Toolbox: Knives out!

In the Make: Online Toolbox, we focus on tools that fly under the radar of more conventional tool coverage: in-depth tool-making projects, strange or specialty tools unique to a trade or craft that can be useful elsewhere, tools and techniques you may not know about, but once you do, and incorporate them into your workflow, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. And, in the spirit of the times, we pay close attention to tools that you can get on the cheap, make yourself, or refurbish.

This week, we look at knives and multitools. Many of us remember getting our first pocket knives as kids — the simple satisfaction found in whittling and carving, cooking on a campfire, or just semi-irresponsibly flinging it around. And the multitool, that knife with an identity complex — it can’t help but make you feel at least a little MacGyver-esque the first time you slot one onto your belt.

Since many of us use such tools every day — it’s our default tool — it takes on a special place in our universe of important implements. In other words, knives and multitools are kind of personal. So, in that light, I empty my pockets (drawers, toolboxes) and show you my knife collection. And Sean Ragan shares some of his.

What knifes and multitools do you use? Tell us about them, what you like and don’t like about them, in the comments.


Sebenza Chris Reeves Knives
I was sent one of these amazing knives to review when I was writing tool reviews for National Geographic Adventure and I cherish it. I don’t know if I could bring myself to pony up over $300 for a pocket knife, but it is a gorgeous piece. It has a Zen-like quality to it; it’s a very simply-constructed blade, but it’s done with such impeccable craftsmanship and high-quality materials, oh and it has a titanium body, so it feels like air in your hand — air that can make you bleed. My friend Peter Sugarman, who likes sharp objects, once said to me: “A good blade — it WANTS to cut you.” This must be a good blade ’cause I was bleeding moments after taking it out of the box (trying to get the feel of its one-handed opening).


Leatherman Wave
I’ve had, and have been writing about, the Leatherman since their first classic tool. I got the Wave over ten years ago, use it all the time, and it’s still in near-perfect shape. When I first got the tool, I didn’t like the flexion in the two body pieces (when you’re using the tools from inside the handles, and it still feels a little sloppy). I still don’t like it. Don’t know if they fixed that in subsequent editions. I know they updated the drivers to be reversible (flat and Phillips), in both the micro and full bit-sizes. The newer Waves also have rulers (8″/19cm) on the body, which is a nice addition.

Leatherman Squirts
We sell the Squirts in the Maker Shed and they’re admirable keychain multitools.


Squirt E4 (aka the “Make: bomb defuser”)
This Squirt has wire-cutters (gauges 12-20) as the plier tool, with a needlenose tip. You wouldn’t want this to be your only set of common tools, you wouldn’t even want this to be your only multitool, but as a keychain/pocket tool, it’s come in handy more than once. This is also a great tool for the dressed-up geek (or gearhead). You can’t very well wear a Wave on your belt with your wedding n’ funeral duds, but you can carry a Squirt in your pocket, in your purse, or on a garter holster for you Lady Derringer-types. The Maker Shed version has “Make: bomb defuser” laser-etched on one side of the body.


Squirt P4 (aka the “Make: Warranty Voider”)
This Squirt has the same toolset as the E4, but with needlenose pliers. The Maker Shed version has “Make: warranty voider” etched on one side of the body.


Squirt S4 (aka the “i Craft: things”)
The Maker Shed sells this scissors version of the Squirt with “i Craft: things” etched on the body.


Leatherman Juice CS4 (aka the “Make: Open Sourcer”)
This is the full-size multitool we sell in the Maker Shed. It’s smaller and more lightweight than the “full-size” lines that Leatherman carries (Skeletool, Surge, Wave, Crunch), while offering a decent-size knife, scissors that are actually bigger than on the Wave, bottle/can opener, corkscrew, awl, flat/Phillips drivers. This is a great kitchen-drawer/tackle box kind of tool.


Swiss Tool x
I like this tool, it’s well made, but it’s rather big and heavy, more of a toolbox carry than one for your belt (unless you enjoy the illusion of machismo you get from slingin’ hardware on your hip). It also tends to run ten dollars over the Wave, the comparable tool.


Swiss Army Knife
Of course, it’d be irresponsible to cover knives and multitools and not mention the classic Swiss Army Knife. I cut may way out of adolescence with one of these in my hand. Sadly, I lost my Kelty pack years ago, and with it, the last of my beloved Army knives. They’re now selling special editions of the classic knives to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Swiss Army Knife.


SafeMaker II
I have one other knife, but I try not think about it. It scares the stuffing out of me. A friend gave it to me as a present years ago. It’s a “push knife,” it’s sharp as sin, and it stares at you with its cold desire to plant itself inside of somebody’s ribcage. It lives for no other reason, and I find that kind of terrifying. It’s so sharp, it’d be like wearing a giant two-edged razor blade on your fist. Fits comfortably in your combat boot.


Make: Online author Sean Ragan chimed in with a couple of his favorites:


KISS (Keep It Super Simple), especially the model 5500
The KISS, from Columbia River Knife Tool, has a chisel-ground blade with an angular, uncurved profile, which serves to make it about as easy to sharpen as possible. (The serrated-blade models tends to defeat this advantage.) Besides the convenience in sharpening, the chisel-ground configuration means you only need one bolster to make the edge safe for storage. I carried one of these in my pocket for three years and never had any problems. The locking mechanism is effective and foolproof and beautifully minimal, being integrated into the single bolster, which also features a removable clip on its outside surface. The PECK model 5520 is a later, lighter model with all the same advantages, plus a sheepsfoot blade that’s even easier to sharpen because it has only one sharp edge.



Colt Cobra II Tactical
This knife makes use of an interesting innovation: a laser-cut serrated edge. This type of serrated edge provides all the advantages of traditional serrations (easier cutting of fibrous material and ropes) but without their main disadvantage, that they’re difficult to sharpen. The serrations on this knife can be sharpened using the same strokes that sharpen the non-serrated portion of the blade.



Gerber Artifact
Sean also did a review of the Gerber Artifact for the Toolbox column in the upcoming MAKE, Volume 19. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’m ready to swear that knife-sharpening is an urban myth. Everyone’s uncle’s barber’s cousin is an “expert,” but no two of them ever agree on a method. I’ve read books, bought jigs, and interviewed pros, but I just can’t make it work. So when the first folding utility knives appeared, a few years back, I signed on enthusiastically. Now, instead of fretting over resharpening my blade, I could just replace it when it went dull. Steel is recyclable, anyway, so there’s no harm done, and the small expense is made up in time saved.”



Also check out Sean’s review of Wayne Goddard’s $50 Knife Shop here.




Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn