Leatherman’s Skeletool CX is a compact and lightweight multi-tool built with just a couple of essential tools and features. It’s not no-frills by any means, but I like to consider it a minimalist tool given its size and weight.
The Skeletool CX (and other Skeletools) are great for casual EDC (everyday carry), but I sometimes carry it around when working on small projects around the home and shop. Rather than run back to get pliers, a knife, or multi-bit screwdriver, I just bring the Skeletool along.
I found the Skeletool CX to be well-suited for EDC in laboratory and office environments, where there was little chance I would need a can opener, wood-cutting saw, or multiple flathead screwdrivers.
There are three versions of the Skeletool: the basic model, this CX version, and a new SX version that sports a diamond-coated file.
- Needlenose + “regular” jaw combination pliers
- Hard and soft wire cutters
- 154CM knife blade (partially serrated as-shown, plain edge if you were to buy one today)
- Screwdriver bit holder with 2 double-sided bits
- Bottle opener
- Carabiner clip and pocket/belt clip
- Closed length: 4″
- Weight: 5.0 oz
- Blade length: 2.6″
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When I bought my Skeletool CX five years ago, it was a celebratory treat-myself gift for passing my grad school PhD program qualifying exam. I studied long and hard and showed that 8-hour comprehensive technical examination who’s boss!
I had already owned a lower-priced Skeletool, and was sure I would like the Skeletool CX even more. The difference between the two versions come down to the blade style, stainless steel blade alloy, and metal finish styling.
Yes, the handle insert is made from carbon fiber, but Leatherman’s photos make the Skeletool CX’s carbon fiber look a lot better on-screen than in person.
Aside from that slight initially disappointment with the tool’s looks, the Skeletool CX opened smoothly and performed as well as expected.
Ergonomics and Comfort
Overall, the Skeletool CX is fairly comfortable to hold and use. However, it’s not the type of tool where I would squeeze the handles will all of my might.
As you can see from the 2nd photo, the multi-tool handles are not exactly symmetrical. You can hold the handles comfortably in either way, but I tend to hold them with the screwdriver bit holder side facing my palm.
When holding the pliers too far down, the screwdriver bit tip will poke my palm. If I find this to be an issue, I simply swap the Phillips bit into the bit holder and slotted bit into the spare bit storage cubby.
The Skeletool CX’s pliers are smaller than those found on Leatherman’s Wave (reviewed here) and other full-size tools, but they’re still large and strong enough to be useful. Their low-profile design does come in handy when working in tight spaces.
The soft and hard wire cutters are shear-style cutters, and while they don’t cut larger wires as cleanly as dedicated electrical cutters, they do a passable job.
Leatherman originally equipped the Skeletool with a plain edge blade and Skeletool CX with a combination partially serrated blade as shown here, but switched things around back in 2010.
The knife blade deploys with one-hand via thumbhole, and locks in securely thanks to a liner lock. It can be closed single-handedly as well.
Heavier users prefer plain edge knife blades because they’re easier to sharpen than serrated blades. You can sharpen partially serrated and serrated blades, but it typically involves more work or extra equipment.
Serrated blades, and the serrated portion of partially serrated blades, are better suited for cutting rope, branches, and other fibrous materials. Plain edge blades can typically cut the same materials, just not as quickly. In general, plain edge blades cut cleaner than serrated blades.
My CX’s blade is slightly nicked in a few places, but nothing too severe. Once I dull it down a bit more I’ll tune the blade. Overall, I have been fairly satisfied with Leatherman’s knife quality. Alloy isn’t everything – a good knife steel alloy means nothing without a good shape or good quality grind.
The CX’s knife blade is made from 154CM stainless steel, which is a good quality all-around blade. 154CM steel is moderately corrosion resistant and possesses good edge strength and toughness. Compared to lesser steels, 154CM is easier to sharpen and stays sharper for longer.
Reminder: Newer Skeletool CX multi-tools have a plain edge blade, not partially serrated as shown.
