and that is functionality. It features only 7 tools which less than half of what many other Leathermans feature. However, that suits MANY people just fine, and the CX has quite a following as can be attested to by the 500 reviewers on Amazon giving it a 4.6 out of 5 rating!
The Skeletool brings it right down to the minimum of the most useful tools including needlenose pliers, regular pliers, hard-wire cutters, wire-cutters, knife, carabiner/bottle opener and a large bit screwdriver (yup, I just named all 7 tools). Sometimes, all you need is the most necessary tools and not everything including the kitchen sink.
Of course, for this reduced functionality, you’ll pay a proportionately reduced price and that’s a nice thing! And don’t forget the 25-year warranty from Leatherman!
- Brand: Leatherman
- Model: Style CS
- Weight: 1.4 ounces
- Steel: 420HC Stainless Steel
- Tools: 6
- Closed Length: 2.9 inches
Wow! Talk about an excellent PRICE!!! The Leatherman Style CS is an inexpensive version of the more complex tools available from this same company. This two-inch multitool will fit on your keychain, providing small tools for emergency or convenience.
The tiny tool should not be underestimated. It contains a 420HC blade, a carabiner/bottle opener, spring-action scissors, a nail file, tweezers, and a flat-to-Phillips screwdriver. The tools are accessible from the outside of the tool, and it comes with an attachment for your key ring.
Surprisingly, this tool is popular with people who work on computers. The small dimensions (2 x ½ x 3 inches and 3.2 oz) make it very handy to keep nearby, and it is not hard to maneuver in tight places.
Consumers who purchased this tool warn that it is intended for heavy-duty use, but they didn’t expect it to be. They were looking for a small tool that could handle numerous and varied emergency situations in everyday life, and have found this tool to be excellent for those purposes.
The blade is very sharp, and the scissors are excellent, with no complaints about it. The screwdriver is strong enough to fix your glasses and to do medium-weight work. The majority of consumer reports on this tool are positive, with the only negative being some doubt about the quality of the Philips head screwdriver.
This version of the Leatherman contains knives with 420 HC blades, spring-action pliers and wire cutters, a wire stripper, spring action scissors, and 3 sizes of screwdrivers. It also has a file for both wood and metal, a bottle opener, and a can opener.
This tool is a handy size at 3.8 inches closed. The blade length is 2.6 inches, giving you a decent working edge. It is also only 7 oz, so it’s not really heavy.
The Wingman is the embodiment of great Leatherman quality. The construction of this tool is solid, the tool is easy to grip, and the selection of tools is one of the best for non-job specific functioning. Consumers who purchased this tool note that the spring-action is especially great on the pliers, scissors, and wire cutter. They also compliment the weight. Since this is not usually a workman’s tool, but one that would be carried by, say, an office worker, the bulk and weight of the tool is conducive to being carried.
The tools include:
- Spring-action Needlenose Pliers
- Spring-action Regular Pliers
- Spring-action Wire Cutters
- Wire Stripper
- 420HC Combo Knife
- Spring-action Scissors
- Package Opener
- Ruler (1.5 in | 3.8 cm)
- Can Opener
- Bottle Opener
- Wood/Metal File
- Phillips Screwdriver
- Medium Screwdriver
- Small Screwdriver
The knife and scissors are both exterior accessible, which several reviewers complimented. They can also be opened with one hand, which is quite handy. More details on the Leatherman Wingman.
If you want a heavy-duty work tool, the Leatherman Wave or Wave + is an excellent choice. However, if you want a sturdy multi-tool for non-professional use, the Wingman is a great decision. This tool is small enough to be handy but big enough to do the job. For minimalist everyday use, the Skeletool is our recommendation.