These Colors Don't Run - Remember 9.11.2001 Equipped To Survive
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Victorinox SwissTool Evaluation

(Editor's Note: We were only allowed to have the SwissTool for a short period of time and had to return it in good condition, so we were not able to complete all the tests we normally include in our evaluations. Our most abusive tests could potentially result in damage to the product. We hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to complete our evaluation.)

The Swiss don't have a reputation for haste, so I suppose it's no surprise it has taken them a long while to enter the multi-tool market. One could argue that they invented the market with the Swiss Army Knife, but that product's lack of practical-sized pliers significantly reduces its utility compared to the multi-tool, no matter how many other useful odds and ends are packed into it. In fact, it was just that lack of utility which led Tim Leatherman to invent the first multi-tool, the Leatherman Pocket Survival Tool, and bring it to market back in 1983.

Wenger introduced its SwissGrip model in 1996, essentially adding a blunt nose pliers to an extra large Swiss Army Knife (similar in form and function to the SOG Tool Clip, but larger), but it was both over-sized and over-priced and under-marketed. As a result, few retailers carried it and with the exception of a few SAK enthusiasts, most never realized it exists.

SwissTool Now the other Swiss Army Knife manufacturer, Victorinox, has weighed in with their "SwissTool." We first saw this new design a year ago at the 1997 SHOT (Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show, but it's taken nearly another year to get it into production. The good news is that the wait was worthwhile. The new SwissTool offers some unique and innovative design features that set it apart from the crowd. This is not just another "me too" design.

The initial impression is one of heft and fine finish. The all stainless steel tool is highly polished, looking as much like a piece of jewelry as a working tool. Fit and finish is excellent, as you might expect. In size it is virtually identical to the Leatherman Super Tool, its closest competitor and obvious design reference - closed it's 4 1/2 inches long ( 11.43 cm) by 1 5/16 inches (3.33cm), by 5/8 inch (1.6 cm) thick. It feels heavy and turns out it is, though not quite as heavy as I initially expected, 9.80 oz. (278 grams) vs. 8.75 oz (249 grams) for the Super Tool, itself no lightweight.

Innovative Design

SwisTool Blades and Tools Open Out The pliers open in the same manner as do the traditional Leatherman, by unfolding the handles, but that's where the similarity ends. Blades and implements open out from the closed SwissTool, it isn't necessary to open the tool or pliers to gain access. This represents a huge step forward in ease of use and functionality for a compact folding multi-tool. Only the new, and smaller, Leatherman Wave, introduced, but not yet available, shares this configuration, and even it doesn't carry it as far, with the smaller tools still requiring you to unfold it for access.

Unfortunately, Victorinox didn't take the next logical step and make the two knife blades one-handed opening (which Leatherman has done with the Wave). For some reason the Swiss just don't seem to understand the importance of this feature or the incredible utility that one-handed opening provides. It still amazes me that the doyens of "utility" knives don't have a single one-handed opening model in their vast product line. Hopefully, they will see the error of their ways and add this important feature to the SwissTool in the future, though I wouldn't suggest you hold your breath.

Slide Locks All the blades and tools lock in place when open. This is another feature they got right. On both sides of the tool body are small knurled tabs that slide fore and aft to unlock the tools. The releases are easy to operate with one hand to close a blade or tool. A small bow spring serves to engage the locking tab into a slot in the open tool. If there's a potential weak point in the design, this may be it, but only time will tell.

The tools are spring loaded via individual spring steel fingers that are attached via a common end piece to the back side of the handles. This keeps the tools in place and means that when you pull out one tool, the rest stay in place. While this feature is hardly the major feature they make of it in the promotional materials, "no clumping," it is certainly a convenience not to have to deal with other tools opening when you go for a particular one.

Indexed small tools All the blades and tools are accessed via nail nicks with the exception of the Phillips screwdriver which relies upon the Philips head itself as a place to gain purchase with your nail. The small tools are all arranged and indexed so it is easy to get to each one. Overall, getting the small tools out is the easiest of any multi-tool we've tested.

