Everyone loves getting a deal and with the price of multi tools steadily going up buying a used multi tool is more appealing.
To guarantee a genuine multi tool buy directly from the manufacturer or authorized dealers. Next best is to physically inspect the multi tool and verify Leatherman date codes, Victorinox blade stamps and other identifiers listed below. Design elements that seem ‘off’, low quality components and pixelated printing are all red flags.
Good counterfeits can be difficult to spot even when holding the tool in your hands. Online merchants further obscure their products by using low quality images or simply the stock photos of the real product. We researched the best ways to identify genuine multi tools from the fakes and list out the general steps as well as identifiers for each of the major brands.
Follow These 9 Steps to Avoid Fake Multi Tools
As the saying goes, Buyer Beware! so here are 9 steps to follow to avoid getting ripped off:
- Whenever possible, compare the multi tool side-by-side with a genuine article. If you don’t have a known genuine item you must compare to the manufacturer specifications and images. Be aware that models may change slightly over their production history, use the Wayback Machine to find old information.
- Verify product dimensions against the manufacturer specifications. If the closed length is listed as 4.0 inches it should be 4.0 inches. Many fakes are larger than the original. The difference may be only slight to comically large at times. Weight is also a good indicator for multi tools – fakes are either lighter from using low quality materials, or heavier because they do not have same precision manufacturing techniques.
- Manufacturers carefully control how they brand their multi tools. On genuine products the brand name will always be in the same position, not shifted up or down the handle. Verify the multi tool has the right markings in the right locations. Also check the unlock mechanism to see if it is labeled correctly, most multi tools have a lock icon on their liner locks or frame lock and this is often omitted by the copycats.
- The handles, pliers, and knifeblade are the most expensive components on most multi tools are fakes will cut corners. Do the handles have the right hand feel or do they have sharp edges? Are there signs of a low quality casting on the pliers head (grains/seams) Is the grind on the knife edge uniform?
- Examine the tools carefully, especially parts like the bottle/can opener that have more complicated designs. Fakes will usually have the equivalent tool but the shape is frequently different. Does the pivot joint have a rivet when it should be a removable fastener? Are the tools located on the correct handle and in the same position? Fakes will sometimes shift tools around to a different arrangement.
- Finishes are very difficult to duplicate correctly on fake items, even if they can do it they will use a lower cost alternative. Instead of a black oxide coating the fakes may simply use black paint. The feel and texture of fakes are different but it takes experience to notice unless you have a comparison tool available.
- Does the packaging have the right logo? Is the printing sharp and clear or fuzzy and pixelated? Are the colors right?
- By systematic in your checks, compare each element carefully and don’t let the seller explain away differences. If a multi tool has 19 things right but one thing wrong, it is still a fake.
- Be vigilant even when buying new. Most of the e-commerce platforms have third party merchants (Amazon has Marketplace sellers and Walmart, Target, Sears, Home Depot and Lowes all accept third party listings) that not authorized dealers. Even products purchased as ‘Sold by Amazon.com’ have been reported as fakes on the forums. Read the purchase terms and use a payment method that protects you.
If you choose to buy from online merchants pay attention to user ratings, shipping location, and look closely at the photos. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is… When in doubt, walk away!
How to Tell if a Leatherman Multi Tool is Genuine
Leatherman Date Code: Leatherman includes a date code inside their handles on every multi tool made since November of 1992. If you weren’t looking you probably would never notice them, but shine a light inside the handle area and they are easy to spot. The four digit code is month then year, so 1199 is November 1999. Except for the original Leatherman PST and Mini-tools manufactured before November 1999, all Leatherman multi tools will have the date codes in their handles – if they don’t, it is not a genuine Leatherman.
Leatherman Pliers Stamp: Leatherman also stamps their products on both sides of the pliers pivot with the word Leatherman, with three exceptions. The Leatherman Leap, Wingman, and Sidekick models all use the value pliers design that does not include the stamp. Some products may also have additional letters like USA or Tool, but Leatherman is always present. Knockoff products commonly stamp Stainless in the same location.
