I have always been fascinated by multi-tools. What an incredible piece of engineering they are! The way they fit so many tools in such a small space, and how you can do so much with them, have always been intriguing to me.
But all multi-tools are not made the same way. There are some crap ones found in the market that may leave you stranded.
As far as designing and manufacturing a multi-tool is concerned, there are some companies that have always done it better than the others. These are the brands that are leading the market. These are the brands that you can trust. While some of these brands have been in this business for decades (and centuries), some are pretty new but have progressed by leaps and bounds in this vibrant industry.
Here, we look at some of the most well-known brands in the multi-tool industry that have made a name for themselves in design, quality, and craftsmanship. You would love to have a multi-tool from one of these brands in your pocket or belt to handle the variety of little problems on the road or in the house that life throws at you every day.
What was a small knife workshop in 1884, started by a Swiss cutler Karl Elsener, is today the largest producer of pocket knives in the world.
Yes, Victorinox has been making knives for more than a century. Naturally, this Swiss company has become an expert in every aspect of quality steel and knife production.
Victorinox is headquartered in Ibach, Switzerland.
People all over the world know Victorinox because they are the only manufacturers of the multi-tool popularly known as the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ (or in short, SAK).
Curious what the word ‘Victorinox’ means?
Well, it is a combination of two words: ‘victoria’, and ‘inox’. Victoria is the name of Karl Elsener’s mother, and the word ‘inox’ is the French term for stainless steel.
Why Are Victorinox Pocket Knives called SAKs?
Swiss Army Knives (or SAKs) are so called because these pocket knives are officially supplied to the Swiss Army for use. Earlier, Victorinox used to share this contract with another Swiss company called Wenger. Later, Victorinox took over Wenger and merged it with itself. Since then, it has become the only manufacturer of multi-purpose pocket knives for the Swiss Army.
SAKs became popular when these were also marketed to the general public. Apart from the quality, the main reason for the popularity of the SAK is that it is found in a myriad of sizes and configurations. So no matter what your requirement is, you will probably find a SAK with all the tools you need.
Victorinox pocket knives are marketed as ‘Original Swiss Army Knife’ and they own this trademark. However, the world over, this multi-featured pocket tool is simply known as the ‘Swiss Army Knife’.
How good are Victorinox Multi-tools?
In terms of quality, fit and finish, Victorinox multi-tools are arguably the best in the world. The thing that sets Victorinox apart from other multi-tool manufacturers is that each and every tool is produced with the utmost precision and attention to detail. Victorinox is arguably the only manufacturer that properly finishes of all the surfaces and edges in all of their multi-tools. This is the biggest USP of any Victorinox product.
Almost all Victorinox products are manufactured in Switzerland.
The Swiss quality is evident in the way the tools open and close, the way they perform, and how they feel in your hand.
It is not without reason that Victorinox knife is the standard equipment of NASA astronauts.
This is also the reason that almost every multi-tool Victorinox has produced over the years has a large fan base. You will find numerous forums and user groups on the Internet dedicated to discussing Victorinox multi-tools. The quality of the products ensures that with proper care they last over decades and get passed on from one generation to the next, thereby adding emotional value to them.
Apart from the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ line of products, Victorinox also produces other varieties of multi-tools. These include the popular SwissCards and the SwissTools line of products. All Victorinox multi-tools come with a lifetime warranty.
Victorinox also manufactures and sells kitchen knives, luxury watches, travel gears, and business accessories. But SAK is by far the most important product of Victorinox in terms of popularity as well as revenue.
Tim Leatherman designed a multi-tool out of necessity.
He found his pocket knife in-adequate for certain real-life situations (like fixing his car) and wanted to have a pair of pliers with him. He worked more than three years on his passion and designed the prototype of what he called ‘Mr. Crunch’.
It was not until eight long years when he got the first order for his finished multi-tool, which he called the Pocket Survival Tool or PST.
But there has been no looking back since then. The folding handle concept of a tool with a pair of pliers gradually became a hit among the masses.
It became so popular that everyone began calling all such tools as Leatherman tools. The company ‘Leatherman Tool Group’ was founded in 1983 in Portland, Oregon, in the US.
Here is a very interesting account on the history of Leatherman:
The Original Plier-based Multi-tool
When Tim Leatherman went to sell his plier-based tool concept, companies were initially hesitant to place any orders as it was neither a knife nor a tool. Tim called his innovation a multi-tool as it had multiple tools in one. Later on, all such tools that had multiple functions came to be known as multi-tools.
Many companies since then have copied this folding handle concept with a set of pliers. Today, all multi-tool companies have their own engineering team to bring in new innovation in the design and functionality of multi-tools. But Leatherman will always be regarded as the original inventor of the plier-based multi-tool.
