I still remember my dilemma while deciding to get my first full-size multi-tool. I had almost finalized on the Leatherman Wave, but then I came to know about the Victorinox Swisstool Spirit X. Though I liked whatever I heard and saw about the Swisstool Spirit in pictures, I went with the Wave. After a few years, I saved enough money to get the Spirit too.
Now that I have used the Wave for almost eight years and the Spirit for about four years, I am still in a dilemma to decide which one is better. I frequently switch between the two based on my requirements as each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Both the multi-tools are quite similar and capable of handling everything you throw at them. But there are some glaring and some subtle differences that make each one unique in its own right. These are also the differences that can just tilt your decision in favor of one or the other.
For a full review of the Victorinox Swisstool Spirit, read:
Design, Fit and Finish
This is perhaps the most important point which differentiates the two multi-tools. The Swisstool Spirit just looks and feels more ergonomic and better made than the Leatherman Wave. Even a Leatherman fanboy will admit to this fact. Don’t get me wrong, the Wave is well made and is an example of precision crafting. But the Spirit is better. You will only understand this once you have handled both.
It appears like Victorinox has built the Spirit with a lot of attention to details, just like their SAKs. The adjustment of each and every moving part is precise. Each tool moves from the closed position to the open position smoothly and locks with a satisfactory ‘click’. While closing the multi-tool, the two handles attach to each other almost as if they are magnetic.
The Spirit also has a more open design with all the tools accessible from the outside. This helps a lot while cleaning the multi-tool.
The Leatherman Wave requires a ‘breaking-in’ period until it becomes smooth to open and close the tools. The pliers as well as the tools feel a bit tight initially and take a while to get loose. Some people also find one handle of the plier a bit tighter than the other. You can speed up the breaking-in process by oiling the different joints. But even then, It won’t feel as smooth as the Spirit. Also, apart from the four outside tools, all other tools in the Wave are accessible only on opening the multi-tool. This also makes it a bit difficult to clean the multi-tool, as there are more hard-to-reach nooks and corners.
The Spirit is also very shiny and has a polished feel to it. Victorinox uses a lot of Chromium in their steel to achieve this degree of shine in their tools. The body of the multi-tool is highly polished and there are no sharp edges anywhere. This makes the Spirit very comfortable to grip in your hands whether in the open or closed position. Even the individual tools are similarly polished, so much so, that the screwdrivers sometimes slips and fails to take a grip on screws.
Leatherman Wave, on the other hand, has a lot of rough edges. In the closed position where you would use the knives, the tool has a lot of hot spots. I found it literally difficult to do serious work for long periods of time with the knives, wood saw and the metal file without wearing hand gloves. The sharp edges just dig into the palm.
The high Chromium content makes the Swisstool Spirit more rust-proof and hence a better option if you work around water. I haven’t seen any rust in any of my Victorinox tools yet (and I have many). On the flip side, the high polished scales make the Spirit a bit slippery in wet hands.
Leatherman products are also made of stainless steel, but they are not as immune to rust as Victorinox products. On the bright side, since the scales of the Wave is not as highly polished, it tends to slip a lot less in your hands.
This is another point which can play a big part in your final decision. The Leatherman Wave has better knives than the Swisstool Spirit X.
The Sprit X has a very sharp and capable knife, which is similar in design to what you get in a SAK. But the Wave has two knives, one plain edge, and one serrated edge. Both the knives come very sharp and get the job done as good as (or sometimes better) the one in the Spirit.
The knives in the Wave are also longer and broader than the one in the Spirit. What is more, both the knives in the Wave can be opened with one hand. This is a huge advantage, especially if you carry just one multi-tool and depend on the knife in your multi-tool a lot.
With the Spirit, you will probably feel better if you also carry a separate knife along with the multi-tool.
There is a model of the Swisstool Spirit where you can get two knives, but you lose the scissors. But the one-handed opening is not an option in any Spirit models. This is probably because SwissTools are mainly targeted towards Europeans. In some European countries like Germany, one-handed opening knives are illegal.
Both the Swisstool Spirit and the Leatherman Wave have needle-nose pliers. But there is a slight difference, the Wave pliers are more pointed than the Spirit pliers.
This gives the Wave pliers slightly more precision. However, the thin tip makes it weaker and exerting too much pressure while clamping on something only with the tip is not recommended.
The shorter nose of the Spirit pliers makes it a bit more robust and there is less chance of breaking the tip with exerting pressure.
