Toolbox: Knives out!

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.



54 thoughts on “Toolbox: Knives out!

  1. Jon says:

    You mention the PECK above, and I can’t recommend this knife enough if you don’t like bulky pockets. The straight cutting edge is trivial to sharpen, so I tend to actually keep it sharp; a dull knife is a crummy knife.

    Also, you can remove the “belt clip” part and take a dremel cutting wheel to it, reducing it to just the little plate that holds the knife pivot captive. That makes it even thinner and lighter. When I use my knife at work, people often ask where they can get one. It’s just so darn compact!

  2. Mike Cheung says:

    I carry around a Cold Steel 4″ Ti-Lite with the plastic handle. It’s a sort of James Dean looking switchblade style knife, but manually operated.

    I use this knife every day at work, home, working on my volkswagen, opening a bottle of pop…it’s super useful. One of the main features of this knife is a quillion on each side of the blade’s base. This allows me to catch it on the edge o my pocket as I pull the knife out, which opens the blade semi-automatically. I use the quillion almost as much as the blade. It’s great for opening paint cans!

  3. Random Username says:

    I’m really a fan of their AXIS Lock stuff. Mine was $130, so a fair bit cheaper than the $300 shiny thing posted above, but still kind of pricey. I have an Double Blade Osbourne Combo Edge, whatever that means.

    1. modelbuilder says:

      I have owned a few Benchmade knives; my current favorite is the Benchmite Auto, a 1.95″ auto-opener with a titanium handle. It is light, thin, and holds a wicked edge.

  4. RocketGuy says:

    I finally updated to the Leatherman Wave about 6 months ago, I’ve been impressed by it’s fit and finish, no noticeable slop in the locking mechanism for the tools or blades.

    I do have the reversible bit version, so I guess they refined the machining.

  5. says:

    I have a Charge XTi that I’m seldom without and a Gerber Artifact that I carry when my wife won’t let me have the Leatherman on my belt :). I love the Charge, the blades lock securely and open easily with one hand. It’s got not one, but two bit sockets as well as a small standard/philips reversible screwdriver. It’s built rock solid, I expect to pass it down to my son one day (provided the TSA doesn’t get it).

  6. garth says:

    I used a Buck Multitool for quite a while, until I cleverly dropped it into a jetty. I had a Leatherman as well, and the Buck beat it hands-down on every aspect. The action of opening it is 90 degrees different from a Leatherman and much better when open, IMHO.
    I also have used my CRKT Tighe Tac 8112 for the last 8 years with one problem, the thumbplate on the blade wriggles. It’s a solid small one-hand-open pocketknife that’s done everything from cut bait to trim paper to you name it.

  7. Gilberti says:

    Buck 110 locking hunting knife. It’s solid, build from brass, hard wood, and stainless steel, it’s locking mechanism is just as solid, its relatively cheap, and it is quite handsome looking. Pretty sure it has a lifetime warranty too, not that I or anyone else would need it.

  8. dmiff says:

    The last knife I bought was to drop half a pound from my pack weight.

    I went from a 10oz Gerber Legend (I’ve had it for 10 years and it has held up well against the abuse I’ve put it through) to a 2 oz REI Mini Multi-Tool. I have yet to put significant stress on the Mini, but it the mechanism feels solid.

    My everyday knife is a Swiss-Tech Utili-Key, which just goes to show how light-duty my multi-tool needs are in the first place.

  9. TheHotFire says:

    In lieu of a push dagger like the Safe Maker, I recommend checking out the Crisis Card from Texas knife maker Mike Snody. As a personal self-defense tool, it’s pretty much the coolest thing out there. There is an entertaining Youtube clip explaining this titanium tool here:

    For a general purpose EDC folder, you can’t go wrong with Emerson knives. I prefer the Commander with the plain edge. There is also a partially serrated model. Emerson makes some of the best hard use knives on the planet. He makes some insane customs, but his production knives are amazing in their own right.

  10. Jonathan Peterson says:

    I’m very fond of my Leatherman skeletool. The screwdriver holder needs reengineering, it gets dust in it and won’t hold as well, but it’s almost as small and light as a good lockback, and gives you a bottle opener screwdrivers and pliera. I used a file to make a nailfile on the back of the blade, something it should come with.

  11. Leareth says:

    I’m also fond of my Skeletool. I end up using it all the time for work and it weighs less then the conventional folder it replaced.

    That being said I miss my custom Willam-Henry folder that I lost two years ago. It was sweetest lightest knife I ever had the privilege to own.

    It was like the Ironwood/Damascus one on the bottom of thispage, but with the plain blade instead of Damascus.

  12. silverhalo says:

    Fell in love with Gerber’s one handed opening mechanism with the “Scout”… haven’t found anything better since. The “Freehand” is bigger and beefier that most multi’s and really holds up well under pressure… yes, a pair of multi-tool pliers that you can actually squeeze the hell out of and it doesn’t break! With the added adapter for using swappable screwdriver bits it really adds a new dimension to the tool and to your belt.
    The actual tool section Gerber put on the Freehand makes me wonder what they were smoking at the time.. A six inch ruler? A serrated butter knife? Come on!! Luckily I have a grinder to custom make my own tools! I would so pay for the ability to custom “build” my own multitool online.. are you listening Gerber!!!
    The only time this baby isn’t on me is if I am flying or in the shower.

  13. Justin Hughes says:

    Let’s not forget the Gerber Multi-tool with it’s one-handed opening, fiskars scissors, and secure locking.