The company achieved a huge jump in evolution with the model ‘Wave’ which became popular all over the world. Over the years, Leatherman has kept innovating and perfecting their multi-tool concept. As of today, they have over 50 models of various sizes and shapes, ranging from those that can be carried in the keychain to larger heavy-duty do-everything multi-tools.
How Good are Leatherman Multi-tools?
When it comes to plier-based multi-tools, Leatherman is arguably the best in the business. They also have the most variety in this segment. But the most important aspect of Leatherman multi-tools is that they never compromise on quality. Tim Leatherman specifically mentions that he wants every tool to be perfect as his name is inscribed on each one of them. As of today, all Leatherman multi-tools are manufactured in the US.
It is often said that the quality of a multi-tool is judged by its warranty. Leatherman stands by every multi-tool that the company has produced by covering it with a 25-year warranty. They fix or replace any of their multi-tools within the warranty period, no questions asked.
There are even stories of people getting new multi-tools for their old abused ones well beyond the 25 year time period. This awesome warranty is perhaps one of the strongest reasons behind the success of Leatherman multi-tools. If you avail of the warranty in the US, the turnaround time is approximately two weeks.
You would think that everybody would take advantage of such a liberal warranty and replacement policy. But as per Leatherman, only 2% of their products actually come back to them. That is in itself a proof of how good their multi-tools are.
Unlike many other companies that originally were knife companies and later expanded to multi-tools, Leatherman started out as a multi-tool manufacturing company from the very beginning.
From handmade kitchen knives to one of the best knife manufacturing company in the US, that’s the story of Gerber.
Joseph Gerber’s idea of gifting carving knives as Christmas gifts ultimately led him to set up Gerber Legendary Blades in 1939 in Portland, Oregon, in the US.
Within the next twenty years, Gerber became one of the most trusted names in knife manufacturing and design. Some of their earlier employees even went on to start their own knife design and manufacturing companies.
Gerber’s knives were initially geared more towards soldiers and hunters. With over seventy years of experience, they have made quite a name for themselves and have a loyal following among these communities. As a natural progression, they expanded their product line by introducing multi-tools in 1991.
A Tour Of Gerber Factory:
Being already famous as a knife manufacturer, Gerber got a favorable response from the public for their innovative multi-tool design. Gerber is primarily a knife manufacturer and hence do not have as many multi-tools in their product catalog as some of its competitors. But their multi-tools boast of the same quality and innovation as their knives.
Design Innovation – the Multi-Plier
Gerber gave a twist to the tried and tested plier-based multi-tool design by giving it sliding plier jaws. It was called the Gerber Multi-Plier. Its one-handed plier opening mechanism along with tools specifically meant for firearm maintenance made it the favorite multi-tool of the armed forces.
Over time, Gerber has made many revisions of the Multi-Plier to improve on the original design. Variations of the design and the toolset have enabled Gerber to market the Multi-Plier outside the army with considerable success. Many of the current generations of Gerber multi-tools now has this sliding plier jaws feature.
How Good are Gerber Multi-tools?
Just like their knives, Gerber’s multi-tools are considered one of the best in terms of quality and functionality. Gerber claims to be the largest supplier of knives and multi-tools to the US armed forces. Naturally, their products have to go through stringent quality control to be accepted by the army.
But what sets Gerber apart from their competitors in the multi-tool industry is the innovation and fresh ideas they bring to the table. The modern iteration of their original Multi-Plier model, the MP600, has been a favorite among the armed forces, multi-tool enthusiasts, and the common public for a long time.
Gerber has repeated this success with other multi-tools in various segments. Two notable mentions are the Gerber Dime and the Gerber Center-Drive. What is remarkable is that they even manage to keep the pricing lower than similar products from their competitors. Almost all of Gerber’s multi-tools that eventually turned out to be a success are considered value-for-money products.
Gerber backs all their products with a lifetime warranty. Besides producing knives and multi-tools, they have expanded their product line with axes, handsaws, machetes, and survival kits.
Unlike earlier days, Gerber now gives more importance to marketing and mass production of their knives and multi-tools. Adventurer and survival instructor Bear Grylls has promoted Gerber knives for a long time in his popular television series Man vs. Wild.
During the Vietnam war, members of a US Special Operations Unit known as the MAC-SOG carried a special combat knife with them.
Since it was meant for covert operations, the origin or manufacturer of the knife was unknown.
This knife was the source of inspiration for Spencer Frazer who founded his knife manufacturing company and named it ‘SOG Speciality Knives’ in 1986 in Santa Monica, California, in the US.
