Tool Time

When Does a Tiny Tool Stop Being Useful?


January 10, 2019 Buying Guides By Photo by Chase Pellerin

Remember when the modus operandi of every tech company was to make everything smaller? Apple’s recent killing off of its endling iPhone SE marked the end of that era, but while pocket space is increasingly taken up by phones, other items, including multi-tools, are shrinking. Phones are bigger so that we can do more with them — so what happens when functional implements shrink? When does a tool become so pocketable that it no longer has any real use?

To answer that question, we surveyed five highly-regarded keychain multi-tools, function by function, to see what works and what doesn’t.

CRKT Pryma

CRKT worked with renowned knife designer Jesper Voxnaes to create the Pryma, the biggest on our list of tiny tools at 3.2 inches. It weighs just under an ounce and has a black stone washed finish.

Pry Bar: After lots of effort, the pry bar at the end of the Pryma did finally help me get into a paint can, but not as easily as the rest of the tools here. It might work better if it was thinner, or if the angles that form its pry end came together to create a finer, narrower edge.

Bottle Opener: A bottle opener is, essentially, a lever with a hook at one end. The Pryma’s longer end is on the wrong side of the fulcrum of this lever, which makes it difficult to open bottles. That said, it did get the job done.

Glass Breaker: I didn’t test this function.

Multi Wrench: The Pryma’s hex wrench has four sizes, and while they aren’t gauged perfectly the do work very well.

Verdict: The Pryma is the biggest of the keychain tools on this list (too big, in my opinion) but that doesn’t mean it offers the most functions. Many of them don’t work that well either, but could with a bit more fine-tuning.

The James Brand Halifax

Less like a multi-tool and more like an engineered bottle opener, the Halifax focuses on high quality materials (titanium), elegant design and just a few functions.

Screw Drivers: The driver on the Halifax proved to be too wide for many of the screws that we came across, but when it did fit, it worked well and didn’t strip the screw.

Bottle Opener: The Halifax provided the easiest and smoothest opening of all the tools on this list.

Pry Bar: The Halifax is just long enough to hold comfortably in one hand to allow for plenty of leverage when prying and scraping.

Verdict: The Halifax has the least amount of stated functions of the tools on this list, and it’s not the smallest either, but it might be the most thoughtfully designed, and it’s the best looking. (It’s also the most expensive.)

Gerber Shard

The Shard looks unassuming, but Gerber packed seven functions into a tool that’s 2.75 inches long and weighs just 0.6 ounces.

Pry Bar: This pry bar worked the best out of all of the tiny tools we looked at, likely thanks to its (relatively) sizeable two-pronged surface area and the angle that it’s set at.

Small and Large Flathead Drivers: Both of the Shard’s flathead drivers work well and are aided by the ergonomic (yet strange) shape of the shard.

Wire Stripper Puller: I wasn’t able to test this function.

Bottle Opener: Provided a smooth opening but you have to align the tip perfectly in one of the bottle cap’s knurls.

Lanyard Hole: I don’t think that a lanyard hole is a function, but yes, the Shard has one, and it’s large enough for various gauges of cord.

Cross Driver: Works well and didn’t seem to strip the screws I turned.

Verdict: Not only does the Shard count the most tools, but those tools also worked as good as or better than the others here. The downside? The Shard’s design includes four pointed ends that make reaching blindly into your pocket for it a potentially hazardous undertaking.

Leatherman 4

Leatherman makes a range of tiny solid-state tools. They’re all fairly similar, but this one offers versatility and includes a dual-sided bit driver that’s stores conveniently with a rubber mount. It’s 2.5 inches long and weighs 0.6 ounces.

Scraper: Yeah, this works. (It also functions as a pry tool, too.)

Bottle Opener: Like the Pryma, the Leatherman 4 could use a bit more leverage for a smoother opening. It worked, but not easily.

Box Opener: Sure, it works on both paper and plastic packing tape, but not with finesse, and not as well as a knife.

Bit Driver: Both the flathead and Phillips head ends of the tiny driver worked well, perhaps better than any of the others here. The one snagging point I have is that the bit is separate from the solid body of the tool and slipped out of its mount occasionally during use.

Verdict: Moving toward the smaller end of the spectrum, sacrifices in utility (and most notably, leverage) begin to dampen. All of the Leatherman 4’s tools work, but not easily (except for the bit drivers).

Malboro & Kane Claw

At 0.7 inches in length and weighing 0.07 ounces, the recently-released Claw is the smallest multi-function tool we’ve ever seen.

Bottle Opener: It worked, but only after figuring out (from watching videos of the Claw) that you have to loop your index finger back through the key ring to get the right leverage over the tool. Armed with that knowledge, I was able to pop the bottle open, abruptly, and not without creating some spray in the process.

Screw Driver: The Claw was too small to get enough leverage on any of the screws I encountered.

Flint: I didn’t have any flint handy to test this function.

Paint Can Opener/Pry Bar: The Claw handled a paint can surprisingly well — as good or better than any other tool on this list.

Box Opener: It works, but not efficiently due to its size. I’d opt for another tool if one’s around or if there are multiple packages to get into.

Verdict: Given that the Claw is about the same size as a Pez candy, it’s surprising that it can perform any of its claimed functions. It did most of them, but not skillfully. Maybe that’s okay though, since its nearly unnoticeable on a keychain.

Final Verdict: When in a pinch, it’s better to have something rather than nothing, and often the best means of ensuring that’s the case is by attaching a tool to something that’s always carried, like a set of keys. In testing these tools, I learned that portability comes at the cost of function, particularly when too many features are packaged into too small of a shape, or when size is overly minimized.

None of these tools will replace a full-sized multi-tool or a well-equipped toolbox. For most situations that call for drivers, scrapers or priers, I have access to these items, whether in my home or my car. For that reason, I’ll continue to carry a bottle opener on my keys and a knife in my pocket — with these two items I’m set to take on the simple tasks.

The 10 Best Multi-Tools Available

Today, there are so many types of multi-tools available that one can easily find an option with a toolset to serve the needs and tasks that you encounter most often. We did the research and testing in order to find the 10 best. Read the Story

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