A knife is a handy tool for eating, getting into overwrapped packages and performing a multitude of survival activities. But what if a knife could do more? What if your knife could also open a can of food, help you break down and reassemble your rifle, or drill a hole? In 1891, master cutler (knife maker) Karl Elsener engineered a pocket-sized tool with four fold-out implements -- knife, can opener, screwdriver and reamer -- to handle all of those jobs. He called it the Soldier's Knife, and supplied one to every soldier in the Swiss Army. The Swiss Army knife, so dubbed by American soldiers in WWII who couldn't pronounce the Swiss name for the tool, Offiziermesser, was the first multifunction tool.
Almost 100 years later, Tim Leatherman found that his Swiss Army style pocket knife wasn't tool enough to deal with balky cars and European travel. Using cardboard cutouts, he designed a multifunctional tool that was more handy-man friendly. In 1983, he launched Leatherman Tool Group, Inc. with a single product: the Pocket Survival Tool, a 14 implement fold open multi-tool designed around needle nose pliers. Leatherman's tool surprised skeptical retailers by garnering almost 30,000 mail order sales in the first year [source: Leatherman].
With the ground broken and the consumer demand for such a device proven, other manufacturers started designing and building multifunction tools. Gerber, producer of cutlery and combat knives, introduced their first multifunction tool, the Multi-Plier, in 1991. Victorinox Swiss Army, still owned and operated by Elsener's family, offers more than 100 different tool combinations in the original fold-out pocket design, but they've also added their own versions of pocket tool boxes.
Today, you can find multifunction tools specialized for anglers, golfers and geeks. Some have patented features such as Wenger's self-sharpening scissors or Gerber's one-hand opening. They come in two basic styles: those that you can carry in your pocket and those that you'll need to strap onto your belt.
We'll look at the functions, versatility, price and practicality of 10 different multifunction tools in this article, starting with variations on the original Swiss Army knife.
Victorinox Swiss Army invested five years of research and testing in this personal safety tool. Designed with the help of emergency medical and rescue professionals, the pocket-style tool includes implements to help you escape from a disabled car. In 2007, it earned the IWA (Internationale Waffens Austellung) & Outdoor Classic "Knife of the Year" award.
The tool measures in at 3.25 inches (8.25 centimeters). Luminescent yellow grip shells enclose a variety of standard and specialized stainless steel blades and tools. The automobile escape tools include a seatbelt cutter, a removable window breaker and a removable disk saw for cutting through shatterproof glass.
There are plenty of standard tools for everyday use, too. These include:
- Large one-handed blade that locks in place
- Phillips screwdriver
- Strong, flat screwdriver that can also open crates and bottles
- Wire stripper
The Rescue Tool also has a key ring attachment and nylon cord. It comes with a nylon pouch and a limited lifetime warranty. It's made in Switzerland and retails for $97 [source: Victorinox].
Meet an ultra modern multifunction tool on the next page.
Even super geeks are cool with this multi-tool. The Swiss Flash is a pocket knife that incorporates a removable USB flash drive in 1, 2, 4, 8 or 16 gigabytes (GB). In addition to all this power, you'll get a blade, nail file/screwdriver combination, scissors and a key ring attachment in a stylish 2.25-inch (5.7-centimeter) textured stainless steel body with the distinctive Swiss Army emblem. Prices range from $35 to $115, depending on the size of the flash drive.
If that isn't brilliant enough, choose the version that incorporates an LED mini flashlight and a retractable pen. These come with semi-transparent red plastic grips and range from $43 to $125. Or, if you're delivering a lecture, there's even a Swiss Flash that comes equipped with a laser pointer. The laser pointer option is more expensive. These start at $71 for a 1 GB flash drive, and go to $155 for the 16 GB drive [source: Victorinox]. All versions are made in Switzerland and come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Do you know someone who needs every tool in the box? Take a look at the "penknife" on the next page.
For the person with everything, including really deep pockets, Wenger SA makes the Giant Knife. This super multifunction tool holds the 2008 Guinness Record for "Most Functions on a Penknife" [source: Wenger]. It's also one of the least likely to fit into a pocket. It weighs 2 pounds (0.95 kilograms), measures 8.75 inches (22.22 centimeters) long, and has a multitude of tool compartments.
