The Swiss Army Knife, or "Offiziersmesser” as the Swiss called it, was the first wide-spread multi tool and remains one of the most popular multi tools in the world. The first ones were commissioned by the Swiss military for soldiers. They had a knife, a can opener, a reamer, and a screwdriver that was used to take apart guns for cleaning. During World War II, American soldiers coined the term Swiss Army Knife and brought the idea back to America.
In modern times, a plethora of multi tool brands have sprung up to challenge the Swiss Army Knife and adapt the idea to more modern uses. The American company Leatherman pioneered one of the most innovative changes to modern multi tools in the 1980s when they redesigned the basic structure to be centered around a pair of no-compromise pliers. Today, Leatherman has built specialized multi tools for every job description, but their most popular all-purpose multi tool is the Leatherman Wave.
Both the Swiss Army Knife and the Leatherman Wave remain best sellers today, so let’s break down each one and see how they compare.
- What Makes a Good Multi Tool
- Leatherman Wave and SwissChamp Tools
- The Leatherman Wave
- The Victorinox Swiss Army SwissChamp
- The Bottom Line
- Additional Resources
What Makes a Good Multi Tool?
The original purpose of a multi tool was to condense several stand-alone tools into one, compact, easy-to-carry package. The question is: Do they fulfill their purpose without making unacceptable compromises on tool quality and ease of use?
To accomplish the most number of tasks, a good multi tool needs to focus on performing the basic tasks that we do every day. Each tool should be as general as possible with broad functions, but not so broad that it doesn’t work. Specialized multi tools can be different, but for now we’re focusing on daily-carry, general-use multi tools. On a daily basis we need to grasp, cut, open, pry, grind, and measure. WHAT you are grasping, cutting, opening, prying, grinding, or measuring determines the multi tool you need.
Leatherman Wave and SwissChamp Tools
Not having the right tools is frustrating as we all know. After all, that’s why you’re reading about multi tools right now. All multi tools try to pack the most utility into the smallest package, so let’s see what the Swiss Army Knife and the Leatherman Wave have to offer.
Leatherman Wave Tools
- Needlenose pliers
- Regular pliers
- Wire cutters
- Hard-wire cutters
- 420HC knife
- 420HC serrated knife
- Wood/metal file
- Diamond-coated file
- Large bit driver
- Small bit driver
- Medium screwdriver
- 8-inch (19-cm) ruler
- Bottle opener
- Can opener
- Wire stripper
Victorinox SwissChamp Tools
- Large Blade
- Small Blade
- Can Opener with
- Small Screwdriver (also for Phillips Screws)
- Bottle Opener with
- Large Screwdriver
- Wire Stripper
- Key Ring
- Multi-purpose Hook (Parcel Carrier)
- Wood Saw
- Fish Scaler with
- Hook Disgorger
- Ruler (in/cm)
- Nail File with
- Nail Cleaner
- Metal File
- Metal Saw
- Fine Screwdriver
- Pliers with
- Wire Cutter
- Wire Crimper
- Phillips Screwdriver
- Magnifying Lens
- Pressurized Ballpoint Pen
- Straight Pin
- Patented Mini-Screwdriver
- Sewing Eye
The Leatherman Wave
The Leatherman Wave has fewer tools than the Swiss Army Knife, but it is sturdier and designed for heavier use. The Wave can substitute for a lot of the equipment in a toolbox. While it is still no match for a stand-alone tool belt, it can save you from running back and forth when you forget something.
- Innovative Design - With a pliers-centered design, there is almost no difference, except for strength, between normal pliers and the Leatherman Wave.
- Consistent Quality - Excepting possibly the scissors, all of the Leatherman Wave’s tools are well designed.
- Locking Tools - Almost all of the tools lock making them safer to use.
- Every Tool is Useful - No tools are flimsy, outdated, or too specialized.
- 25 Year Warranty - I’ve used the warranty and was sent a new Wave with no questions asked.
- Lacking Several Tools - Necessary tools are mostly up to personal preference, but you will be hard pressed to remove a splinter or uncork a bottle with the Leatherman Wave.
- Scissors - A bit small and difficult to use, it will cut paper and string when needed.
- The large Philips screw driver is too flat and can strip screws if not careful.
- The Wave is too heavy to comfortably carry in a pocket without the pocket clip.
- New Leatherman Waves have replaceable wire cutters in the pliers.
The Victorinox Swiss Army SwissChamp
The Swiss Army knife has more tools than the Leatherman Wave, and most of its tools are functional. I was impressed by the clever way that they fit some of the tools together like the mini screw driver inside the cork screw. Overall though, its design has some defects that really hurt its function.
- Lots of Tools - There are an astounding number of tools in the Swiss Army Knife considering its size and weight.
- Inexpensive - It isn’t cheap, but it is more affordable than many of Leatherman’s full-sized multi tools.
- No Locking Tools - Even if most tools do not lock, the knives and saw really need to lock for safety reasons.
- Redundant Tools - Having extras can be good if a tool wears out, but there is no good reason to have both a bottle opener AND a can opener when a can opener can easily open a bottle.
- Too Specialized/Outdated - By putting in specialized and outdated tools like a frozen bootlace pick, the Swiss Army Knife gives up space that could be used for another more useful tool or to make an existing tool sturdier.
- Inconsistent Tool Quality - While tools like the saw and screw driver were quite good, others like the pliers and the knives are not designed well.
- The magnifying glass is too small to use for fire starting.
- The Swiss Army Knife has pieces that completely detach from the multi tool while the Leatherman Wave does not.
The Bottom Line
The Leatherman Wave is a sturdy, reliable piece of equipment that can handle moderate and even heavy use. It has almost all of the tools necessary for daily life, outdoorsmen, and making general repairs.
The Swiss Army Knife is good for light duty work, but many of the tools will not be able to handle moderate to heavy action. It has several useful tools not found on the Leatherman Wave, but it also has several tools that you will probably never use.
- Leatherman Wave - I use the straight blade for everything, then when I am cutting food or need a factory-sharpened edge I use the serrated blade. That way the serrated blade is always clean and sharp.