ManMade Essential Toolbox: Why a Quality Multi-Tool Belongs in Every Tool Kit…and Which One You Should Get

Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We’ve selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day. 

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When you’ve spent the last fifty weeks talking about the importance of dedicated, high-quality tools, a single combo unit that replicates a great deal of those already mentioned might not be the next obvious choice.

But we’re declaring the multi-tool essential for one very simple reason: it actually is all those tools in one thing. Which might not make it the only, say, pay of pliers or screwdriver or saw you should own, but it should make it the one that you take with you when you need to mess with stuff away from your main toolbox or workshop. ‘Cause having all that stuff in your pocket or glove compartment when you need it is exactly the whole point. 

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Multi-tool = Multi tools

The function is all there in a name. If a simple pocket knife step-up version is the “Swiss Army” knife, then the multi-tool is the grandaddy of them all. It varies from a standard multi-function pocket knife in its butterfly-like, or balisong, mechanism. This turns the tool into a multi-handled device in which the tools are hidden inside both handles, usually with a pair of pliers on the central hinge.

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So, what should you look for? 

There are lots of quality multi-tools on the market these days, plenty with specialized functions, and some as thick as a text book. If you’re looking for a new one that’s actually practical, here’s our advice: don’t get one that’s lightweight and you want in your pocket as part of your every day carry. If you do want something like that, get a pocketknife or lightweight tool that supplements a heavy-duty multi-tool. The smaller tools are good and useful items, but this is a series about investment tools for making/fixing stuff toolbox, not items to fit alongside your keys and phone. 

We’ll admit to being partial to the original, Leatherman tools. They’re based here in Portland, OR, and pioneered the design. Plus, that name is no clever branding. The founder’s name is actually Tim Leatherman. Who doesn’t want to support that? 

But you can also find quality tools from knife makers such as Gerber, Victorinox, Wenger, etc. 

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 You can determine which tools are most important to you, but we consider these to be essential: 

  • A large knife, at least 2″ long
  • A saw or serrated blade
  • A flathead screwdriver
  • A Phillips screwdriver
  • A bottle and can opener
  • A scissors or cutting element
  • A set of pliers with a cutting/stripping base

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 Most will have all these elements, but here’s a few extra things to look out for:

  • All metal construction: cared for, this should last decades. Don’t skimp and get anything with plastic parts, including the handle. You’re not trying to save weight here.
  • Locking blades and fold out tools: Anything that’s sharp should have a locking mechanism included for both functionality and safety.
  • A ruler or scale: These are super useful to include, like when you’re up on a ladder and a need to measure the thickness of something, or to determine the length of a screw or bolt. 

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So, why have one of these on top of dedicated pair of pliers, screwdrivers, etc? Because it can go anywhere. In your car, your briefcase, your nightstand table, your tackle box, your camping gear, your pocket when you’re up on a roof, to a friend or family member’s house who you know won’t have the tools you’ll need to fix whatever they asked you for. There’s a time to have the right tool for the job, and there’s a time when what you have available will have to do. I don’t like having to go to the garage to loosen a small screw to replace batteries. I’ll just use my multi-tool. 

Oh, and they do great at the most important job of all: 

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ManMade recommended: 

What’s your favorite multi-tool? Let us know in the comments below!