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Leatherman Wave
Digital photos by Wil Milan Photography

Leatherman Wave [Updated 1/8/99 - New leather pouch fixes early failings.]

Leatherman Tool Group showed off their new "Wave" multi-tool for the first time at SHOT (Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade) Show the end of January (1998). We were mightily impressed by the prototypes we played with, as covered in our First Look article, and eagerly looked forward to getting our hands on a production tool to evaluate. One for the first five pre-production units off the production line arrived two weeks ago. Our initial impressions have been confirmed, the Wave sets a new standard for multi-tools in ease of use and utility. This is also the first multi-tool that could be seriously considered a full replacement for a light folding knife for general purpose (as opposed to survival) use.

[Please click on bordered photos to view higher resolution images]

Tim Leatherman and his crew have listened well to both customer complaints and requests. With increasingly innovative competition they needed to really break some new ground to regain the lead in the multi-tool market, a market they single-handedly started back in 1983. The Wave does just that, representing a major step forward in multi-tool design.

Opening the Wave
Animated GIF (may take a while to load)
The Wave's most distinguishing new feature is that the two knife blades (plain edge clip point and serrated sheepsfoot) open out one-handed, locking in place with a liner lock. No need to unfold the tool, no need to pull the blades out. They open with the same ease as any good one-handed opening knife. A fairly decent sized slot in the blade serves as the opening point. Even my fat fingers found plenty of purchase in the slot. The liner locks themselves worked flawlessly, locking securely and opening easily. A raised dot on the face of the lock fits a recess in the blade to holds the blades securely closed.

The Blades

Serrated blade Both blades are 2 15/16 inches (75 mm) long and made of 420HC stainless steel. The clip point, plain edge, bevel ground blade is sharpened for 2 11/16 inches (69 mm). The straight clip extends about one half of the way up the back of the blade with a false edge ground most of the way. Would I prefer a drop point or spear point blade? Sure. However that would inevitably result in a bulkier tool or noticeably shorter blade, so the existing design makes a reasonable compromise.

The sheepsfoot serrated edge blade is sharpened for 2 3/4 inches (70mm) with moderately aggressive triple point serrations. They are single-side ground with a straight bevel primary grind on the blade. Both blades are 5/32 inch thick, a good thickness for the blade size.

Blade in working position Unlike previous Leatherman tools, and most other such compact folding multi-tools, with the notable exception of the new Victorinox SwissTool (and the not-so-notable unwieldy Schrade ToughTool and Kershaw's not-so-compact A100C Multi-Tool with locking pliers), the blades' working edge lines up even with the "bottom" of the body/handle when open. This is a far better and more functional position than with the edge lined up with the middle of the body which can make it very difficult to work with at times, the bulk of the body getting in the way when working close to a flat surface. The blades are also positioned so they are offset on the "inside" of the body/handle, the natural functional position for a right-handed person, again enhancing the utility and ease of use of the knife.

On our initial pre-production unit the serrated blade was quite a bit stiffer than the clip point blade, which operated slick as silk. The serrated blade just didn't open nearly as smoothly. A call to the factory confirmed that this was not to spec and that production units should all open smoothly, with only some minor degree of variation allowed. As we initially predicted, retaining the slick feel and function will be the most difficult task as Leatherman moves to production. [NOTE: We later received another sample Wave from the first real production run. This one worked just fine, so it appears Leatherman has this under control.]

Liner lock - side view
Liner lock - top view
Liner Lock - side & top views
The precision required to produce a good one-handed opening liner lock is a whole order of magnitude higher than what they've needed until now. Leatherman seems well aware of the challenge and committed to making it work right. Because one-handed opening blades are so finicky about tension at the pivot point, the Wave uses tamper-resistant TORX-PLUS® tamper resistant fasteners which can be precisely adjusted for tension. These are not easy to find, but they can be had. Of course, using them voids the warranty. Word to the wise and all that.

Watch that narrow blade

Watch out for that narrow blade Aside from that, the only other minor concern with this one-handed opening design is that the blades are pretty narrow, only about 1/2 inch wide at the opening slot. This means that many with average to large size thumbs are going to shave a very thin slice off of their thumb, no blood drawn, at least once as they become familiar with opening the blades. This is the result of the thumb overlapping the sharp blade edge due to the narrow blade. As the blade rotates out it can shave the skin at that point. Only takes once to get your attention and teach the lesson. Use the tip or side of your thumb, not the flat part. to open the blades. After a little practice it becomes second-nature.

