Monday, January 16, 2012

Leatherman Charge TTi Review

This review is, in many ways, like trying to review a computer or an audio video receiver (AVR). Like a computer or AVR, there are so many ways to use the Charge TTi that it is impossible to take account of everything in two months of use. I am not even sure a year would be long enough. This is simply a beast of a tool.

The TTi is the fifth Leatherman I have owned and it is, by far, the most expensive. It is also the largest and heaviest tool I have. The weight is primarily a function of the sheer number of tools it has, but also due in part to the locking mechanisms on each handle of the tool, something I am not sure is entirely necessary. The idea behind the TTi is that Leatherman has taken all of the best features of its tool line and all the best materials and put them into one tool.

There are three versions of the Charge, the TTi (link below in its usual spot, the "here" paragraph of the review), the AL, and the ALX.  The AL and ALX have aluminum handle scales, as denoted by the "AL" in their names.  The TTi, meanwhile, has titanium handle scales, a nominal weight savings of .1 ounces.  There are two other important differences.  The AL has scissors while the ALX has a safety hook on the back of the serrated blade.  The TTi has both.  Additionally, the AL and ALX blade is made of 154CM.  The TTi has an S30V blade (yes, the blade steel on my best multitool is the same steel as the best knife I own).  The TTi comes in two versions: a leather sheath version or a nylon sheath version.  I got the nylon sheath version as I don't like leather sheathes (poor winter weather performance).  On rare occassions Leatherman will sell the TTi with all of the accessories--the bit extender and all of the bits.  Those packages are not readily available, but if you can find one, they aren't a bad buy.

Here is the TTi's product page.  Here is a good street price (temporary sales price of $88, about $10 less than normal, but I have never heard of the site, so buyer beware).  Here is a good video review (it is of a Caleba's edition, but the differences are minor).  Here is a good written review.  Here are the Amazon reviews.  It has a rating of 4.38 stars out of 5 with 73 reviews.  Here is my TTi:


IMG_0038

Design: 1

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should and with the TTi Leatherman seemingly ignored that maxim of good design.  I am not sure why all of the tools have to lock.  I get the blades and files on the outside of the tool, but all of the interior tools do as well, for no apparent reason other than Leatherman thought it would be neat.  It is nice that they do, but entirely unnecessary.  Additionally, it adds a lot of weight and complexity to an already beastly device.  The TTi weighs in at more than half a pound (8.2 ounces to be exact) and that weight, at least some of it, comes from the entirely superfluous locks.  The design is very nice other than that, though.  The externally accessible tools are all the right ones and the blade is GREAT, both in terms of shape and materials.  There is nothing about the design, other than the locks, that I can even begin to fault.  This is the Cadillac of the Leatherman line and its design shows that--big, full featured, and smooth.  It is not as taut or minimal or as radical as the Skeletool, but this is still one really nice tool.  It is massive and thick:

IMG_0040


but quite nice.  The score of one is solely because of the unnecessary bulk.  And in the end, I was close to giving the TTi at two because, as you will see below, the bulk turns out not to be that big a deal.   

Fit and Finish: 2

If the threads are a great place to check a flashlight's fit and finish, and a lock or grind for a knife, the pliers are a great place to check on a multitool.  You want pliers that meet flush at the very tip and, if you can, wirecutter jaws that don't meet, but shear past each other.  The only multitool I have ever had that did both is the TTi.  Even the Skeletool, which is a nice multitool had a decent set of pliers but barely shearing wirecutters. With the TTi there is no question the wirecutters will cut (and boy, do they ever).

The rest of the tool with all of its unnecessary complexity is equally well finished.  The handles are rounded and don't produce hot spots or cause fatigue.   

IMG_0046

Purpose: 2

The multitool is unquestionably designed as a toolbox replacement.  The only thing missing is a hammer.  With so many tools and attachments and accessories, the TTi comes very close to being the only tool you need.  I carry mine in my survival bag, along with the RD-7, and together I feel like I have most of the bases covered (I also have a collapsible wood saw for felling branches and the like).  The massive number of tools fit together in a package, that while large, is not so big it can't be carried as an EDC.  I did that for about a month and it wasn't that bad at all.  

Grip: 2

Some of these larger multitools are so thick and bulky that they make it hard to get a really good grip.  The TTi is not quite that big.  If you have especially small hands I can see it being a problem.  Still for most people this is a very nice sized tool that gives you leverage in a bunch of different positions.  