Blades And Tools

Both a plain edge spear point blade and a serrated edge spear point blade are included. The 2 15/16 inch ( 7.47 cm) blades, 2 5/8 inch (6.68 cm) sharpened, are sufficiently robust for most jobs. Not quite long or as thick (approx. 3/32 inch (2.3 mm) as I'd prefer, but quite adequate for a general purpose utility folding knife. The spear point is far better as a multi-purpose blade than the clip point generally found on multi-tools. Without a doubt, this is the best blade found on any of the multi-tools.

SwissTool Serrated Spear Point Blade On the other hand, with one spear point blade already, it would have been better to make the serrated blade a sheepsfoot shape, which offers some advantages for the uses a serrated blade might be put to, such as cutting a seat belt loose from a trapped person. The combination of plain edge spear point and serrated sheepsfoot blades would be a more effective way to go, in my opinion. The serrations themselves are not nearly as aggressive as we've come to expect from most manufacturers, Spyderco being a good example, and the performance suffers slightly as a result, though not so much as to make them ineffective.

SwissTool with Blade Open The blades open so that the edge is in line with the bottom of the body/handle, making it much more functional than tools which have the edge line up with the center of the body. Anyone who has tried to cut close to a flat surface with a small blade so far above the bottom of the handle knows how difficult that can be. Both blades are set up for right-handed use, so lefties are out of luck.

The file is the same length as the blades, 2 15/16 inches (7.47 cm) long, but only 2 1/4 inch (5.72 cm) usable. They should have continued the file to the end. It has a fine double cut bastard file on one side, a slightly more aggressive double cut bastard on the other, with a moderately aggressive (more so than the Super Tool) "hacksaw" on one edge. Both sides of the file worked well on a variety of materials, though it could stand a bit more aggressive cut on the heavier cutting side of the file. The hacksaw edge cut light aluminum and copper tubing moderately well, but is certainly not equal to a real hacksaw.

The wood saw is the same excellent performing double row saw found on all the Victorinox Swiss Army Knives. Length and usable cutting edge are the same as the blades. The saw has a very slight taper back from the cutting edge, making for less chance of binding and easier cutting.

Can Opener with Small Screwdriver Tip The remaining tools are pretty much standard Swiss Army fair. There are four standard screwdrivers, if you include the little one at the end of the can opener. That one is always questionable since it is so stubby and at the end of a wide hunk of metal, so it is often unusable. The fine and large one are separate, the medium is at the end of the bottle cap lifter. There is also a Phillips that works on both #1 and #2 screws. The screwdrivers, with the exception already noted, are all of adequate, if not exceptional, length.

Unfortunately, Victorinox, in its zeal to polish everything to a high luster, rounds off the edges of the screwdrivers. This wouldn't be so bad if they fixed that, but they don't. As a result, the rounded edges can lead to slipping, especially in shallow grooves. Screwdriver tips should be square edged for best performance, and the tips unpolished or bead blasted for superior performance. The good news is that you can fix the rounded edges easily with a good file, diamond stone or grinding wheel, based on previous experience with Swiss Army Knives and others, though you do end up with an ever-so-slightly wider tip, unfortunately.

View Looking Down On Tool
View Looking Down On Tool - other side
Victorinox also missed an opportunity to expand the usefulness of the SwissTool via 1/4 inch hex bits. It would have been simple enough to machine the rectangular shanked Phillips to accept a straight adapter, á la Gerber's Multi-Pliers/Multi-Lock. Instead, the shank is tapered, making it problematic to do anything with it, though Wenger even solved that problem with the SwissGrip's adapter which fits over a tapered shank straight screwdriver. Yet another feature we can only hope they add in the not too distant future.