The Wave is designed for right-hand use for both blades. It would seem to be relatively simple to assemble the Wave for left-handed use. Though there are no plans for doing so at this time, perhaps that will change once they catch up with what I expect to be very strong demand.

The plain edge blade held up reasonably well, considering the steel used. It sharpened easily with both a ceramic and diamond sharpener.

Torx head fasteners The use of the Torx head fasteners to hold the tool together opens up the potential for easier, if not easy, substitution of a better quality knife blade. The precise fit requirements of the liner lock make it more challenging that otherwise, but a good knife maker with experience making similar style folding knives should be able to do the job. It would sure be nice if Leatherman saved everyone the trouble and just offered an upgrade version of the Wave with at least a plain edge blade of higher quality steel such as ATS-34 or B-42, or... well, you get the idea. Now that we have a tool that has the potential to be a person's only knife for everyday use, it just makes sense to offer it with the kind of blade steel that one would like in your carry blade.

Saw and File

Saw in working position Both the wood saw and file (virtually identical to those installed in the Super Tool and PST II, respectively) also open out and lock in place via a liner lock. Nail nicks at the end of these tools, a´ la the Super Tool's saw, facilitate opening.

The double row wood saw is 2 15/16 inches (77mm) long with aggressive teeth for 2 1/2 inches (64mm). The cutting portion is the same size as that of the saw in the Super Tool and it works just as well, equal to the best and very effective on both hard and soft wood with minimal clogging. As with the knife blades, there is a definite advantage to having the cutting edge of the saw aligned with the "bottom" of the tool when working with it.

The diamond coated/crosscut/edge cut file is the same length as the saw with the same working length. The file tapers from 7/16 inch (11.5mm) wide to 5/16 (8mm) wide at the tip. Unlike the PST II file, there is no fish hook sharpening groove in the fine diamond coated side. Both sides of the file and the edge perform as you might expect, quite adequate for most jobs. I'd personally prefer a conventional single cut file instead of the diamond file, but I suspect most people like the diamond surface. It does a beautiful job on fingernails.


Screwdrivers and scissors The screwdrivers, can opener and scissors must still be accessed by first unfolding the handles and these implements do not lock into place. The medium screwdrivers and Phillips both feature an offset that is supposed to improve their operation and reduce the likelihood of them moving off the spring detent in use. The line of force in use acts to lock the tool against the spring lock and keeps it from rotating closed. In our tests this design feature proved to be pretty effective. Not as good as a positive lock, but far better than the more conventional design with the lade extending straight out from the pivot point or, worse, above it so it wants to close rather than stay open.

Small nail nicks and tabs at the top and sides, along with offsets make opening the small tools relatively easy. The Phillips must be pulled out with one of its companion tools. Other tools do tend to rotate out when you select one, but despite some other manufacturers' claims, this isn't much of a bother at all, in our opinion. dealing with it either is, or becomes second-nature, automatically done without a thought.

screwdrivers and can opener There are four straight screwdriver blades (1/16, 1/8, 3/16, 17/32 wide) and the now standard Leatherman Phillips which seems to do adequately for both #1 and #2 Phillips head screws. Leatherman continues to make their straight screwdriver blades with the bevel all on one side. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this construction. The straight cut corner gets better purchase, while the opposing one has a greater tendency to slip out of the screw slot because of the steeper angle of the bevel. Our preference is a straight cut blade or, if not that because they are much more trouble to manufacturer, then a standard double bevel blade, not a combination. For most purposes it doesn't matter much, but in a pinch is could make a difference. The blades are not rounded off by polishing, such as occurs on the SwissTool, so that at least they won't slip out of a shallow of unmatched slot because of that.

The screwdriver blades are adequately long for most purposes, unlike on some multi-tools, the Gerber Multi-Pliers and Multi-Lock come to mind. The Phillips blade is 1 3/8 inches (35mm) in length. The 1/8 wide blade is 1 1/2 inches (27mm) long, the others are 1 3/16 inches (31mm) long. With the exception of the 1/8 in. and 3/16 in. wide blades, they retain the blade width for most of the useful length. The 3/16 blade has a nail nick shoulder at 7/8 inch (22mm) back from the tip and the 1/8 blade has one at 3/4 inch (19mm) from the tip.

