Who can tell me more about multi-tools?

I’ve been discussing multi-tools with a few friends.  Some reckon they’re the bee’s knees for dealing with small problems.  Others – including myself – maintain that the multi-tools we’ve seen in use simply can’t compare to a small, portable tool kit to get things done.  The former’s tools seem too small to use with comfort, prone to breaking under stress, and generally not very well made (although that may be a function of the brand and/or price point – a higher-quality, more expensive multi-tool might do better).  On the other hand, while a small zip-up bag containing a selection of tools can handle most minor maintenance jobs, it’s a lot bigger, heavier and bulkier than a multi-tool.

In order to ground the discussion in reality, rather than a “Mine’s better than yours!” diatribe, I’m looking for more information about multi-tools:  the common models, the quality of various brands, and particularly a primer or introduction on how to use them most effectively.  I suspect they may be capable of more than I think, provided they’re used intelligently rather than as a form of improvised club!

Where can one find such information online?  What are some good resources to learn about multi-tools from the ground up?  What are the best brand(s), and why?  Which are the strongest, able to take tough use without breaking?  What tools are particularly useful from an all-round perspective, and which ones are esoteric and not very practical?  Please respond in a comment to this post if you have helpful suggestions.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to learn more about them.  Thanks!



  1. I use the classic Leatherman multi-tool. I've had it for years. Between that and a basic Swiss Army knife (Tinker or Super Tinker) it covers about all my normal "tool-ish" needs. I carry a car-tool kit in the car, so I don't need to pack those on my belt. I have home tools at home, so I don't need to carry those around, either. But for small and unexpected jobs, those two can just about always get it done. For blade self-defense, a Spyderco Delica (well, a pair of them, actually) can take care of things. Not big and flashy, but reasonably priced, compact, lightweight, and good enough.

  2. I've never been a fan of multi-tools. I'd rather have a set with sockets, ratchets, open end/box end wrenches, screw drivers, with an assortment of allen and torque wrenches. They're available in plastic boxes, or bags that conveniently store.

    Crescent and Channellock sell sets that are less than $150.

    The only multi-use tool I use is an adjustable wrench and a screwdriver with four heads: Small slotted, large slotted, small phillips and large phillips. They're good for simple jobs, without corroded fasteners and easy access.

  3. Being a mechanic for over thirty years,I also have never been a big fan of multi tools.
    They have their place of course though.

    I carry a 4 inch Snap On crescent wrench every where I go and have found it to be pretty handy.

    If I were to recommend a type of Multi tool I would specify two features as must have.

    A locking pliers feature and a bit driver feature.

    Leatherman makes such a beast.


    So does Gerber, Vise Grips themselves and several others.

    I would pay very close attention to the adjusting mechanism for the locking pliers and the quality of materials used along with fit and finish.

    Just my .02

  4. I carry a Leatherman Kick in my rounds as property manager. While there's a full toolkit in my office, the multi-tool comes in handy for loose door knobs, screws that need tightening, etc, that are encountered along the way. Very handy for small, odd jobs when carrying a full-size kit isn't an option.

    In other words, it's a supplement, rather than a substitute.

  5. I love my multi tools and have more than I need really. Most are just cheap ones that I've picked up here and there or got as gifts and are scattered from tackle boxes, range bag, camping equipment, glove boxes, etc…
    My first and favorite was an original Leatherman I bought in the Marine Corps and carried for about 5 years before I lost it. I abused the hell out of that thing and it took it like a champ. I've used it to work on my hummer and other cars in a pinch, fishing reels, firearms, scopes, skate boards, bicycles, fences,and countless other things.
    They do have their limitations and there are many things I want a bigger tool kit for but there have been many times I didn't have one and a multi tool saved my bacon.
    I'd say the most widely used brand by people I know is a Gerber. I've never been a big Gerber fan so I never bought one of those. SOG is pretty tough. I have an older one of theirs and I like it but not as much as the Leatherman.
    Prices range from cheap little no names to ridiculous. Just depends on your budget but the cheaper ones I have can't take near the abuse I put the Leatherman through. Although they are a lot pricier than when I bought my first one you can find good deals on them now and then. I picked up a Leatherman Sidekick and Croc twofer at home depot for $19 around Christmas.
    The most used tools on mine would be the screwdrivers and pliers and the least used would be the blade because I'd just grab my normal carry knife for cutting tasks.
    I originally bought mine simply for the fact it looked "cool" (yep young and dumb then) but quickly realized how handy they could actually be.

