This cheap multi-tool evaluation is an outgrowth of some research I did during last winter's "poor man's BOB contest"
. I was intrigued by the variety of cheap multi-tools on the market, especially those sold as part of gift packs for Christmas. This year, I've collected a half-dozen multi-tools available for ten dollars or less at several major retailers.
Some of these inexpensive multi-tools look pretty good, until you compare them to the Leatherman, Gerber, or SOG products. But, at a fraction of the cost, they are cheap enough to be put in starter BOBs for friends or family, to be buried in a cache, or be part of a vehicle GHB where you wouldn't be too upset if the GHB is stolen.
Walmart had two Winchester brand multi-tools available for under ten dollars. One was part of a nine dollar "5 Piece Knife & Tool Stainless Set." The knives that came with the multi-tool were pretty cheesy. The other multi-tool was packaged by itself for five dollars.
I purchased three inexpensive multi-tools at Home Depot. The first was the "Tattoo Multi-Tool" by Iron Bridge Tools, Inc., for $4.88. The second was a Husky brand "2-Pack Multi-Tool And Folding Knife Set" for $9.88. The third one, found in their tool department (suggesting it is a regularly stocked item), was a Husky brand and packaged by itself for $9.97.
The Stanley multi-tool is available from a variety of sources, and is sometimes packaged as part of a larger gift set. For example, Home Depot had it packaged with several screwdrivers for $9.88. Target had it packaged by itself for ten dollars.
I performed three tests with each multi-tool that would highlight any major weaknesses. The first test was to cut through a roofing nail with the wire cutters to test the strength of multi-tool pliers joint and handles. The second test was to cut a notch in a nail to test the sharpness of the file. The third test was to cut into a 1-by-2 with the saw to see how well the saw performed. I further inspected the tool for other potential issues.
One seeming deficiency these inexpensive multi-tools all seemed to have in common was a file that did not feel sharp, especially in comparison to the files found on the more expensive multi-tools. (One of the Husky multi-tools did not have a file.) However, these files performed as well as the files on the more expensive multi-tools in my limited testing.Iron Bridge Tools Tattoo Multi-Tool
The Iron Bridge Tools "Tattoo Multi-Tool" looked promising. On initial inspection, everything appeared well made, and the file felt the sharpest of all the multi-tools being evaluated. Tools included: pliers, wire cutter, knife, medium and small flat screw drivers, Phillips screw driver, file, saw, awl, can opener, can/bottle opener. The small flat screwdriver bit is slightly rounded and may twist out of the screw head slot when used. Weight: 9.5 ounces, 270 grams. Cost: $4.88.
In cutting the roofing nail, the jaws started to spread apart laterally, making the pivot joint loose. I was eventually able to "gnaw" my way through the nail. I was afraid I was going to destroy this multi-tool cutting through the nail.
The file worked better than expected. The saw cut wood well.Husky 2-Pack Multi-Tool
The Husky multi-tool from the "2-Pack Multi-Tool And Folding Knife Set" was the smallest of the multi-tools evaluated, with a folded length of 3.5 inches. This multi-tool came a package of two multi-tools along with two skeleton style pocket knives. The set of two multi-tools and two knives was $9.88. Tools include: pliers, wire cutter, knife, medium and small flat screw drivers along with flat screwdriver point on the end of the bottle opener, Phillips screwdriver, saw, file, awl, and can/bottle opener. The flat screwdriver bits are slightly rounded and may twist out of the screw head slot when used. Weight: 6.6 ounces, 187 grams.
When cutting the roofing nail, the jaws spread apart laterally, but eventually cut the nail. The jaws are now a little loose. The file worked better than expected. The saw is sharp and cuts wood well.Husky 14-in-1 Multi-Tool
The Husky "14-In-1 Multi-Tool" appears to be an always stocked item, as opposed to a Christmas special item, which sells for $9.97. The outside of the handles have rubber grips which definitely aid in using the pliers. Tools include: pliers, wire cutters, straight edge knife, serrated knife, medium and small flat screwdrivers, Phillips screwdriver, saw, awl, can opener, bottle opener. The wire cutters contain a small notch to help hold the wire in place while it is being cut. The flat screwdrivers are sharp and smooth. This multi-tool does not contain a file. Weight: 7.9 ounces, 225 grams.
