Every so often a reader emails in, asking for multi-tool recommendations.
Best multi-tool under $75?
Best multi-tool to give as a groomsmen gift?
Favorite and most-recommendable multi-tool?
The answer: Leatherman Wave.
The Wave is considered a full-size tool, similar to the Rebar and Sidekick multi-tools I previously reviewed. It measures just 4″ closed, which makes it a compact companion for tradesmen, hikers, office workers, hobbyists, DIYers, technicians, and all sorts of professional users alike.
- Stainless steel handles
- Pliers with needlenose tips and “regular” jaw section
- Soft and hard wire cutters
- Plain edge and serrated knife blades (420HC stainless steel)
- Wood-cutting saw
- Wood/metal file and diamond-coated file
- Large screwdriver bit driver with double-sided bit
- Small (eyeglass screw-sized) screwdriver bit driver with double-sided bit
- Medium slotted screwdriver
- Ruler (along the handles)
- Bottle and can opener
- Wire stripper
- Sheath options: leather, nylon, leather/nylon combination
The two knife blades, saw blade, and combination file can all be deployed and used without having to first open the handles or unfold the pliers. All four of these outside-tools lock into position via liner lock. The two knife blades open with one hand by means of a thumbhole, the saw and file require two hands.
- Length (closed): 4″
- Weight: 8.5 oz (241 g)
- Blade length: 2.9″
If you’re looking for something else, check out our other Multi-Tool Reviews
I purchased this multi-tool over 6 years ago from Amazon, for $58.50. At the time I purchased 3 additional Waves and had them engraved for my best man and groomsmen. The flat brushed stainless steel handle takes engravings very well. My only regret was not having mine engraved with my wedding date as well.
Honestly, I don’t recall what my first impression of the Wave was like. But I do know that two weeks after I received it I purchased three Charge ALX gift sets – one each for my father and father-in-law, and one for myself.
Prior to buying the Wave, I had been using a Gerber Butterfly. The Butterfly isn’t a bad multi-tool, but it doesn’t come close to the Wave in terms of versatility or quality.
Pliers and Wire Cutters
The pliers have needlenose tips with fine teeth, and a large-opening midsection with coarse teeth. They’re not spectacular, but they’re handy.
Don’t let the stains scare you – the pliers and other tools are actually fairly easy to clean. What happened is I used the pliers on a couple of green tree branches, but forgot to clean the jaws before I packed the pliers away. I rotated to another multi-tool and let the Wave sit for a while. Or at least that’s what I think happened. It doesn’t really bother me, so I’ll leave things as-is.
A little triangle points to the hard wire cutter so that you don’t ruin the soft wire cutting blades. The wire cutter blades are formed such that opposite sides cross each other in a scissors-like manner. They don’t cut wires very cleanly, but they get the job done.
Overall, I have been quite pleased with the pliers and wire cutter. I can’t say I have used the hard wire cutter very much.
The plain edge knife blade is still fairly sharp. I lightly honed the edge a couple of times, but can still see the original grind marks.
When I first bought the Wave, I didn’t know what to think about the knife blade’s 420HC stainless steel alloy. Nor did I care.
Leatherman uses 154CM on the higher-priced Charge ALX and S30V on the even more premium Charge TTi. 420HC is said to be harder than plain-Jane 420 stainless steel, thanks to its higher carbon content.
In the end, the knife blade holds an edge well, and is easily sharpened if or when needed.
Now, more than 6 years later, I care very much about steel alloys when purchasing new folding pocket knives or fixed blade knives. Would I buy a pocket knife with a blade made from 420HC stainless steel? Probably not. Would I buy another Leatherman multi-tool with knife blades made from this steel? Absolutely.
I find the serrated blade to be less useful than the plain edge blade, but it comes in handy for cutting rope, cloth, and similar materials.
Both knives are quick and easy to deploy single-handed. They can be folded out and used without having to first open the tool. This is important because it means less fumbling and quicker operation.
The liner locks feel very secure and allow for one-handed closing.
When I first started using the Wave, I didn’t like how both the plain edge blade and serrated blade can be deployed from the same spot on opposite sides of the tool. Flip the tool around, and the knife blades are both in perfect spots for one-handed thumb-deployment.
But… I eventually realized that the serrated blade has a few bumps at the top of its spine. Thus, once you’re more familiar with the tool, you can differentiate between plain edge and serrated blades by sight or feel.
The saw blade is nicely designed – for a multi-tool saw – although it can be hard to deploy if you have short fingernails. A thumbhole would be better, but out of place given the Wave’s design.
There are still some bits of sawdust stuck in the teeth. Maybe I cut a green tree branch halfway and then used the pliers to snap it… that could potentially explain why the pliers’ jaws are stained.
In theory the saw blade can be sharpened, but if you plan to use the saw frequently, the newest Leatherman Surge might be a more suitable multi-tool, as it features a universal T-shank blade holder.
Wood/Metal & Diamond Files
I can’t say I have ever used the files on any of my multi-tools very much, but it’s better to have and not need them, than to need and not have them.