Scissors and more

Opening the scissors
Animated GIF (may take a while to load)
The scissors are the same type used on the PST II and unfold in the same manner. They cut well and there is no little spring to break. The sturdy blades are 7/8 inch (24mm) from tip to throat. They cut pretty much anything reasonable we threw at them, and few things, such as leather and heavy cardboard, that were pushing the limits of what you'd expect to be able to cut with such small shears..

Can opener with wire stripper
Lanyard attachment
The conventional style can opener includes a Swiss Army style vee slot wire stripper. The can opener worked as well as any of this style do, it opened the can, but left a messy edge. The stripper worked OK in our tests on up to 14 gauge wire, having a difficult time with anything larger.

Also included in the interior fold out tools is a lanyard attachment, a´ la the Gerber Multi-Plier/Multi-Lock line, but the hole is very small, a hair smaller than 3/32 inch. Leatherman says this is designed for the user to install a small split ring, which is then used for attaching a lanyard. That worked for the previous tools, because the split ring wasn't really in the way, not the case here. Why complicate matters. If they are going to use this method for lanyard attachment, then they should make the hole large enough to slip a piece of parachute cord through. There seems to be no space constraints to cause them to make it so small. The odds are nobody is going to carry the Wave every day with that lanyard attachment out and a split ring attached. It's just too much in the way. So, when someone in the field decides they need the extra security of a lanyard, they are out of luck when they go to improvise a lanyard out of available materials, which likely will not include a small split ring.

Leatherman originally did not have a Tool Adapter, which allows the use of standard hex drive bits and socket adapters, that fit the Wave. This has since been rectified and a Wave specific Tool Adapter is now available. The Tool Adapter is available in its own case or in a combination pouch that holds the Wave, Tool Adapter and a selection of bits. The down side is that this makes for a very bulky sheath.

This is the first Leatherman without a ruler built into the handles.


Original and Wave (L&R) showing smooth handles of Wave Another major advance in the Wave's design is the pliers ergonomics. The handle edges are rounded on the Wave, making a HUGE difference in user comfort and utility. The narrow edges of previous Leatherman tools, which tend to dig into your hands during use, have always been one of their most significant drawbacks. The handles on the Wave need not take a back seat to anyone in the comfort department.

(top to bottom) PST II, Wave, Super Tool The needle nose pliers are the same excellent design as on previous Leatherman tools. As readers know, we prefer a true needle nose design such as these for multi-purpose and survival use. What they give up in strength, they gain in utility. The piers are also equipped with the latest iteration of Leatherman wire cutters using a separate shear style hardened cutter at the base of the opening for hardened wire and conventional cutters for softer wire.

The Wave pliers are essentially the same length and width as those of the original Leatherman and PST II. However, the base of the jaws and the pivot have been beefed up quite a bit, though not quite as much as those on the Super Tool, adding a great deal more strength in this critical area.

The Body

(top to bottom) PST II, Wave, Super Tool Overall, the Wave fits in between the original Leatherman/PST II and the Super Tool. At 7.9 oz. (224 grams) it is about .9 oz. lighter than the Super Tool, but a few ounces heavier than the original or PST II. The difference in weight between the Wave and the Super Tool is not really noticeable except on a scale. The length, 4 inches (10.16 cm), is the same as the original and a half inch (13mm) shorter than the Super Tool. The bulk of the body is the same size as the Original, but the two one-handed opening knife blades do protrude above the plane of the main body 1/8 inch on both sides, giving it a somewhat taper visual appearance.

It is in the width of the body that the added bulk of the handle design makes it presence felt. It is a full 3/4 inch (19mm) wide, 1/8 inch wider than the Super Tool, 1/4 inch wider than the original/PST II. It is a comfortable handful, but there is no question that it is a handful and that, no doubt, contributes to the excellent comfort. This is definitely not a true pocket tool, you'll likely carry it on your belt. However, we experimented with pocket carry and it was doable, if not the best way to carry it. In one case we had a change pocket inside the regular pants pocket and in this case, carried vertically in the pocket, it was fine.

Bolsters The ends of the handles, out of which the small implements rotate, incorporate cast stainless "bolsters." These make very nice finishing pieces, the textured surface provides a nice gripping area and they also add rigidity and strength.

The finish on the sample we received was excellent. The Wave looked good and felt good in the hand. Suggested retail price will be $98 (USD). Street price upon introduction appears to be in the $78 range. The Wave carries Leatherman's usual 25-year guarantee, which experience suggests is actually worth more than the paper it's printed on. Their reputation for standing behind their products is excellent.

