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The All-Purpose Portable Multi-Tool

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By Oscar H. Will Iii | Mar 1, 2007

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Tap-rooted weeds are no longer a problem with Leatherman's Hybrid™ in hand. The tool's weed-digging blade ensures you get the entire root every time.
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What do you do when the tractor won’t start? Reach for a multitool such as the Leatherman Crunch™ and u se its file component to clean the battery's terminal posts and cable clamps.
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Leatherman's new Hybrid™ has everything serious gardener needs, including tools to help you graft your favorite grape scion to that heirloom rootstock.
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Since the side of the Crunch™ houses the pliers' locking mechanism, it has relatively few other tools, but it does include the essential screwdrivers, file, and cutting blade.
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SOG’s Powerlock™ design includes gear reduction between the handles and the pliers. This innovation results in a hand-force multiplication that is especially handy when performing repetitive tasks such as cutting hard wire or crimping blasting caps.
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Like the Swiss Army knives before it, Victorinox's Spirit™ packs an incredible number of tools into an easy-to-handle package, and the components lock into position and are meant for more than occasional use.

Take the portable multi-tool with you for easy tool access on the go. 

They’re here to stay, getting more sophisticated every year, and you shouldn’t go anywhere without one. No, I’m not talking about cell phones. I’m talking about multi-tools, those incredibly useful toolkits that fit neatly in your hand.

I would choose a multi-tool over a cell phone — even though both are handy — for the simple reason that the portable multi-tool empowers you to help yourself, while the cell phone limits you to calling for help.

Found objects like rocks, bones and antler tine were among the first multiuse tools our ancestors took in hand, but luckily they were never quite satisfied with what they found. Fast-forward through the ages to the Industrial Revolution and significantly more purposeful designs emerged including cast-iron hammers with handles that doubled as wrenches and multi-bladed folding jackknives.

Originally considered an aristocratic novelty, the jackknife evolved from gentleman’s accessory to hard-working gizmo, and, by the mid-1900s, most agriculturists carried a jackknife. Handy as it was, the jackknife notably lacked pliers or wire cutters — essential implements that farmers tucked into dedicated leather cases worn on the belt. Most farmers also gathered screwdrivers, saws, files, hammers and other indispensables in a five-gallon bucket left to rattle around in the back of his or her pickup truck, which led to the ultimate dilemma: Which tools do you carry to that back-40 fence repair that’s only accessible on foot? There had to be a better way.

Tim Leatherman wasn’t worried about which tools he needed for rough country fence repair when he envisioned the original pliers-based multi-tool in 1975. He was concerned with keeping his old car roadworthy on an epic European journey, returning to this country with sketches and a cardboard mockup of what eventually became the Pocket Survival Tool™ (PST). Leatherman launched his namesake company (and an entire industry, as it turns out) in late 1983 with two somewhat skeptical orders for the innovative PST — it was an instant hit with farmers, tradespeople, bicyclists and virtually everyone else who picked one up. I received my PST shortly after its debut, and it quickly replaced just about every tool in my five-gallon bucket except the hammer. The PST also whetted my appetite for similar tools.

Since Tim Leatherman’s kick-start in the early 1980s, the multi-tool industry has exploded into a multi-million dollar enterprise that continues to thrive. Today’s farmers can choose from among scores of different models and several high-quality manufacturers. Most multi-tools are general purpose and include the standard array of cutting edges, screwdrivers, wire cutters and pliers, but other more specialized models geared for hunting, gardening or blasting are also available.

We recently obtained tools from three top manufacturers and put them through their paces. All performed extremely well.

Leatherman Hybrid™ Multi-Tool

Finally a multi-tool for folks who need a pair of quality bypass pruning shears more than a pair of pliers — the Hybrid™ is a gardener’s dream come true. The tool is built from the same high-quality stainless steel as Leatherman’s other products, but the handles, which feature nonslip covers with soft-rubber inlays, make the Hybrid™ virtually fatigue-proof. In addition to the robust pruners, the Hybrid™ includes a cutter for soft wire, grafting knife, bark lifter (used in grafting), saw, weed digger, Phillips and flat screwdrivers, sprinkler head tool, bottle opener and ruler. The handy nylon sheath secures the Hybrid™ when folded or with the pruning blades exposed, and has both belt loop and clip for plenty of carrying flexibility. The Hybrid™ is my favorite new multi-tool — I carry it and one of the more conventional types on forays about the farm. Price: about $60.

Leatherman Crunch™ Multi-Tool

Although it isn’t brand new, the Crunch™ offers an interesting twist on the pliers-based multi-tool. Instead of regular or needlenose pliers, the Crunch™ is equipped with adjustable locking pliers that grip like a vise. In addition, the tool offers cutters for both hard and soft wire, serrated knife, wood/metal file, small, medium and large flat screwdrivers, Phillips screwdriver, ruler, hex bit driver, wire stripper, bottle opener and more. The Crunch™ is perfect for those situations where you need locking pliers, and they serve well in most other areas, too.

When the oil-pressure gauge’s line burst on one of our old tractors last summer (in the middle of shredding the meadow), I used the Crunch™ to clamp the capillary tube closed, stanching the hydrocarbon hemorrhage long enough to finish up the mowing (not a recommended practice). I have also had to retrieve this innovative tool from my wife’s glass studio several times — she likes it for handling hot mandrels (heated metal pieces used to shape molten glass). Price: about $80 with leather carrying case.

SOG PowerLock™ Multi-Tool

Founded in 1986, SOG’s (named to honor the U.S. Military’s Studies and Observation Group) manufacturing focus is largely tactical, but its multi-tool lineup offers plenty of utility for the farm. The PowerLock™ tools are built around a combination needle-nose/regular combination pliers and feature SOG’s exclusive Compound Leverage™ design that uses gears to multiply pressure as it is translated from the handles to the pliers. Top of the line EOD PowerLock™ models feature hard wire cutter, handle covers, ¼-inch socket drive, scissors, several flat screwdrivers, Phillips screwdriver, can and bottle openers, saw, file, awl, crimpers, knife and more. The PowerLock™ design allows single- hand opening (with a flip of the wrist), and the various blades are easily replaced because it is constructed with hex bolts instead of rivets. I found the PowerLock™ to be especially easy to use when cutting high tensile (hard) fence wire — thanks to the Compound Leverage™ design. Price: about $110 with leather case.

Victorinox SwissTool™ Spirit™ Multi-Tool

The makers of the Original Swiss Army Knife market several multi-tools under the SwissTool™ trademark. The pliers-based Spirit™ offers wide-ranging utility in a package that fairly hums with Swiss precision and, like the Swiss Army knives, packs an unbelievable number of tools into a very compact package. In addition to the pliers, the Spirit™ includes hard and soft wire cutters, three flat and one Phillips screwdrivers, bottle opener, crate opener, scissors, metal file, metal and wood saws, reamer and punch, chisel/scraper, can opener, wire bender and more. In the olden days, when you could still fly on a commercial airliner with a multi-tool on your belt, I might have chosen the Spirit™ because of its polished finish and streamlined shape. However, it is also right at home on the farm, as I discovered while performing some emergency wiring (including replacing the voltage regulator) on one of our old Cub Cadet tractors. Price: about $85 with nylon pouch


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.

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