  6. For something to keep on the belt, I have an eight year old Gerber. It is something akin to a crescent wrench vs a socket set. Not ideal, but better than your fingers and always available.

  7. Hey Peter,

    I have a small pouch that I use while I am at work, it carries my lock-blade Knife, a good small flashlight and my multitool and my cellphone. I am an airplane mechanic I use a Gerber, I have a Leather-man and I prefer a Gerber. It is a good supplement for a quick fix, but they have limitations. They are not the panacea of all your needs.

  8. Multi-tools are like a handgun. They allow you to always have a tool available and work your way to your tool box for something more substantial. (I always carry one of some type)

  9. I currently own an older, smallish Gerber, (don't know the exact model, the 400 Compact Sport looks closest) Leatherman Skeletool and my current EDC, the Wingman.

    The Gerber has all-locking tools, the pliers are quicker to deploy, but all the other tools need you to open the pliers first. Quality appears to be variable–I've owned 2 of these with no trouble over a decade or so, but I've had the next size up that broke immediately and the file was completely useless for anything other than fingernails. On the other hand, Gerber quality is miles above the generic tools which are nearly useless.

    I wound up carrying both the Gerber and a liner-lock knife with pocket clip. In part to cut down on the things in my pocket, but also because the liner lock opened too quickly and sometimes alarmed people when I'd use it for an innocent purpose, I switched to a Leatherman Skeletool. No scissors, the screwdriver bits are a bit awkward (comes with 2 double sided bits and a storage slot) but generally good quality and useful. Did most of what I wanted, has a pocket clip and the frame lock blade opens with one hand and a bit slower. (I'm left handed, so I start it with my index finger, finish with thumb)

    A few months ago I bought a Wingman. Has a pocket clip and a one handed opening frame lock knife like the Skeletool, slightly bigger frame. Scissors are also frame lock, not sure if that's necessary but it doesn't hurt anything.

    The tools are a little mixed. The small screwdriver is on the end of the file, not the ideal steel for a screwdriver and can't reach into a hole. I wish the file were a cross pattern instead of diagonal. Has a blister pack opener that works, but I wound up grinding it into a small, deep screwdriver for the screw in a hole situation I run into at work. Wirecutters aren't perfect, smaller wires like Ethernet often need a second cut to get through all of them. The phillips screwdriver fits well in a normal #2, but also manages to tighten the smaller screws on Cisco power cords that a normal #2 won't fit.

    Despite its flaws it is my favorite tool (although I'd consider the very similar Sikekick as well, has a slightly different mix of tools) The price was nearly unbeatable, I bought 2 for co-workers Christmas gifts for $20 each on Amazon. The lack of locks on the tools hasn't been near as annoying as I thought it would be.

    I don't consider these a replacement for real tools other than a pocket knife–rather they let you deal with a lot of minor mechanical issues instantly, instead of having to remember to come back later with tools. Saved me a good number of trips up and down a ladder, up a cherry picker or back to the office.

  10. I have carried a multi tool on my belt for years. I've found it to be sufficient in 90+% of what I need (I'm a radio communications technician). It's not perfect, but it also is 1/2 lb on my belt, not 20+ lbs in my hands.

    It depends on what your needs will be for it as to whether or not it'll work for you. For me, I need a pair of pliers, a phillips screwdriver, medium and large straight blade screwdrivers, a knife, and a pair of scissors (for ty-wraps).

    I carried a Leatherman Blast until I broke it last week. It's the 2nd one I've carried (and broken), but that's in enough years that I can't tell you when I started carrying it. I would have purchased another one if they still made it (and I'll probably send the broken one to Leatherman to see what they'll do about it).

    Since I couldn't get an exact replacement, I went to a place that specializes in knives, looking for options, and some informed opinions. Of what they had in stock, I couldn't choose between a Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X, and a Gerber Strata, so I ended up buying both.

    The Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X is glass smooth. It just works. The blade / tool lock is reliable, and easy to unlock when you want it to. Absolutely no complaints with its construction or operation.

    The Gerber Strata has two things going for it over the Victorinox: 1. the knife is a one handed open, and 2. the pliers have a tension spring to hold the pliers open at rest. I'm not sure yet about the spring pliers, but I do like the one handed knife opening. But, although the knife / tool lock locks open well, unlocking it to fold up the knife / tool is a bit of a challenge. This might just be the newness of the item, and it might wear in just fine, but the equivalent on the Victorinox is perfect right out of the box.

    Both tools are brand new, and I haven't used them in the field yet, so we'll see.

    There's my $.02

  11. Peter,

    We have multi-tool sets but more often than anything else, we use a small tool kit. I like multi-tool kits for emergency kits and sometimes for compact car trunks. We just don't find them to be as effective or to fit as well as the right tool for the job.
    Best wishes,

  12. I got introduced to multi tools when I was rigging sailboats. Forty feet up a mast is a lousy place to remember the tool you need got left out of your riggers bag. Also on a motorbike they are very handy to supplement the bikes tool kit in a minimal space. I am a tradesman for forty years so have some idea about tools. A BOB is a great place to have a multi tool.

    A locking pliers IMO is essential.
    First, it can be used to grab nuts, etc- but the real advantage is that it can be used to hold other things- like a scalpel blade. Or the end of a piece of wire. Or a broken piece of hacksaw blade. Or clamped to the spline on your motorbike where the shift lever used to reside-saved me a very long walk out of the woods…
    A knife blade that can be opened without having to open the rest of the tool is great.

    The one I prefer, is, of course, no longer made….The Kershaw A 100- has a locking needle-nose pliers, knife, Philips and straight drivers, file and tiny hacksaw.
    It is a bit longer than most, and would make a dandy kubotan as well.
    To amplify the use of a multi tool, add three feet of stainless steel safety wire-it can be used to sew with, tie things together, etc. a scalpel blade-for when you need a really sharp, pointy edge, and a 5" piece of hacksaw blade and slide the works in the sheath beside the tool.
    Think of it as an EDC toolkit, along with the other stuff- small light, pocket knife, etc. They are not meant for replacing full size tools- but they are just fine
    when you need a tool,
    Think of it as jury-rig kit, not a "do the job right" tool.
    When was the last time you took a socket set or a screwdriver and pliers on a walk in the woods?

  13. I am a rancher and have carried Gerber and Leatherman tools everyday since I got out of high school, nearly 20 years ago. They do not replace a proper tool kit, but they do save you time and energy simply by giving you the option of getting the job done immediately. Right now I carry the Leatherman Surge, with a bit set, and a Leatherman Crunch. Honestly, I rarely use the Crunch,and when I do, it is for more of an extra hand than anything. When I tried to use it as real vice grip I snapped the jaws. To Leatherman's credit they replaced it immediately at no cost other than shipping. The only time I damaged the Surge I was flat out abusing it,using the serrated knife blade to hack into frozen dirt out of frustration,and Leatherman replaced it as well. I would guess I probably use my Surge about 7 or 8 times a day, my Crunch maybe twice a month, and my bit set once every month or two, but when I need them they are always at hand and always save me time and energy.
    Just my two cents.

  14. Easy to carry and if you stay within the tools limits, they work good and they are easy to carry. What is not to like?

  15. I have carried a Leatherman multi-tool for years – currently a Wave, but that replaced a PST II when somebody stole it, and that model was no longer available.

    It sits on my belt, and is there when I need a tool, but have nothing else – kind of a "pocket pistol of the tool world".

    Would I re-build an engine with it? No, but it sure does a fine job of many smaller tasks.