The company successfully reproduced the original SOG knife. They went on to design and manufacture a variety of knives that have been used by the armed forces, the US Navy SEALs, as well as hunters, wildlife adventurers, and casual outdoor users. Subsequently, SOG diversified their product catalog and started manufacturing multi-tools for professional, outdoor, and daily use.
Design Innovation – Compound Leverage Pliers
SOG has made many knives with Power Assist blade opening technology. But in their multi-tool, they introduced the Compound Leverage System in the pliers. The system gives a mechanical advantage to the jaws of the pliers, to such a degree that you can apply some serious gripping force on the pliers. Compound Leverage Pliers was first used in the model Power Plier. Since then, many other multi-tools from SOG have also incorporated this feature.
No pliers in any other multi-tool can even come close to the amount of pressure that a SOG multi-tool with Compound Leverage pliers can generate. This makes heavy-duty cutting work (like nails or double-strand barbed wire) with the SOG pliers much easier. The Compound Leverage also helps in maintaining a strong grip on something with the needle-nose of the pliers.
How Good are SOG Multi-tools?
The quality of SOG can be best judged by the fact that their knives and multi-tools have been used by the armed forces in various outdoor activities. Their reputation of having outstanding construction quality in their tactical knives can be seen in their multi-tools too.
Most multi-tool enthusiasts usually consider SOG to be one of the best heavy-duty multi-tool manufacturers. In fact, the Compound Leverage pliers are by far the strongest pliers available in any multi-tool. Their multi-tools also incorporate the power assist blade opening technology found in many of their knives.
Most of the multi-tools and knives produced by SOG are made and assembled in the USA. Some premium high-performance knives are also made in Seki City (known as the City of Blades), Japan.
SOG provides a lifetime warranty on their multi-tools against any defects in material or workmanship. They will fix the tool (if it is fixable) or replace the tool with a new one. In case the damage is because of abuse or normal wear and tear, they usually fix it for a nominal charge.
A century-old Swiss watch company that wants to diversify its products by designing and marketing multi-functional pocket knives: that is how you would describe Swiza in the world of multi-tools.
Established in 1904, Swiza, over its long history has won awards for its alarm clocks and timepieces. But it has started producing pocket knives only recently.
Redesigning the Swiss Pocket Knife
For more than a century, Victorinox and Wenger have dominated the Swiss Pocket Knife category. After taking over Wenger, Victorinox Swiss Army Knife (SAK) has become the de-facto standard of Swiss made pocket knives. Swiza’s entry into the pocket knife category dares to challenge this century-long monopoly that Victorinox has enjoyed.
But is Swiza capable enough of doing that?
There are indications that Swiza has prepared itself for this challenge. Some of former Wenger employees are now working with Swiza. Swiza headquarters are in Delemont, Switzerland. Incidentally, Wenger was also a Delemont based company. Wenger’s range of Swiss Army Knives later came to be known as the Delemont Collection after Victorinox took over Wenger.
Swiza has put in a lot of effort in design and manufacturing to make their multi-functional pocket knives look and feel different from the Vic SAKs. And it appears that they have succeeded in this regard.
With their curved and grippy handles, locking blades and eye-catching design, Swiza pocket knives have managed to deliver something different from a traditional SAK, yet is very much functional. When everyone thought that Victorinox has almost perfected the Swiss pocket knife, Swiza’s offering does have some visible innovations.
Redesigning the Swiss Pocket Knife:
How Good are Swiza Pocket Knives?
Being a Swiss company, Swiza brings the same quality and craftsmanship in their pocket knives that you would expect from a Swiss-made product. Functionally, they are (almost) at par with any Swiss Army Knife of similar size and weight. The all stainless steel construction also ensures longevity and high resistance to rust.
It has been almost a hundred years since any significant design evolution has happened in the world of Swiss-made pocket knives. In this regard, Swiza has done a commendable job. The Swiza Pocket Knife is an innovative product that captures emotions. In fact, Swiza got the Red Dot Design Award – Red Dot best of the best 2016, for its pocket knife design.
Swiza offers a lifetime warranty on their pocket knives against any defect in materials or workmanship.
Columbia River Knife And Tool (CRKT), established in 1994, is another Oregon based company that made its name by designing outstanding knives.
The first CRKT product that became popular was the K.I.S.S (Keep It Super Simple) knife.
Since then, CRKT has collaborated with a lot of custom knife makers to bring some innovative products into the market.
A Different Take on Multi-tool Design and Function
When it comes to multi-tools, CRKT has taken a different route than other multi-tool manufacturers. Most multi-tools available in the market are mainly a set of pliers or a Knife with an assortment of other tools packed inside the handles. CRKT, however, gives preference to a specific function other than that of a knife or pliers. Also, all their designs look very much different than any traditional multi-tools produced by the other more established companies.