In addition to the usual knife blades and utility tools in a multifunction tool, the Giant Knife has specialized devices for sports and leisure enthusiasts. There isn't space to list all 87 implements and 141 functions, but this should give you an idea of what to expect:
- Laser pointer
- Fish scaler
- Cigar cutter
- Golf club face cleaner
- Tire tread gauge
For more than 100 years, Wenger SA was a rival to Victorinox in producing multifunction knives for the Swiss Army. In 2005, Victorinox purchased the struggling company, and now it's a subsidiary [source: Capella]. Like Victorinox, Wenger knives are made in Switzerland and carry a limited lifetime warranty. But if you plan to give the Giant Knife as a gift, expect to shell out some big bucks -- it retails for $1,400 [source: Wenger].
Read on for a variety of practical tool/knife hybrids.
Leatherman makes these keychain-size virtuosos in three different combinations, so there's one to fit every personality. Each 2.25-inch (5.75-centimeter), 2-ounce (57-gram) variety includes 10 tools packed into a stainless steel body. They come with a 25-year warranty and price out at around $35 [source: Bass Pro Shops, Leatherman]. Each Squirt has a key ring attachment and a selection of tools that you can access without having to open the handles. You can buy a protective sleeve separately.
The tough little Squirt P4 features spring-action needle nose pliers in your choice of "Inferno" red, "Storm" grey, "Powder" pink or "Glacier" blue. Packed into the grips are a clip point knife, regular pliers, wire cutters, an extra-small screwdriver, medium screwdriver, a "flat Phillips" screwdriver, wood/metal file, bottle opener and an awl.
The Squirt S4 substitutes a pair of scissors for the pliers. The spring-action scissors have micro-serrations to help the blades grip. The S4 offers these tools as well:
- Clip point knife
- Extra-small screwdriver
- Medium screw driver
- Small, flat Phillips screwdriver
- Nail file/cleaner
- Bottle opener
The tweezers, knife and screwdrivers are available without opening the tool. The S4 offers the same color options as the P4.
Squirt E4 holds electrician's tools. In addition to firm-gripping spring-action needle nose pliers, the E4 contains 20-, 18-, 16-, 14- and 12-guage wire strippers; electrical wire cutters; screwdrivers in extra-small, small and Phillips style; wood/metal file; bottle opener; and tweezers. This tool is too serious for "Power" pink, but it's available in the other colors.
Do you have a big job to tackle? There's a tough-duty original on the next page.
Tim Leatherman claims that the Freestyle was "the world's first true tool/knife hybrid" [source: Leatherman]. The Freestyle CX is a tough-duty cousin to the original. It has a stainless steel body with a special coating on the curved grips to make it resistant to scratching and corrosion. It's a minimalist tool that you can put in your disaster kit or go-to bag and know that it'll still work when you need it. But at 3.45 inches (8.76 centimeters) and 4.5 ounces (127.57 grams), it's small and light enough to carry in your pocket for everyday emergencies.
Freestyle CX's five functions include needle nose pliers, regular pliers, wire cutters and hard wire cutters. The outside accessible knife in upgraded stainless steel holds its edge longer than traditional stainless steel. Made in the USA, it comes with a 25-year warranty and sells for about $60 [source: Bass Pro Shops, Leatherman].
Not all Leatherman tools are pared down. The Surge on the next page is a full-sized powerhouse.
Bypassing all of the implements on his crowded duty belt, Deputy First Class Peter Sabella of Forsyth County, Georgia, reached into his trouser pocket and extracted a well-used Leatherman multifunction tool.
"I probably use this more than anything else I carry," said Sabella, who also teaches classes in disaster preparedness. "It has hundreds of uses, for anything and everything. A tool like this gives you a lot of flexibility and capability."
The Surge is a newer, more inclusive version of the Leatherman tool Deputy Sabella has carried for many years. Cinch your belt up a little tighter if you strap on this bad boy. Its hefty, 12-ounce (340 gram) weight will put some drag on your pants. Closed, it measures 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters). In addition to 18 tools plus two double-sided bits, it features a stainless steel body, all locking blades and tools, and a blade exchanger so you can choose which four blades are accessible from the outside.
