Flick your wrist, and the Leatherman FREE P2 butterflies open with a flourish. But this latest multitool provides more than parlor tricks. With it, the brand set out to make the most durable, user-friendly EDC tool ever. And we got our hands on one to test.
I’m not a fan of fidget spinners — waste of money if you ask me. But after using Leatherman’s new FREE multitool (launching this month), I can certainly see some of the appeal.
Just a day after I took it out of the box, I found myself subconsciously flipping it open and snapping it closed, over and over. This is no habit; I have other multis that I’m content to leave restfully in my pocket.
But the FREE is unlike any other multitool I’ve used — certainly unlike any Leatherman. Although it looks like the iconic Leatherman (stainless steel shine and trademark pliers-centric construction), it carries in its guts years of engineering research, testing, and ground-up redesigns.
“Not since the PST have we had such a large introduction of new technology and new learnings that we had to implement in one tool,” Leatherman product manager Jeremy Rodriguez told me on my recent trip to the brand’s headquarters.
I received an advance sample of the P2, one of two plier-based multis in the FREE line that launches this month. I’ve used it for everyday tasks to evaluate its utility. But more importantly, I’ve relearned how to use a Leatherman loaded with new technology.
In short: The Leatherman FREE P2 has all the goodies that fans of past tools like the Wave, Surge, and Charge appreciated. But the addition of magnets, a fancy elastomer spring, and other subtle engineering hits make the FREE easier and more fun to use. Very little of what worked well seems to have been lost in this reinvented multi. Instead, greater efficiency and ease of use accentuate this trusty ol’ EDC.
Leatherman FREE P2
The challenge Leatherman engineers set out to conquer was to improve the usability of the brand’s hallmark tool without changing it so much it lost what made it so popular.
Peter Parker, Leatherman senior product design engineer, told me one of the major guiding design principles stemmed from common customer feedback on warranty claims.
“Someone would send in their tool for a blade replacement or minor repair. And they almost always asked us to fix it, but not mess it up — because they had the tool broken in just the way they like it.”
Often, he said, that meant the opening action was smooth and easy. But it turned out that making a Leatherman that works out of the box like a well broken-in tool required a near-total rebuild.
“The only part [the FREE] shares with anything else is the wire-cutting inserts for the jaw and the jaw rivet,” said design engineer Adam Lazenby. “The moral of the story is that this tool has the most original content since the very first Leatherman tool.”
While Leatherman’s Advance Development Team spent years re-engineering the FREE, including big investments into automotive-grade machining processes, two key construction differences will stand out for the common user (like myself): magnets and an elastomer spring.
The introduction of magnets makes possible the FREE’s sexy selling points. For one, it enables one-handed-open action. But the magnets also enabled a new way to access all the component tools. Instead of the “nail-busting” technique everyone is accustomed to, the FREE fans out its tools with a gentler thumb roll.
And while customers will likely never lay eyes on the elastomer spring inside the pliers, it should vastly improve the lifetime of the tool. According to the brand, the new spring survived over 1 million openings and closings without wearing out, far exceeding the tens of thousands the old spring did.
That’s all well and good. But how does it feel to use? Read on!
Leatherman FREE P2 Review
As I noted above, the FREE carries with it a novelty that’s hard to resist playing with. While it’s not as dramatic (or menacing) as a butterfly knife, the one-handed action is unlike any other multi I’ve used.
Those who follow Leatherman likely know the OHT also touted one-handed action. But that tool works on a different principle — with slide-out pliers and mechanical locking implements. And, as the Leatherman team told me, its utility suffered some for those working with gloves on.
Opening the FREE is easy but takes a few practice flicks. First, break the magnetic bond with your fingertips, separating the handles slightly. Then, while holding one (stationary) handle in your palm, flick your wrist. The other (free) handle should swing around, opening the tool about 80 percent. Next, lock the FREE into the fully open position by grabbing the free handle with your fingers and holding the stationary handle with your thumb. A pair of clicks signal the FREE is open, locked, and ready for business.
Those clicks are another novel construction element in this tool. The brand calls them “epic haptics,” and they serve as cues to the user that the FREE is properly open or closed.
Once the initial playtime is over, however, it’s time to get at the tools. Unlike almost all of Leatherman’s other pliers-based multis, all tools on the FREE are accessed externally. I prefer this mode, as it simplifies navigating the tool during use.
This is also where the magnets serve their second purpose. While I appreciate the one-handed opening, I’m more impressed by the ease of accessing the FREE P2’s tools. Instead of picking at metal tabs with a fingernail, the FREE’s magnets allow — in fact, require — the user to roll their thumb or fingertip over the tabs to fan out the tools.
It’s surprisingly consistent but takes a little pressure. Once out, you can select and lock the tool you want and set the rest back. It’s a small extra step, but anyone who has cracked off a fingernail the old way will appreciate it.
Leatherman FREE P2 Use Notes
When put to work, the FREE works like the Leathermans of old. A 420HC serrated/plain combo knife cuts swiftly. Phillips and flathead implements drive screws as expected. The FREE P2 I tested also sports mainstays like a can and bottle opener, metal file, awl, scissors, and mini pry bar.
Everything I’ve tried works as advertised. And many of these tools have been a part of the Leatherman tool family for decades, so they ought to work well.
There are a few things worth noting on the FREE that users may or may not like. For starters, the pliers are not spring-action, so you will open and close them manually as needed. I prefer spring-action pliers, but this isn’t a deal-breaker.
Next, because of the magnetic closure system, the FREE will not lock a single handle only. This is most noteworthy in use cases with the screwdrivers. In past tools, with a driver extended, users could lock open the opposite handle. This effectively made one long screwdriver. Users can still work with the FREE in this orientation while holding the tool, but it won’t lock that way.
Finally, let’s talk magnets. Leatherman’s team worked extensively to ensure the safety of the magnets, with respect to pacemakers or unexpected “attractions.” In short, the team said they dialed in the magnets to be just powerful enough to execute the tool’s needs alone, and not strong enough to interfere with the world around it.
During my test in the GearJunkie garage — a wonderland of scattered tools and metal devices — I never experienced interference with other ferromagnetic objects. Likewise, while carrying the FREE in a pocket near my phone, I saw no ill effects.
Lazenby did tell me that there was one unexpected benefit in certain instances. When working around metal shavings, an open tool will collect shavings near the base of the handle. According to Lazenby, this proved fortunate, as it drew shavings away from the implements’ pivot points and made them easier to dispose of. I have not tested this, however.
Leatherman FREE Buying Tips
The Leatherman FREE P2 I tested retails for $120, on par with the brand’s other multis like the Signal and Surge. It officially contains 18 tools, listed below, and weighs 7.8 ounces — about 10 percent lighter than the Wave, according to Leatherman.
- Needlenose pliers
- Regular pliers
- Wire cutter
- Hard wire cutter
- Electrical crimper
- 420HC combo knife (2.78″)
- Wood/Metal file
- Large flathead screwdriver
- Medium flathead screwdriver
- Small flathead screwdriver
- Can opener
- Bottle opener
- Phillips screwdriver
- Mini pry bar
- Wire stripper
- Pocket clip
In addition, the brand will launch a more robust multi — the P4 — and pocket knives in the FREE series. All Leatherman FREE tools will be available for purchase later this month.
If you’re looking for a user-friendly EDC, the FREE P2 is a great option. It’s by no means a beginner tool, but its ease of use may attract those with an eye toward DIY who expect to grow into it. For other Leatherman faithful, it may prove the most innovative tool since Tim Leatherman’s first PST.