The Leatherman Arc

opened Leatherman Arc box
The opened cardboard box that the Leatherman Arc came shipped in: The tool, the sheath, a bit set, a flyer.

I recently bought the new Leatherman Arc, a new multitool by Leatherman that uses the “FREE”-technology Leatherman introduced a while ago. The most notable part about this purchase is not the tool itself, but the price it is being sold for: Here in Germany, it costs 299 EUR (taxes & shipping included). That’s a lot of money for a multitool, especially since the Chinese competition sells cheaper multitools via Amazon for 10% of this price.

I am new to the Free technology, which is why I bought this tool. I buy a new multitool about every 10 years, and my 20 year old Leatherman Wave has already been exchanged two or three times on their lifetime warranty.

opened Leatherman Squirt PS4 and Olive i3E EOS
My all-time favourite tools: A Leatherman Squirt PS4 and a small, AAA-driven LED light. These are my daily drivers.

Since the introduction of some legal limitations in the EU that regulate which type of knife you are allowed to carry in public, I’ve mainly carried a small Leatherman Squirt PS4 in the 5th pocket of my trousers. The Leatherman Squirt PS4 is hands down the BEST tool ever produced. Not quality-wise, though, as I already had to replace it 4 or 5 times! Some of the materials used are too brittle, especially the file. But it works so well and is always with me (along with an Olight i3E lamp).

The LM Squirt PS4 is sadly out of production, and I also started a new job at a museum where I often need a screwdriver / knife / pliers for smaller repairs. I also own and use the Leatherman Wave and Leatherman Charge Ti which I consider the best multitools for my requirements.

The Leatherman Arc

There are already a lot of video reviews out there that show the Arc in detail, and I especially liked this review by “Jon Gadget” who knows a thing or two about multitools.

Some engineers from Leatherman also recently did an “ask me anything” (AMA) on Reddit, which finally sold the tool to me.

There are some limitations due to the Free technology which may be irritating if you’re coming from the traditional Leatherman multitools. The handles are a bit wobbly and the whole construction opens up to the other end, i.e. on top of the blade.

So for the price it should be very premium and above all doubts, right? I don’t think so. I will mention the costs later on, but my first reaction when I got the Arc were “well…okay”, like 4 out of 5 stars. Huh?

Here’s the list of things I like on the Leatherman Arc so far:

[1] Obviously the most important thing about the Free technology: You can operate the multitool with just one hand. I can also open my other tools with one hand only, but things like the small screwdriver always required a second hand / special handling procedures. It’s complicated and intricate. On the Arc/Free-series multitools, everything is usable with one hand only. Which may not appeal to everyone, but to me it does.

Another thing about this method is that you are more willing to use a tool when you can easily access it.

Leatherman Arc side tools
The tools on the Leatherman Arc are all accessible from the outside.

[2] The tool is sleeker and seemingly slimmer than the Wave or Charge. It weighs a bit more, but the slimmer appearance matters to me. Space is crucial and handling even so.

slimmer tool
Each “inner” tool has more surface contact with neighbouring tools, thereby improving the stabilit. There are almost no washers visible. Valence seems to be higher on the LM Arc.

[3] Many users have in the past modified their Leatherman multitools to include other blades or functionality on the outside handles. The Arc doesn’t have a serrated blade, but instead comes with bigger and stronger scissors on one of the four bigger tools that open up on each side. While I personally also made use of the extra blade and liked it, the bigger scissors are also welcome because – again – accessibility matters, and when you can easily pull out a pair of useful scissors, you are more willing to use them. It’s just that simple, and it matters – to me and others.

Another interesting detail about the scissors is that the spring on the scissors only gets activated and receives enough tension when the scissors are locked into place. That’s so much better than on the Wave and Charge, where the spring mechnism caused some troubles in the past. It also is a testament to the imagineering that goes into these tools.

[4] The new steel used on the knife is MagnaCut©-steel which is a special steel made exlcusively for the knife industry. Dr. Larrin Thomas is a metallurgist and developed CPM-MagnaCut some time ago. I find it spectacular that someone actively develops a new material for a special purpose, documents everything from a user and nerd perspective for the interested reader and that I can buy a product in the end that uses this special material. This alone makes it much more special to me, next to the positive qualities of this high quality steel. Thx, Larrin!

At the same time, I also believe that you should never buy a multitool for the quality of its blade. Having such a high grade steel on the Arc is a huge bonus, and maybe it’s a clear statement by Leatherman that they also believe in the material (as they did back in the days with S30V on the Charge). I know that the quality of the steel has often been a point of criticism for many users, and multitools are often judged by that (mainly by knife guys, not multitoolists).

Leatherman Arc blade
The blade on the new Leatherman Arc is made from MagnaCut steel and has a good coating.

I am the other type who tries to protect this non-exchangeable blade and misuses cheaper knives for destructive jobs. I once ruined the blade on my Wave and have kept an eye on the blade of the Charge – which btw has a better shape.

