I love getting a new multi tool but some are too stiff to use right out of the box, especially heavy-duty tools like the Leatherman Surge. After years of developing my own break-in methods, I consulted with industry expects to refine it into the process I’m sharing below.
Degrease your multi tool to remove all the lubrication, this accelerates the break-in wear process. Exercise the stiff joint by cycling it open-closed until you are satisfied. Flood the joint with cleaner to remove any grittiness, wipe down, and dry. Finally, apply a dry-film micro treatment to lubricate and protect your broken-in multi tool.
It seems counter intuitive to remove all the oils when your multi tool is too stiff but lubrication actually works against you when breaking-in a new multi tool. You need friction to wear down the imperfections inside the pivot joint from the manufacturing process. When cycling the joint the metal-on-metal contact will jump start the process that would occur naturally with regular use.
Degrease Your Multi Tool to Remove All the Oils
We recommend denatured alcohol to degrease your multi tool. It is an excellent degreaser that is less hazardous than other options and generally safe for plastic components. You can find denatured alcohol in the paint section of most home improvement and discount department stores. Using gloves and safety glasses, simply saturate a cloth and wipe down your tool to remove the oils. You can use a small paintbrush or Q-tip to get into hard to reach areas or submerge the tool to soak briefly for difficult situations.
Allow your tool to air dry in a well ventilated area, denatured alcohol is highly flammable so do not use any heat sources to speed the drying process. Because all of the protective oils are removed at this point, don’t put your multi tool in a drawer and forget about it – finish out the process and lubricate and protect your multi tool.
What Other Degreasers Can I Use On My Multi Tool?
Isopropyl alcohol (IPA or rubbing alcohol) is not the same as denatured alcohol but can be used as a substitute. Isopropyl alcohol is commonly used as a topical antiseptic while ethanol is a much stronger solvent. Just know that isopropyl alcohol is less effective at degreasing and will take longer to remove the oils.
Simple soap and water is another option that is always safe. Hot water will help to cut the oils and cycling the joints will help the water penetrate. Any commercial parts cleaner can also be used so long as it is compatible with all of the components on your multi tool and you follow the proper safety procedures.
Cycle the Joint Open and Closed Until It Loosens Up
Multi tools are designed to be hard working tools that are dependable after years of daily use. The pivots naturally smooth out after a period and reach a sweet spot. You want some friction so the joint is not loose or flopping around but not too much friction that the multitool is difficult to use. Cycle the joint fully open and fully closed repeatedly.
How to Loosen Multi Tool Pliers
The pivot for the pliers head is probably the most important joint on your multi tool. If the pliers are too stiff then the butterfly handles will fold when re-opening the plier jaws after a squeeze. We like to start with the pliers and work them until the jaws re-open by gravity alone or with light finger pressure. This way you can use the pliers in tight locations and not have to pull the tool out after each grip. On the pliers be sure to give them a solid squeeze closed each time so they wear in with the full range of motion.
How to Loosen Multi Tool Handles
The handle pivot joints are the second most important joints on your multi tool and these needs to stay stiffer than the pliers joint. You don’t want your handles to fold themselves during use. Most modern designs from Leatherman and Gerber include a slip joint design to hold the handles open, similar to that on the blade of classic pocketknives.
How Many Times Do I Need to Work the Action Before My Multi Tool Loosens Up?
Each tool is different and it depends on the starting condition as well as what end result you are looking to achieve. We like to have our degreased multi tool and sit down to watch a good movie. Action flicks are recommended so the explosions and gunfire drown out the sound from cycling your multi tool. Don’t complain to us if you do this procedure during a rom-com movie with your wife and end up in trouble!
You can easily get in several hundred cycles during a single movie. If you concentrate on a single joint and you are still not satisfied there is something more significant happening. In our experience one evening watching tv is enough for most multi tools to loosen the pliers, handles, and major blades – two evenings for stubborn tools. Anything more and it is probably time to go for warranty service.
Clean the Multi Tool Again
While you were cycling your multi tool open and closed the metal-on-metal contact wore away a small amount of metal inside the joint. The removed metal acts like a sandpaper on the joint and you may have felt the joint heat up or seem gritty when you worked the action. Once you are satisfied with the joint you don’t want it to continue wearing away additional metal. Using denatured alcohol or soapy water clean the tool thoroughly and be sure to flush the pivot with plenty of liquid to remove all of the metal shavings.
Apply a Dry Lubricant to Your Multi Tool
Dry-film micro treatments are formulated to provide a surface protective film that inhibits rust and lubricates. The dry film does not attract or hold dust and debris and does not thicken in cold temperatures nor thin in the heat. Weapon Shield and Tuf-Glide are two of our favorites and Break-Free CLP is also a strong performer. Victorinox recommends their own multi tool oil.
Black Oxide Coated Multi Tools
Manufacturers use different methods to produce black anti-reflective multi tools. One commonality is they are known for generating small particles that get everywhere. The powder works its into the pivot action of your multi tool that you feel as graininess or roughness when you open your tool. A thorough cleaning with regular dish soap and water will work, using a Q-tip to get inside the handle and between tools. Follow this with denatured alcohol to degrease the multi tool and continue with the break-in procedure.
Multi Tool Disassembly
Don’t take your new multi tool apart to loosen up a tight action. All manufacturers prohibit user disassembly under their warranty terms. Taking apart your multi tool will void your warranty and should not be necessary on a new tool. If the cleaning and break in procedure does not work then you should consider sending your tool in for warranty services or consulting an authorized dealer.
SOG has customizable multi tools that do allow for swapping tools and requires some disassembly using basic mechanical skills. That level of disassembly is allowed but further disassembly will void your warranty. Leatherman, Victorinox, Gerber and CRKT all prohibit user disassembly under their warranty terms.
Using WD-40 To Loosen A Stiff Multi Tool
WD-40 is a light penetrating oil that is excellent at water displacement – hence the WD in its name. WD-40 is suitable if you need to make a minor adjustment to the stiffness of your multi tool or if the tools are clumping together. If your tool is significantly too stiff or difficult to open we recommend using the procedure described above.
WD-40 gets a bad rap from some for supposedly attracting dust and gumming up. In our experience, this is not a concern unless there is repeated over application of WD-40 over time. When used as a light penetrating oil it can be effective for multi tools, the dry-film products listed above simply out perform WD-40 and we also prefer the precision applicators.
If You Use Your Multi Tool For Food
Denatured alcohol is ethanol with additives to make it poisonous to drink and the dry-film products are also not safe for consumption. If you use your multi tool for food then clean with dish soap and water and use a food-rated lubricant. Mineral oil is a good lubricant that is safe for food (do not use vegetable oil as it will go rancid over time and leave your tool sticky and smelly). Another lubricant option is FrogLube – a biodegradable lubricant made from “USDA Certified Food-Grade” ingredients.