Chisel w/ The chisel proved capable and quite handy. Also on this tool are a vee style wire stripper and a half round "wire scraper," whatever that's supposed to be. The semi-circular cutting edge will scrape the surface off soft wire. The vee wire stripper worked about as well as it ever does -- marginally. The awl/reamer worked well, as you might expect, it has always been an SAK strong point.

The handles are ruled with metric on one side and English measurements on the other. Using the tool as a ruler is facilitated by the pliers tension mechanism that has a strong detent at the 90 degree point. This keeps the handles aligned provided the pliers jaws are held together.


Pliers: SwissTool vs Super Tool The biggest disappointment of the SwissTool are the pliers, the tool's raison d'être. In order to package the tools so that they all open out, the pliers are compromised. They are similar in size to those of the Super Tool, except they are about 3/8 inch (9.7 mm) shorter. The result is that they are truncated before coming to a true needle nose tip and are a rather wide 7/32 inch (5.6 mm) at the somewhat rounded off tip. If you don't have a need for a true needle nose pliers, then this is probably not a big deal for you. On the other hand, we feel that needle nose pliers are more versatile and make a better survival and utility tool.

The wire cutters are slightly shorter than those of the SuperTool, but seemed to work well. There is no special hard wire cutter. The wide gripping area is a few millimeters longer than the SuperTool, making it better for grabbing on to larger objects and the teeth are nearly twice as aggressive for excellent holding power.

Odds And Ends

The tools are secured in the body via non-adjustable solid rivets with domed heads. There was no evidence of slop or looseness.

Spring could serve as lanyard attachment point There is no lanyard attachment, per se, but the holes in the spring mechanism for the pliers could be used with a small split ring for attaching a lanyard.

Victorinox claims that the edges of the handles up by the pliers jaws pivot can be used as a electrical connector crimper, but that's really reaching. All we managed to do on a number of tries with different size connectors was to flatten the connector, which is a far cry for a true crimp. The SuperTool, on the other hand, has a proper crimping mechanism molded into the pliers jaws so that they work properly. In this case, Victorinox's marketing department is out to lunch.

SwissTool in Pouch Carriage is provided for with a sewn padded ballistic nylon sheath in basic black. A leather pouch option is expected in the future. It is nicely constructed, but it's hard to imagine that whomever designed the sheath ever used the SwissTool very much. Only a small portion of the tool extends above the top of the sheath pocket so that it is difficult, at best, to grab hold of the tool to pull it out of the pouch. This can be more than a little aggravating at times. Another 1/2 to 3/4 inch of relief cut down from the top would make a world of difference.

SwissTool Sheath Snap Closure Victorinox has relied upon a snap to secure the flap of the sheath. Looks great, but snaps have two annoying characteristics. When unsnapped, they rattle and without the tool in the pouch, getting it to snap closed is a real pain in the you-know-what. Velcro may not look as neat or fancy, but it's a superior method for securing sheath flaps in situations such as this. In any case, this sheath rides well on your belt, though there is no provision for horizontal carry.


SwissTool closed Over all, the SwissTool is an excellent product, a good value at $80 retail, and superior in most regards to the Leatherman Super Tool with the exception of the compromised pliers and a few relatively niggling nits. The pliers will be the decisive point for many. If you must have true needle nose pliers, then stick with the Super Tool, which is no slouch itself, but not nearly as convenient a package. If you can live with the half-baked needle-nose pliers of the SwissTool, then that's definitely the way to go, no question. For any fan of Swiss Army Knives there is no question, run, don't walk, to your favorite SAK dealer and get one, even if you have to wait a while for delivery because they cannot yet even begin to meet demand. You will not be disappointed.

If you don't really need the extra size and robustness of the pliers and knife blades in the Super Tool or SwissTool, and don't mind spending a bit more, then it may well be better to wait for the new Leatherman Wave with its one-handed opening blades.

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For evaluations of the other multi-tools, check out "Handy Tools".

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Original photographs of the SwissTool by Wil Milan Photography
(with the exception of the one really bad one!)

Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
Email: Doug Ritter
Revision: 04 January 20, 1999
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