Know that feeling you get the first time you pick up a new tool and it’s perfect? Not only does it enable you to perform the task in question, but it’s just a pleasure to use, inspiring joy with its clever design and slick execution. Well, maybe you’re not as big of a nerd as I am, but that’s how I felt the first time I handled a multitool from Leatherman’s new Free series. With these tools, Leatherman has completely rethought the category it invented.
What Is It?
This is the Leatherman Free P4. With 21 tools and a $140 price tag, it’s the largest and most expensive multitool in the new Free lineup. And despite its massive utility, it doesn’t feel like a full-size multitool. That’s because Leatherman has completely reengineered the way it packs tools into the handles, reducing overall thickness in the process. But reduced bulk is just a welcome side effect of Leatherman’s main design goal: one-handed operation.
And that one-handed operation comes without qualifiers. It works just as well in your left hand as it does in your right. You can access all the in-handle tools, opening, closing, locking, and unlocking them with ease. You can close the pliers and handles with one hand just as easily as you can open them. With a little practice, you can do all of the above without even looking at the thing.
Unlike multitools produced by Leatherman’s many imitators, all of the movements described above take place with fluid grace and impressive precision, and everything is packed into a body that’s comfortable to hold and use in any position you want. There’s no sharp, exposed edges, plastic components, or clunky execution here.
Who Is It For?
Leatherman hasn’t stated that the Free line will replace its other multitools, and the company will likely continue producing megapopular models like the Surge, Charge, and Wave. But there’s now no reason to buy any of those when the Free offers so much more, at pretty much the same price.
The superior tool packaging alone renders most other Leatherman multitools obsolete. The P4 is less than half an inch longer than my old Sidekick but is pretty much the same thickness, while packing seven more tools. That the P4 also offers faster, one-handed access to all those tools just puts another nail in the legacy model’s coffin.
But if that’s still too big or too expensive for you, there are seven other models in the Free lineup, the most basic of which is a simple $80 pocketknife that has a couple screwdrivers in its handle. I’m sure more are coming.
There have always been two main obstacles for creating a true one-handed, pliers-based multitool: The tool needs some kind of slick retention method to keep both the handles closed and the pliers open. And packing the other tools tightly into a handle has traditionally limited your ability to access them.
With the Free series, Leatherman has solved both problems with magnets. A single, plastic-shrouded neodymium magnet rides on the end of each handle. This is what holds the entire contraption closed when it’s not in use and what keeps the small tools in the handle. Leatherman says it designed the magnets to have just enough power to perform their job without interfering with cell phones, demagnetizing credit cards, or disrupting the function of pacemakers.
Whereas on previous Leathermans you accessed the in-handle tools by picking and prying awkwardly at fingernail tabs, only to have all the tools raise up in one clump, the Free series offers the ability to individually roll each tool open from a raised lever at its base. This is a very smooth operation and has the advantage of not ripping your fingernails apart. While two or more tools may still roll up at once, selecting the right one and closing the others is much faster than on previous models. The entire operation can be accomplished quickly and with only one hand.
And that’s not the end of the Free story. With this new series, Leatherman has also comprehensively redesigned each individual tool. The scissors are larger and more robust. The plain-edge knife blade is now a drop-point design that features a hollow grind for improved slicing. The serrated blade includes a blunt point, with a chisel grind tip. The largest flat-blade screwdriver (there are three) is thicker, so it can be used to pry, and it features a sharpened side designed to open packages without risking damage to their contents. The wire stripper located in the base of the medium flathead/ruler is the easiest and most effective I’ve ever seen in a multitool.
I could go on. And each tool locks open with an intuitive, well-placed, ambidextrous mechanism.
Grasp one handle and flick your wrist to release the magnet. Then swing the handles open to lock the pliers open. It’s that simple, and it goes that smoothly. To close the pliers, just push the handles apart with your thumb to break the tension, then flick them closed.
To access the handle tools, roll your thumb over the levers at their base. Those tools are now mounted externally, meaning you can access them without opening the pliers.
Leatherman has added some extra utility to pretty much every tool. The pliers even now include a cap crimper in their base. This kind of attention to detail is especially relevant in a multitool, which you use to conquer a diverse range of awkward, impromptu tasks that are never quite as straightforward as you anticipate. With that little bit of added utility on each tool, you can often accomplish a task without having to close the tool you’re already using just by searching around the handle for something else.
- The P4 foregoes exotic blade steels in favor of simple, easy-to-sharpen 420HC stainless steel. This keeps the price down and plays nicely with the robust utility you want from a multitool.
- The perforated steel faceplates on the handles add visual appeal and provide traction.
- The hollow-ground plain-edge blade is fantastic for detailed slicing work.
- The blunt-tip serrated blade is ideal for emergencies, like slicing open a pair of jeans to access a wound or cutting off a seat belt.
- There are zero sharp surfaces to hurt your hands on the multitool’s exterior. You could use this thing all day without a blister, torn nail, or cut.
- The included sheath is actually pretty good, but I’d rather see a pocket clip, like that on the Sidekick.
- The flattened Phillips screwdriver will still have you diving into your toolbox for a real screwdriver.
Should You Buy One?
In my opinion, this is now the only series of multitools you should consider. The entire point of one of these devices is to offer convenient, versatile utility, and by so vastly improving the interface, Leatherman has pushed those two things so far forward that the P4 doesn’t just feel like a better multitool—it feels like an entirely new solution.
Leatherman invented the multitool in 1975 and has comprehensively reinvented it in 2019.