If I were the production
manager at either Wenger or Victorinox, I'd be cutting back drastically on the smallest
models like the Victorinox Classic and Executive and Wenger Esquire. The new Leatherman "Micra" is going to eat their lunch. While
it isn't quite perfect, it quickly supplanted the Victorinox Executive I normally carried. At
only 2 1/2 inches long and 1.75 ounces, there was not much difference in size or weight (see below).
The Micra is Leatherman's latest multi-tool and the first without a pliers. It is aimed squarely at those who carry a small Swiss Army Knife for its nail file, tweezers and small blade, but mostly for the scissors. Even the better Wenger scissors are none too great and it is in this area that the Micra really shines.
Unfolding the Micra in the normal Leatherman manner opens up the scissors in the place we've come to expect pliers. The one inch long blades are robust and sturdy. The spring action is effective and reliable, but not so strong that it is tiring to use. After considerable use during our testing the action became slightly "sticky," but a drop of Break-Free CLP to the pivot points restored the normal action.
We tested the scissors on all types of material and they proved themselves up to any reasonable task, and a few that probably weren't. Tissue paper to mid-weight solid cardboard, up to 1/4 inch corrugated cardboard, light nylon line and parachute cord to 1/4 inch manilla rope, plastic wire ties and 16 gauge multi-strand copper wire, the scissors seemed up to the task. Much of these would have found the small scissors of a small to moderate size Swiss Army Knife wanting. The handles are long enough to be comfortable and allow you to use a full grip instead of just one or two fingers, making use of the scissors much easier.
Nested in one side are a 1 1/2 inch knife blade, nail file and medium size screwdriver. In the other side are a tweezers, combination bottle cap opener and small screwdriver and a unique flat Phillips screwdriver. The handles incorporate a 5 inch / 11 cm. ruler. A small split ring is attached.
The knife blade is vee-ground from the top of the blade and has a chisel ground plain edge with a short straight clip point. The nail file is of the recessed "pebbled" surface variety with a hook point for fingernail cleaning chores. The 1 3/8 inch tweezers are permanently attached to the tool and are only 1/16 inch wide.
We were amazed to find that the flat Phillips screwdriver worked very well on both #2 and #1 Phillips heads. This screwdriver is basically one plane of a conventional cross head Phillips. It looks pretty much like a normal screwdriver, a "flat" blade, but with the angles necessary to fit the Phillips head. To prevent any confusion, the blade is marked, "FOR PHILLIPS."
The Micra opened and closed smoothly. The handles have a noticeable looseness where they are joined to the scissors blades, which Leatherman says is normal. If they were tight, no doubt it would impair the spring function of the scissors, required to open the blades again after use. Unlike conventional scissors which have finger or hand holes, so you can manually open and close the scissors, these small handles require a spring assist to do so, just like the Swiss Army Knife scissors you may be familiar with. The looseness certainly had no adverse effects upon their operation. When closed two small tabs help keep the handles aligned and the spring action helps to keep them closed.
The spring arrangement is novel and well thought out. A small cam is operated by each blade and moves against a length of rectangular metal "rod" that bends under pressure to create the spring force. This "rod" lays in the bottom of the handle, running its full length and is secured by the pivot point for the other tools. The design would seem to address the common failings of most spring actions which eventually fail after a while due to the small and weak spring mechanism (the Victorinox design is especially susceptible to this sort of failure, the Wenger design is better).
I have only one serious complaint and few lesser, not so serious, concerns. While the tweezers work fairly well, their narrow width is a significant drawback. They are not even half as wide as those commonly found on a Swiss Army Knife (see photo: Micra top, SAK bottom) With only 1/16 inch to work with, it can be difficult and frustrating at times to get hold of small things, such as a hair thin cactus needle. This problem appears to be easily rectified by just widening the tips slightly. There seems to be plenty of room to nearly double the width of the tips and this would make a huge difference in ease of use. Since the tweezers appear to be stamped out and then folded, this would not seem to present any major production problems.
Another minor problem regarding the tweezers is that the split ring attachment is adjacent to them. If the Micra is attached via this split ring to a key ring with a large number of keys, it can become a handful when trying to use the tweezers. My solution is to utilize a quick detachable key ring so it is easy to detach the Micra from it.
While the nail file is marginally effective for its intended purpose, as are similar designs used in many small Swiss Army Knives, it is not nearly as effective or useful as a true crosscut file, such as is included with the Victorinox Executive. A real file, or even a diamond file, is not only a lot more effective on fingernails, it may also be used in many other circumstances, which would be beyond the capability of the current "file."
The flat Phillips blade acquired some small nicks that were evident after our tests. These nicks appeared where the blade contacted the top of a screw head. It would appear that the blade tip could possibly use some additional hardening. Over time and use, such nicks might eventually weaken the tip or cause fit problems. Leatherman reports that the Phillips blade is hardened to Rc 49-55, which is not, it would appear, quite enough.
Finally, a nit that bugs me, but probably doesn't have a big impact on real world useability. This is the matter of the chisel grind used on the knife blade. In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter a whole lot on such a small and thin blade. On the other hand, it looks cheap, which it is, hardly in keeping with the generally high quality image of Leatherman products. Leatherman admits that's the primary reason they to do it that way. It makes sharpening the blade with many common small "vee" sharpeners a real pain. That wouldn't create a difficulty for me, but for many it will be a problem.
On balance, the Leatherman Micra is a big winner. The tweezers are the only failing worth serious distress and if they would fix them, and perhaps increase the hardness of the Phillips screwdriver, the Micra would be close to perfect. If they would change the nail file to a real file, it would be nigh on perfect. As for the blade grind, well, just call me picky.
At a suggested list price of $25, a bit less on the street, the Micra is a good value and, as noted previously, has found a home in my pocket. What I forgot to mention was that I had to fight Sue for it, so buy at least two to maintain domestic peace. With the holiday season upon us, the Micra would make a nifty gift for anyone who delights in tools or knives.
Original photographs of the Micra by Steve White Photography
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Original photographs of the Micra by Steve White Photography
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