Leatherman Charge ALX Review

Having owned both Victorinox (and Wenger) and Leatherman multitools, my vote goes to the often imitated American staple. Here are my reasons:

My Story (of no real significance to review)

I have been a fan of Wenger and later Victorinox swiss army knives for the longest time. I've gone from a preference for thin and simple to fully decked out functions and back again. I've lost, given out as gifts, sold, and worn out multiple knives (not exactly easy to do to with authentic knives). It was not until the first year after my undergrads, when i was cash strapped and looking for ways to reduce everything i own and need into a backpack, that i sold my swiss army knives and looked into the a single Leatherman alternative. The idea was to get ride of my pliers and clutter of bit drivers. Satisfied with an online deal, i bit my tongue and betrayed my long time Swiss favorite for the American work horse. And, i never looked back.


(logo and prototype graphics pulled from Leatherman's official site www.leatherman.com)

History/Brand (of little significance to review)

Leatherman's history is that of the quintessential American success story. A young American mechanical engineer, dissatisfied with the tools at hand, slaves away for close to a decade and designs a revolutionary tool that was neglected at first, but with the help of another young visionary, sees the light of day and becomes an instant classic. This ~30 year-old tool that bears the creator's (awesome) name is now one of the most often imitated multi tools.

Technical Summary

Tools:
  • 154CM stainless steel clip point knife
  • 420HC sheepsfoot serrated knife with cutting hook
  • Needlenose pliers + regular pliers
  • Wire cutters + hard-wire cutters
  • Wire stripper + wire crimper
  • Two large bit drivers + small bit driver
  • Includes hex, Philips, and flat bits
  • Wood/metal file + diamond-coated file
  • Wood saw
  • Bottle opener + can opener
  • 8 inch | 20 cm Ruler
Features:
  • Stainless steel body and 6061-T6 hard-anodized aluminum handle
  • Outside-accessible blades
  • All locking blades and tools
  • Fixed and quick-release lanyard rings
  • Removable pocket clip
  • 25-year warranty
Dimensions - 4 inches or 10 cm (closed), + 2.9 inches or 7.37 cm (blade length)
Weight - 8.3 oz or 235 g

Impression/Construction:

Solid. There's no other word for it. I've handled Leatherman-like tools before but none matches the original in quality and make. The ALX especially has a heft to it that, coupled little to no wiggle room in ALL the tool's joints, impressed my initial some what skeptical eye.

The ALX, when closed, stays solidly closed. A strong shake will open it only if held on to the tip. The trademark pliers is the place second place where the full-sized tool makes an impression. When folding out, the motion's smooth until a third of the way open, then the bite increases until the pliers are fully engaged and clipped in. The extra effort required in closing the pliers prevents accidental closure and actually makes the tool feel like full-fledged single function pliers. The scratches on mine is a testament to how much they are used and relied on.

Operation:

The detail in the threading of the plier joints are seen in all aspects of ALX's function. All tools lock, which, in addition to safety, makes the wood saw actually usable and the can opener more efficient than the gear-twisting contraption i got in the kitchen (and threw out). The can opener, two larger bit drivers, and thin drivers lock with a spring hinge on the outer face of the tool. There's no give at all when locked in.

The bit drivers are surprisingly useful. With the extra bit kit from leatherman, i basically rely on the ALX as my sole driver. It was enough for taking apart and putting back together Ikea and other furniture when moving. But, the flat hex design of the bits means that the bite are reduced for larger diameters. Though it hasn't slipped on me yet, the larger bits seem to wear faster and i do take extra care in not giving it the chance slip. Note of caution, the thin drivers will snap and shouldn't be used to pry (i was dumb). I also kept one arm of the ALX extended in an "L" shape to increase the torque on the driver, which probably isn't smart and will prematurely wear out the plier joint... But so far the joints are as good as new.

The knives, saw, and file also locks and locks in the same way, with a spring loaded insert that jams when the tools fully opens. Again there are no give at all when locked in. The lock is sturdy and out of the way enough to present no risk to accidental opening even when using the wood saw heavily on a 3 inch thick branch. When closed, all knives, saw, and file stay closed snugly through a fit between a bump on the lock and an indent on the blades. I was worried that this might be the first place to wear out but after a good solid year of use the snap is still crisp.

The blades can be opened and closed single handidly quite easily assuming the right hand is used. Even wit gloves (fitted ones) opening and closing is smooth. The less used saw and file will require picking at the tool's ends to open, but can be done easily enough.

A safety feature built into blades utilizes the handle/thumb holes for opening the blades to stop the blades from opening when the ALX's arms are opened to engage the pliers. A small notch slides out into the thumb opening when the ALX handle is half opened. A very neat detail that should be kept in mind when trying to engage all the multi-tool's functions for a photo (or just playing around), because of the possibility of jamming the sides of the blades.

I'm not an expert on knives in any respect, all i can say is that the ALX blades has served its purpose for me. I've used it to skin fish, cut hard cardboard (extensively), and shave soft wood, and only needed to sharpen it a handful of times in the past year. I do though, minimize the use of the serrated blade (the file less so, i've already wore though the edge of the diamond file through rather abusive uses...). Leatherman did a survey of its registered customers some time back, hinting at the possibility of replaceable blades in exchange for length... I'm still on the wall about this possible function.

Summary:

There are a couple of give and takes to be considered. For one thing, the Charge series of full sized Leathermans are quite heavy, so though it comes fully loaded, it's not exactly the everyday pocket tool. The removable belt clip is a plus in this regard, but i don't see how the built in or quick release lanyard ring can be practical due to the weight. The bit drivers hold the bits very well and the 2 drivers (instead of one driver and a tiny scissors on the Charge AL) means that for the most part i wouldn't have to carry the extra bit kit with me. The downside with the drivers is that the bits themselves are lacking in durability. The last thing is the grip. Though the edges of the handle are all rounded and the black anodized finish provides a good grip even with sweaty hands, i find that using the wood saw, pliers, and drivers heavily somewhat uncomfortable after a while if i was not using gloves. The back of the knives especially dig into hand. I'm sure the grip is already a huge improvement over younger models and really is a well made sacrifice for functionality. Overall the Charge ALX is one the best tools i've ever owned.

Shameless plug for my <<<eBay auctions selling the ALX>>> among other gear. Please take a look if interested in purchasing one.

And, here's the link to my adventure taking the Leatherman apart

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