We'll start off our review of the multi-tool market with the Leatherman offerings simply because they established the market. The Leatherman Tool Group "Pocket Survival Tool"
is the one that made the whole concept of compact multi-purpose tools with pliers so popular, and it will fit nicely in your pocket (4 x 1 1/16 x 1/2 inches, 5.5 ounces). The original Pocket Survival Tool and it's sibling, the "PST II," are still available and still quite popular, though they have been eclipsed by their more feature laden progeny. The Original offers needle nose pliers, a 2 11/16 inch clip-point plain-edge knife blade, wire cutters with a shear-style cutter at the back of the jaws to cut harder grades of wire, metal/wood file with one edge machined to serve as a rudimentary "hacksaw," can/bottle opener, small, medium, large, and #1/#2 Phillips (one size fits both) screwdrivers, and an awl/punch (which could stand to be sharper). The handles unfold to become an 8 inch/20 cm ruler. All the slotted screwdrivers on all the Leatherman tools are single-side ground.
The Leatherman "PST II" incorporates a number of changes and additions that some may find appealing. The awl, a very useful tool in many survival situations, is replaced with a very effective scissors. These are considerably more robust and useful than those found on the typical Swiss Army Knife. The fine side of the file has been replaced with a diamond dust coating which incorporates a fish hook sharpening groove, a nice feature. The diamond dust file works adequately and doesn't tend to clog like the fine metal file did, but also doesn't cut as fast. The coarse side and edge remain the same. The clip point knife blade has an improved point with more belly and meat, but unfortunately, the blade has also been given a 40/60 plain/serrated edge, making it somewhat less versatile. Both tools are available with a choice of either a nylon or leather sheath,
The diamond coated file on the PST II would be perfect for sharpening a knife, including the knife in the PST II, if the file could be removed and the blade didn't have those darn serrations. Solving those two problems would make the PST II far more appealing to many. Allen Duffield thought that to be the case and decided to do something about it. You can too, if you want. Read how in "How I Altered My Leatherman PST II," in which Allen gives detailed instructions for modifying your PST II.
The Leatherman "SideClip" is a simply the Original put on a diet by deleting the file and awl (4 x 1 1/16 x 11/32 inches, 5 oz.). The blade is changed to a plain edge drop-point and has a full half inch less working edge. A pocket clip is added so that it can be carried in the same manner as a folding knife with a pocket clip, making access to the SideClip easier and quicker. Neither the knife blade, nor any of the implements, lock on these tools.
One drawback to the original Leatherman design is that the handles fold inside out to use the pliers. When using the pliers you grasp the thin edges of the handles on the back side, cutting into your hand when you need to squeeze hard, uncomfortably so for some. In such cases some temporary padding, such as a cloth or gloves, will ease the bite, but this is the design's worst feature. While convenient sized, well constructed of good materials, and of proven usefulness, the lack of a locking blade, at a minimum, make these tools less than completely satisfactory. All Leatherman tools come with a 25 year warranty.
For my survival kit I've selected the Leatherman "Super Tool." The Super Tool was king of the multi-purpose tool hill for a number of years, until just recently, and in some respects it still is. This is slightly larger in all dimensions and quite a bit heavier (4 1/2 x 1 1/4 x 5/8, 8.8 ounces) than the Original Leatherman Pocket Survival Tool, with correspondingly larger, and thereby more functional tools, including a second, serrated edge, spear-point knife blade to accompany its clip-point plain edge blade, both 3 inches in length. This was the first tool to offer locking implements, its knife blades and tools lock in place securely. Unlocking the tool or blade in use is somewhat awkward, requiring you to partially open another tool or blade first in order to fold it back into the storage position.