Carry: 2

There are two carry options for the TTi.  First is the excellent Leatherman nylon sheath (there is also a leather sheath, but I opted for the nylon one because of leather's tendency to hold water and freeze in cold weather):


Second is the removable pocket clip.  

 IMG_0047
Both are very good options.  Personally I don't like sheathes for EDC, but in this case, my TTi will ride in my Pygmy Falcon II, living on a Nite Ize S biner clipped to a MOLLE attachment around the shoulder for easy access. The side pocket is ideal for a AAA flashlight, making this a small incredibly useful package.  A new Olight i3 may end up living in my sheath.  It also holds the bit extender accessory.  There is a small pouch behind the main pouch for the flat bit cartridges.  Everything about the sheath is excellent, even the multiple storage positions (pliers open as shown above or the standard pliers closed as you can imagine).

When I was EDCing this beast I used the clip and I have to give kudos to Leatherman for an ingenious design, using the tool locking mechanism to hold the clip in place is brilliant.  The clip is also well designed, a low rider with plenty of grip.  When EDCing the TTi the clip was fine, but the weight was a bit much.  I am used to very minimalist carry--an Aeon and a Dragonfly II in FRN.  Together they weight about 1/3 as much as the TTi all by itself.  I can see some folks EDCing this bad boy, but it is a bit heavy for me.  This is more of a personal preference so I am going to keep the score of 2 as a reward for an excellent set of options, but this is a beefy tool.  If it de-pantses you, consider this a warning. 

Materials: 2

Here is where the TTi distances itself from the competition.  There is really nothing close in terms of materials.  S30V on the blade is insane and appreciated.  The titanium handle slabs, likewise, seriously outdistance the competition.  In the end, the TTi laps the multitool world in terms of materials.  I'd give it a 3 if I could.  This is the high water mark for all other tools.  

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

The clever cuts and corner reveals on the exterior handles allow for two tools to be one hand opening (the knife and the serrated blade) and the two other tools are easy to get to with two hands.  On the interior everything as a little spur to catch a fingernail, except for the can opener which has a nail knick.  Nothing is hard to get to and everything works very well on its way to the locking open position.  Everything on this tool locks and yet it is not hard to use, open, or close--a great layout by Leatherman.

IMG_0054


Retention Method: 2

The clip here, covered, above, is genius.  I love it.  Nothing at all I would change.  I love the fact that you can remove it without tools.  BRILLIANT.  

Tool Selection: 2

Nothing is missing, well, except a hammer and hammers on multitools generally stink.  I truly love the safety hook as a package opener and rope cutter.  I love the eyeglasses screw drivers which have a variety of precision uses.  Even the can opener, which I hate, is not that bad at slicing open clam packs.  

Tool Performance: 2

All of the tools perform quite well, but it is the knife, the scissors, and the pliers that deserve high marks.  The pliers are just amazing.  I wish they were spring loaded, but other than that I wouldn't change a thing.  These pliers rival the finest stand alone pliers I have in my workshop.  The blade, likewise, is a great shape and length.  Finally the scissors are incredibly sharp and surprisingly tough.  Overall, everything works exceedingly well.

Overall score: 19 out of 20

I debated this score for a long time.  The locking mechanisms for the internal tools is entirely unnecessary and adds weight, but in the end it didn't really impact the carry of the tool, in part because of the perfect pocket clip.  But I still want to dock it a point.  There is no reason for the weight, but that is the not big issue here.  It is a small problem for an otherwise truly superior tool.  The design, other than that one thing, and the materials are second to none.  If you want one tool to handle 99.99% of your tasks or you are looking for a full sized multitool, the TTi needs to be on your short list of research targets.  In the end, I'd be surprised if you bought something else.  This is a great tool.

18 comments:

  1. Of course without the locking mechanism, you could not have the interchangeable clip/lanyard ring, and it would have to be permanently attached, or not even available.

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  2. I know. I still think the locks are unnecessary but the removable clip is awesome. It is a trade off.

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  3. I myself have had a use for the locks. I will agree first that they are not necessary, BUT they are very nice for the screwdrivers and other tools like the awl on the lager tools... Strike that, a perk. When actualy driving screws through unfinished wood or other tough Things forcefully, the drivers would buckle and fold on my hands, resulting In jamming my hands into the tool or other materials. Not fun.
    That I why I believe Leatherman made this change years ago with the Wave and haven't gone back.
    That's my two cents. - John Macaluso
    P.S. I hope I was comprehendible; I sometimes am not!

