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Calling All MacGyvers

Need pliers, a screwdriver, a bone saw? Handy-dandy multitools have it all.

November 01, 2002  |  by Scott Smith - Also by this author

Most of today's duty gear is complicated and high maintenance, from less-lethal to lethal weapons, to radios, to cameras, to laptops, the equipment on your belt often needs a timely turn of a screw or twist of a wire. And the short, quick answer to this problem is the multitool or "pocket tool," a new generation of Swiss Army-type knives that would make MacGyver drool.

With a pocket tool in his hand and a couple of strips of aluminum foil MacGyver could probably construct a nuclear power plant. You won't need to do that. But in the real world of law enforcement, emergency medical services, and search-and-rescue operations, these devices can tighten a screw, cut a tree branch, crimp det. cord, remove Flexcuffs, or tighten that pesky screw on your car's laptop console. Put simply, these pocket tools are a streamlined version of the essential items from your tool box.

Generally speaking, multitools are folding pliers that have been adapted to hold screwdrivers, a knife, wire cutters, and any number of other specialty tools. Popular specialty items commonly included in these tools include files, crimping tools, saw blades, scissors, and punches, just to name a few. Most multitools also come with a lanyard loop to keep you from losing them during high-speed, low-drag operations.

There are many options for the look and style of multitools. Most are available in matte black or stainless finishes, with leather or ballistic nylon sheaths.

Like Swiss Army-type knives, pocket tools offer a number of different blades and styles of blades, for example, rounded blades for improved safety and pointed blades for jobs requiring puncture. An often overlooked blade option is that many manufacturers offer you the choice of having the blades fold into the inside or into the outside of the tool. Thanks to the number of manufacturers in the pocket tool market, you can have the tools your way.

The multitool concept is an outgrowth of the classic Swiss Army knife, so it’s only fitting that one of the most popular full-size multitools is the SwissTool from Victorinox (Swiss Army).

Players in the field include Gerber, Leatherman, Kershaw, KutMaster, Schrade, Sebertech, SOG, SwissTech, Tool Logic, and Victorinox (Swiss Army). The tools are available in sizes from that of a car key, to 6-inch bad boys that would make Tim "the Toolman" Taylor proud. And if the tools that come on your pocket tool are not enough, chances are there are auxiliary tools that attach to the main tool that can greatly expand its scope.

Multitools have in the last couple of years become so specialized that some are now even mission specific. SOG and Gerber have designed pocket tools specifically for use in EOD, demolitions, and explosive breaching. The tools have crimpers and strippers and in Gerber's case a primer punch is available on its D.E.T. model.

Schrade manufactures two special multitools: the Navi-Tool and I-Quip, which were developed for hikers and backpackers. Both models have the obligatory knife, file, and screwdrivers, plus signal mirrors and compasses. The I-Quip even includes an altimeter, barometer, and clock, all the things needed to set up a hasty landing zone for search-and-rescue operations.

Gerber offers its customers a variety of different plier head styles to choose from when buying a multitool. The Gerber Evolution is a full-size tool suitable for performing numerous tasks that may arise on patrol.

When shopping for a multitool, don't concentrate all of your attention on the cool things it can do. Be sure to check out the size and the weight. If it's too big or too heavy, you're not going to want to drag it around in your duty pants all day.

SwissTech and SeberTech offer multitool models that will literally fit on your key ring yet still cut a wire or tighten a screw or bolt. Are these featherweight pocket tools for heavy-duty work? No, but when you need to adjust the sights on your duty weapon or tighten up the cable on your portable radio, they're up to the task.

If you find yourself on bike or motorcycle patrol, the larger tools will come in handy if you need to replace a chain or tighten down a hand control. Full-size models like a Victorinox SwissTool, Gerber Evolution, or Leatherman SuperTool 2000 are easily carried in saddle bags without taking up valuable space. For those on SWAT, CRT, ERT duty, these are an indispensable part of your kit. They will aid you in making charges for dynamic entries, dismantling traps in a crack house, or installing/reconnecting a phone line that has been damaged by the team or bad guys.

For patrol duties some officers carry their tools in their patrol bag resting on the passenger seat. On patrol, pocket tools come in handy for clipping Flex-cuffs, for tightening a rattling screw on a weapons rack, or for something as simple as popping the top on a can of Coke or removing that inner cap on a bottle of Motrin.

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