Guest post from friend of the site, C. Lopes
I’ve been obsessed with multitools for almost 30 years now. My first was a Leatherman PST-I, given to me as a gift when they first came out. I was skeptical at first and it looked like a cheap gimmick. However, this thing really opened my eyes and quickly moved me away from the swiss army knives I grew up with. I found I was using it daily to complete tasks. While it was rarely the best tool for the job, it was always the most convenient and was almost always “good enough” to get the job done. I used it instead of hunting down the best tool and saved a ton of time in the process. I bought the Super Tool, 1st-generation Wave, and Crunch when they first emerged, and found the Wave to be the most useful of the 3, as well as the easiest to employ. I’ve experimented with others, including the Surge as well. Fast forward to today, and I own multiple New Waves, including one customized with parts purchased from Texas Tool Crafters that I’ve been carrying for years. I know some will question Tim Leatherman’s politics, but I’m a machinist who has experimented with a huge sample of multitools. I use them hard. I fully believe that the Wave is the highest quality multitool in existence, and it’s not a close competition. You might own a Gerber and you may like it, but if you actually use it hard daily (what you might consider “misuse”) it will fall apart. The Wave will stand up, take it, then ask for more.
I write this as a review of Leatherman’s new offering, the “Free” series. I recently purchased a new Free P4, and I want to compare/contrast it to the Wave.
At first glance, it may look like the Wave, but operates very differently. The plier head is substantially similar to that used on the Wave, including the replaceable cutter bits. I believe the only modification is to the hinge mechanism. The plier hinges are “free,” compared to the Wave. The Wave uses tension to hold the tool closed when not being used, while the Free uses magnets. It can be flipped open like a butterfly knife. It’s a neat feature. In fact every blade on the Free can be opened and employed using 1 hand. This seemed at first to be an advantage. After about a week of use, however, this advantage seems of questionable value. The most useful tools, which to me are the blades themselves, are easily accessible with 1 hand on the Wave. Also, in order to create the external opening feature for all blades on the Free, the blades are smaller and arguably not useful. Most notably, the file itself is less than half the size of that on the Wave. Also, the bit driver, present on the Wave, is gone. In it’s place, fixed phillips and flathead screwdrivers have been added. I miss the versatility of the bit kit.
As a machinist, let me say that with respect to the fixed screwdrivers, the phillips head screwdriver was obviously cut out on a CNC mill. But the way that it was done so left toolmarks that look like it was cut by a Chinese child laborer with a hand-file. Does a finishing pass really cost them that much in terms of time? Maybe it doesn’t matter because the steel quality is so low that after using it the tool marks will be covered up by scratches on any use because it wasn’t heat-treated. The PST-I phillips head was heat-treated. This is just weak. In fact, the finish on the whole tool is just not up to standard “Leatherman quality.” Also, the rulers stamped into the side of the Wave are gone. Overall, the quality of the Free is markedly lower than that of the Wave. The pocket clip loosened to the point of almost falling off within 1 week of unboxing this thing. In contrast, the Wave’s removable clip is solid even after years of use. There seems to be less steel used in the Free, and I suspect when you multiply this by thousands of multitools it saves Leatherman money. I fear that this will come at a cost to their reputation
The steel quality on the main blades is crap, but they are also crap on normal Waves. These crap blades generally are on all their offerings. It’s 440C steel, but this is mediocre for a blade that actually sees use. Call me a snob but if you can find the s30V versions I highly recommend doing so. They also offer some in a 154CM version. In both cases the steel is top quality and is noticeably superior to the “regular” offering. You can also purchase replacements on ebay, but installing them voids the warranty. While I don’t mind voiding my warranties, this is something that may be important to you. Texas Tool Crafters I believe remains an expensive option, as they sell customized Waves for a premium, including blades with quality damascus laminates that function well with that exotic look. They used to sell parts, but due to a legal settlement with Leatherman I believe they had to stop. This is unfortunate, and I wish Leatherman would provide better options. Some of us actually use these tools hard. Don’t get me wrong, the Wave is rock solid, but I wish the s30v offering was standard.
All in all, I don’t recommend the P4 free at any price when the Wave exists. Especially at almost twice the price of a Wave. And when the Wave doesn’t exist, get a SOG.