Here's the complete line-up of implements:
- Clip-point knife
- Serrated knife
- Needle nose and regular pliers
- Three types of wire cutters
- Wood/metal file and diamond coated file
- Wire stripper
- Electrical crimper
- 5/16 inch (7.9 millimeter) screwdriver and two sizes of bit drivers
- 9-inch (22-centimeter) ruler
- Awl with thread loop
- Can opener
- Bottle opener
Like other Leatherman tools, it's made in the USA and comes with a 25 year warranty. The stainless steel Surge will cost you around $90 [source: Bass Pro Shops, Leatherman]. A black oxide version is also available for a premium.
If you're looking for good quality on a modest budget, consider the Gerber multi-tools on the next two pages.
A respected name in the knife business for more than a century, Gerber entered the multi-tool scene in the early 1990s. U.S. Army Master Sergeant H.C. Higginbotham, Jr. (ret.) has carried various Gerber multifunction tools over the years. He said he purchased his first Multi-Plier in the Post Exchange at Fort Bragg, N.C., during Desert Storm.
"The day I put it on, I used it," Higginbotham said. "I've used it every day that I've carried it after that. It's that handy."
The Compact Sport is a mid-size Gerber from the Multi-Plier 400 series. Measuring 4.37 inches (11.1 centimeters) closed, 5.63 inches (14.3 centimeters) open and weighing 6.8 ounces (198.8 grams), it features one-hand, wrist flick opening needle nose pliers and lock-in-place tools. It's smaller, lighter and less expensive than the Multi-Plier, but it has something the Multi-Plier doesn't: incorporated Fiskars scissors that are strong enough to cut through a seat belt. Packed away in the stainless steel handles of the Compact Sport, you'll also find these tools: wire cutter; "cross point" screwdriver; serrated knife; large, medium and small flat blade screwdrivers; crimper; can opener; and bottle opener. A nylon sheath is included for the $45 price.
The Compact Sport is made in the United States and has a limited lifetime warranty. It's also available with black oxide handles for $76.32 [source: Bass Pro Shops, Gerber].
Life is full of little problems. The tools on the next pages are designed to deal with them.
Things happen. The garage door opener dies, and you left your door key in the house. You've planned ahead, though, and you've got a spare battery in the glove box. But what's this? You need a screwdriver to open the battery compartment? Now what?
It won't be a problem if you've got the little Clutch swinging from your key chain. This tiny Gerber multi-tool only weighs 2.5 ounces (71 grams) and claims 2.5 inches (6.35 centimeters) of space. But its bright red anodized aircraft aluminum grips open up to reveal a useful collection of tools. In addition to spring-action needle nose pliers like its big brother has, the Clutch contains a knife blade, small and medium flat head screwdrivers, a Phillips head screwdriver, bottle opener, nail file and tweezers. Its $20 price includes a limited lifetime warranty and a lot of potential for solving little problems [source: Bass Pro Shops, Gerber].
Although it's marketed to fishermen, this Bass Pro Shops tool has plenty of uses for landlubbers. Available in two sizes, it's one of the few multifunction tools that comes equipped with an LED flashlight. It also includes pliers, a wire cutter, saw, straight knife blade, Phillips screwdriver and a combination bottle opener/flat head screwdriver, all packed inside stainless steel handles with a gleaming red finish. A nylon belt sheath and batteries for the LED light are included.
You can add the 6-inch (15.25-centimeter) Angler's Mini-Tool to your tackle or glove box for $9.99. The 4-inch (10-centimeter) version will set you back $7.99 [source: Bass Pro Shops].
Downsizing is big these days. The multi-tool on the next page may be the tiniest tool of all.
A tiny multi-tool offered by Quarrow, the Turtle 8 is unique for its shape and size. The compact stainless steel tool measures a mere 0.3125 inches x 1.5 inches x 2 inches (7 millimeters x 35 millimeters x 50 millimeters). It's oval and nearly flat when closed. When open, it resembles a turtle.
Don't let its small size fool you, though. The turtle packs in a full complement of practical tools. Here's what you'll get:
- Wire cutters
- Wire stripper
- Flat head screw driver/scraper
- Phillips screw driver
Because you'll never want your Turtle to wander far, it comes on a chain with a lobster-claw ring for attaching to your belt loop. At around $5, you can afford to give your friends their own, instead of letting them borrow yours [source: Bass Pro Shops].
Jackhammers offer incredible power when it comes to breaking down hard substances. Find out how these demolition marvels work.
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