Buy Once. Buy Well. Buy Leatherman.
There are few companies that become so successful that their names become the default reference point (such as Biro, Hoover and Velcro). Leatherman is almost there – as it’s synonymous for multi-tool – and rightly so – given Tim Leatherman invented the idea of one tool that does everything back in 1975.
But Leatherman isn’t the first company to feature in our ‘buy once buy well’ series just because it was the first multitool to market. It’s earned its spot because they are relentless in focusing on just one thing: manufacturing the world's highest quality multipurpose tools. And because we personally use them and rate them.
There’s only one significant flaw in us recommending Leatherman as a “buy once, buy well” company. In theory, you only need one to buy one multitool, and it’ll last a lifetime (which they do and there’s a 25 year warranty to support this). But the reality is it’s highly likely that, because they are such good tools, you just may end up buying more than one.
A bit of Leatherman history…
The legend of Dyson’s 5,127 attempts to get his vacuum cleaner working is well known and he’s applauded for his tenacity to keep developing the product over five years. Tim Leatherman (yes, there really is a Mr Leatherman!) spent even longer – as it took him eight years, along with 500+ rejections, to get his Multi-Tool invention onto the market.
As with many good ideas, the idea of Leatherman Multi-Tool was born on a road trip. Tim (who had studied Mechanical Engineering) and his wife Chau were travelling around Europe in a Fiat 600, staying in budget hotels. The endless need to fix the unreliable Fiat and sort the odd leaky hotel plumbing system was the genesis of idea for a pliers-based multipurpose tool. As Tim says, “I was carrying a scout [pocket] knife and used it for everything from slicing bread to fixing the car,” but this wasn’t enough, “I often needed pliers, so the idea was to add a pair of pliers to a pocket knife."
Returning to Oregon with some initial sketches, and with the support of his wife, he decided to take a month off work to develop his multi tool idea. This became three years of working in his brother in law’s garage and resulted in a prototype that he thought “was pretty good”. By 1981 he’d got the patent and he thought, according to MoneyWeek magazine, that he’d show his invention to a knife company, and they’d "fall head over heels in love with it, give me one million dollars and I'd sit back and live happily ever after". But no one wanted it – reputedly the knife firms thought it was a tool, not a knife. Whilst the toolmakers thought it was a gadget that wouldn’t sell. After another three and a half years of rejections, Tim partnered with his college friend Steve Berliner to try to get his invention to sell. The first Leatherman iteration (bizarrely called ‘Mr Crunch’) was developed further from the feedback they’d received (reducing the number of tools to get the cost price down from $40 to $24) and the Pocket Survival Tool (known and still sold as the PST) was born. After over 500 rejections (including the army), they finally - in December 1983 - got an order from a catalogue company. Success snowballed – as Tim described to MoneyWeek magazine: "they said we need them really badly, because they've all been sold. Here's an order for 500 more. And a week after that they said 500 have gone, here's an order for 750, and two weeks later the 750 had been sold, here's an order for 1,000."
Impressively, in ten years they went from selling 500 (in 1983) to more than a million (by 1993). The tools are all still designed and built in Portland Oregon. And Tim is still the company Chairman.
There’s a great video – ‘Made of Mettle’ which showcases the story of Tim Leatherman’s journey. It’s a really good watch (and only circa 16 mins) as it shows the tenacity (or ‘mettle’) it took to bring this now iconic product to market. It also shows that whilst a ‘Pocket survival tool’ usually helps people to survive the day to day DIY challenges, for some people it has literally helped them to survive.
(References & quotes from: Leatherman.com and MoneyWeek.com)
And why do we rate it as a ‘buy once, buy well’ brand?
There are three reasons why we think that Leatherman is the epitome of a ‘buy once, buy well’ brand:
- They function brilliantly. They do the job in hand really well (whatever that may be) and you won’t be disappointed when you use them.
- The quality is great. You can feel it in the hand, and you can see it when you look at them. On average, each Leatherman goes through 150 different processes whilst it is being made. They are complex pieces of kit, that are well designed and well made – with great durability and attention to detail.
- You can fix or maintain them, rather than buying new. They offer a great warranty system which proves they trust what they are making. We’ve personally never had to use it (as ours haven’t broken)– but Leatherman say “our warranty is simple. You broke it, we'll fix it.”
We know there are huge Gerber fans out there who will say that’s a ‘buy once, buy well’ brand too. It may well be, but we are officially in the #TeamLeatherman camp. Gerber’s heritage lies in knives (since 1939) and only began making multi tools in 1991. Quite simply Edd was given his first Leatherman in 1993, and he’s been hooked ever since and hasn’t seen any reason to switch to Gerber – which sort of proves the whole ‘buy once, buy well’ philosophy really?
Which ones do Tinker and Fix recommend & why?
There are (at time of writing!) currently 44 different Leatherman products.
We sell just four at the moment, along with a couple of accessories (a pocket clip and an attachment ratchet driver). We’ve picked the ones we think work the best for different circumstances:
- The Leatherman Bond – because it’s their first UK legal carry with a knife (it has a non-locking blade)
- The Leatherman Rebar – because it’s a good value all-rounder with great functionality, that still can be carried in your pocket.
- The Leatherman Skeletool – because it’s a really good light weight version, when you want to keep the weight down.
- The Leatherman Super Tool 300 – because it’s the best heavy duty one for your toolbox.
Next up in our 'Buy once. Buy well' series....
Each month we'll chat about a different company that we rate as a 'buy once, buy well' brand.... because we reckon they should be celebrated for doing their bit to bring quality to our selection of DIY or gardening tools. Next up.... Hultafors..