Outdoor

Leatherman is doing retro for his newest multitool

In 1975 a young engineer named Tim Leatherman came up with an idea for a pair of pliers that would fit in your pocket. It took him five years to perfect the design and another three years to find a client for it. But the rest is history – Leatherman produces $ 100 million worth of multitools annually at its Portland, Oregon facility. The company’s recent innovations have centered on high-tech tools that are portable, one-handed, and designed for specific activities. But for this latest tool, Leatherman went back to its roots and produced a retro adaptation of Tim’s original Pocket Survival Tool.

The tool, called Bond, is more of a modern update of the PST than a faithful replica. The toolset is very similar (it adds wire strippers at the base of the can opener and gets by without a large screwdriver), but packs those features into a slightly more rounded, pocket-friendly package. Like the original PST, the bond holds a lot of value. While Tim worked hard to refine his original tooling into something he could sell for $ 25 in 1983, the $ 50 bond is actually about 30 percent cheaper, adjusted for inflation.

The original Leatherman Pocket Survival Tool. (Photo: Ledermann)

There’s a lot to like about this sleek, simple, elegant throwback. With all of its tools under control – unlike more modern Leathermans, you have to open the pliers to access them – the Bond does not get caught in pockets. And while Bond’s toolset is minimal compared to the company’s other options, the tools included are robust and well-designed.

Take the Phillips screwdriver on the Bond, for example. It’s a true number two design (the most common size) that is completely three-dimensional. The same tool on Leatherman’s newest flagship, the Free P4 ($ 140), is squeezed into a less usable, almost two-dimensional, format. As a result, yesterday I resorted to the simpler Bond instead of the much more complex Free P4 to set a cabinet door. And it got the job done with no fuss or stripped screw heads.

Here you can see the real Phillips driver on the Bond as opposed to the squashed design of the Free P4.  I try to avoid the P4's driver if possible. Here you can see the real Phillips driver on the Bond as opposed to the squashed design of the Free P4. I try to avoid the P4’s driver if possible. (Photo: Wes Siler)

The Free P4 compromises the usefulness of its Phillips driver to put more tools – 21 versus 14 – in a package that is less than a tenth of an inch thick. These additional tools are really useful when you find yourself in a place where all you can get is a free P4. But for simple everyday tasks, the lower tool density of the bond can sometimes prove beneficial. I could have gone to my garage and got my tool kit to fix this cabinet if I had to, but the number two Phillips in Bond was just as good as the one I have in my box.

Externally accessible tools are not only quicker and easier to access, they also provide a more ideal arrangement for an open blade.  Here you can see how the Free P4's blade is attached to the lower handle while the Bond's blade is attached to the top. Externally accessible tools are not only quicker and easier to access, they also provide a more ideal arrangement for an open blade. Here you can see how the Free P4’s blade is attached to the lower handle while the Bond’s blade is attached to the top. (Photo: Wes Siler)

Where the bond lacks compared to modern leathermans is the speed of tool access. To open one of the Free P4’s two knife blades, all I have to do is move it with my fingertip from the side of the closed tool. To access the Bond’s single, straight blade, you must first open the pliers, then locate the blade, and finally Use your fingernail to open it. Then before using it you need to close the pliers. This design also means that the Bond’s blade protrudes from the top plier handle, with access to the edge partially obstructed by the width of the other handle below.

The bond also sacrifices mechanical locks on his blade and other tools, relying instead on tension to keep those tools open. That means it’s not quite as safe to use as other Leathermans, but the lack of locking bars or other mechanisms helps keep the exterior of the tool streamlined. Not having a locking blade also helps ensure that the tool can be legally carried in the UK and the European Union, where locking blades of any kind are prohibited in public. Other Leatherman tools are illegal there for this reason.

When closed, you really get a feel for how slim and sleek the thing is.  As a result, it lies comfortably in the hand and can be carried seamlessly in the pocket.  A clip is an optional accessory. When closed, you really get a feel for how slim and sleek the thing is. As a result, it lies comfortably in the hand and can be carried seamlessly in the pocket. A clip is an optional accessory. (Photo: Wes Siler)

It’s an indication of how advanced Tim Leatherman’s original idea has come that the bond’s unique selling point isn’t how many tools it carries. Instead, it is the extremely elegant lines of the tool that give the Bond its charm. It’s a welcome reminder that there was a time when it wasn’t commonplace to be able to go out of the house with two dozen tools in your pocket. The fact that a modest multitool can now also be a symbol of style also shows how universal these things have become.

Main photo: Wes Siler

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