The tools are the same as found on the Original except they are generally beefier, and in the case of the screwdrivers, longer as well. These include the needle nose pliers with an expanded conventional pliers section (something all the units we'll review have, so we won't mention this feature again), wire cutters with a shear-style cutter at the back of the jaws to cut harder grades of wire, metal/wood file with one edge also having machined to allow it to cut somewhat in the manner of a hacksaw blade, an excellent double tooth wood saw that also works very well on most plastics, can/bottle opener, small (1 1/4 in. long), medium (1 3/4 in. long), and large (1 1/4 in. long) slotted screwdrivers, a #1/#2 Phillips (one size fits both - 1 7/8 in. long) screwdriver, and an awl/punch (which could stand to be sharper). The handles unfold to become an 9 inch/22 cm ruler. A crimper, for crimp style wire connectors, is integrated into the back side of the pliers joint.
A split ring can be fitted to the lanyard attachment point secured by one of the pliers jaw pivots. This tool really pushes the limit for pocket carry, though not impossible, and I expect most carry it in its leather or nylon sheath on their belt.
The latest innovation from Leatherman is the "Wave." This multi-purpose tool solves many of the drawbacks of the original Leatherman designs. The Wave's most distinguishing new feature is that the two knife blades (plain edge clip-point and serrated sheepsfoot - 2 7/8 inches long) open out one-handed, locking in place with a liner lock. No need to unfold the tool, no need to pull the blades out. They open with the same ease as any good one-handed opening folding knife. They also unlock easily with one hand. The blade (and saw) edges are aligned with the bottom of the tool for optimal use.
Another major advance in the Wave's design is the pliers' ergonomics. The handle edges are rounded on the Wave, making a huge difference in user comfort and utility. The handles on the Wave need not take a back seat to anyone in the comfort department. The Wave pliers are essentially the same length and width as those of the Original. However, the base of the jaws and the pivot have been beefed up quite a bit, though not quite as much as those on the Super Tool, adding a great deal more strength in this critical area.
A file and a saw also open without need to unfold the tool. The file is similar to that on the PST II, except it lacks the fish hook sharpening groove, and the saw is nearly identical to that on the Super Tool, but a little thinner. The remaining tools are accessed by unfolding the tool in the traditional Leatherman manner. These do not lock into place, but improved geometry tends to make the screwdrivers more resistant to closing inadvertently while in use. The other implements include a can/bottle opener, very small, small, medium, and large slotted, and #1/#2 Phillips screwdrivers. There are also excellent scissors like those on the PST II.
This is the tool I currently carry carry on my belt, replacing the Super Tool I used to carry. I consider it essential equipment, don't leave home without it. This tool, and the Super Tool before it, has saved the day on more than one occasion. In fact, hardly a day goes by without my using it for something, testament to the usefulness of these multi-purpose tools.
For more information and detailed photos of the Wave, check out our expanded review and evaluation.
The Leatherman "Tool Adapter" fits all the full size Leatherman tools except the Wave (unfortunately). This adapter is locked into place between the closed handles of the tool and has an extension which holds quarter inch hex tool bits, 6 bits provided (#0 and #3 Phillips, #1 and #2 Robertson (square), #15 Torx, and #8-10 Slotted). The extension can be locked either straight out or at a 45 degree or 90 degree position. Its only major drawback is that it is somewhat bulky and makes for a lot of bulk hanging on your belt.
The "Micra" from Leatherman is not a traditional multi-purpose tool, since it has no pliers. However, its small size (2 1/2 inches closed, 1 3/4 oz.) combined with a pair of reasonably sized and effective scissors, where the pliers normally go, make it an excellent replacement for the small Swiss Army Knives many of us have carried, primarily for the scissors in many cases.
Besides the scissors, the Micra is equipped with tweezers (too narrow), a nail file (pebbled surface) with nail cleaner, chisel ground clip point plain edge knife blade, "flat" Phillips screwdriver, medium slotted screwdriver, and very small slotted screwdriver on the end of the bottle opener.
For more information and detailed photos of the Micra, check out our expanded review and evaluation.
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Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
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Revision: 010 January 12, 1999
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