We Checked Out Leatherman’s Mr. Crunch, the Company’s Long-Awaited Original Multitool
Tim Leatherman’s invention was a runaway success. But until now, it’s never been the tool he intended.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Tim Leatherman first came up with the idea for a gadget he’d eventually call the multitool back in 1975. Dubbed Mr. Crunch, it was supposed to give you a useful set of tools in a package small enough it could ride on your belt. But Mr. Crunch never reached production. The tool that did—the now famous Pocket Survival Tool—was made less capable in order to appease retailers looking for something they could sell at a more affordable price. This week, Leatherman finally released a real Mr. Crunch.
The biggest difference between Mr. Crunch and the PST? The pliers. Leatherman’s original invention included a clever set of parallel-action pliers that slipped over stubby blunt-nose pliers. Designed to more precisely grip square and hexagonal bolts and fittings of various sizes without rounding their corners or marring their finish, parallel-action pliers are an elegant, if complicated, solution. And pairing them with the blunt noses still gave Mr. Crunch the ability to grab a variety of other things, and to cut wire. When not in use, the parallel-action jaws folded seamlessly into the tool’s handles.
But, by the time Leatherman convinced Cabela’s to order 500 of his multitools in 1983, those parallel-action pliers and other features added up to a tool that would have cost $40—equivalent to $113 today. And the catalog’s accountants thought that was too much money for an entirely new, totally unproven gadget. Leatherman went back to the drawing board with a $25 price target, and removed features until he could reach it. One of the compromises he had to make was to ditch the complicated double plier setup in favor of the now ubiquitous needle noses.
As we all know from using Leatherman’s multitools, and all the brand’s imitators, needle-nose pliers are an incredibly versatile, useful tool. They pull splinters, trim and strip wire, reach things in small places, undo overtightened knots, and help perform many other small tasks we ask our multitools to help with. But one thing needle-nose pliers can’t do—even ones with serrated jaws—is effectively grip bolt heads without stripping them.
Monday, I used the new Mr. Crunch tool to help assemble a bunch of furniture in my wife’s new office. There, I found its unique ability to correctly grip bolts useful. For example, a floor lamp connected its base to the upright stem with a nut recessed into a shallow depression. Because a cord ran through the nut, I was unable to get a socket over it, and the depression prevented me from accessing it with a straight-handled wrench. But, Mr. Crunch’s parallel-action pliers reached in at an angle, and securely gripped the nut, allowing me to tighten it without rounding it. Could I have used a set of needle-nose pliers on another multitool? Probably, but I probably would have damaged the nut.
That poses a question: Would I prefer to carry Mr. Crunch, or another multitool equipped with needle-nose pliers? Given that the purpose of a multitool is to help accomplish a wide variety of small tasks when a real tool kit may be inconvenient or impossible to access, I’d choose the needle-nose pliers since they’re more versatile. I use needle noses on a multitool to do things other than turn bolts more often, and when I do use a multitool on fasteners, it’s in circumstances where I’m not overly concerned about rounding said bolts. Putting together a cheap lamp? I’ll grab the Leatherman in my pocket. Wrenching on one of my expensive trucks? I’m going to have my toolkit along anyways, so I’d grab a socket, a flexible wrench, or whatever real tool is appropriate for the job in question, regardless of whether or not I have a pair of parallel-action pliers along.
Leatherman may have arrived at the needle nose plier convention through cost cutting, but they’re still the right choice. And also a cheaper one. This new Mr. Crunch is based on the brand’s flagship Free P4 tool, which retails for $150. Mr. Crunch would cost $200, if you could buy one.
You see, Mr. Crunch is the first tool to come from the new Leatherman Garage, a creative endeavor on the part of the brand’s senior executives and engineers that will allow them to share new ideas and unique tools with their most loyal fans. The goal is to foster innovation and gather feedback free of the need to build a commercial case for them first. The company tells me the Garage will release two to three tools a year, all of which will be sold in limited batches of around 500 units—the same size as that original order from Cabela’s. Mr. Crunch sold out in 10 minutes.
I doubt we’ll ever see a set of these parallel-action/blunt-nose combo pliers reach a production multitool. But there are a couple other unique tools on Mr. Crunch that might. Unlike the Free P4 on which it’s based, this tool also includes a substantial wood chisel, and a replaceable double-sided eyeglass screwdriver bit. Both seem eminently practical, and if the small group of Garage customers reports they like them, a Leatherman spokesperson says they could be included in future production multitools.
The biggest hurdle Tim Leatherman faced in designing the original multitool was getting other people to believe in his creativity. Forty-seven years later, he’s the founder and chairman of a company that makes over $100 million a year. It seems fitting that the company is using that commercial success to re-invest in making more creative tools now.