Carrying the Wave

WAVE sheath Both a premium quality leather and a padded nylon pouch are offered.

(NOTE: Click on pouch photos for complete views of the two pouches.)

The original nylon pouch was made by Bianchi International utilizing their patented AccuMold laminate technology and it is contoured to the shape of the tool. It is equipped with a Velcro closure for the flap. In our opinion the molded sheath works much better than the envelope "pouch" style, with which it has since been replaced. With the molded portion on top of the backing portion, it lies flat against the body. Only about 7/8 inch (22mm) of the Wave is exposed when it's in the sheath, but is relatively easy to grab and pull out.

The belt loop on the molded sheath is set up for vertical carry only and is positioned approximately 3/4 inch (20mm) from the top, as opposed to the SuperTool's pouch which is positioned at the top. This is one of those things where you can't please everyone. I prefer the lower carry, others prefer the higher carry such as on the new sheath. It would be nice if you had the option of a horizontal carry. The Velcro on the body of the sheath where the flap is captured is glued, not sewn, but after wearing it for a few years, it has proven up to the job.

In 2002, the AccuMold sheath was superceded with a conventional envelope style pouch as used on the rest of the line. While functional, it lacks the style and flat back carry of the molded sheath, meaning it isn't quite as stable on your belt. The good news on that it be attached to the belt either vertically or horizontally. That will be a welcome option for many.

Wave Leather pouchThe leather sheath is quite a bit higher quality than previous ones, constructed of rich brown leather with heavy stitching throughout and no rivets. A brass snap secures the flap and has a copper colored brass cover with the Leatherman logo embossed on it. As with most basic snaps, it rattles when unsnapped. "LEATHERMAN WAVE" is stamped in gold on the flap (which will surely wear off in fairly short order). All in all, it's a classy looking set-up.

The two pieces of leather are molded to the Wave which fits snugly in the pouch, at least when new. Early production leather sheaths had a weak snap that wasn't very secure. It came unsnapped regularly at the least provocation. Leatherman has addressed that problem the the latest sheath we evaluated proved just about perfect -- secure, but not so difficult to open that it became a problem. If you have one of the early sheaths and the snap isn't as secure as you'd like, contact Leatherman for a replacement.

The sewn seam is centered, so it doesn't ride as stable as the nylon pouch with its wider, flat back. The sides are cut down, there is 1 3/8 inches (35mm) exposed, making it easy to grip and pull from the sheath. The belt loop on early versions was situated well down on the pouch which results in the pouch riding quite high. On the latest sheaths, this problem has also been fixed and the belt loop is attached a half inch higher. This will lower it on your belt a little and be more comfortable for most users.

While the better quality pouches are welcome, what the Wave really begs for is a quick-draw holster. If it is to truly become the sole carry piece for someone, and it has that potential for many, then it needs a carry method that allows quicker access to complement the one-handed opening blades. Some sort of composite or Kydex snap-out or quick-draw design would be a perfect complement to the Wave.


Pliers My wish list? It's pretty short. The only serious omission is that there is no awl. That's really unfortunate. I'd trade one of the screwdriver blades for a good awl. Locking small tools would also be nice, but at least the new offset design helps in that regard. It would also be nice to be able to use the Leatherman Tool Adapter or some similar adapter that allowed use of hex bits. Hopefully that will come down the line. Of course, we'd like to see double bevel screwdriver blades, but we won't hold our breath.

The lanyard attachment really needs a larger hole. Until Leatherman does something about the weak snap, forget the leather sheath. An upgraded model with a higher quality knife blade would be real nice, as would that quick-draw holster we noted above.

That's it, that's all. By and large Tim and company seem to have done almost everything right. Kudos for a job well done. At this juncture, the Wave is the tool I'll be carrying on my belt for everyday use.

Wave closed
Click photo for Hi-Rez 4-view
The Wave, with its one-handed opening blades, represents the first multi-tool I'd consider as a possible replacement for a folding pocket knife, if you only want to carry a single item, assuming you believe a one-hand opening blade is a must-have feature for a primary carry knife, as we do. The blades are still not as robust as a good utility folder, so they won't replace a sturdy folding knife for serious users or possible survival use, but for most people, for most everyday use, especially in an urban setting, it'll fill the bill nicely. It is not inexpensive, but I don't expect that'll make much difference, it's an excellent value. Leatherman definitely has a winner and can expect to ride the Wave to continued success in the multi-tool market.

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For evaluations of the other multi-tools available, check out "Handy Tools".

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