EDC Multi Tool Duel: Leatherman FREE P2 vs Skeletool CX


The Skeletool has been my EDC since I switched from my Benchmade Griptilian to a multi tool. When I ordered the FREE P2 and P4 I was just looking to see what new technology Leatherman had engineered into their tools. After the FREE P2 arrived I was surprised by its compact size, it is only slightly larger than the Skeletool and a few ounces heavier. My FREE P2 shipped with a pocket clip and during testing the comparisons happened naturally.

Specifications: Leatherman FREE P2 vs Leatherman Skeletool CX

FeatureLeatherman
FREE P2
Leatherman
Skeletool CX
Size
L x W x H
4.25 x 1.35 x 0.78 in4.2 x 1.27 x 0.71 in
Weight7.6 oz5.0 oz
One Hand ToolsKnife Blade
Pliers & Wire Cutters
Scissors
Knife Blade
Main Knife
Blade Length
2.552.32 in
Main Blade StyleDrop point
Hybrid edge
Clip point
Straight edge
Straight Edge Length1.45 in2.32 in
Serrated Edge Length1.1 inn/a
Blade Steel420HC154CM
Pliers Thickness
(Base – Tip)
0.28 – 0.09 in0.22 – 0.10 in
Pliers Reach2.32 in1.92 in
Jaw Opening1.50 in1.25 in
Jaw Length1.07 in1.05 in
Jaw Width1.10 in0.75 in
Scissors Blade Length0.85 inn/a
Wire CuttersBypass style
w/replaceable blades
Bypass style
Phillips Driver#2Bit driver
Flat DriversX-small, small, medium flatheadBit driver
OpenersCan & Bottle openersBottle opener
FileFine & coarse sidedNone
Other ToolsRuler, Awl, Pry tool, Wire stripperCarabiner
Design Date20192007

Knife Length: Measured as length of sharpened edge
Pliers Reach: Measured from the pliers tip to the shoulders of the handle
Jaw Opening: Measured at pliers tip at max extension
Jaw Length: Measured from wire cutters to pliers tip
Jaw Width: Measured at widest point with jaws fully closed
Scissors Blade Length: Length of sharpened edge measured with jaws at 90°
See our Test Procedures for full details.

Leatherman FREE P2

Leatherman designed the FREE series to improve on common user complaints. Multi tools like the Wave+ or the Surge arrive stiff and require a break in period until they work smoothly. Leatherman heard from their customers when they sent in a tool for a blade replacement or other minor repair that they were worried the service would mess up the action they had worked hard to achieve.

To produce a tool with a smooth action from day one meant rebuilding their design and manufacturing process. Leatherman spent five years developing two key design changes that deliver big improvement to the user experience: elastomer springs and magnet technology.

You can’t see the elastomer springs, they are inside the handle pivots by the pliers, but it is easy to see the absence of the metal springs from older designs. The new elastomer springs won’t fatigue as quickly and also provide a nice haptic click to let you know the tool is fully opened.

The magnets are in the opposite end of the handle, just inside the tool lock release tabs, and are just strong enough to keep the handles closed but not strong enough for the magnetic field to go beyond the handles and interfere with other devices. The magnets also hold the other tools in place, which makes them much easier to open than the ‘nail buster’ nail nicks and nail grooves on other multi tools. With the FREE P2 all you have to do is roll your thumb over the end of the tool to get it to pop up.

Leatherman FREE P2 Product Description

FREE™ P2 If you’re looking for maximum functionality, look no further.
Designed for unmatched comfort, durability, and ease-of-use, the P2 represents decades of consumer feedback, testing, and engineering. Integrated FREE™ technology means all 19 tools are easily accessed with one hand, open smoothly, and click into place with a confident snap. Proudly made in Portland, Oregon.

Leatherman FREE P2

Leatherman FREE P2 Tool List

1. Needlenose pliers
2. Regular pliers
3. Hard wire cutters
4. Wire cutters
5. Electrical crimpers
6. Combo knife blade
7. Spring-action scissors
8. Wood/metal file
9. Medium screwdriver
10. X-small screwdriver

11. Awl
12. Can opener
13. Bottle opener
14. Phillips screwdriver
15. Package opener
16. Mini pry bar
17. Wire stripper
18. Ruler
19. Small screwdriver

Leatherman packs a bunch more tools on the FREE P2 but the ones I was most interested in were the scissors and mini pry bar/package opener. Scissors are one of the tools I use the most when I have them and simply work better than a knife blade for making precise cuts. The FREE P2 puts the scissors opposite the knife blade and both are one-hand opening, along with the pliers.