Screwdriver Bit Holder
The good news is that the Skeletool CX has the same type of removable bit holder as Leatherman’s Wave, Charge, and Surge multi-tools, as well as some of their pocket knives. For multiple multi-tool owners, this means that you can use it with all of the same bits and accessories.
Even better – the bit holder has an active spring-loaded locking mechanism, which helps prevent lost bits.
The bad news is that, because of how the Skeletool is designed, it can be awkward to grip the tool when using it as a screwdriver.
On the positive side, because the tool has to be open for you to use the screwdriver bit, you can unfold the handle halfway and then use the tool as you would an L-driver for tasks that require higher torque. I wouldn’t use the tool like this in very high torque applications, but in some cases it keeps me from having to go find a better tool.
Extra Bit Compartment
The Skeletool CX comes with an extra bit that tucks away into a spot within the handle. I believe I heard a complaint or two over the years about lost bits, but I have never experienced this myself. The extra bit fits in very securely but can be easily retrieved with a quick push of a fingertip or nail.
Included with the tool are two double-sided bits – one with Phillips #1 and #2 tips, and one with 1/4″ and 3/16″ slotted tips.
Carabiner, Bottle Opener, Pocket Clip
In theory I like the idea of a carabiner, but in practice I don’t use it very much. Nor have I used the bottle opener function very much, but it falls into the “better to have it…” category, especially since it takes up no added space or weight.
The pocket clip is curved, which I find helps the tool sit unobtrusively in my right pocket. I suppose I could carry the tool in my left pocket, but it really feels as if it were designed strictly for carrying on the right.
You could attach the tool to your belt as well, and despite the clip’s small size, it feels surprisingly secure when carried in this manner. Theoretically, you can then clip something else into the Skeletool’s carabiner.
Carbon Fiber and DLC Coating
Here you can see the carbon fiber handle insert. The Skeletool has an aluminum insert, the Skeletool CX has a carbon fiber insert. It’s an interesting decorative touch nonetheless, but looks nothing like the carbon fiber inserts in Leatherman’s marketing photos.
Parts of the tool sport a DLC (diamond-like coating) finish, which is a hard carbon-based coating often used to improve a tool’s scratch and wear resistance. In this case, the DLC finish appears to be more decorative than functional, but it works to my liking either way.
If I know I might only need compact or medium-duty pliers, a knife, or screwdriver, I reach for either of my Skeletools. I like the Skeletool CX because of its compact size, light weight, and basic-but-sufficient tool and function selection.
The Skeletool CX is currently priced at $57-63. When I purchased mine from Amazon 5 years ago, I paid $61. While it is true you can get more tools and functions for your money with other tools, the Skeletool is about saving weight and bulk.
True, it does not save a lot in regard to both size and weight, but there’s enough of a difference where I would much rather carry a Skeletool clipped to my pocket than a Wave or other full-size tool.
Buy Now(Skeletool CX via Amazon)
Buy Now(Skeletool via Amazon)
More Info(via Leatherman)
The Skeletool CX is not the best choice when:
- I know I will need larger or heavier duty pliers
- I know I will need other tools
- I am unsure whether I will need additional tools or functions or not
- I want to belt-carry a sheathed multi-tool
- My pockets are full of other stuff
For years I carried the smallest Swiss Army knife with blade, file, and scissors. I even clipped off the knife blade on one of these knives, and have carried it onboard commercial aircraft after showing it to the TSA agent.
However, at home, my daily carry is now a Leatherman Squirt Ps4 which has a convenient mix of useful tools (particularly the pliers) and small size. Unfortunately, I’m now on my third Squirt Ps4, because the lever spring on the scissors has snapped twice (though not while actually using the scissors).
There are a couple of TSA-friendly mini multi-tools, but the idea to clip or blunt a knife is a good one.
I have been tempted to pick up a Squirt PS4, but what I really want is an S4 with primary scissors function. I can see why they combined the pliers-based P4 and scissors-based S4 into a single model, but that doesn’t change my regret at not buying an S2 or two when I had the chance. Hearing that the scissors’ lever spring snapped on you twice, I think I can continue holding off on trying the PS4 a while longer.
