Tools for the Real (Non-Digital) World


Leatherman Micra, described below

For several years, I’ve carried a small Leatherman everywhere I go. When I lost it for the second time (first time: airport security; second time, no idea where it went), I decided to learn more about the whole “multi-tool” concept.

I suppose the story begins with the Swiss Army Knife, which was, when I was eleven years old, one of the coolest things that you could carry in your pocket. In those days, a good blade and a few accessories was useful, especially during Boy Scout Camp. For a long time, I didn’t carry much of anything besides a nail clipper, but that changed with serious business travel, and the inevitable need for a small pair of pliers, a knife, a pair of tweezers for a miscellany of small tasks that were completely unimportant until they became, you know, essential.

Gerber's Epic: drop pointed, sheathed, and serrated. Very popular.

Gerber’s Epic: drop pointed, sheathed, and serrated. Very popular.

As I began exploring possible replacements for my lost Leatherman Micra, I discovered a small sub-culture of multi-tool fans. I was easily engaged at Eastern Mountain Sports and L.L. Bean stores as the salesperson and I obsessed about the various features of contemporary multi-tools. I found, a fan website that includes reviews of multi-tools made by SOG, Wegner, Victorinox, Leatherman, and perhaps most intriguing, Gerber. When the conversation turned to Gerber, each salesperson spoke with a kind of reverence–but not for their multi-tools, I later learned. Gerber is a distinguished maker of small knives, and, in case you’ve been spending a little too much time staring at a computer screen, you probably know that knives have become very popular. Gerber’s new hot knife is part of their Survival series–it’s called the Bear Grylls. You’ll be happy to know that Gerber also sells a multi-knife kit that they call the Apocalypse Survival Kit; it contains seven knives, including a small machete, and it costs about $350.

My needs are more modest. I need a small tool to carry everywhere, and a medium sized tool to carry most places. Sure, I use a pocket knife from time to time, but for me, a machete would probably be, well, overkill. As I asked around–I think I interviewed a dozen salespeople who knew their tools for this story–every single person recommended Leatherman. Why? They’re built beautifully, they last forever, and they get the job done. They’re also designed so that they’re easy to use, properly balanced, and less likely to be the cause of an accident due to odd placement of blades, openers or closures (I had some scary experiences in stores with lesser designs from other companies).

Leatherman-XE6Despite the fact that my son pokes fun, I do like my purple-colored (yes, they come in colors) Leatherman Juice XE6. Look around the Leatherman website and you’ll find multi-tools of every size and shape, including some large enough to hang off a real tool belt, and some small enough for a keychain. The Juice is about the size of a good Swiss Army Knife, and although it’s listed as “Pocket Size,” it may be a little heavy for the average pocket. There are several Juice models. The XE6 has more tools and accessories than most. Here’s the rundown:

  • a pair of needle-nose pliers that double as both regular gripping pliers and also as a small wire cutter/stripper;
  • a 2 1/2 inch pocket knife with a blade that’s long enough for many small tasks;
  • a serrated knife that doubles as a small saw; a very small pair of scissors that turns out to be surprisingly versatile;
  • a wood saw, useful for small jobs;
  • a diamond file that I’ve used for everything from fingernails to unsmooth furniture corners (I know it can handle more rugged jobs, too);
  • an unlikely quartet of screwdriver heads (the body of the multi-tool doubles as shank and handle), including extra small, small, medium, and Philips;
  • a corkscrew, bottle opener, and can opener;
  • and an awl, which is more useful than it may seem upon first glance.

By Leatherman’s count, there are 18 tools on this 6.4 ounce multi-tool. That’s not quite the most tools on any Leatherman product, but it’s awfully close (there are 21 on the Surge, but it’s much larger and weighs twice as much). There are more than a dozen different Leatherman multi-tool models, and it’s great fun to explore the whole line on their website.

I know that 6 ounces doesn’t sound like much, but there are many times when I just need some basics in a small package. That’s what led me, initially, to the Leatherman Micra, and I’m now using my third one. With lots of useful tools (10 in all) in a very small package (it can hang on a keychain, but the keys usually get in the way), the Micra is large enough to be handled as a useful, practical tool:

  • Scissors
  • Nail file and nail cleaner (you know, the hooky thing at the end of a nail file), plus a small pair of tweezers;
  • A pocket knife (with a 1.6 inch blade)
  • Extra-small, medium, and flat Phillips screwdrivers
  • A ruler with markings etched on the outside of the tool
  • Bottle opener

Overall, my needs are fairly pedestrian, but it’s good to know that I have what I need nearby. I am intrigued by some of the newer tools, but tools are not toys, and there’s no good reason to collect them. Still, the likes of the Skeletool (and similar models from Gerber and others) are intriguing, perhaps for another day.

The Leatherman Skeletool.

The Leatherman Skeletool.

By the way: if you become serious about purchasing, trying to figure out which tool comes as part of which multi-tool becomes mighty confusing. Use the comparison tool and you’ll save yourself a lot of time.

One more thing: for those traveling on airlines, note that the current U.S. TSA policy does not permit sharp objects of any kind. Several months ago, blades of a certain length were okay, but now (probably due to the Boston incident), the rules are again very limited. Just be aware, and check before you fly because your tool maybe confiscated at the security checkpoint.

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