Whether you’re on a quick hike, hunting the back country or just on a leisurely Sunday drive, if something is going to break, it will happen at the most inconvenient time and in the most inconvenient place. As a husband, homeowner, businessperson and even an outdoorsman, problematic situations are going to occur. More often than not, such misfortunate usually involves some type of fix-it, which relates directly to tool use.
Early on in life, my father told me, “Son, you can usually fix most problems with a pair of pliers, a knife, a dual screwdriver (slotted/Phillips heads in the same tool) and a little duct tape.” Not only was that a wise piece of advice, such a minimalist assortment of tools has served me well through the years.
It would seem that various types of problems, often mechanical in nature, are simply part of the human condition. During a trip to the Middle East in 1975, Tim Leatherman and his wife encountered an assortment of vehicular problems, as well as malfunctioning hotel plumbing. The only tool in his possession at the time was nothing more than a pocketknife.
Since he was a mechanical engineering graduate of Oregon State University, Tim did his best to resolve every vexing situation. Upon his return home, the travel experience stimulated him to design a “Boy Scout knife with pliers.” It took several years for Tim to perfect the concept, but in 1980 he applied for and received a U.S. patient for a multi-tool product he named “Mr. Crunch.”
Always rethinking his achievement, three years later Tim reintroduced his first product as a “Pocket Survival Tool.” In 1984,
Tim saw the sales of this newly redesigned multi-tool soar to nearly 30,000 individual units. Over the years the Leatherman tool line, which now includes folding knives, has expanded to include several dozen individual products, which are sold both domestically and abroad. Obviously, Tim Leatherman and his business partner Steve Berliner have created a hand tool concept that aroused the interest of consumers worldwide.
The basic Leatherman multi-tool idea is built around piers, with up to 21 additional tools (knife blades, screwdrivers, wire cutters, saw blades, can opener, bottle opener, electric wire stripper, crimping tool, etc.) stored in the handle. Additionally, most of the foldout tool blades lock-open for user safety. In reality, a Leatherman multi-tool is the best of all worlds. Not only can the tool be used to grip, hold, twist and turn, it can also cut, saw, screw, open and crimp. All of this capability and more is housed in a single, no-nonsense hand tool.
My own experience with Leatherman tools began several years back in elk camp. I had purchased a basic Leatherman model (needle-nose pliers, wire cutter and knife blade) that came with a small flashlight in a Cordura nylon belt case. My initial interest was really in the flashlight, rather than the minimalist multi-tool. However, during a week in camp with ten other hunters, I became convinced that the pliers’ function of the multi-tool was an invaluable asset for any hunter. Likewise, using the onboard knife blade saved the edge on my actual hunting knife. All that week in camp the Leatherman tool came in handy fixing multiple lanterns, stoves, rifles, scopes, tent poles, horse tack and a host of other gear related to a backcountry elk camp.
There is a wide range of Leatherman multi-tool configurations, from minimalist to elaborate and beyond. At last count, there were over 50 different models of multi-tools in the Leatherman line. The company even makes versions of their tools for fire, police and other emergency responders, as well as tools for military applications and independent operators.
Most certainly, Leatherman tools aren’t the only game in town. Other cutlery manufacturers, including Gerber, Columbia River Knife & Tool (CRKT), SOG and others also market their own versions of the multi-tool. The fact remains, however, that Tim Leatherman’s creation is truly a unique example of American design, manufacturing and marketing in action. Currently, the Leatherman manufacturing facility is located Portland, Oregon, where they produce over 17,000 individual tools every week, allowing the company to proudly boast that their products are “Made in the U.S.A. Should a tool need to be repaired or rebuilt, the company policy is to replace that product with an equivalent item promptly. –Durwood Hollis