An overview of
Pocket Multi-Tools

Le 9 septembre 2003, par James

Folding pocket tools with pliers, screwdrivers, knife blades, saws...

Since the beginning of the XX th century, a lot of attempts have been made to create a pocket knife that would incorporate pliers. Most of the time, the result was the opposite, a pair of pliers which would receive a folding knife and other tools on one handle.

So the only affordable pocket multitool has therefore for a long time been the Swiss knife, but it does not provide pliers, and is built on a knife frame.

It is not until 1970, two years after Tim Leatherman from Oregon traveled through europe with his wife in a small Fiat and felt the need for a folding multitool targeted at mechanics, that the solution appeared. (thanks Fiat ! ;) )

The Original Leatherman


Leatherman built this inventive new pocket tool, a pair of needle nose pliers, whose handles fold around the nose, and contain additional tools like flat and Phillips screw drivers, a file, a knife blade, a can opener. While targeted at mechanics, these tools are really useful outdoors to repair any mechanical parts of modern gear, or cars.

From there a few other makers entered the market (the second was Gerber) to provide similar tools. They now all provide such Multi-Tools, the main brands being : Leatherman, Gerber, Shrade, Victorinox (yes, even the swiss came to it), Kershaw, Buck, Spyderco, and a lot of brandless copies from different geographical origins and quality.

Schrade tough tool, note the opening


Spyderco SpyderWrench



I will not in this article explain or review this or this tool, they all have advantages and problems, but rather try to orientate the buyer.

The first thing to do before buying is obviously to understand the needs we have.

There are two main trends : scissors or pliers. Pliers can be needle node or blunt nose, some brands offer locking jaw pliers, to the expense of some tools.

Leatherman Juice KF4, very compact, the size of a Swiss knife, a great outdoor multitool


Leatherman Squirt, small scissors


The big trend is to offer as many locking tools as possible, and direct access to a few blades when the pliers are folded (on most models you have to open the pliers to access the tools).

The locking mechanisms differ a lot from maker to maker, some are good, some are average.

The sizes and weights are very variable, and are an important consideration in terms of the versatility of the tool.

Different sizes


The comfort of the tool is an important consideration. With the first Leatherman, the handle would offer a very bad comfort, when using the pliers, because they form an open shell, and only the opening come in contact with the palm. More recent tools have changed the opening mechanism, or padded the sided of the handle to provide a surface for the palm to rest when using the tool. Try before buying.

There are a few things I really like having :

  • Needle nose pliers, I find blunt pliers rather useless.
  • Scissors are always useful to have.
  • Locking Knife blade.
  • Screwdrivers, flat and phillips.
  • File, preferably diamond coated on one side, it makes an excellent sharpening stone.

and then I also like any of these outdoor tools when available :

  • Awl / scrapper blade
  • Can / bottle opener
  • Wood saw

Or any of these indoor tools :

  • Professional screw driver with bits heads.
  • Adjustable wrench.

Obviously when you read this list, you discover that all of this can be found in a Swiss knife, presented as a knife, so, yes of course Swiss knives are multi-tools too.

I like to have a direct access to the knife blade at least.

I found that I rarely use anything else than the tools I listed here. That is my list, yours will probably differ a lot. It does not contain too many tools, so it is easy to find a maker for this list, and it stays cheap enough.

I like light gear, so my preference now goes to the more compact implements, rather than the more bulky things.

I have used these tools for a lot of tasks, from screwing unscrewing a variety of material (Snowboard base bindings with a leatherman micra !), removing or adding bolts, used the pliers to hold, or pull a variety of material (great to drive a needle in the leather of shoes when they need urgent repair). They are useful for an incredible number of occasions, only restricted by one’s inventiveness.

The best lifespan I found is certainly the leatherman’s, as I still have my first one, and it still works like when it was new. Some others like the Schrade tough tool is still ok, but finally not that tough, a Gerber’s phillips screwdriver broke... I have heard a lot of good from the Swiss Victorinox models, but find them a bit bulky.

Leatherman Wave, complete, compact, sturdy


There are a few models I really like :

The Leatherman Wave, sturdy, compact, complete, and the Juice KF4, which is very compact and light, and rather outdoor oriented, and the scissors Micra or Squirt, both key_chain sized. For home DIY and for mechanics, the Spyderwrench for Spyderco is a good implement. But then that is only among the tools and brands I have handled. I have checked a Victorinox Swiss tool and only heard good things about it.

In conclusion :

Pocket multitools have their place. I find they fill the same kind of cutlery niche than the Swiss knife, They are just different by design, their main functional difference being to provide pliers. The choice for is a question of personal preference at the end.

par James



Le 18 mai 2004


you haven’t mentioned leatherman’s crunch. i think it is probably the best all-round thing floating around. and victorinox knives would not be bulky if you limit the number of blades. i don’t think it makes any sort of sense to have a 64-function tool if you don’t use most of ’em. and those many blades end up making the thing too bulky for use anyway. just for display on the mantel, what !

i have a spydewrench, and find that it is also overrated and not really practical. the knife is very good, though, and it has a diamond-coated file.

i still find the large-blade victorinoxes the best bet for real use. am trying to get hold of crunch — not freely available in my part of the world !

Le 15 juillet 2005
One major benefit of the Leatherman is their no questions asked lifetime guarantee. I have horribly abused the leatherman tools I have used in the past 20 years. Broken blades, twisted parts, dropped one in a campfire and turned the temper to butter. In every case I ship it to Portland Oregon, and a short time later I get a brand new one back in the mail. Because of the warrantee alone I probably won’t be buying any other tools.
Le 18 décembre 2007

Hi, friends,

I bought a Swiss Tool (original version with a serrated blade instead of a pair of scissors ; black-oxidized). I could assure you of its excellent performance and especially its bombproof toughness. Yes, you’ve heard about its heavyweight and alas, this monster weighs a ton but that’s a fair tradeoff I can happily live with, and I can say this with much certainty that this outperforms any other multi-tools. It is built like a tank ! Who’d complain about the weight of an armoured tank ? Buy one and you just can’t go wrong with a Swiss Tool. (Well, that’s if you can live with the blunt nose of the Swiss Tool’s pliers, otherwise, you can always opt for the Swiss Tool Spirit, which has true needle nose pliers.)

Bruce T.

Le site est affiché en français avec ses sections françaises seulement, sachez qu’il existe cependant beaucoup à découvrir dans la version Anglaise.

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