Both sides of the file are well made. The fine-grit diamond file seems more useful for field sharpening tasks, and the wood/metal file more useful for fine filework, smoothing, beveling, and minor construction tweaks. It’s not a nail file.
Every single tool, other than the two knives, saw, and file, lock into place when fully folded out. They can be unlocked by squeezing a spring-loaded lever.
Screwdriver Bit Holder, Can/Bottle Opener, Wire Stripper
The screwdriver bit holder comes with a single double-sided bit with #1 and #2 combination Phillips and 3/16″ slotted tips. The bit holder is designed to hold low-profile 1/4″ hex bits. If you want to use other screwdriver bit sizes or styles, you can buy a bit assortment ($13 via Amazon) or 1/4″ adapter extension ($10 via Amazon).
I am actually quite fond of the removable bit holder. I have a complete bit assortment and 2 additional bit cards that came with other Leatherman multi-tools, and they have come in handy over the years. If I need a screwdriver bit style that Leatherman doesn’t offer, I pull out my 1/4″ adapter/extension and use it with standard 1″ insert bits. The extension can also be used with Leatherman’s low-profile bits.
The sheath that comes with the Wave has an elastic compartment that some people miss. You can fit a bit card in there with negligible added weight or bulk.
The can opener is another function that I rarely use, but the bottle opener comes in handy from time to time. If you look closely, there is a V-notch built into the can/bottle opener. Leatherman calls this a wire stripper, but I like to consider it a last resort wire stripper. It works, but for the size of wire I typically work with, using the scissors would probably yield better results.
Scissors, Flat Screwdriver, Mini Screwdriver Bit Holder
The scissors are unremarkable, but work reasonably well. Compared to the scissors on my first Gerber, they’re a dream to use.
The medium (or is it large?) slotted screwdriver is great for opening compartments designed for coins. I use it for light prying tasks as well, and it gets the job done. In the photo the corner looks damaged, but it’s not, it’s just a bit shiny. Okay, maybe I damaged it a little bit.
I only ever used the mini screwdriver two, maybe three times. Don’t be afraid of breaking it – replacements are available as part of a bit kit ($7.20 via Amazon). There is even a slot in the bit kit card holder, so you can carry a replacement with you.
I don’t recall if I ever used the Wave’s ruler or not, but in the past 6+ years I used the ruler on all my Leatherman tools maybe two or three times combined. Still, it’s good to have and takes up zero added space.
This is the sheath that came with my tool, but is not the one that is currently bundled with the Wave. It has two side pockets, a rear slot that fits a bit card, a belt loop, and button closure. It can carry the Wave closed, or open with the pliers down.
If you purchase a Wave now, there are two sheath options, depending on which bundle you purchase.
The ballistic nylon sheath has 3 accessory pockets and slots, but the new leather sheath only has a single side pocket. It does not look like you can carry the Wave with pliers open with the new leather sheath.
If you’re not happy with the sheath your Wave comes with, you can always order Leatherman’s universal sheath ($11 via Amazon), a Maxpedition sheath ($18 via Amazon), or a Skinth Shield. I have good experience with all of these sheath styles.
There’s a secret built-in lanyard loop that a lot of people seem to miss. I suppose it could come in handy, but I have never used it.
Belt Clip and Lanyard Loop (Optional Accessories)
The belt clip and lanyard ring accessory pack is fairly inexpensive – $5.50 via Amazon. Although I prefer to carry my Wave in a sheath, I do use the optional mounting accessories on occasion. Both accessories lock in with the tool lock, and don’t impede the use of any of the tools or functions.
The Wave is a little larger and heavier than I like to clip to my pocket, but it’s not grossly uncomfortable. The clip is large enough to fit standard sized belts as well.
The optional lanyard ring is much sturdier than the built-in one. You can use it with paracord, beefy keyrings, a small carabiner, or other such accessories.
As with the belt clip, the ring can be quickly released with a squeeze of the locking lever and quick pull of the accessory.
Bit Card (Optional Accessory)
If you think you might want to use other bit styles, a 40-bit assortment is widely available ($13 via Amazon). It slides easily into my leather, nylon, and 3rd party sheaths, but might not fit into the current Wave leather sheath. My bit kit cost a bit more than $13, and came with a small nylon sheath I never used.
There is a lot I like about the Wave, and little that I don’t. It is a very well designed mid-range multi-tool that packs a lot of functionality into a compact and unencumbering size.
The pliers, outer tools, inner tools, and blades open easily and cleanly with zero bunching up. I do wish the pliers’ cutters had replaceable blade inserts, but this feature seems to be reserved for Leatherman’s heavier duty tools.
- Rigid and strong
- All tools and functions are well designed and well made
- Best combination of tools and functions for most users
- Pivots are all fluid, nothing binds or catches
- Fine-tuning of pivot points is possible with security Torx bit
- The backs of the knife blades stick out a little bit and can be uncomfortable when tightly squeezing the tool while using inner tools (this is very rarely an issue)
Buy Now(w/ leather sheath via Amazon)
Buy Now(w/ nylon sheath via Amazon)
Buy Now(black oxide finish via Amazon)
Buy Now(w/ 6-bit combo set via Amazon)
More Info(via Leatherman)
If I could only keep one of my multi-tools, this Wave would be it.