It was able to cut the roofing nail. The saw is sharp and cuts wood well.Stanley 12 in 1 Multi-Tool
The Stanley "12 in 1 Multi-Tool" sells for around ten dollars during the Christmas season and is frequently packaged with a knife or other tools as part of a promotional pack. Tools include: pliers, wire cutters, knife, medium and small flat screwdrivers, Phillips screwdriver, saw, file, awl, and can/bottle opener. The flat screw drivers are sharp and smooth. Weight: 8.1 ounces, 230 grams.
The tool was able to cut the roofing nail. The file worked better than expected. The saw is sharp and cuts well, but the blade is a little short, which makes using it a bit awkward.Winchester Multi-Tool from 5 Piece Set
This Winchester multi-tool is part of a "5 Piece Knife & Tool Stainless Set," which sells for nine dollars. Tools include: pliers, wire cutter, straight edge knife, serrated edge knife, a small straight screw driver, a Phillips screw driver, saw, awl, can opener, bottle opener, and inch and centimeter rulers along the outside of the handles. The small straight screwdriver is rounded and will probably slip out of the screw head slot when used. The package also contains an hex-adapter which slips over the square Phillips screw driver shaft, and two straight and two Phillips screw driver bits. This multi-tool does not contain a file. Weight: 7.3 ounces, 208 grams (173 g tool + 35 g bits).
The tool was able to cut the roofing nail. The saw was sharp and cut well.Winchester Five Dollar Multi-Tool
This Winchester multi-tool is packaged by itself and sells for five dollars. Tools include: pliers, wire cutter, knife, medium straight screw driver, Phillips screwdriver, can opener, bottle opener, file, fish scaler, hook disgorger, and a 2.5 inch ruler on the back side of the file/fish scaler blade. This tool does not contain a saw. Weight: 6.0 ounces, 169 grams.
The tool was able to cut the roofing nail. The file worked better than expected.Summary
By way of comparison, I also performed some of these tests with a Gerber Compact Sport 450 Multi-Plier, a SOG PowerPlier, and a couple of different Leatherman multi-tools. The SOG PowerPlier cut the nail the easiest because of its "compound gear leverage" mechanism. The Leatherman Wave's saw was the fastest of all the saws. All of the these multi-tools cut the roofing nail without suffering any harm.
Like every other tool, you get what you pay for. Multi-tools are no exception. The Stanley and 14-in-1 Husky multi-tools performed the best in this comparison of six multi-tools. Both of these multi-tools had sharp flat screwdrivers, unlike the other multi-tools tested.
If you are trying to build up several kits while keeping total cost down, the Husky two-pack gift set is a good value, giving you a multi-tool for less than five dollars. The flat screwdriver blades could be quickly dressed up with a stone or file.*** ADDENDUM ***
Several people have asked me to perform some additional tests, so within the limits of the materials I had conveniently lying around the house and the limits of my strength and endurance, I gave the screwdriver bits on the multi-tools a workout (and my hands and arms a workout - I'll probably regret it in the morning). The torture test I put together for each multi-tool was to drive two 2.5 inch screws, a Phillips drywall type screw and a flat-head number 8 wood screw, as far into a 2-by-4 as possible. The Phillips drywall screw is a very hard steel, while the steel in the wood screw is very soft. The Phillips screws work best with a #2 Phillips tip. The wood screws work best with a 1/4 inch wide flat-blade tip.
In general, most the multi-tools have a #1 Phillips tip and a large flat blade screw driver that is anywhere from an eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch wide. These screwdriver tip sizes are not optimal for the screws I chose to use.
I should note that I wore leather work gloves while driving these screws with the various multi-tools. The work gloves definitely saved my hands from serious injury because the various screwdriver blades had a propensity to fold up under use. None of these multi-tools have a locking mechanism to lock the blades and tools in their open position.
