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All Multitools Are Not Created Equal

September 30, 2002
Courtesy Leatherman

Whether it’s worn on your belt or kept on deck, a multitool is an invaluable part of your racing kit. Don’t believe us? Ask the crew of Moonshine, a Dogpatch 26 that was dismasted during the 2002 Pacific Cup. Unable to use the top section of their broken spar as a jury-rigged mast because of the jagged break on the base, doublehanders Robert Ward and Mike Robinson used the saw blade on a Leatherman tool to cut away the spiky shards of carbon fiber. In a matter of hours, the jury rig was up, a kite was set, and the duo was back on track to Hawaii. While you may never encounter such an extreme need for your multitool, it’s still a good idea to have one handy; it could save a regatta, a race, or even the boat.

We asked manufacturers of the most popular multitools on the market to send us their products so that we could try them in real-world situations. Over the course of the summer we used them for all sorts of jobs–to file mast tracks, cut battens, open shackles, and cut sail repair tape. A group test took place during a major East Coast regatta when we placed a box of multitools in the cockpit of a 50-footer; each crew took one and used it for a week of racing. We quickly discovered our favorites.

There’s a reason why many people generically refer to any multitool as a Leatherman. Leatherman was the first in the business, they’re everywhere, and they’re made well. We looked at three Leatherman models: the Crunch, the Wave, and the Juice. Of the three, one proved too technically challenging for most first-time users.

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The Leatherman Crunch, which offers a Vise-Grip style of pliers, is a great concept, but the dynamics of opening and setting the pliers up proved too difficult for nine out of 10 testers. Once you figure the maneuver out, it’s a simple action, but it still requires two hands. We could see ourselves fumbling with this tool when the chips were down, and despite the locking pliers, everyone passed on this model.

The Leatherman Wave, which has more features than any other Leatherman and weighs in at 8 ounces, is a big tool. The scissors are a nice addition, having both straight and serrated blades is a good idea, and the tool is machined beautifully. A design highlight is outside access to all the screwdrivers, the scissors, and the can/bottle opener. The inside blades are the cutting, filing, and sawing blades, and they all lock. Those who remember, or still own early multitools, will appreciate locking blades.

The Leatherman Juice is a boutique multitool; offered with different-colored outer panels, a variety of blades, and a contoured shape. Less bulky than most tools, and lacking a belt pouch, the Juice is designed to be carried in a pocket. It may be cute, but inside lurks the heart of a Leatherman; the model we looked at, the Kf4, had wire cutters–both regular and “hard,” straight and serrated knife blades; pretty much everything you’ll need for most small jobs. Unlike most of the models we looked at, the Juice’s blades don’t lock. The younger guys on the boat liked this multitool the best, and pocketed our demo. No higher praise.

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Kershaw produces a multitool that’s markedly different from most others on the market. The first noticeable difference of the Kershaw multitool is the overall length, 6.5 inches long. As a result, the sheath is more of a scabbard, which some may find awkward. The reason behind the excessive length is locking pliers that are permanently extended. The single outside blade is half-serrated, half-straight, and locks. The inside blades don’t lock. This would be an acceptable tool, albeit a little too large, if it weren’t for the fact that it began rusting in the saltwater environment almost immediately. Kershaw states clearly in its literature, “Corrosion is not considered a manufacturers defect and will not be warranted.”

Schrade makes great knives with excellent warranties, and its multitool is no exception. It’s a well-made and ergonomically satisfying tool. The Schrade Tough Tool is a design departure and allows access to all blades when the tool is closed. The blades are all high quality and there are plenty of them–21 in all. This tool is large, but capable; the only thing it’s missing is a pair of scissors.

Schrade also offers the Tough Chip, a very cool little multitool with scissors as its main dynamic. We all liked this tool but feel that, being small and pliers-less, it might be better utilized at the office or at home.

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The SOG Switchplier caters to those with a secret desire to own a switchblade. At the touch of a button, the pliers fly out of the handle, opening with a satisfying click. The small selection of tools includes a locking serrated/smooth knife blade, file, can opener, and screwdrivers. It’s not the burliest tool of the bunch, but it’s good for singlehanded use.

