This year's SHOT Show brought the long awaited pre-production prototype appearance of a number of multi-purpose tools. Leading the list is the highly anticipated Spyderco SpydeRench which has been in the works for two years. Leatherman introduced two new models, the aptly named Crunch, and the Flair, which features a corkscrew. Making their production appearance were the SOG PowerLock and Wenger MiniGrip, first announced last year. Gerber added a Compact Sport Multi-Lock and some others knives as well. Benchmade showed Mel Pardue's first Axis Lock knife and a trio of moderate priced drop point Ascents, plus some others. Jerry Busse was there showing off his new Basic series for the first time. We'll take a quick first look at these and everything else we thought was worthy of mention for those looking for utility tools and gear.
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The Spyderco SpydeRench's most innovative features are true slip-joint
pliers and an adjustable wrench, as well as a one hand opening Spyderco
knife, which can be used separately. At 7 ounces, 4 1/2
x 1 1/2 x 5/8 inches, it seemed a bit large and heavy to use the
included stainless pocket clip and most owners will likely use
a sheath for carry. In addition, the clip could get in the way of using the pliers, so I suspect many owners will just remove it.
The adjustable crescent wrench opens to 9/16 inch. The slip-joint
pliers are somewhat stubby, but allow you for parallel jaws with
a bit wider opening than the non-slip-joint pliers found on other
tools. The tool stores four 1/4 inch hex bits (two common,
two Phillips) that insert into the end of the knife handle portion
of the tool. Also included is a longer double-ended "extension bit" with a small common and #1 Phillips screwdriver that fits into the hex bit holder and otherwise
retains the bits in place when stored. This extension has a diamond dust
finish on some of the flat and angled surfaces, for use as a file, though
at 1/4 inch wide it's a bit on the slim side. On the other hand, it can be used to sharpen the knife if needed, a potentially valuable advantage.
The 2 1/2 inch 440C stainless steel blade is about the same
size and shape as Spyderco's old standby, the small Delica knife, and will be available in
plain or serrated edge. It is a lockback design and can be used
either integrally with the tool or separated from the tool, though
the remaining handle is a bit sharp edged itself in places and
will likely also need some means to guard the edge when closed
and separated from the body of the tool, minor problems that
we're told Spyderco intends to attend to before production commences.
Learning to disassemble and assemble the various components
of the SpydeRench is complicated enough that it may require an
instructional video, something else we were told is being given
serious consideration. The tool is comfortable to hold in all
its various configurations with the one exception noted above
and being addressed. The ability to separate the tool into its
utility components is a nice feature. Between the one-hand opening knife and its abilty to be detached from the tool, this is a tool that could easily replace a traditional pocket knife for many people.
Suggested retail is expected to be around $100 with deliveries
supposedly to begin this Summer or Fall. If we were betting,
Fall would be the earliest we'd expect to see it, but in any case, if you want
one anytime soon after production begins you had best place your
order with your favorite dealer now. Expect demand to be very
high and the SpyderRench to be in short supply for a good while.
Locking pliers are not new on a multi-purpose tool, Kershaw did
it with their Multi-tool a few years ago, but that tool stretches
the definition of a multi-purpose tool nearly to breaking. In
our opinion, if the tool cannot be folded up to reasonably fit
in your pocket, albeit with perhaps less comfort than desired,
then it really doesn't fit our definition of multi-purpose
tool moniker. In the Leatherman Crunch, the conventional jaw pliers
are unfolded from within the tool. Then the second handle is
attached to the loose lower jaw via a pair of detents in the sides that
snap onto points at the rear of the jaws. Locking adjustment
is incorporated into the other handle using a convention style
screw-jack operated via a knurled knob at the end of the handle.
A maximum of 1.15 inches adjustment range is available. In our brief time handling the tool it ably crunched down on a variety of sizes and shapes of material with no problem. Now, it isn't a needle nose, which is still our favorite, but it could
be that for many users the locking jaws are a satisfactory tradeoff.
