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A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman? 800

Newbie Posts: 19
A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« on: January 06, 2019, 07:31:25 PM »
A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?

Tim Leatherman deserves all the credit for creating a new category of tool back in the 1980s. If it was not for his insight, creativity and persistence, the world would not have the ubiquitous tool bearing his name.

Everyone familiar with the brand knows how Tim was inspired to design a pocketknife that contained pliers while touring overseas with his wife in the mid-70’s and attempting to use a scout pocketknife to repair a malfunctioning Fiat and leaky hotel plumbing. But there’s an interesting back-story to the early-days of Leatherman’s success that’s maybe not as well known.

Tim’s original plan was to build a prototype, patent it, and sell it to a knife manufacturer for a million dollars. He never intended to create his own company. Tim liked to do things himself (remember the hotel plumbing?), and along with building the prototype in his brother-in-law’s garage (aptly named 'Mr Crunch'), he even started to author his original patent claim, before contracting a patent attorney.

Patent US4238862 was granted to Tim in 1980. Many people believe this patent, stamped on the side of the original Leatherman tool, relates to Tim’s concept of having a pair of pliers with folding handles. Unfortunately, Tim was unsuccessful in patenting this idea, as the patent office said that scissors, which fell under the same hand tool classification, already existed with folding handles. However, the patent office agreed to cover his unique clamping feature and the combination of two kinds of pliers connected by pivots.

Maybe young and naïve, Tim’s efforts to sell his “knife with pliers” to various knife manufacturers all failed. It took eight years of effort to get his first deal, 500 units from the mail order catalog company, Cabela, but only after deciding to manufacture the product himself (partnering with his friend Steve Berliner, who’s dad had a metal-fabrication business), and after the first catalog company they approached, Early Winters, suggested they simplify the design to reduce the price-point by ditching the complex interlocking twin plier heads and the costly scissors.

Following that first order from Cabela in May 1983, Tim and Steve agreed to formalize their business. Steve insisted the company should be named after Tim, and so the Leatherman Tool Group was registered in July of the same year. Tim moved his equipment from the garage to Steve’s dad’s factory, subcontracting a few of the staff to start production. Probably tired of being seen for years as a one-man-show, Steve and Tim chose the name “Leatherman Tool Group” to make themselves sound bigger than they were. Ten’s of millions of tools later, it probably was a wise choice.

But what about that original patent? It only appeared on Leatherman’s tool for the first couple of years of production. Leatherman filed for a registered trademark of the word “LEATHERMAN” in 1984, granted in 1985. Unlike patents, active trademarks do not expire. However, Leatherman has had a tough time defending against companies copying their designs. And while his original 1980’s patent has expired, in 1999 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that competitors can "faithfully copy" Leatherman's all-in-one pocket tool without violating his trademark. Looking back, Leatherman admits that he should have originally tried for a design patent. However, the tool that launched the company had already evolved beyond the original patent, and alternative patents would have expired.

But there is an alternative folding design. Possibly a better design, and one that Leatherman themselves adopted with the launch of the Wave in 1998. This design, patented by Bear MGC Cutlery in 1996, describes a folding multi-tool with tools that can be deployed while the tool remains closed. And when opened to use the pliers, the channel-shaped handles face inwards, with rounded edges for greater comfort. The multi-tool listed in Patent US5697114 looks near-identical to the original Leatherman, except for the handles that are rotated to face outwards. The Bear Jaws 155 (with "patent pending" stamped on the handle) was recognized by Blade Magazine in 1995 as the most innovative new multi-tool on the market. I’m sure that Tim Leatherman must have said “why did I not think of that!” when he first saw the Bear Jaws tool.

Contrary to most references on the Internet, Victorinox did not buy Bear MGC to acquire the patent for outside-opening blades, first used by Victorinox on their 1997 Swisstool. It was Victorinox's US Distributor, Swiss Army Brands, Inc. ("SABI"), that acquired Bear MGC Cutlery, Inc. in April 1999 for $7m. However, the purchase excluded certain patent rights, which were made available under license to SABI.

According to Ken Griffey from Bear MGC Cutlery, when SABI brought the European-designed Swisstool to the US, he decided to sell his business to SABI rather than enter into a long and costly patent infringement case with a large US company. There’s also no truth to the account that Victorinox acquired Bear MGC for their multi-tool expertise. Ken was quoted as saying "The Swiss executives came down to see the factory exactly once. They never came back."