I’m looking at my wave and I don’t see the secret lanyard loop. I didn’t know about he accessories. I will check them out.
See, I told you it was a secret. =)
Fold out the saw blade and look inside the saw’s now-empty handle compartment. There is a little piece of metal hugging the inside wall. Find a small flat tool and try to push the small lanyard loop out the end of the tool.
I have yet to figure out a way to deploy the small lanyard loop without using some kind of assisting accessory.
I see it now. I was looking at the wrong side.
You need a Letherman to get it out.
I carry a LM skeletool on my hip and a LM Micra on my keychain. I’d say I use the scissors on my micra way more than anything else. The ability to cut zipties alone has made the micra a MUST carry for me. Do you know of any other, larger-than-a-micra, leatherman or letherman type tools that have the heavy duty (but also very precision) scissors like the micra?
I could recommend the Gerber Shortcut, but it seems to have been discontinued and replaced with the “Splice.”
I am very fond of my Leatherman Style CS and prefer this type of design to the Micra’s. But it’s still a keychain-sized tool though.
The Leatherman Squirt S4 is larger and seemingly beefier than the Micra, but was replaced by the PS4 sometime after the Style CS came to market.
I don’t know of anything else that is larger and with scissors as the main tool.
I’ve owned both styles of the wave.
I can say that from my experience. If you have no use for the changeable bits, the older style was better.
I found this out when I returned my original wave for repair and they sent me a new style wave. I do not understand why they didn’t retain the old style and offer the new style as a wave2 or some such nomenclature.
The intermediate common drivers in the original are not retained and those I used quite a lot.
The locks on the newer style are nice but add to the heft and make it more bulky.
I ended up buying a lot of 3 old style waves on eBay . I have lost a couple and the one I am carrying now has a broken blade.
I have since learned that if you have a preference, leatherman will repair your old wave instead of sending you a new style tool.
I carry mine every day and i haven’t sent mine back because of this.
I would concur that the wave is the best bang for your buck.
I still wonder why they don’t offer the changeable bits in stainless as these will rust when exposed to corrosive environments.
I have a short video on my website that shows how to extend the hidden lanyard ring.
This tool with nylon sheath is down to $48 on amazon right now. 8/23/13
Thanks a great deal, thanks for the heads-up!
Your welcome 🙂
The wave is the one men,and women too, straight off the bat I cut my finger inspecting the saraded blade.so sharp brand new. A friend got the wave too ,arfter me braging and flashing it around,and did same thing I did. I havernt needed to sharping it,bit of crc wipe off.be lost without my wave,
Good review, I have a Leatherman wave and always use it and I couldn’t manage now without it, when you have one for a while you really see the advantages of it, whether it for work or general use, I think the Leatherman wave multitool has all you need to get those jobs done and you also have the choice of some nice Leatherman accessories
I just want to ask, is this leatherman wave made in USA or China?
I believe that the Wave is largely made in the USA. Leatherman manufactures their tools in the USA, but some parts or components might be sourced from elsewhere.
Enjoyed your comments and review of the Leatherman wave, Could you do a review on the Leatherman 300 and 300 EOD , Have you done one elsewhere, many thanks Richard.
Thanks! I own a Super Tool 300, and it’s on my list of things to review when I have the chance. Here’s a mini review in the meantime:
Pros: user-serviceable wire cutter blades that do a better job that simpler forged blades, large heavy duty pliers.
Cons: somewhat larger size, although the Rebar (https://toolguyd.com/leatherman-rebar-review/) is essentially a mini Super Tool 300, and because of how the tool is designed, the knife and other tools can only be used when the tool is fully opened.
When I think I might need heavier duty pliers or wire cutters, I leave the Wave home and bring my Super Tool 300. It’s a great multi-tool, but not for everyone due to the tools all being internally accessible.
The review is great and very informative. You provide me with info even the leather man web site does not have. Not thing on the LM web site said the the given in the box bit head are double sided or what size is it or does the holder fit other bit other than LM (probably for sale related reasons), I know it would be double side but I hate assumption here and there or expecting things and it didn’t deliver. My dad is a big fan of LM so I’ve been toying with it since I was 12. I’ve never see the use of multi tools until I have to live on my own and had to do some home repairs. Well Thanks for the review, now I know what am I getting. Cheers!!!
I am using wave from many yers, its excellent multi tool.
I collect tools specially european make.
My spring loaded pliers are not spring lose anymore. Anyone know the fix?
I know this is an old review, but my friend bought one because he lost his Super Tool. We were using it camping a few weeks ago and the knife blade is horrible. It’s really hard to tell which edge is the cutting edge at a glance. The top of the blade isn’t differentiated enough from the bottom.
Yes, it would be stupid to have the blade facing inward, but when you glance at it, it really looks like a cutting edge.
I’m glad I never dropped the cash on one.
I bought a leatherman from a friend of mine about 18 years ago and I loved it! It was a wave. Since then I have had 9 all together, I will never carry anything else! Nor will my wife! Thank you for building such an amazing and durable knife!