Please note that this material is one person's opinion and is meant simply to provide information and a viewpoint to the reader and is not meant as an endorsement of the product or products by the KnifeCenter.
By Joe Talmadge
You can e-mail Mr Talmadge with your feedback at:
Most people post to say they love the one they have, which is a pretty good indication that the entire group are all top notch. The foreign $8 knockoffs are of considerably less quality, by all accounts. If you're buying this tool to use, the extra price (from $30 to $60) for a top quality tool is well worth it -- in this case, you *are* buying quality, not just a brand name.
With a few exceptions, I am limiting the descriptions to tools that are, well, "Leathermanish". That is, they have two handles, and fold or otherwise hide the plier jaws. I am leaving out the more 4x4ish (Al Mar) tools, which typically have a single handle that has tools at one end, pliers at the other, and some kind of handle bar. I've also left out the hinged-lid type (more on this anon).
Previously I pointed out the trend towards bigger tools. This trend seems to have stopped, and I think the vendors have come close to reaching the limits on how big these tools can be while still being useful. Instead, they are moving towards adding features to the tools that are already being manufactured, which I think is a good move. For example, Leatherman has added a tool adapter, and Gerber has added scissors to the Multilock (joining Leatherman, and all the keychain tools, which have scissors). In addition, more tools with exterior-accessible tools are coming out, with the Wave and Swisstool joining Bear and Schrade. This is a nice feature, it means you can access the tools without having to open the pliers up first.
Following the Micra's success, keychain-sized tools are coming on strong. SOG's Cross-Cut came out recently, and Utica just came out with the Kutmaster Mini-Master. And this FAQ has ignored entirely a different kind of keychain tool, as exemplified by SwissTech and SeberTech.
Another type of tool may be emerging also. This is the hinged-lid tool. These tools might be interesting for those who do not need pliers. Kutmaster has such a tool, and Gerber just came out with the Multi-Lite. There are many tools including scissors, and the lid has an LED light in it.
General sizing --
Keychain: Leatherman Micra, SOG Cross-Cut, Kutmaster Mini-Master, Buck MiniTool
Compact: Leatherman mini-tool
Full Size: Leatherman PST, Leatherman PST II, Gerber MPT, SOG Mini PowerPliers, Leatherman Sideclip
Full Size+: Gerber Multitool, SOG Paratool, Bear Jaws
x-tra Beefy: SOG PowerPliers, Leatherman Supertool, Buck tool, Schrade Tough Tool, Kershaw Tool, Victoronix Swiss Tool, Leatherman Wave
The "special" features are as follows (all in the humble opinion of myself):
Original Leatherman PST -- Defining feature: the lightest, most compact of the "full size" group. You may find this unobtrusiveness to be a definitive advantage -- I definitely consider it important. However, it is a bit less robust, and with heavy use there's been complaints about bending the tools. The edges of the handles will bite into your palms if you use the pliers hard. The needlenose pliers on the Leatherman line are probably the most true-to-form, being thinner than the needlenose pliers offered by Gerber and SOG. If you want a compact tools that is still big enough to be comfortably usable, and don't plan on using it incredibly hard, look no further. Two-hand opener only. All the Leatherman products are wonderfully finished.
Leatherman PST II -- Defining feature: scissors. This is like the original leatherman, but has scissors in it, which is an important feature -- in fact, this tool has become my favorite due to the presence of the scissors. The file has a diamond coated knife sharpener with a fish-hook sharpening groove. The knife blade is partially-serrated and has a stronger tip. The wire-cutter has been beefed up to handle hard materials, such as fish hooks.
Leatherman Sideclip -- Defining feature: compact size and carry clip. This tool is slightly smaller than the Leatherman PST (3 tools in each handle rather than 4), and so is smaller and lighter than the PST. It is light enough to carry outside a sheath, and thus the Sideclip comes with a metal clip along one handle, so the user can carry it clipped to his pocket or waistband.