I’ve had a number of multitools over the years – I liked the leatherman juice line because of its compact size, but I tended to wear them out after a couple years (sloppy hinge on pliers, nicks in blades, bent screwdriver tips, etc). I’ve had a skeletool cx in my right pocket every day for 5 years used under equally abusive conditions and it’s still in great shape, though my flathead bit fell out of its ‘holder’ and got lost years ago. I use the carabiner for my keys, which works well unless I have pants with tiny pockets.
The best part of this tool is the blade – small enough to control like an x-acto knife in a pinch, substantial enough to hack at stuff like a tiny bowie knife. Its easy to sharpen and holds an edge very well. It’s not quite as rustproof as the hard-to-sharpen stainless steel that I’m used to, but as long as you wipe the blade after slicing a lime, you’ll be fine.
I used to use the itty bitty keychain swiss army knives a lot, but I’ve stopped putting them on my keys because the skeletool is so light that I always have it. I also used to use the swisstool a lot when the job was too heavy for the leatherman juice, but the swisstool is too heavy to carry everywhere, so now if the skeletool isn’t enough I get out real tools.
I am a heavy Leatherman user. I have had a wave model for years now. Every now and then something snaps off and its usually the bottle/can opener blade. That blade is terrible as a bottle opener btw. Once I snap off a truly useful tool, I package the tool up with a lame note of apology to the company and they refurbish my tool completely, FREE of Charge. So if you have a worn tool, send it back!
I don’t abuse my Leatherman tools exactly, but use the stuffing out of them on the job in television and at home.
The one pro for the Skeletool that I can see is that the bottle opener actually looks like it will easily open a bottle. The lack of a pair of scissors is the deal breaker for me.
Your review on Leatherman’s Skeletool is somewhat informative while lacking in objectivity. Your personal comments such as not requiring the carabiner or bottle opener is a couple of the important reasons that those of us who actually own one carry this tool. I suggest that you consider the Freestyle as this model seems to be more suitable to one such as yourself. Also your comments on awkwardness on gripping the tool is simply a statement on your personal inability tto use the tool rather than on the tool itself. Those of us that are skilled, appear to have little issue with it shape.
The Freestyle lacks the screwdriver of the Skeletool, which also gives it a shorter grip. It’s too minimal of a multi-tool for my preference.
I am sorry you seem offended at my “lack of skill” in wielding multi-tools.
I have a Skeletool that’s a few years old. The main complaint I have is that the combo blade just won’t hold an edge. I’m not sure if it’s the same kind of steel.
I found that the pocket clip on my (now two year old) CX doesn’t have enough grip to hold the CX in my pants pocket.
That resulted in the CX falling out of my pocket when getting into the car a couple of times. One of those falls damaged the screw driver bit retention clip, which no longer works, and (of course) I lost a bit.
I was also very disappointed to see some (very) small rust spots on the pliers after owning the CX for just a couple of months.
On the plus side, the knife blade has been fine, and taken all the abuse I’ve thrown at it. And I liked the single handed blade deploy and fold away.
However, for the moment I’ve stopped using this as my EDC, and gone back to carrying my 15+year old Swiss Navy knife, whose tools seem better tuned to my EDC needs.
I may send the CX in for repairs, but right now it’s just sitting on a shelf.
I have owned leathermen tools in the past but every time they get stolen !! I use them for everyday use ! I am always working around where I live and these tools have come in handy in getting the jobs done . It’s a tool that’s on my side that is easy to access and goes where I go ! Well did go where I go . That’s why I like the belt case to keep on side and goes where I go to get jobs done if it electricity work , floor work , under house work etc the leather man goes with me and don’t have to worry about forgetting to have certain tools I need if their on my side when needed!!!
So if you’re giving one away it would help replace one of the ones I have lost !! Just like one with tools that are on my side when needed.