Thursday, October 27, 2011

Atwood Atwrench Review

This is my first one piece multitool review.  For more on these kinds of tools check out the commentary in the keychain series, found here.  There are tons of these kinds of tools out there, but one guy really started the whole craze--Peter Atwood.  Since he is usually thought of as the first guy to start making these tools I thought it was only fitting to start out with one of his classic designs.   

Peter Atwood's stuff is really hard to explain to people that have never seen or heard of him before.  It is a piece of steel or titanium (and sometimes exotic stuff).  There are no moving parts.  They are tiny.  They generally don't have anywhere near the number of tools as a standard multitool.  And they are expensive.  If you get get one from Peter himself they will run you about $65-$100 depending on the model.  But getting them that way is almost impossible.  An entire run of his tools will sell out in a matter of hours, if not minutes.  There is a thread at EDCF dedicated to announcing the posting of new tools, just to help folks get notice of when the go on sale.  Invariably though, if you see the thread post with an announcement, by the time you get to Peter's site itself, they are gone.  It is not uncommon for tools to sell for $20-30 more than they cost to buy, even right after they are put up for sale.  Some of the more exotic tools, like the Mini Son of Prything, will routinely sell for many hundreds of dollars.

But for some folks, these tools represent the very best EDC stuff.  They are small and easy to carry on your keychain.  They are well-designed and use premium materials.  And they are made, by hand right here in the US.  It is not an exaggeration to say that for many folks the Atwood tool is what separates them and their EDC from the old guy that carries a pocket knife.  But this fevered devotion makes it very hard to evaluate these tools.  Merely getting one is an accomplishment.  Their lack of availability and their rise to status symbol makes critical analysis almost impossible.  There is nothing I have ever encountered that has a strong a post-purchase rationalization as the Atwood tool.  I am not saying they are terrible, far from it.  I am simply arguing that people that have them generally have a hard time being critical of their purchase.

I have had the fortune of having four different one piece multitools, which is what I am going to call the entire category of Atwood-type tools.  I have owned the Atwood Atwrench, the JDR Ti Baby Pacu 2.5, the Gerber Artifact, and the Gerber Shard.  I got my Atwrench a long time ago and I got it for list price.  I didn't have any particular attachment to it and so all of the factors that lead to a less than critical eye didn't really affect me.  So here goes an attempt at reviewing the Atwood Atwrench.

Here is the product page. There are a few variations, one with finger grooves on the edges ("tiki grinds").  There is also a version with glow dots.  There are some with surface treatments.  There is a version with a "V-notch" for pulling nails.  There is a version with finger scallops instead of the "tiki grinds."  A metric version is available.  There are, of course, combinations of these version.  Overall I think there is probably something like 20 versions in total.  Here is a comparison between the Atwrench and the Gerber Artifact I did when I first got the Artifact.  Here is a review of the Atwrench.  Here is a video review of the Atwrench (with TERRIBLE video quality, but there is not a lot out there).  Here is a picture of my Atwrench:


Design: 1

The design is really a variation of Peter Atwood's original tool, the Prybaby.  It is a nice upgrade from the Prybaby and the variations, especially the v-notch one, are a good, solid tool.  The tools included are also pretty useful.  The pry, bottle opener, and flathead screwdriver as well done.  The wrench part is, in my opinion, kind of a failure from its inception.  There is really very little leverage and the need to be at exactly perpendicular to the bolt makes it less than ideal.  In time, Peter has released a lot of newer tools that are a bit more refined in design, such as the G2 Superbug or the Prybaby G3.  It is not a failure, not by any means, but it is a bit basic, even for a one piece multitool.  A Phillips driver would be a huge plus.      

Fit and Finish: 2

Atwood's stuff is amazingly nice.  The edges are so smooth and the finish is perfect, impervious to even the worst abuse (such as me using the pry tip as a chisel and pounding on it with a hammer).  These aren't the most complex pieces in the world, but all of touches add up to one hell of a tiny tool. 

Theme: 2

The idea is a small, easy to carry tool that is tough as nails and has a bunch of the "most used" tools on it. Here is a picture of the tool on my keychain:


As you can see it meets all of its goals.  It is just the right size to live on a keychain and more than tough enough to handle all of the tasks you can reasonably ask it to do.  The tool selection is great, very appropriate for its job, though, again the lack of a Phillips driver is an issue.