The coating on both the blade and the handles is also very special and part of the haptic experience. It not only protects this special steel, but also feels different. I’d say that the coating alone is a huge plus on this tool.

[5] There’s a lot of engineering and prototyping that goes into the production of these tools. The engineers and product managers are users like you and me who always want to create the right tool for the right user group. So “good design” really means something to them and me, and I guess they are as passionate about their tools as we users are of our multitools. And it shows in their products.

Leatherman Arc nipple
There’s a little nipple between the handles on both sides which prevents the handle bars from moving around too much when the tool is closed. Smart.

[6] It’s made in the USA. Which may not sound like anything to brag about, and I primarily see it as a marketing instrument. But it’s also important that manufacturers have more control on their processes and prefer local production. Think about the environmental impact alone.

[7] The blade comes with a removable screw (Torx 6) which makes the knife a bit more legal because it – theoretically – prevents the blade from being opened with one hand only. This screw also tells me without looking at the tool where the blade sits. An important detail that makes a difference to me.

a removable screw on the blade of the Leatherman Arc blade
The Leatherman Arc comes with a little Torx 6 screw that is removable and MAY improve the legal usage of the multitool in the EU.

[8] Some other Leatherman multitools – like the recent limited edition “Garage 005” – have come with a spring in the pliers. I don’t need it, some will miss it. From the Reddit AMA, pliers without a spring in the middle obviously mean that it can handle more force.
And from what I’ve read so far, there’s a thin elastomere integrated in the plier head which smoothes up things. The pliers are good to use.

[9] The packing in the EU comes without any plastic (only some adhesive stickers), so it’s card boxes only which reduces the environmental impact. I prefer this packaging over the (plastic) blister packaging which may still be used in other markets.

[1o] Coming from older Leatherman multitools that didn’t come with replacable wire cutters, I personally prefer these removable parts that have been a standard on Leatherman multitools for some years now.

[11] Compared to my Wave and Charge, the tolerances or gaps between the parts have improved. Washers aren’t that visible any more and it feels like there is more material, more surface for each tool in contact with the neighbouring tools which may improve stability. This way it fells more premium, even though the handles have this wobbly mechanism. It’s like comparing a Tesla to a Porsche: You can do a lot of things with them, but the Porsche is of much better engineering quality when it comes to the details.

flat surface on the bottom of the LM Arc
Stop, hammer time! There’s a flat surface on one end of the Arc which comes in handy when you need to hammer something.

[12] The flat striking surface on the bottom of the tool is so much better than the previous rounded edges. I can finally use the tool as a hammer, which I have often wanted to do.

the different hinge mechanisms on the Leatherman multitools
The hinge or pivoting point for the pliers on the Leatherman Arc is different and much more complicated.

[13] The swinging mechanism on the pliers is so much more complicated compared to the traditional hinge where the handles just pivot on one central point. On the Arc they rather swivel in an eliptic movement and click into place. Is that better? It sure is different and probably provides more variables while constructing this tool. It feels like there’s a ton of engineering that went into this tool to make it smooth and soft. Both the Charge and the Wave feel much more primitive, rougher and also more straight-forward than the Arc. I think the Arc may be much more compared to the Victorinox Swiss Tools with this construction method. All elements just glide in and out which feels so much more luxurious.

What I miss and dislike on the Leatherman Arc

missing rulers on the Arc
There are no rulers on the handles of the LM Arc. Something the LM Wave and Charge do have. Why? A missed opportunity.

[1] I miss a ruler on the sides of the tool. Both the Wave and Charge come with practial inch and cm rulers on their handles. The available space on the tool was used for a marketing bla. What a missed opportunity!

pictured is the awl
The awl on the LM Arc is okay. Thicker, stronger, but should have a hole.

[2] While the awl is now stronger, I actually miss the hole in it.

flathead screwdrivers
The flathead screwdriver on the Arc is thicker, so it will also act as a pry bar.

[3] The flat screwdriver is extra strong and now acts like a pry bar.

[4] I would have prefered a small flat screwdriver tip on the can opener like you find on some Victorinox tools. The shape is also different compared to previous versions. Curious how it will work. It is better this way?

can opener
The Leatherman can opener has a different shape now. I don’t know if that’s actually better or worse, but I’d prefer a small flathead screwdriver on top of it.

[5] The pliers are not as flat as I like them. The Charge is better in this regard. And I prefer the notch on my Charge Ti pliers (which the current Charge TTi does not have!).

Leatherman flat-nose pliers
Of my active Leatherman multitools, only the Charge and the Squirt PS4 have really flat pliers that properly close both sides.

[6] Once opened (i.e. extended pliers), the outside edges of the handles with their coating feel smooth enough, but some inner edges on the handles are still a bit too rough. So the haptics are not as good as on other tools like the Charge. But they are still smooth enough and you only realize it once you compare the tools with each other.

rougher edges
The inside edges on the LM Charge are a bit smoother.

[7] It is a bit ridiculous that Leatherman only includes a limited bit-set with their tools. For the price, a second set could or should have been included. People are willing to pay for the premium experience, and a Leatherman Arc shouldn’t be like a German car where you pay extra for basic extras.

The positive side is that the flat-head screwdrivers on the bit-set are usable. Something I miss on my Wera Kraftform Kompakt multi-bit-set screwdriver that comes with extra thick, totally unusable flathead screwdrivers!

[8] The pouch/sheath: It’s grey, which was probably chosen to distinguish it from the rest, but it is too stiff and way too long. I have a black Leatherman sheath in size M which was released by LM in 2018 and which works much better. Because this tool is a bit longer, it doesn’t fit in the older (pre 2004) LM Wave heritage sheath (top right). Maybe also in the new leather sheath size M (it sure does fit in L), but I don’t like the middle brown colour of it. So I just ordered another black Nylon sheath in size M, like the one pictured in the front left section of this picture:

LM sheath
Some LM sheaths/pouches for multitools; commercial versions and my own.

[9] The Free technology means that the handles are a bit more flexible than the stiff handles on the Charge or Wave. They do have more play and only time will tell us if that is a good thing or something that requires repairs or further explanations. I’ve seen a review by a user who comes from a Leatherman Surge and presses the handles aggressively together (and who has large hands). So for him, the handles are not as good as they are on on his other tools. This may not apply to everyone, but it is an argument to consider, especially when compared to the traditional multitools.

So, is it worth it?

I believe that any good tool has reasons enough to be costly, also because it will last a few years and just has to be there when you need it. And what you receive in return is a tool that comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s the same reason I bought an iFixit Mako toolset some years ago: Quality-wise not the best tools, but the lifetime warranty guarantees that broken parts will be replaced.

Do you actually need this expensive tool and is the price justified?

  1. No, you won’t need this multitool if you already own a Leatherman Wave, Charge or Surge. I think that the LM Wave is still the best tool for the price. Quality wise, it’s the Charge Ti. And there may be others as well (that I haven’t tried yet). Maybe also the Victorinox Swiss Tool.
  2. The high price may hold off many potential customers. I am sure they will buy it even for 350 EUR IF it was the ultimate best tool ever. But it is not. So I don’t know if R&D and moving the production back to the USA justify the selling price.
  3. It will still sell well, because it’s a Leatherman multitool and there are customers like me who have their love brands. And, of course: If it works for a few years and delivers on a daily basis, then any price is okay with me. It’s a tool that is a bit more special than a blue Bosch or Makita cordless power tool albeit the same price.

I am still very glad that I bought it and that I am currently able to finance it (bought via montly installments, btw). It’s my own personal luxury and a real tool set that I will actually use, for leisure and for work.

Rent it (Cradle to Cradle)!

Multitools are personalized and cherished items that people certainly want to own (as in “property” vs. pure ownership). But many people also can’t afford to cough up too much money for tools, or have other priorities. We also see it with good software on mobile devices, where people buy expensive phones and then are too greedy to buy an app for 2,49 EUR on the appstore. Something similar happens with people refusing to spend more than 100€ on the right tools. So what do you do?

I think that a possible alternative to this dilemma could be the rental of these tools. Much like leasing, a Cradle to Cradle approach where instead of using the cheapest materials and methods on a product life cycle, the manufacturer only uses the best materials and remains the property owner of the product throught its entire lifetime. And you and I as users may rent it, rent the usage of it, not the actual item, but the functionality. And in case of a damage – which will always happen, see my lifetime warranty returns above – it will be replaced because I didn’t buy the tool, but instead rented the functionality. Something like “a multitool as a service”.  I am mentioning this because people are often limited to a linear way of thinking about things like this seemingly overpriced multitool. To them, it’s just this straight forward connection between a tool and the price in a currency. But you also end up being fully responsible for an item when it is your property, and so this model of ownership is totally limited and puts too much variables on an item like this multitool. It has to be this and that, needs to have this and that because it has to be paid for with hard earned money on the other hand an so on. So this point of view limits so much how we regard these tools and how we identify with them. In fact, I wrote a complete post on rental instead of buying (in German) on this topic alone.  It’s the future, because the resources on this planet aren’t endless and I can well imagine Leatherman offering a buy back approach to their marketing (also to keep the market free from internal competition).

engraved handle of the tool with my name on it
As always, I mark my tools with my name on them.

Verdict ♦♦♦♦◊ (4/5)

I like this new Leatherman Arc multitool, it is different to my other multitools, it is slimmer, a bit more practical, has a stronger blade, better scissors, and it’s easier to use and provides better access to each tool.

It’s an expensive tool that you won’t need if you already have another multitool. I think that most customers of this tool will already have another multitool.

Leatherman is still in the game, and their (black) nylon sheath are good and strong enough, and may compete with the Skinth alternatives that I also highly recommend.

Author: jke

Hi, I am an engineer who freelances in water & sanitation-related IT projects at You'll also find me on Twitter @jke and Instagram.

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