Super Leatherman -- Defining feature: locking tools. A superb feature! But be careful: if you don't *need* locking tools, then having to unlock the tools becomes a pain, especially in the case of the Super Leatherman with its somewhat-cumbersome unlocking mechanism. The "palm biting" feature of the regular leatherman has been fixed somewhat by using thicker steel and laying out the tools so that they support your palm when closed. Very robust, with lots of tools, and Leatherman's typical exceptional finish. Two-hand opener only. This is one of the larger tools, and some may find it too big, though it is also more robust than most.
Leatherman Wave -- Defining feature: some exterior-accessible locking tools. Leatherman's newest, it has four tools that are accessible while the tool is closed, the regular blade, serrated blade, saw, and file. In addition, all those tools lock, and the knife blades are openable one-handed. Combined with the good quality on the knife blades, this tool is almost a hybrid of a one-handed folder with a multitool. It also has scissors, and to my knowledge is the first tool to have both scissors and a saw, a great combination in my opinion. The tools on the inside, such as the scissors, bottle opener, and screwdrivers, do not lock.
Leatherman Minitool (compact) -- The Minitool is extremely compact, about half the size of the PST. Handle extensions fold out to provide better leverage when using the pliers, though this is not required to operate the pliers. The small size of course limits the number of tools. This is the smallest multitool, and the most limited, but may fit your needs if size is your most important factor.
Leatherman Micra (compact) -- The Micra is a very small tool with the pliers replaced by scissors. The Micra has all the tools I use most often -- scissors, regular & Phillips screwdrivers, and a small knife blade (in addition to a nail file & tweezers). The scissors work well. Small and limited, but it's keychain size, and the scissors have made it a very useful around-the-house tool.
Victoronix SwissTool -- Defining feature: exterior-accessible, non-clumping, locking tools. Victoronix's first multitool, and it's very well done. Like the Schrade Tough Tool, all its tools are accessible while the tool is closed, which is very convenient if you use the tools often. In addition, all the tools lock, and unlocking is easy. But the great innovation here is that when one tool is brought out, there is no "clumping" -- that is, if you bring out one tool, the surrounding ones don't come out with it. The pliers on this are ostensibly needle-nose, but actually much too thick to function as needlenose pliers, think of this as more of a bullnose/needlenose hybrid.
Schrade Tough Tool -- Defining features: exterior-accessible tools, some locking. This big tool is nicely done, with good finish on the tools, and very comfortable contoured handles. All tools are accessible while the tool is closed, a feature I've come to love. The main screwdrivers and the knife blades lock, and unlocking is very easy, due to the very clever unlocking system. A nice touch is that the locking screwdrivers are relatively long compared to most multitools, which is great considering that a problem sometimes encountered with multitool screwdrivers is that they don't reach where they need to go. The phillips screwdriver has two prongs that are slightly shorter, they theoretically could slip out under hard use (haven't seen this happen). The pliers are hard to describe, kind of a bull nose with a needle nose sticking out. The tool feels very robust overall. Two hand opening.
SOG Paratool -- Defining feature: robust and well made, with no stand-out features. The one-hand-opening mechanism is cumbersome for even two hands. I've heard the mechanism gets better as it works in, but it remains cumbersome; in its defense, this "feature" doesn't seem to bother many Paratool owners. When using the pliers, the system might close by itself if you twist it.
SOG PowerPliers -- Defining feature(s): compound leverage for the pliers, and resulting superb one-hand-opening feature. The compound leverage is what SOG is selling, and by all accounts it works well, though "plain old" leverage has always been good enough for me for my applications. But an artifact of the gears means that the PP can be easily opened with one hand. Very robust. One-hand opener. This is a large tool.
SOG Mini PowerPliers -- This is a smaller version of the (pretty large) PowerPliers, and is more like the size of the Gerber. If you like the compound leverage but don't want to carry a really big tool, this could be a nice option.