There have certainly been plenty of times when I wished we had
some lock-jaw pliers at hand. The Leatherman combo soft and hard
wire cutter is incorporated into the base of the jaws.
In the other handle is a fully serrated sheepsfoot knife blade,
a wood/metal file with the end formed into a large screwdriver blade, medium and small common screwdrivers, #1/#2 Phillips screwdriver, and a fold-out lanyard attachment.
This time around they got that one right by including a hole
big enough to be of some use. A bottle cap opener is included
at the base of the small common screwdriver. The blade and all
the implements lock in place. The lock is released by depressing
a full width lever on top of the handle.
My initial reaction to the fully serrated sheepsfoot blade as the sole blade on the tool was
negative. After some thought, though, it doesn't bother me as
much. Anyone likely to carry this tool will also likely be carrying
a proper folding knife, so the Crunch's blade serves only as
a secondary alternative blade and in that case, its configuration
is just fine and gives the user another option if needed.
The adjustment screw for the jaws can be removed and a recess
thus cleared can then be used to hold 1/4 inch bits, though there was no retention mechanism for the bits. The Crunch is just about the same size as the Wave, four inches long, but
about 1/8 inch thinner. Like the Wave, the Tool Adapter doesn't fit it either. Expect to see the crunch available about October at a suggested list of $98.
One of the most common complaints I hear about the Leatherman tools, in fact about all these multi-purpose tools, is lack of a corkscrew. As you might suspect, most of those complaining live in Europe, but Leatherman told us that even many in the U.S. have requested one. Ask often enough, and eventually you will receive.
Using the PST II as a basis, the file and conventional cap/can opener was sacrificed to alow room for a titanium plated corkscrew. They've gone the SAK crowd a big one better by including the tool found on many commercial corkscrews that unfolds and allows you to lever out the cork, it isn't simply a matter of pulling using brute force. This makes the job much easier and reduces the expletive count significantly. This tool includes a cap lifter and can opener and is also Ti plated.
Quite frankly, that would have been enough for most of us. Not satisfied to leave well enough alone, however, Leatherman carried the concept a bit further and you will also find a "cocktail fork" to spear the olive in your martini and a "spreader knife" for spreading pate on your cracker. Personally, the whole concept of a purposely dull knife blade escapes me, but... The remaining tools are more run-of-the-mill, same old PST pliers and wire cutters, the usual threesome of common screwdrivers and the Phillips, plus the fold-out scissors. The PST II's half serrated (boo, hiss) clip point knife blade rounds out the collection. The Tool Adapter does fit this new tool. First shipments of the Flair are expected in August with a suggested list price of $70.
I'm looking forward to receiving a sample of the Flair. There's a bottle of wine here just waiting to be used for testing.
Leatherman was also showing of samples of the Micra in colors
of red, green, and black, just to gauge reaction. Let them know
if you think it's a good idea, or not. While they are at it,
I sure wish they'd fix the tweezers and made the ends wider.
The too-narrow tweezers are that tool's continuing disappointment.
The big news at Gerber was their 3/4 size Multi-Plier, the Compact Sport. Note that with the elimination of all non-locking Multi-Pliers from the line, Gerber has now renamed the former Multi-Lock products to Multi-Plier, which is equipped with the "SAF.T.PLUS System" slide lock. got that? Isn't marketing great...
The most noticeable reduction is the size of the needle nose pliers.
The remaining implements are the same size as the original larger
tools, but there are less of them. One handle holds the 50% serrated
drop point blade, Phillips screwdriver (which accepts the tool
coupler) and a medium common screwdriver with cap lifter. The
other handle contains the excellent "Fiskars" scissors,
large and small common screwdrivers and a can opener. Compared
to all the other multi-purpose tool makers, Gerber still makes
the best, properly ground flat screwdrivers, but they are still
shorter than I'd prefer. The blade and tools lock in the same
manner as the original.
