Friday, August 24, 2012

Leatherman e33L Review by Matt

Editor's Note: The Haiku Contest is still going and I am receiving user submitted reviews once in a while.  I lost a huge chunk when I had to reset my email, but I found this one and thought it would be interesting because it is both well-written (and formatted!) and because it is of a product I have not considered buying.  If you want to be considered, send in a review.  Here are the rules.   

I'd say it is a safe bet that readers of this blog are familiar with Leatherman multi-tools, but some may not be aware that the company also tried their collective hand at knife making for a few years. The first Leatherman knives became available in 2005, and their hunting knives in 2007. In 2008, they revamped the original knives and released the Crater and Expanse series. Almost all of these knives were recently retired, but the Expanse and Crater series are still readily available. Some of the models include screwdrivers or bit drivers, but I chose to review the Expanse e33L for the sake of simplicity, and also because it's my favorite of the Leatherman knives. (Each knife model is also available with a half serrated blade, but I believe that's been covered already.) I have owned this knife for a little over two years, using it mainly while camping or hiking. For the purpose of writing this review, I carried my e33L as my EDC knife for a month. This was a major change for me, as I had been carrying my Skeletool CX every day for nearly 5 years. And in the interest of full disclosure, I did carry a Squirt PS4 with me to supplement the knife (I felt naked without pliers), but for all knife-related tasks, I relied on the e33L.

Here is a picture of my e33L, complete with a little Fett Effect:

2012-05-23 13.17.17

Here is the product page (with specs). Here is the Amazon page for the knife, although it appears that the knife is no longer available directly from Amazon. It received 4.4 stars out of 5, with 19 reviews. Here is a video review of the knife. Here is a good forum review.

Design: 1

For a 2.6" blade, this knife is a little on the heavy side at 3.0 ounces. A good chunk of this weight comes from the stainless steel cladding (scales) on the handle, which I find completely unnecessary. Itís an especially interesting design decision when you consider that the Crater series version of this knife (the c33L) weighs in at a significantly lower 2.36 ounces. I don't know if there is any weight difference between the 154CM and 420HC blade steels, but it's a safe bet that most of the weight difference comes from the stainless steel portion of the e33L handle. The blade:handle ratio is an unimpressive 0.66. However, I do like the incorporation of the carabiner/bottle opener into the design, as seen here:


I mainly use the bottle opening feature of this device, which it does very well. It's not as sturdy as the carabiner/bottle opener on the Skeletool CX, but that's due to the folding nature of this one -- it disappears into the handle of the knife when not in use. I used the carabiner clip to carry the knife only once. It seemed to work well enough, but itís an odd way to carry a knife when you have a perfectly good pocket clip.

 Fit and Finish: 1

Given the precision engineering that is evident in every Leatherman multi-tool that I own, I was somewhat disappointed in this category. I have found that the only way to get the blade centered is to tighten the pivot screw, but doing so impedes the functionality of the Blade Launcher opening mechanism. (The Blade Launcher still technically works, but the blade only opens partially instead of snapping into the open/locked position.) To address this issue, the designer(s) included a small nub (presumably made of the same glass-filled nylon as the handle) that can be seen here:


I realize that there is a tradeoff here between ease of opening and blade centering, but I think a company with Leathermanís reputation for high quality should have been able to do a little better here. Other than that, the pieces come together nicely for a smooth finish, but the blade centering nub prevents the knife from receiving a 2 in this category.

Grip: 1

Once again, the stainless steel cladding on the handle hurts the knifeís score. The knife feels a bit rough around the edges, and the stainless steel hampers the grip. I do like the shape of the handle, and the jimping helps out in this category.

Carry: 2

Compared to the clips on their original knives, Leatherman greatly improved the design of the pocket clip for the Crater/Expanse series. The knife rides low in the pocket without completely disappearing, so itís easy to grab when you need it. (I dislike some of the true ìdeep carryî clips because sometimes the knife can be difficult to get out of your pocket.) While the handle is thicker than some EDC knives, it honestly doesnít feel bulky in the pocket.


Steel: 2

Leatherman uses Crucible's 154CM for the blades in their high-end multi-tools (such as the Skeletool CX and some of the Charge models), as well as many of their knives, including all of the Expanse series models. I have used, maintained, and sharpened several different blades made of this steel for years, and I honestly have nothing bad to say about it.

Blade Shape: 2

The drop point blade shape on this knife provides plenty of belly and cutting edge, and the narrow tip is especially useful for detail cutting. Here's a detail picture of the blade:


Grind: 1

The grind is a nice high flat grind. It's slightly more complex than necessary, and the secondary bevel is slightly asymmetrical. However, these are both minor complaints, and neither affect the cutting performance of the blade.

Deployment Method: 2

My favorite feature of the knife is Leatherman's Blade Launcher deployment system. The Blade Launcher is not an assisted opening mechanism, and itís not a true flipper. Itís a rotating disc at the pivot with a small tab that protrudes from the back of the knife. Pull back on the tab with your index finger, and the blade snaps open while the tab disappears. It takes a couple tries to get used to, but itís a really cool and innovative, yet simple, opening system. The knife also has a serviceable thumb stud, but the Blade Launcher is what "launches" this score up to a 2. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Retention Method: 1

The pocket clip has excellent tension -- you donít have to worry about it falling out, but itís not going to snag your pants and/or rip your pocket either. The clip may be a little wide at the top for some peopleís taste, but the fact that it is not reversible is why it gets a 1 and not a 2 from me. The carabiner also provides another carry option if you so choose.

Blade Safety: 2

The liner lock is sturdy and provides a solid lockup with no blade play when the blade is opened, and it has not weakened at all over the 2+ years I have had this knife.

Overall: 15 out of 20

As I previously mentioned, I have had this knife for a little over 2 years and have really enjoyed using it. I fully admit to being a Leatherman fanatic, but I tried to be objective with this review. I really wanted this knife to score higher, but given that it has a few minor issues, I think 15 is about right. The e33L is still a solid EDC knife, especially when you consider the price point. (I purchased mine for about $35 USD.) For a knife in the $35-45 range, you get a high quality 154CM steel blade that is made in the USA and backed by a reputable company. Add in the some of the extra features like the Blade Launcher and the carabiner/bottle opener, and you've got a pretty sweet EDC knife that is relatively inexpensive.

Editor's Note:  I have still not figured out how I would categorize these kinds of tools, that is, whether I would count them as multitools or knives for purposes of the 20 point scale, but Matt did a great job with the knife scale here.  


  1. Matt or Tony: Is the deployment method the same one used on the Kershaw OD-2? It sounds similar from your description.

    1. A good chunk of this weight comes from the stainless steel cladding (scales) on the handle, which I find completely Stainless Steel Cladding unnecessary. Itís an especially interesting design decision when you consider that the Crater series version of this knife (the c33L) weighs in at a significantly lower 2.36 ounces.

  2. I'm not familiar with the Kershaw OD-2, but a quick peek at the product page shows that Kershaw describes the OD-2 as a flipper. Leatherman's Blade Launcher system is different from a flipper in that you're pulling on a tab attached to a rotating disc, rather than pulling on a blade protrusion. that being said, based on Kershaw's description of the OD-2's opening system, the two could be similar, but I don't think they're the same.

  3. I like your review. I have several of the Leatherman knives myself. I agree with your ratings, though that current generation of clip and especially blade launcher are vastly improved on the old models. I agreed with marking the clip down a hair though. Solid work, sir.

  4. I'd love to see an updated review of their more recent versions of combo knives like the Leatherman Crater c33T.