The Leatherman Surge

Damien Edwards

Leatherman’s Surge model was first introduced in 2005. It was an immediate success and continues to be a strong seller. It’s a big boy, full-sized device featuring 21 tools all up. When originally released, one of these tools was a tiny interchangeable bit driver for tightening very small screws, such as those found on eyeglasses. Nothing wrong with that, it’s pretty innovative.

But the Surge received a facelift in 2013. That small bit driver was dispensed with and replaced with a small flathead screwdriver which can’t be removed. A larger interchangeable bit driver has always been a feature. So older models feature two interchangeable drivers! The big improvement came with the introduction of a redesigned, most substantial plier head which incorporates interchangeable hard wire cutters of improved steel. It is this post-2013 current model which forms the basis of this review.

I say the Surge definitely qualifies as a top-shelf tool. There are more features on it than you can poke a stick at and they all make sense. I’ve always preferred to carry multi-tools of this style (and Leathermans in particular) as opposed to Swiss Army knife-type tools. There are so many fiddly bits and pieces, most of which are too petite to be of significant use and pretty hard to find when you require them.

The aesthetics of Leatherman design are logical. The tools are spaced out and allocated their own areas which negates crowding and to me, that’s an important feature. Let’s start with the outside of the tool in the closed position. There are four tools which are externally accessible.

The first we’ll look at are the two knife blades. There is a straight blade knife in semi-drop point style with a length of 3 and 1/10th″ or 7.87cm. There is an elongated oval milled into it near the spine which affords single-handed opening. Great stuff. Turning the tool over allows access to the second blade, which is roughly 90 per cent serrated with the final almost two centimetres being straight edge and completely flat. This serrated blade is of a modified tanto style. It shares the same hole to assist one-handed deployment.

This diminutive end piece being straight is a great idea. It’s for slicing small objects which have been placed towards the edge of a flat surface. It allows precision knife work and is a thoughtful feature. When closed, the spines of both knives are visible. The spine of the serrated edge comprises jimping whereas the spine of the straight edge blade is smooth. This permits the user to know which blade they are deploying in the dark simply by feel. I love that.

The third outside accessible tool is a pair of spring-loaded heavy-duty scissors. One of the other improvements of 2013 was to dispense with the little rubber thumb grip on the scissors and replace it with jimping. Jimping is simply slight corrugations milled into a surface to afford a better non-slip grip. Some knife blades feature it along the spine where you’d rest your thumb while slicing. Being spring-loaded, these serious scissors are very good.

The final outside tool is where things start to become really interesting. It’s a saw blade and a well-executed one at that, but… it’s interchangeable. Every Surge comes with a secondary tool to swap out for this saw. The replacement bit comprises a heavy-duty crosshatch file on one side and a diamond coated finer file on the reverse. Such innovation!

A good file is such an overlooked tool and the addition of the diamond file is just the cherry on the cake. It doesn’t fail as an ad hoc knife sharpener. But it goes better. These tools are interchangeable with any T-shank style bit from the hardware store. No, they don’t need to be the same length, but if the ones you use are longer, you’ll just need to remove them again to be able to close the tool. Bosch T-shank tools fit perfectly.

So now you can swap out anything that fits. Jigsaw blades, metal saws, you name it. And they all lock in securely. Wow. Just, wow. All four of these outside tools are locking and the liner locking mechanism is not only solid, but a washer attached to each pivot point on all four tools prevents the liner from riding past the front of the tool. That’s a clever feature. It shows that someone at Leatherman is using their brain when designing this. Little doubt, Tim Leatherman himself.

All right, I can hear you from here, let’s open the thing. Pliers. Big ones. They taper to a fine nose, not really a true needlenose, but relatively close. The big seller here is the addition of the interchangeable wire cutters. They are made of 154CM steel. The rest of the tool is 420 high carbon stainless. 154CM is a more superior steel for harder working applications. It will basically hold an edge roughly three times as long as 420 high carbon.

Should you eventually wear them out from use, replacements are available from Leatherman. They are of the crossover style, so cutting integrity will never be compromised. Further down where more torque is required are the harder wire cutters. There are also concave wire cutters located under the jaw for stranded wire such as the type you’ll find bundled together to form a conductor.

Like this wasn’t enough, there’s also an electrical crimper too. This is a real heavy-duty head and certainly the beefiest of the Leatherman line-up. On one side of the handle we have three tools. These are a small flat screwdriver, a larger flat screwdriver/pry bar and an awl with a thread loop. This tool is sharpened on one side to permit it to create or enlarge existing holes in canvas or leather. I’ve even used is as a crude makeshift wood drill.

The other side of the handle is comprised of two tools. One is a bottle opener which incorporates both a can opener and sharpened wire stripper. The other tool is a clever one. It’s a replaceable bit driver. Phillips head on one end, flat head on the other. It’s held in by tension, but it’s not going anywhere.

This larger driver is now the only one available on the Surge. As an after-market accessory, Leatherman offer a bit kit with all sorts of heads of varying sizes to increase versatility. They also offer a bit extender to offer more reach. This is a brilliant feature. All of the tools found in the handle are locking. To close them, a little button on the inside of the handle is depressed.

The handle side with the three tools also has a tiny hidden lanyard ring. You will need a flat head small screwdriver blade to push it out, but it’s there. There’s a metric and imperial ruler which has its notches along the outside of the two handles when the tool is open. Not only does it tender precise increments, but it doubles as a grip when using the pliers.

As an element of safety, when the tool is opened, none of the outside accessible tools (which are located on the inside of the handles) are capable of being opened. This will aid in avoiding any unpleasant surprises.

This is a lot of stuff to fit into a single device, and its size and weight is in proportion to its many features. Some users may feel the dimensions and weight of the Surge to be off-putting. I personally have found no such issue. All up weight including the additional file blade is 335 grams. That’s less than the weight of a Leupold VX-3 riflescope and nobody complains about carrying one of those.

This is a serious, robust multi-tool which will suit any camper, soldier, backpacker, kayaker, hunter, fisherman or home handyman. No, it’s not designed to replace a toolbox, no multi-tool can. But it is designed to be a convenient tool which will handle 90 per cent of jobs that you would need it for and it excels at that. A black oxide coated version is also available.

With an open length of 17.8cm, it feels more like a tool and less like a toy. The Surge is a real winner and (so far) my favourite in the Leatherman line-up.


At a glance

Model: Leatherman Surge

Closed length: 4½″ or 11.5cm

Open length: 7″ or 17.8cm

Weight: 335 grams

Material: 420 high carbon stainless steel

Production: 2005-present

Approx. retail: Varies considerably, but roughly $200.

*This is a popular tool, so you may need to shop around.

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