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How Leatherman Perfected the Art of the Multi-Tool with the Surge

How Leatherman Perfected the Art of the Multi-Tool with the Surge
How Leatherman Perfected the Art of the Multi-Tool with the Surge

The Oregon brand created the first-ever pliers-based multi-tool and perfected the art with the best-selling Surge

The Leatherman Surge, one of the brand's best-selling multi-tools

There isn’t a Leatherman we don’t like. The Surge is simply a favorite.

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This is part of InsideHook’s list of the 100 Best Made in America Products, an ode to the gear, clothing, and goods that shape our lives and are the life’s work of our fellow Americans.

First and most importantly, there really is a Tim Leatherman. The Oregon native was inspired to start his eponymous company in 1975 during a trip to Europe. “My wife and I had a $300 used car,” Leatherman explained to me a few years ago, just before the Made from Mettle documentary was released. “At one point we had to fix the car, and also the bad plumbing in our cheap hotel.”

His solution? A pocket-sized multi-tool with pliers that would replace the scout knife he always carried. He envisioned his new iteration as a tool that offered “the utility of a toolbox with the portability of a pocket knife.” No one had done anything like it at the time—which might explain why it took more than seven years, several prototypes, and a ton of rejections before the first Leatherman was officially released (it was called the PST).

Leatherman (the brand) now sells over a million multi-tools a year in all shapes and sizes, with customizable designs and 25-year warranties. The $100 million company is virtually synonymous with multi-tools and EDC. They employ over 500 people and their wares are available in over 80 countries.

Pretty good for a company that essentially started out of Leatherman’s brother-in-law’s garage. Today, though it’s expanded considerably, the company is still based in Portland and still makes and tests its products in the Pacific Northwest. (Fun fact: their in-house testing facility is called “The Torture Chamber.”)

The detail of the Leatherman Surge pliers

Tim Leatherman created the very first multi-tool using pliers.

Inside hook

So why the focus on the Surge? Tim Leatherman himself told us he prefers the Charge (“it has more accessories and a premium steel blade”), and the Wave is Leatherman’s best-selling tool of all time (and the best-selling multi-tool of all time). With over 50 products, it’s hard to narrow down the Leatherman ethos to just one multi-tool.

But the Surge offers, well, more. Oversized scissors, full-size knives, four outward-opening blades, replaceable wire cutters, you name it. With 21 built-in tools in total, it’s one of the company’s two largest multi-tools. Originally introduced in 2005 and updated again in 2013, it remains a best-seller and, as one enthusiastic Redditor notes — yes, there is a dedicated Leatherman subreddit — “Lol my multi-tool collection would be a lot smaller if I started with the Surge. #surgeisking.”

But honestly, given the amount of customization options and inventory available, if you want something a little lighter, flashier, or geared toward a more specific task (like the Raptor Rescue, which seems ideal for gardening but was originally designed for special operations), there’s an ideal Leatherman for you.

Whatever you choose, Leatherman’s greatest achievement may be all those true stories where the multi-tool saved someone’s life. Tim even has one.

“My uncle, my father and I were out on a little boat one day and we were sport crabbing,” he told me. “We got out and the engine wouldn’t start. The tide was out and we couldn’t row back. I was able to use a Leatherman to get to the spark plug, unscrew it, clean the points with the file, put it back on and start the engine. We came back and had a crab dinner.”

Leatherman Surge

Leatherman Surge