  14. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Fantastic discussion, folks. Keep it comin’

    Sounds like they did fix the play in the body. Nice that they added back the rulers. They got a lot of heat for removing them in the Wave when it first came out. Maybe I’ll finally get a new one. I can’t believe I’ve already had mine for some 11 years. When I got my Wave, I gave my classic Leatherman to a friend of mine who’s the park ranger of the middle moors on Nantucket. He loves it. Maybe it’s time he upgraded to the Wave :-)

  15. Stefan says:

    I’m surprised you guys aren’t touting the Opinel French picnic knife. It’s got a carbon steel blade, a lightweight wooden handle, a bezel ring safety catch, all for 6 or seven bucks. I like the #7. It doesn’t wear a hole in your pocket.

  16. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Funny you should mention the Opinel. I just saw one in person at Maker Faire and the owner was raving about it. I’ll have to check it out. I didn’t realize they were so cheap.

  17. Andrew Naylor says:

    Check out the Busse Family of knives. Best fixed blades EVER! See my page of relevant links here:

  18. rjnerd says:

    a “customize” your multi-tool option. I went to their web page, checked the boxes for color, which blade groups, and the pliers style I wanted. It showed up a few weeks later. The big limit: you could only choose from groups of blades for each handle, not individual blades.

    I used this to get a combination that may have been a standard config, but colored bright hunter style orange, in hopes that it would make it easier to find. I have a tendency to put a tool down on the bench, and then not be able to find it later.

    (at the time, besides the customization, it was the only one that had a built-into-the-handle holder for hex bits. the sheath even had pockets to hold a half dozen).

    It was so noticeable,that somebody swiped it off the Scrapheap Challenge set. I wound up replacing it with a Wave. (pre bit holder, I like that of the new ones).

    Founder: The New England Rubbish Deconstruction Society; The NERDS;

  19. Simon says:

    I also like the Skeletool although I find it a bit big to carry about every day in dress trousers (for that I have a tiny Leatherman Micra I’ve had for 11 years now according to the engraving I had done when I bought it in Ireland). I find it is great for being able to take things apart with the screwdrivers and pliers. I once completely stripped down an old stereo I found in a bin with it as well as dead CD Rom drives.

  20. Chris says:

    I’m still using the same Leatherman PST (the original) that I’ve had for about twelve or thirteen years now.

    Except for a ding in the wire cutters (they weren’t quite up to cutting through a fish hook) and a slight twist to the smallest screwdriver, it’s still in perfect working order. I’ve been thinking of finally upgrading to something like the Surge or Wave to get just a little more versatility and more comfortable pliers, but I’m in no big hurry.

    The other knife I get a good amount of use from is my Camillus rigging knife. Just one sheepsfoot blade and a marlinspike, it’s handy when I’m doing decorative knotwork.

  21. Dominic says:

    I own a bunch of blades, both multitool and regular knife, but my favorite is my German paratrooper knife ( The version I have is newer than the one in the picture, but the structure is the same. It’s sturdy (all made of the same grade of metal, even the fittings), compact (the blade recedes into the handle so that it is its own sheath…very safe to carry), and versatile. The unique design has allowed me to use it as a knife, hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wrench, bottle and can opener, and saw (the back of my blade is serrated). It’s taken a lot of punishment and earned some scratches but never dents. It’s a relatively inexpensive knife that’s worth having in a tool collection.

  22. housepig says:

    I picked up the Skeletool CX early last year, when I thought I had lost my old Leatherman. It quickly became my go-to tool, and I’ve carried it and used it every single day since… because I *can* carry it all the time – I don’t need to put on a case, it just clips to the inside of my pocket.

    I haven’t missed any of the other tools on my larger Leatherman; this has the essentials for day to day fiddling in a compact 5 ounce package.

  23. rob0 says:

    Another vote for the skeletool (cx)- it’s the best everyday tool. I’ve carried other smaller / larger tools, but I don’t need a corkscrew, tweezers, toothpick or scissors with me all the time.

    The skeletool clips right inside my back pocket, has a great one hand opening knife that’s sharp and stays sharp, full size pliers, bottle opener, and multiple screw drivers.

    I love that they went away from the mentality of – “We must try to squeeze in every undersized useless tool we can just to advertise that we have 30+ tools!”

  24. Jim Horn says:

    The smallest Victorinox “Swiss Army Knife” as shown is their most popular model. Why? In my case, because it’s so tiny you can keep it in your pocket and not notice that it’s there. But a really sharp blade that holds an edge well, a really good (and tiny) scissors, tweezers, toothpick, file and screwdriver have been invaluable everywhere I’ve gone. And at about US$10, if lost it’s no problem to replace.

    It also leaves room in the pocket for the single-AA regulated LED flashlight and the USB Thumb drive. The other pocket has my keys. And this is available in suit and tie, shorts, or whatever.

    So I can access, see and fix a lot and have done so around the US, Kazakhstan, Japan and Indonesia. Hey, as an engineer, how can I beat that?

    Jim Horn, WB9SYN

  25. Keith Huss says:

    About 12 years ago I bought a Sebenza from Chris Reeve. Beautiful knife. Then about a month later I lost it. Damn! About a month later I called Chris Reeve to order a replacement (his wife took the call) and she told me I was in good company. Harrison Ford was the only other person to lose a Sebenza and had just ordered a replacement. Ha! I will never be told I am like Harrison Ford in any way again.

  26. says:

    Is there any thoughts on the Leatherman Supertool 300? How is it compared to the Leatherman Wave? It seems like a pretty nice overall tool also.

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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. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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