Ken Griffey stayed on to run Bear MGC on the back of a multi-year performance incentive. However, a year after Victorinox acquired all the outstanding shares of SABI in 2003 (taking full ownership), they sold Bear MGC back to Ken, who renamed it Bear & Son Cutlery. The company continues to manufacture, and even rebrand, the original Bear Jaws range of outside-opening blade multi-tools. Although the 20-year old designs are now a little dated.

Did Tim Leatherman recognize the Bear Jaws as a better tool, ahead of its time? Two things may point to this suggestion. Firstly, the new and ever-expanding range of Leatherman tools adopting the outside-opening blade design since 1998. And secondly, if you look again at the Bear MGC patent from 1996, the current assignee is non-other than Leatherman Tool Group Inc.


Sr. Member Posts: 347
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2019, 09:08:43 PM »
wow that was a great read, thanks so much

If you do things right, people wont be sure you've done anything at all. -Unknown Author
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 5,711 Man of Multiple MultiTool Manufacturers
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2019, 09:59:04 PM »
Thank you for the post, Max! I had always avoided the claim than Vic bought Bear for the patent, because the dates did not work for such a purpose. Your information if much appreciated. :)

Bear really did change the MT game with the Jaws series though. They aren't refined and fluffy with extras, but they are rock solid and reliable. The poor tolerances have the benefit of functioning for eons without a cleaning, while Vic's designs require careful use to not expose it to metal dust and dirt(since it'll lock up rather quickly).
The SwissTool is a better tool for most people, but the Bear Jaws is what you want in a messy/dirty work environment. :)


Main collections: SOG, Gerber, Leatherman, Victorinox. Also lots of cheap & cheerful tools.
Newbie Posts: 19
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2019, 10:22:34 PM »
Thanks for the feedback and additional info. I enjoyed doing the research!

I have a ‘95 BJ so can attest to the robustness and relaxed tolerances. May just do a review one day and a comparison to my PST and Rebar. I definitely have a preference for the ‘classic’ styles...

Cheers, Max
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 5,711 Man of Multiple MultiTool Manufacturers
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2019, 10:51:32 PM »
 :cheers:
Will definitely be looking forward to a review of an early Bear Jaws. Thank you again for doing the leg-work, Max!

I have a soft spot for Bear Knives and MTs, as they are produced in my home state. But, that said, I can objectively look at them and am aware of where Bear needs to improve. Mainly, the locking system on the 'L' locking tools. They need to grind the lock lever tang bump down to where it is about flush with the handles. And for goodness sakes, Bear, lets get the QC tightened up. :ahhh

Main collections: SOG, Gerber, Leatherman, Victorinox. Also lots of cheap & cheerful tools.
Sr. Member Posts: 411 Another day, a whole 'nother set of possibilities
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2019, 03:44:54 AM »
Awesome thread! I love history, especially knife making history!

"Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"
Global Moderator Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here... Posts: 48,832
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2019, 04:18:54 AM »
Awesome thread! I love history, especially knife making history!

 :iagree: :like:
No Life Club Posts: 2,837
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2019, 08:12:57 AM »
I agree with the agreement :D

Awesome story, well summarised :tu:

Cheers!
Dutch_Tooler

Location: Southern Germany, most of the time
No Life Club Posts: 1,077
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #8 on: January 09, 2019, 12:10:12 PM »
 :like:
Thread Killer 2017 Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 5,107 Born to multitask.
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #9 on: January 09, 2019, 03:12:52 PM »
 :hatsoff:
Great read

Has the Bear patent expired? Maybe LM could release a PST with reverse handles.
Newbie Posts: 19
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2019, 10:56:03 PM »
Probably 14 years, so expired 2010. Outside opening PST sure would be cool! There are some design limitations that I’ll cover in my review. Will try to get it out by the weekend...been busy modding the lock tab hinges on my Rebar...
Cheers, Max
Newbie Posts: 19
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2019, 06:16:05 AM »
:cheers:
Will definitely be looking forward to a review of an early Bear Jaws. Thank you again for doing the leg-work, Max!