Grip:  2

I imagine that the tiki grind version is a little grippier, but this is no issue even on the basic Atwrench.  It works so well and is really surprising given how small the tool is.  In pry or chisel mode it is awesome.  If it in bottle opener mode there is a good bit of leverage.  Only the wrench stinks and it is more a problem with the design of the wrench than the tool's feel in the hand.

Carry:  2

The Atwrench is a really good citizen on your keychain unlikely to cause bunching or problems and more than able to suck up damage from the other inhabitants.

Materials: 2

My version was made of S30V and boy was it tough.  So here's how I know.  There was a piece on my wife and I's elliptical machine.  It was wedged between the foot board and the frame itself.  It was a very tight space and none of my other hundreds of tools would fit.  I needed to get rid the old, broken bolt and I could reach it with the Atwrench.  But hard as I tried I couldn't move it.  I decided I was going to have to just cut it in two with the Atwrench.  I got a dead blow hammer and took a few light taps.  It was no problem for the Atwrench or the bolt, unfortunately.  So I decided to hit it harder.  A few really hard blows later I had severed the bolt and freed the parts to work properly.  Worried I pulled the Atwrench out slowly and to my delight and surprise there was nothing wrong at all with the Atwrench. 

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

All of the tools are spaced well and none block each other.  I'd like a little more clearance for the bottle opener, but nothing crazy.

Retention Method: 2

The only real use for the wrench is as a good sized lanyard.  In that role it works well. 

Tool Selection: 0

You gotta have a Phillips driver.  You have to.  It is just so common and useful that without it no multitool is really complete in my opinion.  It is so important, especially when you are dealing with such a limited number of tools on the piece that without it, the tool is not complete.  Many of the one piece multitools have this problem, as according to a conversation I had with Joshua Rice, you cannot grind a Phillips driver.  You need a high tech water jet cutter to do that kind of work and that piece is out of the price range of most small tool makers, like Peter and Josh.  There are lots of solutions to this problem as Peter's "captive bit" series shows.  But still, without the Phillips driver, the tool selection on the Atwrench is distinctly lacking.     

Tool Performance: 1

The pry tip works exceedingly well, as my like elliptical episode demonstrates.  The wrench portion stinks though.  And the bottle opener, your most used tool by a large margin on these tools, isn't the best.  Peter has since redesigned the bottle opener to be more like Josh's circular design.  The problem is there isn't enough an angle to the bottle to really get up under a cap and pull.  It will work, but it is not a fluid or easy process, which is kind of silly as the bottle opener is the EASIEST part of the tool to design and make.  The three main tools average out to a 1, a 2 for the pry tip, a 0 for the wrench, and a 1 for the bottle opener.  

Overall Score: 16out of 20

The Atwrench is not a bad tool.  The fit and finish and durability are insane, off the charts great.  But its design is a bit lacking and lack of a Phillips driver is a big mark against the Atwrench.  I can see why people go crazy over Peter's stuff.  It is really nicely made with superior materials, but this design is a bit dated.  Peter's newer stuff is more well-rounded and refined.  Additionally other makers are coming on fast with really creative designs as well.

And then there is the price.  If you can find one at retail, it is still a pretty penny, especially when compared to the mass produced Gerber Shard.  But that is not a realistic option.  In reality you have to find one on a forum BST (EDCF's is a good place to start) or on ebay.  When you factor in the actual price paid compared to the tools on the Atwrench and the competition, I am not so sure this guy is a good buy.  Collectors will be happy.  People that have never seen one of these tools might be intrigued, but there are simply better options out there now, some from Peter himself and others from the competition.  


  1. I started following Peter's blog a few months ago with the hope of snagging some of his stuff. I had the option to get a number of his tools and ended up getting a purple Titanium poltergeist. It was cool looking and well made, but I didn't end up keeping it. Couldn't afford to really and wasn't sure how well the Purple Ti would hold up. I think S30V is a much better choice for these tools.

    From a collector's stand point these are very cool, and perhaps when I've got a little more money I'll buy one to keep on my keychain - definitely a luxury item though.

  2. They are luxury items, for sure, but they are pretty hardy. I mean I really thumped on mine and there wasn't even so much as a ding or a scratch on it.

  3. That is really good to hear. Once I'm out in the real world I'd like to pick another one up in S30V. I have no doubt it would make a great addition to the keychain.