The main function of their keychain multi-tool KERT is emergency-rescue, as it incorporates a belt cutter. Another tool specifically meant for camping, aptly named Eat’n Tool, has a spoon/fork at one end. The main tool in the model Bivy is a set of spring-assisted pliers that can be opened one-handed, far easier than any other plier based multi-tool. Another model called Guppie has an adjustable wrench in a pocket-sized form factor.
Their full-size plier-based multi-tool called the CRKT Technician is not a generic multi-tool at all. As the name suggests, it is specifically meant for mechanics. The toolset, in addition to having pliers and a knife, also has a gasket scraper, a telescopic magnetic bit, and a feeler gauge. These are exactly the kind of tools a mechanic would need, but you will not find anything like these in any of the other multi-tools produced by other companies.
How Good are CRKT Multi-tools?
CRKT is well-known for their quality knives, and naturally their multi-tools are built without any compromise in quality. It is in fact, one of the new multi-tool manufacturers that can deliver quality products. Their products look significantly different from traditional multi-tools, and are quite affordable. They do so by collaborating with a lot of designers for their knives as well as multi-tools.
CRKT does not have a very long list of multi-tools in their catalogue, but each multi-tool is unique in its design and purpose. They provide a limited lifetime warranty on their products against any defect in materials or workmanship.
Ganzo, headquartered in Yangjiang, China, has been making knives for over 20 years. Surely, they know a thing or two about making quality blades.
Apart from making knives, Ganzo has diversified its product range with blade sharpeners and multi-tools.
You will find a lot of fans as well as detractors of Ganzo. Their fans praise the quality and design of their products. While their detractors think that Ganzo has no original design and most of their products replicate features from other high profile brands. The argument has been the same for their knives as well as multi-tools.
Knife and multi-tool purists have often accused Ganzo of creating flea market replicas unworthy of consideration. However, of late, Ganzo has started coming out with some original designs which have been received with praise by the market.
They have developed their own manufacturing methods and have their own quality control system. Ganzo has been quite successful and has a market for its products in the US as well as in Europe.
Value For Money Multi-tools
The main USP of Ganzo products is the price. Their multi-tools cost far less than their competitors. Are they as good as the best in the market? Of course not. But they can do everything that their competitors can do, and almost as efficiently. In fact, when you hold one in your hand, it will feel much more expensive than it actually is.
If you are a purist and want the absolute best, sure, go with one of the highly acclaimed brands. But if you cannot afford to pay that much, but nevertheless want something that is as much functional, go with a Ganzo. In short, a Ganzo multi-tool gives you 75% of the quality, functionality, and efficiency, at 25% of the price. When it comes to value for money multi-tools, it is difficult to beat a Ganzo.
How Good are Ganzo Multi-tools?
Just as with their knives, Ganzo has made a name for itself in the budget multi-tool community. They have a range of plier-based multi-tool in their catalog. Unlike other brands, Ganzo does not give names to their multi-tool models, and the different models are identified with their series and model number. Almost all their multi-tools look very similar, varying only in size, color, and the number of tools they pack inside.
Most of Ganzo multi-tools have stainless steel construction and are very rust-resistant. Some even feature replaceable wire-cutters in the pliers. The models vary in size from those that can be attached to a keychain, to bigger ones meant for heavy-duty tasks. The construction quality, fit and finish, will surprise you, especially something at that price point.
As of today, the most expensive model, the Ganzo G302, sells for around $40. During the sale, you can probably get it around $30. This is almost a quarter of the price of any comparable multi-tool model with similar features from a high profile brand. You will get a lot of the other cheaper Ganzo models within $10-$20. This is an exceptional value for money.
Ganzo is not at the same level of quality as any of the more established brands, and they don’t claim to be. But for most practical purposes, a Ganzo will serve you well beyond what you pay for it.
The multi-tool industry has become crowded with a lot of manufacturers producing a lot of similar as well as different products. While this has given consumers like us a lot of options, it has also made choosing a multi-tool difficult. This problem is further aggravated by the market being flooded with similar tools from little known companies, as well as counterfeit tools of dubious quality.
However, if you stick to choosing a model from one of the above-mentioned brands, you are at least assured of getting a quality product. The high build quality and craftsmanship of these leading brands are difficult to replicate in a counterfeit product.
The competition among these brands is also good for the industry. All of them are, in one way or the other, trying to produce the best multi-tool in the market, thereby improving their existing products as well as bringing in more innovation to the multi-tool industry.