[>Seeing a pricepoint spread like this does not give you much confidence in the product represented. $.99 to $15 for nearly identical tools is quite a bit of range. I was pleased to see that Cabela’s themselves have removed the “mini multitool with light” from their offerings. As I recall, they were asking $19.99 retail in the stores.<]
Just to start off, I need to say that I was prejudiced against these next three tools from the moment I saw them in the photograph on eBay. They were just going to be part of the crap I bought in the hopes that some of the other pieces were worthwhile.
To me they were the classic POC. I knew that I had seen them hanging in a blister pack down at Cabelas in a version that was ridiculously priced just because it carries a Cabelas’s logo. I also knew that I could get them direct from Hong Kong, with free shipping, for a fraction of that price. In fact, they were the sort of thing that I expected to find down at the Dollar Store sooner or later… and wouldn’t have bought even then. Regardless of the source, every picture I had seen of them indicated to me that they were cheap, shoddily made, and worthless.
These are the three that were included in my TSA lot. What I found out once I actually had them in my hand, was that they come in quite a variety of crappinesses. The truly frustrating part is that each of the three units mixes some really crappy features with others that aren’t that bad at all. And a further frustration is the handles on all three are force riveted, unlike some of the other mini tools that actually feature screw-together “rivets”… so no “mix-and-match” hacking to try to salvage some value.
The most surprising part was that each of them does feature pliers that are quite decent. They are nearly as good as the ones on my $30 Leatherman P4. Reasonably heavy-duty, needle-nose jaws, with overlapping wire cutters, and no wiggle or play. The pliers are so similar to each other that my suspicion is that the Chinese factories that produce these individual multi-tools may very well outsource the plier jaws from a single supplier.
Each of them includes the same basic form factor and tool features: The pliers, a small “pocketknife” blade, a serrated “saw” blade, a skinny Philips head screwdriver, and a standard screwdriver blade with bottle-opener combo. They each also feature a miniature LED light that turns on and off by screwing and unscrewing the bulb-end.
The biggest differences were in the blades and the quality of the miniature lights.
The unit on the left is a complete Loser… We will capitalize it this time… it deserves it. The knife blade is dull and the light was DOA. It is so badly threaded and fitted that when you unscrew the tip to turn it off there is very little pressure against the batteries, and a couple of them had turned over and shorted out. It is also the only one of the three that I received where the blades are not accessible without unfolding the pliers.
The one at the bottom is marginally better. The knife blade is hollow ground, and was already razor-sharp. The teeth on the serrated blade we’re also much more aggressive. The screwdrivers were identical to the first one, giving rise again to the idea that some of the parts maybe sourced from a single supplier regardless of who assembled it, or how it’s branded. Where this one falls down is in the clunky flashlight. It’s so large in diameter that it doesn’t even fold flush into the handle. However, it provides the best illumination of the three.
Finally, the black multitool at the top features the same aggressive serrated blade, and has my favorite light of the three, but falls down by providing a cheapo blade that lands someplace between those in the other two units. It did take a reasonably sharp edge off of the diamond stone, but I don’t count on it holding it for very long.
It also should be noted that all three of these use the nonstandard AG 13 batteries for the little lights. When the batteries provided burn out, these will be hard to find and expensive to replace. I suspect you will pay more for the batteries than you would’ve for one of these multi-tools at retail.
The verdict?: With my cost of only $2 a piece, these are not too bad. If you paid the $5-$20 at retail or discount, you would feel severely disappointed. That said, if you just need a tool to toss the desk drawer and have handy for opening packages or tightening up the screws on your computer case, this might be just your thing… At the lower end the price scale we’re still not approaching the cost of a of even one of smaller multitools from Leatherman, SOG, or Gerber. These blades ought to hold an edge long enough to be minimally useful, and having any kind of light handy when you need to find something you’ve dropped under the furniture is not a bad thing. However, the clunky form factor means that these would be fairly uncomfortable in your pocket. For my part, I will drop these into a couple of little pocket emergency kits to give away to kids or put them in a Geocache. They are certainly nice enough that if you got one for free or found it in a Geocache you wouldn’t be disappointed
Check back in the next couple of days, when I get around to the review of the four remaining units from my TSA purchase, you will see that there are indeed some mini multi-tools that can satisfy my 50/90 criteria that would be a far better use of your money when paying retail instead of buying some of these TSA confiscations.