SOG Crosscut -- a scissors-based tool that competes with the Leatherman Micra. It has SOG's compound leverage gears on the scissors. The SOG is slightly heavier than the other keychain tools and the scissors work the best of the bunch, but it also lacks a Phillips screwdriver, so there's a trade-off. It is slightly bigger than the other keychaintools, and with its pouch the footprint becomes bigger still.
Gerbers -- note that the Gerber Multitool and Multilock products have a tool adaptor that slips over the Phillips screwdriver. It allows the user to use standard bits (hex, torx, etc.) with their tools.
Gerber Multitool -- Defining feature: one-hand-opening. I've found one-hand-opening to be an incredibly wonderful feature. If you use the pliers heavily, you'll end up agreeing. The tool is robust, and the handles won't bite you. Most of us on rec.knives have models which can badly pinch your skin if the pliers slip off the work, as the plier handles close too closely. Others of us (like myself) have models which do not exhibit this problem. The tools are not as squared -- certainly not up to the standards of the nicely-squared Leatherman -- and as a result the tools can slip out of the work. Comes with either needlenose or bullnose pliers.
Gerber Multilock & Scout -- Defining Feature: Locking tools and one-hand opening. Like Gerber's tool above, this new version has plier heads that slide out the front for easy one-hand opening. In addition, the tools lock, and a zytel slide on each side of the handle makes for easy, hassle-free unlocking of tools. This tool corrects many of Gerber's mistakes with the multitool, such as a better finish on the tools, and making sure the handles close far enough apart that they don't pinch. This tool is also larger than the multitool. The screwdrivers are a bit short. The version of this tool with scissors (and you know how I love tools with scissors) is called the Scout.
Gerber MPT -- Looks just like a leatherman, and opens the same way. Made for the military, and supposedly this tool is the current contract. The quality of this tool is the lowest of all tools included in this list. However, the quality appears to above the foreign knockoffs. This is the least expensive of the full size tools.
Buck Tool -- Defining feature: locking tools. The tools on the Buck lock open, just like the Supertool. The unlocking mechanism (a push button on the handle) works really well, and is much more convenient than the Supertool's. The handles are contoured for comfort, and the nail nicks have been replaced by easier-to-use tabs. Some tools, like the screwdrivers, are a bit on the small side. The Phillips screwdriver has one prong missing to save space, but as a result is a bit more tricky to use. The opening mechanism is similar to the SOG Paratool's -- only with pivots going in opposite directions. Although one-hand opening isn't possible, two-hand opening is extremely easy -- just swivel one handle all the way around.
Buck Mini Tool -- Slightly bigger than keychain size, the Buck Minitool is based around pliers but includes scissors like all the Micra-sized tools. The action is based on the full size tool (above), with contoured handles, although the tools do not lock.
Bear -- Defining feature: exterior-accessible tools. While the pliers tool is "closed", you can fold out all the other tools. When you open the tool, the pliers head fits through a slot in the handle, so you end up having hand protection when using the pliers (i.e., like the Gerber, it won't hurt your hand to use pressure on the pliers). Fit and finish are reported to be nice.
Kershaw Tool: Defining feature: locking pliers. If you need locking pliers, this is your only choice. However, unlike all the other tools, the pliers on this tool do not fold back into the body, and the Kershaw is definitely the biggest of the group. The knife blade is openable one-handed from the handles, and locks in place. All other tools are accessible with the handles open, though it should be noted that there are less tools on the Kershaw than most tools. The knife blade locks through a tang-block type system, all other tools lock through an ingenious latching system. The size and weight of this system make it less attractive for belt carry than most multitools, but conversely its size and strength make it more attractive as an extremely hard use tool.
Kutmaster Mini-Master -- This works a bit different than the other keychain tools, having a hinged lid that must be opened to take out the tools. This provides some advantages, such as a wider cap-lifter and a locking mechanism (close the lid and the tools lock). This tool includes scissors (though the worst performing scissors of the bunch) and a Phillips-head screwdriver. It is the smallest of the bunch also, always a plus for keychain carry.