The SOG PowerLock is a more complete tool, with exterior access to all blades–which have metal covers/shrouds that make the handle more grip-friendly. In our opinion, these are overkill. The quality of the blades is good, and there’s a useful variety. A two-handed tool that bears a resemblance to a mechanical corkscrew, the PowerLock didn’t set our world on fire.

Victorinox, makers of the Swiss Army line of products, can legitimately lay claim to being the ancestors of the modern multitool. We grew up with their familiar, red plastic-clad knives adorned with the small Swiss cross and coveted the one with the most blades. As one might expect, Victorinox builds one hell of a multitool. The first thing our panel noted was that the two Victorinox SwissTools that we tested were the heaviest of the lot. These are large, two-handed tools, and all blades are exterior-accessible and locking. The fit and finish of these tools are excellent, but they will leave a dent in the deck if you drop them. The deluxe model comes with a wrench and six interchangeable bits. While we all liked these tools, we felt they may be better off in the glovebox of the Mercedes.

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Gerber, another knife manufacturer turned multitool maker, puts out some of the most popular multitools. Their classic, the Gerber Multi-Plier 600 Pro Scout, is well known for its one-handed access to pliers, activated by a flick of the wrist. The drawback is that you have to open the pliers to get at the tools. Blade selection and handle color can be custom-ordered on the Gerber website to assure that you get the tools you need. A neat option is the Remgrit saw blade, replaceable at any hardware store–it’s a jigsaw blade. All the blades lock. There is also a smaller version available, the MP-400, which is 4.4 inches long.

The latest Gerber is radically different from the classic. The Gerber Urban Legend MP-700 has exterior blade access and a pliers head complete with rotating (to get a fresh edge) wire cutting blades that are designed to cut 1/16-inch wire. You won’t be severing shrouds with it but you’ll cut through most everything else. All the standard blades are packed in, and there’s a pair of Fiskars scissors. You need both hands to fold out the strong, spring-loaded pliers, but the ergonomic handgrips with the rubber inserts are comfortable. A larger version of the MP 700 is the MP 800 Legend, which has even more tools, including a replaceable saw blade and small, medium, and large screwdrivers. It retails for $136.

Maintenance is an important part of multitool ownership. After each saltwater use, thoroughly rinse it with fresh water, and oil it lightly with any light machine oil. Spraying a little oil into the tool’s nylon belt pouch will help keep your multitool rust-free. It’s also important to keep your knives sharp, and for this task I highly recommend the $69 Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker, which uses ceramic stones to sharpen both serrated and straight blades. (www.spyderco.com)

Vital Statistics

Leatherman Crunch
Length: 4″ (closed)
Weight: 6 ounces
Price: $89.95
Warranty 25 years

Leatherman Wave
Length: 4″ (closed)
Weight: 8 ounces
Price: $98
Warranty 25 years

Leatherman Juice Kf4
Length: 3.25″ (closed)
Weight: 5.5 ounces
Price: $76
Warranty 25 years
www.leatherman.com

Kershaw Multitool
Length: 6.75″ (closed)
Weight: 8.75 ounces
Price: $99.95
Warranty Limited Lifetime
www.kershawknives.com

Schrade Tough Tool
Length: 4.75″ (closed)
Weight: 8.4 ounces
Price: $62.95
Warranty Limited Lifetime

Schrade Tough Chip
Length: 2.5″ (closed)
Weight: 1 ounce
Price: $24.99
Warranty Limited Lifetime
www.schradeknives.com

SOG Switchplier
Length: 4.2″ (closed)
Weight: 5.5 ounces
Price: $74.95
Warranty Limited Lifetime

SOG Powerlock
Length: 4.6″ (closed)
Weight: 9.5 ounces
Price: $79.95
Warranty Limited Lifetime
www.sogknives.com

Gerber MP-600
Length: 5.1″ (closed)
Weight: 7.7 ounces
Price: $64.95
Warranty Limited Lifetime

Gerber Urban Legend MP-700
Length: 3.9″ (closed)
Weight: 6.6 ounces
Price: $104
Warranty Limited Lifetime
www.gerberblades.com

Victorinox SwissTool
Length: 4.5″ (closed)
Weight: 9.8 ounces
Price: $80
Warranty Limited Lifetime
www.victorinox.com

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