The bent handle of the SwissTool emulate traditional plier handles and hence some people may find it more ergonomic. However, the Wave has bigger and wider handles which may feel more comfortable to some.
If you get the Wave Plus model instead of the Wave, you will get replaceable wire cutters at the base of the pliers. This is not an option in any Spirit models.
This is one area where the different options provided by the Swisstool Spirit and the Leatherman Wave may appeal to different types of people.
The Spirit has three flathead screwdrivers of different sizes and one Philips head screwdriver. The Philips screwdriver has sufficient length and reach.
The Wave has one large flathead screwdriver. Apart from that, it has a bit holder where you can fit interchangeable bits. It comes with one two-sided bit having a Philips and a flat head on either end. However, the bit holder is short without much reach. In addition to this, the Wave also has an eyeglass screwdriver, which is also double-ended.
With the Wave, you can increase your screwdriver options by purchasing a bit kit separately from Leatherman. Note that these bits are specially designed by Leatherman and are flat in design. You can also increase the reach of the driver by purchasing a bit extender from Leatherman.
The Spirit doesn’t have any inbuilt bit holder like the Wave. But you can buy a separate bit kit along with a separate bit holder or ratchet. However, these are individual accessories and have nothing to do with the Swisstool Spirit.
The file on the Wave is more versatile, as one side has the traditional tooth pattern while the other side is diamond coated. The diamond file can be used for sharpening other blades. Spirit file does not have this option.
The tooth pattern on the Spirit file, however, is more aggressive and gets the job done faster than that of the Wave.
Other Tools in the Spirit
The SwissTool Spirit has two tools which some may find very useful, and for which there is no equivalent in the Leatherman Wave.
The first tool is the Chisel. Apart from using it for trimming wood or scraping debris, it is also designed to be also used as a box cutter. While the chisel functionality has very specific uses, the box cutter comes handy every now and then.
The other tool is the Awl or the Reamer. This is an important tool to have in a multi-tool as it has many uses. However, the Wave is sorely lacking this functionality.
Other Functionalities in the Wave
The handle of the Leatherman Wave has a ruler with centimeters and inches engraved into it. When fully extended, you get 8 inches and 20 centimeters of the ruler. The SwissTool Spirit has curved handles and hence does not have any rulers.
You can attach a pocket clip to the Wave and this makes it possible to carry it in your pocket more comfortably. However, you have to buy the pocket clip separately from Leatherman. The Wave also has a built-in keyring.
The Spirit does not support any pocket clip or keyring. I think not having a pocket clip is a major disadvantage for the Spirit as it is compact enough to be carried in the pocket with a clip.
The SwissTool Spirit comes with a leather sheath. It can be carried vertically in your belt. It is very compact and fits only the Spirit and nothing else. If you want to keep other accessories like the bit holder or ratchet and the extra bits, you can buy a bigger sheath from Victorinox.
The Leatherman Wave comes with a Nylon sheath that can be carried vertically as well as horizontally in your belt. The sheath is big enough to hold the Wave as well as the bit kit and the bit extender.
The Wave sheath also has a hole at the bottom which allows the Wave to be carried in open position inside the sheath. This is helpful when you are using the pliers very frequently.
Dismantling The Multi-tool
The SwissTool Spirit is held together by pivot rivets and hence cannot be dismantled. As a result, it is almost impossible to modify the multi-tool.
The Leatherman Wave is held together by screws and hence can be taken apart, and then again re-assembled. This way, people have been able to modify/change the tools in the Wave. However, remember that this will nullify the warranty.
Victorinox provides a lifetime guarantee on the SwissTool Spirit against any defects in material or workmanship. They also mention that damage caused by normal wear and tear or abuse is not covered by the warranty. I don’t have any experience of using this guarantee and hence do not know how good it is, but a lifetime guarantee does mean that Victorinox has very high regard for the Spirit.
The Leatherman Wave is covered by a 25 years limited warranty from the date of purchase. It covers any defect in material or workmanship in the multi-tool. In fact, I have heard many stories of old broken Wave being replaced with brand new ones without asking any questions.
So here you have it, the ten most important differences between the two most popular multi-tools of all time from two well-known companies. Both are great multi-tools with their own advantages and you won’t go wrong with either of them.
While the Spirit’s design is more compact and manages to fit more tools, the Wave’s design accommodates one-handed opening knives as well as a bit holder.
With such closely matched quality and functionality, it is what you want to accomplish with a multi-tool, and maybe brand loyalty, which will decide which one is the right choice for you. And if you are like me, you will probably get both, eventually 🙂