Gerber also showed their new Deluxe Multi-Plier which incorporates
both the new saw coupler (moved over from the Multi-Lite series
where it originated) and a Fiskars scissors, as well as the usual
selection of remaining tools (file, 50% serrated drop point blade,
small and medium (with cap lifter) common screwdrivers, Phillips
screwdriver, and can opener. The saw coupler accepts any standard
jig saw blade, which is a pretty neat feature. To make room for
the saw coupler, the lanyard attachment went bye, bye, as did
the large screwdriver or awl. Also included with the Deluxe is
the Tool Kit with coupler and six bits. The new Woodsman model
incorporates the saw coupler, no scissors, but you get the large
screwdriver and awl.
For those interested in making really loud noises, the new E.O.D.
model (Explosives Ordinance Disposal) incorporates a blasting
cap crimper in the needle nose pliers jaws and a C4 punch to make
the holes in C4 explosives into which you slip the blasting cap.
As far as knives go, the new Chameleon series of folding knives
features a huge hole at the fore end into which you place your
index finger when gripping the knife, functioning more or less
as a half guard. this answers the often difficult design problem
with folding knives of how to incorporate some effective menas
of preventing your hand from slipping onto the blade. Available
in three sizes and with both plain edge and 50% serrated edge,
the blades lock via a sliding side lock similar to the old Bolt-Action
line. We'll have to wait to see what effect this design compromise
has on the ultimate strength of the knife.
The Fiskars Folding Spade, originally available only in Europe,
is now going to be available here in the U.S. I've heard a lot
of good things about this NATO approved folding shovel from those
who have used them overseas and am looking forward to putting
it through its paces.
The Swiss gnomes at Victorinox didn't have actual prototypes to play with, but they felt confident enough to include some new tools in their catalog that are supposed to be available later this year. Developing niche market tools is a SAK specialty and Victorinox have now applied that concept to the SwissTool. Infortunately, the U.S. still doesn't get the wrench and bit set option that Europeans have had available since the SwissTool was originally released (boo, hiss). They would also not speak about the rumored development of a SwissTool with scissors.
The new AutoTool builds on the orignal SwissTool, but replaces some of the implements and the serrated blade with a flashlight, digital tire pressure gauge, and an ice scraper! They are also planning to introduce a BoardSportTool, which is itself of little interest to us, however, the inclusion of a ratcheting 1/4 inch hex bit holder into this tool portends other interesting future developements. Finally, good news for those who have been frustrated by the lack of availablity here in the U.S. of some of the larger locking blade SAKs. Knives like the Trailmaster (a Rucksack with a Phillips screwdriver replacing the corkscrew), Parachutist, Carpenter, and others have been added to the U.S. line.
Benchmade introduced a number of new knives, and new versions of
existing models. A few of the introductions were more significant
than the rest, from our point of view. For the average user,
the availability of an ATS-34 drop point blade in all three sizes
of the moderately priced ($55 suggested list) Ascent series is
a very welcome addition to the line. It was just a year ago that
I sketched out a drop point blade fitted to a Ascent handle and
faxed it off to Mel Pardue to show how nicely it worked. True
to his word, he bugged them until they relented and made the damn
thing. Hoooray! A plain edge is available on all three sizes,
along with a partially serrated edge for those that prefer that.
This is the first pure utility folder Benchmade has offered in
a long time and I sure hope it succeeds for them, because I'd
like to see more of 'em.
A smaller version of the Model 710 Axis Lock was added ($135 suggested
list), as expected. This model 705 with a blade length just a
hair under 3 inches and a closed length of 3.8 inches makes a
dandy around-town folder. Bigger news about the Axis Lock concept
was the new Mel Pardue design featuring the lock, the model 720
($140 suggested list). This knife is the first implementation
of Benchmade's "cartridge" or "module" concept for the Axis Lock,
which should make it both easier and quicker to develop additional
designs based on this lock.
