Tim Leatherman first came up with the idea for a gadget that he would eventually call the multitool in 1975. Nicknamed Mr. Crunch, he was supposed to give you a set of useful tools in a package small enough to clip on your belt. But Mr. Crunch never hit 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 clamp. Leatherman’s original invention included a clever set of parallel-action pliers that slid over blunt-nosed pliers. Designed to more accurately grip square and hex bolts and fittings of various sizes without rounding their corners or altering their finish, parallel action pliers are an elegant, if complicated, solution. And pairing them with blunt noses always gave Mr. Crunch the ability to grab a variety of other things and cut wires. When not in use, the parallel action jaws fold neatly into the tool handles.
But, by the time Leatherman convinced Cabela’s to order 500 of its multitools in 1983, these parallel-action pliers and other features added up to a tool that would have cost $40, or the equivalent of $113 today. . And the catalog accountants thought that was too much money for an entirely new and totally untested gadget. Leatherman went back to the drawing board with a price target of $25 and removed features until he could hit it. One of the compromises he had to make was to abandon the complicated double clamp setup in favor of the now ubiquitous needle beaks.
As we all know from using Leatherman multitools and any brand imitators, needle nose pliers are an incredibly versatile and useful tool. They pull splinters, cut and strip wires, reach into small places, untie knots that are too tight, and help with many other small tasks that we ask our multitools to help us with. But one thing needle-nose pliers can’t do, even those with serrated jaws, is effectively grab bolt heads without stripping them.
On Monday, I used the new Mr. Crunch tool to help put together a bunch of furniture in my wife’s new office. There, I found its unique ability to properly grip bolts useful. For example, a floor lamp connected its base to the vertical rod with a nut embedded in a shallow depression. Because a cord ran through the nut, I couldn’t put a socket on it, and the depression prevented me from accessing it with a straight-handled wrench. But, Mr. Crunch’s parallel action pliers reached an angle and firmly gripped the nut, allowing me to tighten it without rounding it off. Could I have used a set of needle nose pliers on another multi tool? Probably, but I probably would have damaged the nut.
This begs a question: would I rather carry Mr. Crunch, or another multitool equipped with needle-nose pliers? Since the purpose of a multitool is to help accomplish a wide variety of small tasks where an actual tool kit might be in the way or impossible to access, I would choose the needle nose pliers as they are more versatile. I use needle noses on a multi-tool to do things other than turn bolts more often, and when I use a multi-tool on fasteners it’s in circumstances where I’m not too concerned about the rounding of said bolts. Assemble a cheap lamp? I’ll take the Leatherman out of my pocket. Wring out one of my expensive trucks? I’m going to have my toolbox anyway, so I’d take a socket, flex wrench, or any real tool suitable for the job in question whether or not I have a pair of parallel action pliers. .
Leatherman may have come to the needle-nose pliers convention through cost savings, but it’s still the right choice. And also a cheaper one. This new Mr. Crunch is based on the brand’s flagship Free P4 tool, which sells 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 effort by the brand’s senior executives and engineers that will allow them to share new ideas and unique tools with their most loyal fans. The aim is to foster innovation and gather feedback without having to present them with a business case first. The company tells me that the Garage will release two to three tools per year, all of which will be sold in limited lots of around 500 units, the same size as Cabela’s initial order. Mr. Crunch sold out in 10 minutes.
I doubt we’ll ever see a set of these parallel action/blunt nose combination pliers make it to a production multi-tool. But there are a few other unique tools on Mr. Crunch that could do just that. Unlike the Free P4 it’s based on, this tool also includes a substantial wood chisel and a replaceable double-sided bezel screwdriver bit. Both seem eminently practical, and if Garage’s small group of customers say they like them, a Leatherman spokesperson says they could be included in future production multi-tools.
The biggest hurdle Tim Leatherman faced while designing the original multi-tool was getting others to believe in his creativity. Forty-seven years later, he is the founder and president of a company that earns over $100 million a year. It seems fitting that the company is using this commercial success to reinvest in making more creative tools now.