Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gerber Artifact Review

Gerber Legendary Blades used to be truly legendary.  There is a large contingent of people that still love their famous Mark 2 Fighting Knife.  Their folding knives in the mid-70s through the mid-80s were really top of their class, being the first company to sell Paul Poelhmann's brilliant and complicated to make (but easy to use) Axial lock.  But after that things started to go downhill.  Instead of using cutting edge steel, at the time stuff like ATS 34, they started marking their knives with mystery meat steel, things like "high carbon steel" or "stainless steel".  It was a portent of the future.  When they are bought out by Swedish tool company Fiskars quality that was barely tredding water just sunk.  Lots of things now had orange accents, but nothing really had any design flair or quality.  The current line up, dominated by Bear Grylls branded products is chock full of junk.  Some of it is actually expensive junk, which is just really awful--it looks terrible, it performs terrible, it made of terrible stuff, and yet it still demands a premium price.  The brand still has the ability to sell despite of the downfall.

The Gerber Artifact was their first entry into the One Piece Multitool market even though the Artifact is not, in fact, a one piece tool.  Lots of folks decried the design as a rip off of Peter Atwood's designs and there is, in fact, a lot of truth to that.  Still, all tools are derivatives of other tools, so I am not going to cast aspersions here.  The Artifact is no longer produced but there is a significant amount of stock still out there.

There is no longer a product page.  Here is a good street price.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review.  Here are the Amazon reviews, where it received a 3.63 out of 5 stars with a total of 88 reviews.  Here is a picture of the Artifact (I have long since got rid of mine):

Here is the multitool scoring system, with each criteria and the 0-2 scores explained.  

Design: 1

Imagine if squabbling politicians designed a keychain tool based on a picture of an Atwood tool.  Now imagine that they gave that design to a group of monkeys that were drunk on cheap vodka.  This is what they would produce.  It has a bunch of tools, but they all seem to be fighting with each other.  The keychain attachment point is the heart of the problem.  When attached it precludes the use of the Phillips driver and it makes the pry and bottle opener difficult to use.  The knife is downright dangerous without removing the tool from the keychain.  In addition to the lack of space, the tiny, tiny pass through means that torquing and twisting are inevitable as the weight of a keychain carries the tool off axis.  In the abstract, a folding knife is a neat idea, as it is incorporated into this cramped design it is a failure.  Even off a keychain things are still bunched.  Only the bottle opener and pry work well.  Bad design with one good idea.  

Fit and Finish: 0

The edge seam was noticeable, the lock on the fold out knife was hard to disengage and engage, and the finish flaked off almost instantly.  The lanyard triangle was too small for keychain use really.  Nothing really nice at all.  The material is listed as "stainless steel" without any specifications, which leads me to believe it is JUNK.  If you had good stuff, you'd brag about it right?    

Theme: 0

This is a keychain tool, right?  So how about make useful even if it is on your keychain?  Again the lanyard hole's size and placement make this tool very difficult to use when attached.  When its not attached it still bunches things up.  I also don't like the thickness of the tool as it is definitely the largest and heaviest thing on your keychain, unless your really in love with keychain tools. 

Grip: 0

The lanyard hole again screws things up, but not that bad when the tool is off the keychain.  The real issue here is the awkward angle at which the folding knife engages the lock.

When you use it like a knife, cutting edge down, the curve of the tool coaxes your hand towards the blade.  When you use it in the opposite position cutting with any precision is difficult.   The pry is okay and the bottle opener is actually decent, but only when detached from your keychain.  Not just a bad grip (because of the curves and tiny real estate) but actually dangerous.  No thanks.   

Carry: 0

As you can probably tell by now the lanyard attachment stinks and the tool because of the folding blade is probably twice as thick as a normal OPMT.  At this size and weight why not just carry a really nice keychain knife, like the Spyderco Ladybug (or Jester if you are lucky enough to find one) or a keychain multitool like the awesome Leatherman PS4.   If it was just the size or just the crappy attachment point, it would be a 1, with both it receives yet another 0.  This is not going to be a high score...

Materials: 0

Mystery meat steel=crap.  The finish is painted on not anodized.  Thanks for playing, another zero.

Deployment/Accessibility: 0

I think you can guess, but the folding knife is hard to use on or off a keychain as is the Phillips driver.  The other two tool clusters are better but not great on a keychain and are fine when it is off, but all of this just means that this tool is fundamentally a poor design.  

Retention Method: 0

This is the heart of the entire problem.  I hate, hate, HATE this lanyard hole.  It is so small and hard to get on and off a normal split ring.  Even on a mechanical keychain, like the one I much prefer, it is still a pain in the ass.  

Tool Selection: 2

This is literally the only thing the Artifact does right.  It has a tool set like no other OPMT--the Phillips driver PLUS the folding knife are just too cool.  Now if the tool actually worked that would be another matter entirely.  But as far as simple selection is concerned, great.

Tool Performance: 1

On a keychain only the bottle opener works well.  It is a very aggressive easy to use design.  On a keychain the pry is okay.  The other two tools are virtually inaccessible.  Off a keychain things are different.  The knife is okay, though still dangerously shaped.  The Phillips driver is still a little too bunched up.  Nothing is great and a few things are okay.  Averages out to be a 1. 

Overall Score:  4 out of 20

This is the worst designed, worst implemented tool I have ever used, including a dozen or so crappy Black Friday specials.  I hated this thing, really hated it.  I was so pissed at how poorly it worked.  At first it seemed okay.  It could do some things okay, but over time I truly learned to hate it.  I wrote a post on EDCF about about this guy and at the time I was still thinking it may be useful.  A month later I wanted to melt it for scrap, make it into BBs and fire them through the windshields of the Gerber people's cars when they were empty (it was only $9.99 so I couldn't be TOO angry)[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a joke, it is called hyperbole].  This tool cemented in my mind the fact that Gerber is toast.  They really need to turn things around or the only selling point they have left, the goodwill attached to the brand from ages ago will vanish as well.  A nickel in your pocket would work better than this guy, it can pry and be used as a flathead driver in a pinch, and it is at least worth something and you know what it is made of (nickel). 

That said, as bad is this is, well, the Shard is an entirely different story....that is the next review and I think you will be surprised.  I know I was.   


  1. Agree with your review! Bought one a few years ago and didn't even *carry* it -- took it out of package, tested it, threw it in a drawer.

  2. Agree, I was so disappointed when Bear Grylls decided to partner up with Gerber. This review is representative of their entire product line. Its all "mystery meat steel" (love that line BTW), cheap ripoffs, and seriously flawed designs. Anyway love your blog, I am also a transplant to Boston and miss the smiling faces from home. Keep the articles coming!

  3. also agree bought a gerber multi tool with a scissors instead of pliers and they broke on cutting cardboard. makes me think that their other tools are just as cheaply made

  4. i have a few Gerber products. a knife made back when they were making quality products, and a knife and machete that are so-so. the knife is not as bad as the machete. the blade of that is so soft, that 4-5 whacks at a pine bough will dull it. the saw maintains its sharpness only slightly better. and i am sure that is because it is not being used as an impact edge. i would buy older Gerber products still. but anything of new manufacture, will sit on the shelves.

  5. I read your TWSBI classic review, in search of TWSBI reviews. This prompted me to browse your blog and read this review, in search of products you hate. I don't know anything about multitools. Thank you for an enjoyable evening.