In this concept the stainless steel lock is "dropped"
into the handle material, press fit actually, rather than being
integral with the liners, and is held in place with a pair of
screws and the pivot fastener. The end result is improved balance
and nicer lines without the need for the liners to be exposed
as on the original model 710. Benchmade's designers can now develop
knife designs pretty much independent of the lock, opening up
some interesting possibilities.
The handle of the model 720 itself is great -- nicely contoured
hard anodized aluminum instead of the slab sides and hard edges
we've become accustomed to with most G-10 handled knives. Every
edge is facetted, allowing it to better fit your hand. While
the severe clip point blade shape didn't do much for me (though
I'm sure it'll sell like mad), the good news is Mel told me that
the original prototype was a drop point, like virtually all his
working knives, and I am led to believe it, too, will
be available eventually. That would make for a superb utility
folder, combining the strong Axis Lock with a very effective handle
design that incorporates all the basic features I like to see,
including a decent "guard" integrated into the lower
part of the handle, a nice low machined thumb rest on the top
and aft portion of the blade and a butt end that is nicely rounded
with a small amount of hook for pulling the blade.
First announced last year at SHOT Show, the Wenger MiniGrip is finally a reality a year later, a typical gestation period for this stuff it seems. Whereas the original Wenger multi-purpose tool, the SwissGrip, was somewhat on the large and bulky side, and has never sold particularly well as a result, this new rendition has gone just about as far in the other direction. The concept was to take a standard Swiss Army Knife package and graft a set of real pliers to it. As such, they did a pretty good job, assuming that's the answer to the question of "what do I want in a multi-purpose tool." The question that comes to my mind is, why make do with a mini-tool when you have to carry it in its ballistic nylon pouch anyway? Only time will tell if they correctly read the market, but this is definitely not a pocket tool like a typical SAK because of the protruding pliers.
In any case, like all Wenger products, it appears nicely finshed and well engineered. Six 1/4 inch hex bits reside in the removable bit holder which slips into a recess in the tool. To use the bits you stick them in the end of the tool or use an included adapter extension to extend them out further. With only the screwdriver incorporated into the cap lifter/wire stripper as part of the traditional SAK driver accuterments, the normal problem of highly polished and rounded off SAK screwdriver blades doesn't raise its head.
The MiniGrip is available with either needle nose or flat nose pliers incorporating wire cutters. For a tool this size, the needle nose seem like the best bet to me. One very nice feature of the pliers is that they are spring loaded with a slide lock to keep them closed for storage. Also included are a double cut saw with ruler etched into it, metal file with saw edge, can opener, awl and spear point blade
Jerry Busse chose SHOT Show to launch his long awaited production knives from Busse Combat Knife Co. With the backlog for his highly prized custom and benchmade blades extanding well over a year and prices on the secondary market going through the roof, this will at least ease the burden somewhat. The question is, what compromises were made to make the production knives affordable and producable?
One of the secrets to Busse's success has been his "INFI" steel. Credible reports praise it highly as tough with incredible edge holding, though to date Jerry has not released its composition, nor agreed to provide a knife for us to test. Working this steel is apparently not an easy chore and that is one of the reasons his knives take so long to produce. Jerry told me that the "Modified INFI" steel used in the new Combat Basics is very similar, but with reduced nickle and chromium to make them more workable. He insists the result is only a slight reduction in edge keeping and flexibility and has an impressive video he shows to support his claims. Once we get our hands on promised samples we'll see for ourselves how good they are.
The Basics come in four sizes: #3, #5, and #7 with 3, 5, and 7 inch blades respectively. The #9 has a 9 1/2 inch blade. Handles are molded rubber (the two smaller knives and two larger ones share the same handles) with a brass hollow rivit for a lanyard hole. The smaller blades are coated, but the big one is polished steel. The edge is ground assimetrically, with most of the grind on one side and only a short grind on the other, not quite a chisel grind. The standard Kydex sheath is able to be configured in a multitude of ways, depending upon how you like to carry. Pricing is $138, $178, $218, $258 respectively. Street prices will likely be a bit less and deliveries are expected to begin in a few months.
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