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  4. thanks Tony -- tough to argue with any parts of your review. I'm curious what you thought of the cap crimper portion of the pliers... I have never really found a use for it, and I think it slightly reduces the amount of useful surface area in the pliers. I prefer the pliers on the older Charge Ti model (circa 2004-2006). I've toyed with the idea of moving the S30V blade over to my Charge Ti, but I don't want to void the warranty.

    for what it's worth, I would have also given the TTi a 19/20, but I would have docked the 1 point because of the cap crimper on the pliers. I actually like the locking mechanism for the internal tools, but I can understand your points about the added bulk.

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  5. Great review! I have a skeletool or this TTi would probably have to go on my list....

    Just a note on the pictures. I think the white balance on your camera is off (or something, idk what) but if you used a program like picasa (free) or lightroom (not free) you can fix it very easily. I downloaded one from flickr, and ran it through picasa and here is the result: http://i.imgur.com/YMF1G.jpg

    It knocks out that pink hue. Just thought I'd throw that out there!

    Thanks for the great blog!

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  6. Great review Tony. I recently acquired a Leatherman Blast, which has kind of opened my eyes to multi tools. Based on my very limited knowledge: this thing sounds sweet!

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  7. I had an original TTi with the 2 large interchangable drivers purchased by mail order from the states before it was available in the UK circa 2004 some 8 years later i managed to snap 3mm off the needle pliers, i could have wept. i put the 25 year warranty to test but had to make a decision wether to accept a replacement if needed (not happy as i was very attached to my TTi)Whitby & Co returned a replacement within 8 days the latest TTi with scissors. Although it does not feel as substantial as the original and the handel has the slighest of defects i think the TTi is better than original so very very happy. I would not recommend this multitool i would insist you get one.

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  8. Not to be contrary, but the locks are there for a reason. Spend any amount of time putting leverage on a non locking Leatherman and your bleeding knuckles will cry for internal locks. They're big and external so that you can return any tool to the interior with one hand.

    The original Wave didn't lock, and it was slimmer. If you've ever used one, you'll know it also had a tendency to bite your hands with the drivers. Locks are your friends.

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  9. I will agree on the locks, they are a must if you are going to do some serious work with some of the interior tools.

    I would like to add a thing. There is an internal lanyard ring which pops out of the bottom with the help of a screwdriver or similar. This is a neat detail that makes the separate lanyard ring redundant, except if you would like an easy way of removing your lanyard for some reason.

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  10. I just bought two Charge TTi over Christmas, and both jaws on the pliers do not close flush, but only touch at the tip. At the back of the jaws, there is almost a 1 mm gap between the jaws of the pliers. Is this normal? Because this was the same on both the tools I bought, I assume it was normal for the jaws not to close flush, but the more I think about it, and the more youtube clips I watch, the more I'm thinking this might be a quality control issue. Please comment. Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Mine are significantly closer together than a millimeter.

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    2. I think they do that on purpose because if the way they are angled the pliers will be more parallel when gripping an object.

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    3. Rather than a "quality" issue, closing first at the tip is the signature of good quality pliers. All good pliers do that. Try out the bargain pliers at the hardware store and you will find they close flat, if completely at all.

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  11. Is this a quality control problem?

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  12. This is a great review, thanks!
    Having used five leatherman tools, which would you recommend most highly?
    I mainly want it to be able to grab for miscellaneous minor on the go home fixes and save myself a trip to the toolbox, rather than to carry all the time or use for more involved repairs.
    Would welcome any thoughts, especially if you can give a direct comparison with the latest Wave, which seems to be the go-to standard?
    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. My favorite Leatherman is the Skeletool CX. It is just the right size and has just the right tools. The TTi is great too, but it is a little big for EDC.

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  13. Even if the interior locking mechanisms were removed, they would have to be replaced by slipjoint mechanisms (or else the tools would be swinging loose). It seems like the weight saved, if any, would be negligible.

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  14. I have the charge in the non TTi configuration, great tool and I use it for everything but today trying to pull a stuck broken rivet out of a sailboat mast I snapped one of the plier tips off. They have a 25 year warranty though so I will be sending it off for a replacement. I also totally agree with the decision to lock all the screwdrivers, the number times i've fiddled with an inferior tool that folds up on me with any pressure applied is far too much.

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