Tamper Resistant Security Torx: If you have a Leatherman with fasteners that take a 5-lobe security Torx driver (Torx TS) it is almost certainly genuine because the drivers were a controlled item not for sale to the general public. In 2006 Leatherman switched to the more common 6-lobe tamper resistant Torx fasteners (Torx TR) for their larger multi tools (TR8 and larger).
Known Leatherman Fakes: Leatherman is the market leader for multi tools and all of their products are targets. The list of known Leatherman models with fakes out there is long: Charge+, Charge+ TTi, Crunch, FREE, Juice, Leap, Micra, Minitool, MUT, PST, Rebar, Rev, Signal, Skeletool, Super Tool 300, Surge, Tread, Wave+, Wingman and Wave+ to name a few.
How to Tell if a Victorinox SwissTool is Genuine
Victorinox Swiss Army Knives have had fakes for decades but as of 2020 we have not found reports of known fake SwissTools. It is only a matter of time before it happens and we expect many of the same tells will apply.
SwissTool Pliers Head: Based on feedback to their customer service team as well as warranty claims, Victorinox made several changes to improve their pliers head. The photo below is from Victorinox Quality Manager Robert Elsener.
Victorinox Tang Stamps: Victorinox stamps their knife blades and since 2005 they are stamped with the following:
With the long and storied history of the Victorinox SAK there have been literally hundreds of variations in the tang stamps used, LeaF’s blog has an excellent page showing valid stamps as well as some fakes.
Victorinox Emblem: All genuine Victorinox tools will also have the Victorinox emblem (cross and shield) engraved on the handle.
Toothpick Color: Authentic SAK toothpicks are ivory colored (up until 1960 many were carved from actual ivory), fake SAKs frequently have a white color toothpick.
How to Tell if a Gerber Multi Tool is Genuine
Gerber knives are commonly faked and known Gerber fakes exist for several of their multi tools as well: MP600, Shard, Suspension, and the entire Bear Grylls product line (knives and multi tools). The Gerber Gear FAQ makes a half-hearted effort to address counterfeits but does not give any tips for how to distinguish fakes from genuine Gerber multi tools.
Due to the prevalence of Gerber fakes, we recommend using extreme caution when buying any used tools or new tools outside authorized dealers.
How to Tell if a SOG Multi Tool is Genuine
All SOG multi tool designs will have their name on the handle and usually on the plier as well. Some tools like the v-cutter will also be engraved with the SOG name. If someone is trying to pass off a ‘blank’ multi tool as a SOG it is a fake.
How to Tell if a CRKT Multi Tool is Genuine
CRKT has been such a problem with fakes that they have posted this counterfeit warning on their website. CRKT fakes are a major problem for their knives, their multi tool products have seen less impact but are still affected. Unfortunately, CRKT tools do not have any unique characteristics that would help identify fakes beyond the 9 Steps to Avoid Fake Multi Tools already listed.
Sure you can probably eliminate a number of fakes, but you are left with the problem of knowing if the tool you are considering is genuine, or a good fake. With CRKT especially we know good fakes are out there so stay with authorized dealers with solid reputations. That great deal is almost certainly too good to be true.
Counterfeit vs Knockoff: What is the Difference?
Even though the terms are used interchangeably by most people, counterfeit and knockoff have different legal definitions. Counterfeit goods are produced to be appear nearly identical to the genuine product, including illegal use of the brand name and trademarks. The seller wants the buyer to believe they are getting the genuine article. Counterfeits are frequently low quality that do not perform the same as the original and may be unsafe in ways that are not obvious.
Knockoff products steal the product design but do not use the original brand name or trademarks (they may be rebranded). Knockoffs are cheap imitations and usually easy to identify.
A third category of ‘gray-market’ items also exists. These are typically factory seconds or rejects that are then packaged and sold as new.
What Should I Do If I Identify a Fake Product?
If you identify a fake product, report it to the FBI on their StopFakes.gov portal. The website has links to report fake products, report vendors selling fakes, as well as to report unsafe products.
Where Can I See Examples of Fake Multi Tools?
Alibaba.com has clones for nearly the entire Leatherman product line, just search Leatherman multitool. Scroll through the multitool listings on eBay and you are likely to find other obvious examples. Fakes also frequently appear on Craigslist and swap-meets. You can find knock off versions at Wal-Mart, dollar stores, and just about everywhere you look now.