The picture below shows the results of the test for the six multi-tools. At the far right is a control using a regular screw driver.
I stopped driving the screws into the wood when the bits would no longer turn the screw. With the Phillips screws, this occurred when I could no longer put enough downward force on the screwdriver bit to keep it from camming out of the screw. With the flat wood screw, this occurred when the slot had been sufficiently damaged by the flat blade camming out of the slot that the screw could no longer be turned. The flat screwdriver blades were frequently small and had rounded corners, which contributed to the camming problem. It was also very difficult to keep the screwdriver blade properly aligned with the screw due to the asymmetric design of the multi-tools. (The control test using a real screwdriver did not have as many camming problems. I stopped driving the screws when I could no longer grip the screwdriver hard enough to continue turning the screws.)
1. Iron Bridge Tools Tattoo Multi-Tool - The edges of the Phillips bit were rounded from camming out of the screw head. The corners of the flat bit were rounded slightly from camming out of the slot in the wood screw. I was able to impart a noticeable twist in the flat bit when driving the Phillips screw further into the wood.
Phillips screw driven in 1.3 inches
Wood screw driven in 0.7 inches
(Drove the Phillips screw in an additional 3/8 of an inch with the flat screwdriver blade.)
2. Husky 2-Pack Multi-Tool - The edges of the Phillips bit were significantly rounded from camming out of the screw head. The corners of the flat bit were rounded slightly from camming out of the slot in the wood screw. Driving the Phillips screw deeper into the wood with the flat bit chewed up the corners of the bit and imparted a slight twist into it.
Phillips screw driven 0.75 inches
Wood screw driven in 0.75 inches
(Drove the Phillips screw in an additional 3/8 of an inch with the flat screwdriver blade.)
3. Husky 14-in-1 Multi-Tool - The edges of the Phillips bit were significantly rounded from camming out of the screw head. This Phillips bit was probably damaged the most by camming. The corners of the flat bit were rounded and warped slightly from camming out of the slot in the wood screw.
Phillips screw driven 1.4 inches
Wood screw driven 0.75 inches
(Unable to drive Phillips screw further into the wood due to the size of the flat screwdriver blade.)
4. Stanley 12 in 1 Multi-Tool - The edges of the Phillips bit were rounded slightly from camming out of the screw head. This Phillips bit was probably the least damaged by camming. The corners of the flat bit were rounded and warped slightly from camming out of the wood screw slot.
Phillips screw driven 1.1 inches
Wood screw driven 0.8 inches
(Unable to drive Phillips screw further into the wood with the flat screwdriver blade.)
5. Winchester Multi-Tool from 5 Piece Set - The edges of the Phillips bit were rounded slightly from camming out of the screw head. This multi-tool does not have a flat screw driver blade. I did not test the hex adapter and those screwdriver bits.
Phillips screw driven 1.1 inches
6. Winchester Five Dollar Multi-Tool - The edges of the Phillips bit were rounded slightly from camming out of the screw head. The corners of the flat bit were not noticeably rounded, but this flat screwdriver bit was the most rounded of any of the multi-tools to begin with.
Phillips screw driven 1.3 inches
Wood screw driven 0.7 inches
(Unable to drive Phillips screw further into the wood with the flat screwdriver blade.)Summary
None of the multi-tools experienced what I would consider a catastrophic failure. No seriously twisted screwdriver blades/bits caused by metal that was too soft. No chipping of the screwdriver blades/bits caused by metal that was too brittle. However, it became abundantly clear that a multi-tool is not a substitute for a real screw driver.*** ADDENDUM 2 ***
At the request of some people, I have added the weight of the multi-tools to their descriptions (above).
For comparison, here are the weights of some other common muli-tools:
Gerber Compact Sport 450: 6.2 ounces, 176 grams
Gerber Ripstop: 8.9 ounces, 252 grams
Leatherman Fuse: 5.9 ounces, 166 grams
Leatherman Wave: 10.1 ounces, 285 grams
SOG PowerPlier: 6.7 ounces, 191 grams