The mini pry bar is a new addition to Leatherman’s toolbox and they took notes from the chisel on the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit. Leatherman beefed up the shank from normal tools to 0.13 inches thick, tapered to a thick chisel point, and put a bevel on the bottom edge. The result is a multipurpose utility tool that can pry, scrape, twist and open packages. It quickly became my go-to tool for those odd jobs instead of using a dull screwdriver or risk my knife tip.

Leatherman Skeletool CX

When Leatherman launched the Skeletool line in 2007, multi tool manufacturers were competing with each other to include the highest number of tools possible on their designs. Leatherman recognized that many users wanted a minimalist tool that didn’t weigh down their pockets.

To cut weight, Leatherman removed all the tools that only get occasional use. The Skeletool has just seven essential tools and packages them in a 4.2 inch, 5 ounce frame that is easy to carry with the pocket clip.

Leatherman added design elements that also save weight. The frame, handles, and knife blade all have cutouts to remove excess material and create the look of a ‘skeleton tool’. The Skeletool CX upgrades from the base Skeletool with a carbon-fiber handle insert and a DLC (diamond-like coating) on the handles.

Leatherman Skeletool CX Product Description

SKELETOOL® CX An ultra-light, full-size multi-tool with a knife blade made with premium 154CM steel.
The sleek Leatherman Skeletool CX gets you back to basics… very cool basics. The Skeletool CX has only the most necessary of multi-tool features, because sometimes that’s all you need. With a 154CM stainless steel blade, pliers, bit driver, pocket clip and carabiner/bottle opener, you’re set. Lightweight, low volume, perfect size. The Skeletool CX: who says more is better?

Leatherman Skeletool CX

Leatherman Skeletool CX Tool List

1. Needle Nose Pliers
2. Regular Pliers
3. Hard Wire Cutters
4. Wire Cutters

5. Knife
6. Carabiner/Bottle Opener
7. Large Bit Driver

Leatherman keeps the Skeletool CX to just the essential tools but every tool is high quality and does its function well. With the Skeletool CX Leatherman upgraded the knife blade steel to 154CM, giving significant performance improvements over the standard 420HC. The premium 154CM blade steel gives better sharpness, edge retention, durability, and corrosion resistance while still being straightforward to sharpen with home equipment.

The large bit driver is the wild card, when carried with the bit driver extender and additional bits it can turn just about anything you need it to. The extender works with Leatherman bits and any standard 1/4 inch hex bit you have.

Leatherman added a spring retention clip to the bit driver on the Skeletool so the bits stay locked in place. A second bit is stored inside the opposite handle in a friction-fit slot. The Skeletool can use any of the proprietary flat double-ended bits from the Leatherman bit kit so you can carry two bits you use most.

Pliers and Wire Cutters

FREE P2 vs Skeletool CX – Pliers: The Skeletool CX pliers are compact, medium duty pliers and I enjoy using them but they are really outclassed by the FREE P2. Except for being wider than the Skeletool pliers, the FREE P2 pliers are better in every other dimension. They start thicker, taper to a narrower tip, open wider and have longer jaws with more reach.

The real benefit of the FREE P2 is the pliers open easily with one hand. On most jobs you can compensate with preparation and have two-handed pliers open and ready to go. But having one-hand capability is really a game changer. There were multiple times where I would be working and realize I needed pliers to complete the job. With the FREE P2 all I simply pulled them out of my pocket and kept working, with the Skeletool CX I needed to put things down to get the pliers open.

FREE P2 vs Skeletool CX – Wire Cutters: Both tools use bypass-style wire cutters with replaceable blades that have sections for soft wire and hard wire, but the similarities stop there. The Skeletool CX wire cutters are forged with the pliers head and have small 5/32″ blades while the FREE P2 uses 154CM replaceable steel blades that are 1/4″ long. The replaceable blades are the same one used on the heavy-duty Surge so you can use them all you want and replace the blades if they get damaged.

Both tools have a rounded section for cutting hard wire between the jaws near the pliers pivot. We cut hard wire up to the thickness of a coat hanger, any thicker and you are likely to deform the cutting edge or damage the pivot because the wire will start to flip up and separate the jaws.

Knife Blades

Leatherman FREE P2: Leatherman launched the FREE series with drop-point knife blades, perhaps they are moving away from the clip-point style they have used for decades. The combo-edge knife blade opens smoothly using your right thumb and locks in place with the same frame locks that secure the other tools.

The FREE P2 blade is hollow ground and the thin profile lets it keep cutting even after the honed edge is dulled. The drop point shape, hollow grind and 420HC steel also makes it extremely easy to sharpen the FREE P2 blade, even beginners can get a sharp edge.

One of the secrets to the success of the Swiss Army Knife is the long narrow taper that Victorinox puts on their blades. Even though they use a softer steel, the narrow profile keeps cutting all but the toughest material.

Leatherman Skeletool CX: The knife blade is the highlight of the Skeletool CX. The clip-point blade has a partial flat grind, a full length straight edge, and Leatherman made the knife from 154CM blade steel. Even though 154CM is not on par with the top blade steel used in standalone knives, it is a significant upgrade from 420HC. 154CM is harder steel for a sharper blade with better edge retention and also more durable with better corrosion resistance than 420HC

Leatherman carried the weight-cutting design elements into the knife blade with three holes that also serve as decoration. The blade opens with one hand using a weird thumb hole shaped like the top of a mushroom. All of the holes in the blade also weaken it – there are reports in the forums of blades breaking. We go into more details in the Weakpoints section.

FREE P2 vs Skeletool CX – Knife Blade: Despite the upgraded blade steel on the Skeletool CX, this comparison is closer than it looks. The upgraded blade steel gives the Skeletool CX blade better performance compared to 420HC, but the blade on the FREE P2 has 2.55 inches of sharpened edge, a quarter inch longer than the Skeletool CX.

If the FREE P2 kept the same straight edge knife blade used on the FREE P4, the P2 would win this competition. Most users don’t get much benefit from a combo edge because cutting rope is a rare event for most people. Configured with the combo blade, the FREE P2 still has nearly an inch and a half of straight edge before the serrated section.

Screwdrivers

Leatherman Skeletool CX: The Skeletool CX uses the same large bit driver Leatherman uses for the Wave+, Charge+, Surge, Super Tool 300, MUT and Signal. It comes with two of the proprietary flat two-sided bits, one Phillips with #1 and #2 tips and one flat-headed driver with 1/4″ & 3/16″ tips.

Because the Skeletool always has the bit driver exposed at the end of the handle Leatherman put a spring latch so bits don’t fall out, unlike their other tools. The opposite handle has a friction fit slot to hold a spare bit and it will hold any of the flats bits from Leatherman so you can customize it for the bits you use most.

Leatherman FREE P2: The screwdrivers on the FREE P2 are standard multi tool screwdrivers for the most part. Included on the FREE P2 are XS, small, and medium flathead drivers and a Phillips driver. Leatherman was smart and beefed up the Phillips and medium flathead drivers to a 1/8″ shank thickness, matching the thickness of their proprietary flat bits. This thickness gives the Phillips head much better grab in the screwhead compared to 2D drivers.

FREE P2 vs Skeletool CX – Screwdrivers: No surprise, we greatly prefer the flexibility and performance of the bit driver on the Skeletool CX. We like having options of what bits to carry and the ability to replace a damaged tip without putting our whole multi tool out of service.

Still, the majority of my screwdriver use is for Phillips head screws with an occasional flat head screw. For the 8 months I’ve used the FREE P2 as my EDC it has done everything I needed it to and the driver heads have held up well. I do miss the additional 3.25″ reach from the bit driver extender that I would sometimes carry with my Skeletool, but I don’t miss the additional clutter in my pocket. With the FREE P2 you have 1.5″ of reach before the handles interfere.

Can/Bottle Openers

Leatherman FREE P2 vs Skeletool CX – Can and Bottle Openers: I use a bottle opener infrequently, and a can opener … never? So it is more of a side note that Leatherman did not include a can opener on the Skeletool CX and just went with a bottle opener on the carabiner. It is always accessible and works great.

The FREE P2 has a can opener that looks like it should work if you need it, and the bottle opener is on the shank of the Phillips driver. Other than it being folded away and you have to open it when you need it, the bottle opener is just as easy to use on the FREE P2 as it is on the Skeletool.

I doubt anybody decides what multi tool to get based on the can/bottle opener but in this comparison the bottle openers are well matched. If you need can opener don’t get the Skeletool because it doesn’t have one.

Pocket Clip

For an EDC multi tool the pocket clip is the feature you use the most and it needs to perform.

Leatherman FREE P2 vs Skeletool CX – Pocket Clip: Both tools are comfortable in my right pocket. with the pocket clip mounted on the outside handle the tool naturally swings into the seam and stays put (no pendulum in you pocket). When I tested them in my left pocket the configuration doesn’t work as well and neither tool has the option to move the pocket clip for left-pocket carry.

I like the design of the FREE P2 pocket clip better because it puts the multi tool deeper in my pocket. It is more secure with less of the handle sticking out to bump into things, and also less noticeable. The FREE P2 pocket clip is also removable if you want to just carry it like a pocket knife; the pocket clip on the Skeletool CX is attached with a rivet.

Both tools take up a good bit of real estate in your pocket and it sometimes gets in the way of removing items from deeper inside. I carry my cell phone in my left pocket leaving my right pocket for keys and my EDC multi tool.

Additional Tools

Leatherman FREE P2 – Scissors, Pry tool, Awl, File, Ruler, Wire stripper:

Leatherman put full-size scissors on the FREE P2 – ok, ok, full-size for a multi tool. The blades meet precisely and cut cleanly. The thumb pad is double width for comfort and knurled for control. We like that the spring action re-opens the jaws to about a 50° angle and you can manually open them further if needed. We were able to cut zip ties cleanly in one snip and 550 paracord with two snips.

With the awl and pry tool on the FREE P2 you should never break the blade tip on your knife again. Awls are the most underutilized multi tool function so we wrote an entire article on what is an awl and how to use it correctly. With the pry tool to take over the heavy duty jobs, Leatherman went with a sturdy chisel-tipped sewing awl on the FREE P2 with one beveled edge for reaming holes.

The pry tool uses the same 1/8″ shank as the Phillip driver and tapers the last 1/2″ to the medium flathead tip. It is sturdy and the square edge makes an excellent scraper for small surfaces. Leatherman put a bevel on one side for opening cardboard boxes and it also functions well to open plastic clamshell packages. It is a great little tool that is strong enough to do whatever you need it to and we always used it for those jobs that don’t fit into a nice clean category.

Except for the scissors, awl and pry tool the other tools on the FREE P2 are unremarkable:

  • The file is 1.3″ long with a coarse and fine side for use on wood or metal.
  • The wire stripper is on the shank of the small flathead screwdriver/ruler and is a round groove with a beveled edge to score the pull off the insulation.
  • The ruler is also on the small flathead tool with marking to 1 3/8″ (2.5 cm).

Leatherman Skeletool CX – Carabiner: With the Skeletool CX you have additional carry options using the carabiner. I never used it to carry the tool from a belt loop – not my style – but the carabiner came in handy a couple of times when I was working on a ladder. I used the carabiner to hand the tool next to the work until I needed it again. Also when I packed the Skeletool CX I would hook it to a loop in my bag so it didn’t get lost in the bottom of a pocket – made it very easy to find when I needed it.

Weakpoints

Leatherman FREE P2 Problems: After carrying the FREE P2 over the past year I have to say there is not much to complain about with this tool. My only observation has been times when the tools would unfold slightly from the handle after opening the pliers quickly. I note it here for completeness but it wasn’t even a minor annoyance because they always moved back in place when I opened the handles.

I did watch the FREE P2 to see if the magnets would attract metal filings and there were a few times I noticed some on the magnets. If anything, the magnets help keep the filings and grit away from the pivots and messing up the action. I really liked how the magnets keep the tool closed. There is always the same amount of resistance to open the pliers handles that doesn’t change with wear.

Leatherman Skeletool CX Problems:

Checking over the user reviews and forum comments the most serious complaint about the Skeletool is a problem with the knife blade breaking near the base. Most breaks reported start at the choil and go thru the thumbhole or the hole in the ricasso.

The Skeletool CX was my pocket carry for years and there were times I could feel the knife flex during cuts that put torque on the blade, but I never experienced a failure. I don’t recommend the Skeletool CX as a survival knife where you will be batoning the blade, but it does work well as an EDC general purpose knife. If yours does have a problem you can rely on Leatherman’s 25 year warranty to get it fixed.

Variants of the Leatherman FREE

Leatherman launched their magnetic technology FREE series with the P2 and P4 in 2019. They are still releasing new models of pocket knives but no new multi tools since the launch. The P2 is slimmer than the P4, but the P4 changes the main blade to a straight edge, adds a dedicated serrated blade and also a saw blade.

  • Leatherman Product #832636 FREE P2
  • Leatherman Product #832640 FREE P4

Variants of the Leatherman Skeletool

Leatherman launched the Skeletool product line in 2007 with the standard stainless steel model and upgraded CX model. Originally the CX had the combo edge blade and the standard Skeletool had a straight edge blade but they switched in 2010. Since that time the stainless steel Skeletool comes with a combo edge and the CX has a straight edge blade in 154CM blade steel.

Leatherman also offers 154CM blade steel on the Skeletool RX while all other models have 420HC blade steel.

  • Leatherman Product #830845 Skeletool Stainless Steel combo edge 420HC steel
  • Leatherman Product #830849 Skeletool CX straight edge 154CM steel
  • Leatherman Product #831788 Skeletool SX combo edge 420HC steel
  • Leatherman Product #832198 Skeletool Coyote Tan combo edge 420HC steel
  • Leatherman Product #832199 Skeletool Green combo edge 420HC steel
  • Leatherman Product #832200 Skeletool Blue combo edge 420HC steel
  • Leatherman Product #832306 Skeletool RX fully serrated 154CM steel
  • Leatherman Product #832419 Skeletool Topo combo edge 420HC steel
  • Leatherman Product #832627 Skeletool Stainless Steel & Black Oxide combo edge 420HC steel

Advantage to Leatherman FREE P2

Even though it is slightly larger and heavier, the FREE P2 packs additional functions that make the trade-off worthwhile. When I first got the FREE P2 in early 2019 I carried both the P2 and my Skeletool CX for a few months but since then I use the FREE P2 almost exclusively as my EDC. True one-handed pliers are the killer feature that sets the FREE P2 apart, until you experience it you won’t really know how handy it will be.

Leatherman’s new elastomer springs and magnetic latching make the FREE series fun to use and capable of serious work. I also like the decision to go with a drop point blade instead of the traditional Leatherman clip point. The knife blade performs well and is long enough to replace a dedicated folding knife while gaining all the benefits of carrying a multi tool.

The FREE P2 is fun to fidget with and will bring attention when you use it in public. I’m looking forward to see what Leatherman does to their next iteration of the FREE P2.

MSRP for the FREE P2 is around $120 from the Leatherman website but I found it for a great price on Amazon – check current prices.

Advantage to Leatherman Skeletool CX

The Skeletool CX was my EDC multi tool for years and is still a great multi tool for light duty work with just the essential tools that you use most. The knife blade has superior steel compared to the FREE P2 and I prefer its straight edge blade to the combination edge on the P2.

With the large bit driver, the Skeletool CX lets you carry the bits that match your work – square, torx, hex, etc… The FREE P2 limits your drivers to just flathead and Phillips. If size and weight are at a premium, the Skeletool CX edges out the FREE P2. Its lighter and slightly smaller, although most people won’t notice a difference.

I love my Skeletool CX, but the FREE P2 is better. You can pick up a Skeletool CX for significantly cheaper on Amazon – check current prices.

Dan Sawyer

I'm the guy behind Multi Tool Mountain. I grew up in Wisconsin with a love for the outdoors. I currently live in Texas with my family where DIY home improvement projects keep my and my multi tools busy.

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