  16. Asking what the best multitool is, is like asking "what is the best gun".
    I have Leatherman(s), Gerber(s) and a couple of off brand copies, various sizes too.
    They all work some, but as many have already said "they are not replacements for real tools".
    They do save steps and time.
    I usually have one within reach.
    With so many options you have to figure out what you are going to be doing with it before buying one.
    Even my little Leatherman Micra has saved me from going to get the right tool several times.

  17. My EDC is a leatherman wave. To amplify what others have said. You have better tools in your toolbox, but you don't always have your toolbox on you. My only criticism of the wave, the pliers need to be springloaded. There may be other better multi tools but at the rate mine is wearing out, it'll be the 21st century before I find out!

  18. Les Stroud swears by his multitool, and has said on a number of shows that it is his number one must have when he's dumped off in some forsaken spot to film an episode. I don't know what brand he has, but it looks pretty much like what you would pick up at any hardware store.

  19. My EDC is a Leatherman Super Tool (Patent applied for) that I bought from Sears a long time ago. The last time I used it was Friday night when my wife and I were at the seafood buffet at Green Valley Ranch Station Casino. She had a particularly tough crab claw. I pulled out my Super Tool and solved the problem. Some sidelong glances from the next table, but it got the job done.

  20. My most used multi-tool is a Leatherman Micra. Bought a bunch of them twenty years ago, gave some out for Christmas, kept the ones left over. Mostly use them for the scissors, but everything else gets used occasionally. Except the tweezers. NO ONE, except the Victorinox Swiss Army types, make decent tweezers. I carry that by itself in a pill bottle in my gear bag. I've tried modifying the Micra's. Still working on that.

    Have an original Gerber Multi. Bought it because it can be opened one handed. Shake/whip it to get the pliers to slide out the end. Only problem is you can pinch your palm due to how close the handles get when you squeeze it near closed position.

    Also carry one of the Swiss Utility pivot/fold tools. It comes as a part of a 6+ pieces set. Occasionally useful.

  21. I carry an older Gerber multi-tool that's very similar to this one:

    I also carry a Benchmade pocket knife for cutting things and a small swiss army knife. The multi-tool is almost exclusively used for the pliers, wire cutters, and saw. I really like being able to replace the saw blades, and the replaceable carbide wire cutter inserts are extremely handy as well. I wish it had the ability to accept bits instead of cast screwdriver tools, but that's the only fault I see with it. THe knife works well, but I find a regular pocket knife to be more comfortable for most things.

  22. I've carried a Leatherman Wave for over a decade. It goes in my pants pocket with my car keys and it's been a lifesaver a couple of times. The tool you have with you is worth many times more than any tool you left at home, or is 2 miles away and locked in the car. It's a jack of all trade, master of none, but it's almost always been good enough. The (locking) blades and the file can be opened without opening the pliers. The scissors are more useful than I would've thought. I really wish the screwdriver bits locked, and a couple of times it would've been handy if the pliers locked.

    I received a Leatherman Skeletool as a gift. I'm frankly disappointed with it. The screwdriver bits are kind of clumsy, and too short to fit down into many common recessed screwholes. It's lighter than the Wave, but is missing scissors, file, saw blade. Honestly, I think it could've been better designed and had more functionality with only a bit more weight.

    However, the Wave has more than paid for itself over the years.

  23. I'm not going to say anything that hasn't already been said here. My EDC includes a Leatherman Wingman and a Leatherman Sidekick (slightly hybridized). Bang for the buck, it's difficult to beat Leatherman or SOG. I don't know that anything is as nice as the SwissTools from Victorinox, but they're priced accordingly.

    Just as others have already indicated, these things are not a replacement for grown-up tools, but they are handy when you need the tool now, instead of having to fetch it from your BOB, trunk of your car, desk in the next room, etc.

    Look for the U.S. flag on the package of whatever you might purchase. For a long time, many if not most of these things were made in China, and the Chinese steel was utter crap. Most of the name brand manufacturers have been rolling them back to U.S. make, and are proudly indicating so on the retail packaging.

    Frankly, I'm looking forward to what you decide to go with. Your African no-nonsense attitude toward tools versus your values toward well-made tools ought to deliberately produce results in this arena, and I would love to see the reasoning behind whatever decisions you make.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *