The Origin of Leatherman
Why Yes, There IS a Mr. Leatherman
Tim Leatherman (an Oregon native) received his Mechanical Engineering degree from Oregon State University. While on a budget trip to Europe in 1975, Tim and his wife Chau constantly came across leaky hotel plumbing and road-side fixes for their cranky Fiat. Tim realized the need for a pliers based, multi-purpose tool. “I was carrying a scout knife and used it for everything from slicing bread to fixing the car. But I kept wishing I had a pair of pliers!”. When Tim came back to the states, he took his “multi-tool” idea, some sketches he made on the trip and got to work.
When Tim started on the prototype for this new tool, he estimated it’d take him a month. Instead, it took the next three years to build the prototype he envisioned and file for a patent. With the patent application and prototype in hand, he set off to sell his idea. Unfortunately, the companies he approached didn’t bite. Knife companies thought his invention was a tool, and tool companies thought it was a gadget. Neither were interested.
For another three and a half years, Tim faced one rejection letter after another. Until he partnered with his college friend, Steve Berliner, and in the spring of 1983, they received their first order for 500 tools from Cabela’s and launched the first Leatherman tool.
The original Leatherman tool was called the PST, or known as the Pocket Survival Tool. Eight years in the making, the PST comprised of 13 different tools and folded up into a five ounce, four inch toolbox. In the first year of business, Tim and Steve hoped to sell 4,000 tools; instead, they sold 30,000. And over the next decade, they would sell over one million PST multi-tools.
Leatherman Tool Group
Established in Portland, Oregon in 1983, Leatherman Tool Group is credited with creating the modern multi-tool category. ‘Multitools’ have been around since the Roman times (read the History of the Multitool) but Tim Leatherman was the first to incorporate a full-sized pliers as the central function when he set out to create “a boy scout knife with pliers”.
The Pocket Survival Tool (PST) was originally sold through mail order outlets because the established knife companies thought it was a tool and the tool companies thought it was a knife. After catching on in the market, the PST took off and the rest is history. Fortunately, the drawbacks of the PST created an entire industry that set out to solve the following challenges with consistent innovation:
- Implements don’t lock open
- Implements clump together
- Sheet metal handles dig into hands when gripped tightly
- Handles must be opened to access tools
- Not enough options/features!
From the 30,000 PST sold in 1984, Leatherman now outputs up to 17,000 tools each week from their only manufacturing site in Portland. They introduced folding knives into the product line in 2005, added their first retail outlet in 2007, and in 2011 they acquired German light manufacturer LED Lenser. They currently offers over 28 different models of multitool and sells folding knives using the Crater name.
Since its inception, Leatherman has always been a privately-owned company. Leatherman is not publicly traded so you can’t buy stock in the company and their website states they are unlikely to go public in the foreseeable future.
Leatherman Product Lines
Leatherman Tool Group offers an extensive family of multitools categorized into the following product lines:
- Heavy Duty: Super Tool 300, MUT, OHT, Surge
- Full Size: Charge+, Crunch, FREE P2, FREE P4, PST, Raptor, Rebar, Sidekick, Signal, Wave+, Wingman, Z-Rex
- Pocket Size: Freestyle, Juice, Leap, Skeletool
- Keychain: Micra, Squirt, Style
- Pocket Tools: Brewzer, Cam, Croc, Grind, Hail, Jam, Leatherman 1-10, Pump, Rail, Rime, Shooter, Thruster, Z-Rex
Are Leatherman Multi Tools “Made in USA”?
Leatherman asserts on their webpage that “We build and manufacture all of our tools in Portland, Oregon.” In 2006, the Colgan v. Leatherman Tool Group Inc case revealed that Leatherman sourced approximately 83% of materials from within the United States. The other 17% were came from a variety of worldwide sources and were generally at an early stage in the manufacturing process:
- Plier jaws investment cast in Mexico
- Phillips screwdriver investment cast in Mexico
- Bolster file sides investment cast in Mexico
- Bolster knife sides investment cast in Mexico
- Clip plate fineblanked, deburred, formed, hardened and polished in Switzerland
- Locking T fineblanked and hardened in Switzerland
- Bit holder machined in Canada
- Saw blade profile cut in Switzerland or Germany then fineblanked and hardened in Switzerland
- Handles fineblanked in Switzerland
- Serrated knife blade fineblanked in Switzerland
- Corkscrews forged, coiled, hardened and polished in France
- File fineblanked in Switzerland then teeth cut and hardened in Switzerland or Austria
Fineblanking is a specialty type of metal stamping that can achieve part characteristics such as flatness and a full sheared edge to a degree that is nearly impossible using a conventional metal cutting or punching process.
Many of the imported components are finished (grinding, hardening and polishing) at a Leatherman factory in Portland. Leatherman manufactures other components themselves before everything comes together for final assembly. Even though Leatherman successfully defended the lawsuit they decided to remove the “Made in USA” around the same time the class action lawsuit was filed. The reality is that except for a few select models, all of the major multi tool manufacturers gets their parts from sources inside and outside the USA. Even though the FTC proposal to clarify the standard for “Made in USA” was not incorporated into the official FTC guidelines for Complying with the Made in USA Standard, the 75% criteria is still in the minds of many businesses.
The Famous Leatherman Warranty
Leatherman makes quality products and they are proud to stand behind them for 25 years. The Leatherman warranty is not a long legal document full of terms and disclaimers and they don’t make consumers jump through a bunch of hoops to make a claim. No warranty registration, no proof of purchase requirements or trying to find a receipt from years ago. Just go to Customer Service-Warranty on Leatherman.com and begin the process.
Leatherman’s warranty is simple: ‘You broke it, we’ll fix it.’
Leatherman Warranty Terms & Exceptions
Leatherman makes it easy to understand what is covered under their warranty, the entire list of exceptions is covered in four short paragraphs. The four key requirements are summarized here.
- Except for the Ainsworth sheath which has a 2 year warranty, sheaths and accessories are not covered.
- Normal wear and tear is not covered. If there is nothing else wrong with your multitool you can’t use Leatherman warranty as a cleaning and sharpening service. Imprinting and color finishes are not covered.
- The warranty does not cover theft or loss, unreasonable use, or custom modifications of your Leatherman. If you take a grinding wheel to your Skeletool to remove the carabiner clip yourself they are not going to replace it if you don’t like the result.
- The warranty covers multitools purchased for personal use, not tools bought for the purpose of resale. Leatherman does state that the warranty covers the original owner and proof of purchase from an authorized dealer may be required.
We think bullet number 4 is probably a concession from Leatherman to their lawyers. User forums are full of reports from happy customers that used the warranty service with a seamless experience. Because that clause exists, it gives Leatherman a way to challenge people that try to take advantage of the generous warranty and submit a large number of tools for refurbishment as part of their business or other scam.
Repair or Replace Option
Leatherman offers the traditional Repair or Replace option for tools submitted under warranty. Leatherman will attempt to repair the problem and return your tool to you. If they are unable to repair your tool the form gives you three choices.
- Repair or Return only. With this option you will get your same multitool back even if Leatherman is unable to repair it. If your tool has sentimental value (it was gift, engraved, etc…) be sure to select this option.
- Replace with a comparable model if your tool cannot be repaired. If you send in a New Wave and the damage cannot be repaired, Leatherman doesn’t have any New Waves in stock to replace it with. They would send the current Wave+ model instead.
- OK to substitute with a different model. Leatherman won’t downgrade you from a Super Tool to a Wingman, but this option gives them approval to replace your damaged tool with another from the same category.
Now that Leatherman has their E-Voucher program the second and third options above are much less attractive. If you don’t require your original tool back we recommend checking out the E-Voucher option before sending your tool in under warranty.
Leatherman launched their e-voucher program in 2018 and it is another way they stand behind their products and put customers first. You simply select your tool on the dropdown menu from a list of eligible tools (41 as of January) and Leatherman tells you the voucher value you can expect to receive. You ship the defective tool to Leatherman and they inspect it before issuing you an e-voucher by email. The value of the e-voucher can be used for anything on Leatherman.com, including custom engraving or expedited shipping.
We were impressed with the e-voucher values listed on the website – they are very fair and generous. Yet another example of how Leatherman is really doing right by their customers.