I have a soft spot for Bear Knives and MTs, as they are produced in my home state. But, that said, I can objectively look at them and am aware of where Bear needs to improve. Mainly, the locking system on the 'L' locking tools. They need to grind the lock lever tang bump down to where it is about flush with the handles. And for goodness sakes, Bear, lets get the QC tightened up. :ahhh

So this is not a Leatherman review, but I know there are people on this forum that collect multi-tools, and the Bear Jaws is a historically-relevant first-generation multi-tool that deserves a closer look.

It’s a bit of a ramble and 2,000 words, so I’m going to release this review in 3 sections to also add some pictures.

Bear Jaws 155 Review (part 1 of 3)

Bear MGC Cutlery started in 1991, when former employee Ken Griffey bought the Parker Edwards facility in Jacksonville, Alabama, that was scheduled for closure. He sold the business to Swiss Army Brands in 1999, staying on to manage it. Ken bought it back in 2004 after Victorinox took over Swiss Army Brands, running it with his son, Matt, as Bear & Son Cutlery.

In 1995, and prior to the Swiss Army Brands acquisition, Bear introduced the Bear Jaws 155, a multi-tool with outside opening tools. Nothing we would not recognize today, but quite revolutionary for a multi-tool in the mid-90s. So much so that it was nominated as the most innovative new multi-tool on the market by Blade Magazine in 1995, and Bear MGC was awarded a patent for it in 1996.

At the time, Leatherman was ripping-up the multi-tool market with million-plus unit sales across only three models. The original Leatherman PST was the industry benchmark, to the point where Leatherman had successfully taken on over a dozen competitors legally for copying their design.

With their own patent, Bear MGC had a little more room to go head-to-head with Leatherman’s market-leader. Visually, the 155 mirrors many elements of the PST. It was the same 4” length with polished, straight-sided stainless channel handles, near identical pliers and near identical plain-edged blade.

But the significant design difference of reversing the C-channel handles gives the 155 a much more comfortable grip when using the pliers, a clear advantage over the PST. In fact, this feature alone kills the PST dead in any hands-on comparison. The 155 is a good example of coming late to market with a better design, but hopelessly behind the sales and marketing momentum of the market leader. Bear MGC was successful in rebranding the 155 for several companies, including Crescent, Sears and LL Bean, but they were never a threat to Leatherman’s market dominance.

Bear MGC added a locking mechanism to the 155 in 2001 (155L), and this model continues to be manufactured by Bear & Son Cutlery, along with smaller and larger versions (mirroring the LM Micra and Super Tool). As second-generation multi-tools, these Bear designs are now a little dated, but worthy of the recognition they deserve.

The example under review is an early-generation 155, stamped “patent pending”, dating it to 1995 or early 1996. I have a pre-date stamped, post-metric Leatherman PST that I will use as a comparison. While the PST is older, it is the model Bear MGC would have referenced when designing the 155. This is obvious when comparing these two products.

First impression is the greater heft of the 155. At 199g (7oz), the 155 is a significant 49g (1.7oz) heavier than the PST. In fact, the 155 has a similar weight to the modern 4” Leatherman Rebar that weighs in at 188g (6.6oz). In fact, the 155 and Rebar are visually and dimensionally a close match.

The main reason for the additional weight is the thicker gauge steel and the beefy tools. The 155 handles are made from heavy 16-gauge steel (0.06in), compared to the PST that uses only 20-gauge steel (0.03in). Today, Leatherman does not even use this thick gauge steel in their largest multi-tool, the Super Tool 300. There’s no doubt that the extra weight contributes to the perceived robustness and quality of the 155.

(…part 2 will follow tomorrow)
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 5,711 Man of Multiple MultiTool Manufacturers
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2019, 07:14:56 AM »
Thank you very much for doing this, Max! :)

 :popcorn: Very good write-up so far.

Got these out to make sure I am following along properly. :cheers:


Main collections: SOG, Gerber, Leatherman, Victorinox. Also lots of cheap & cheerful tools.
Global Moderator Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here... Posts: 48,832
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2019, 12:05:27 PM »
Excellent review with the write up and pics :cheers: I have a few Bear tools and they have one of the most aggresive wood saws out there :like: thanks for taking the time to do these historical reviews :cheers: :tu:
Global Moderator Zombie Apprentice Posts: 16,366
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2019, 02:06:26 PM »
 :popcorn:

I had one but I cannot remember what I did with it.   :think:

Esse Quam Videri
Absolute Zombie Club Posts: 28,114
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #15 on: January 15, 2019, 04:38:05 PM »
Great read  :tu: :like:

fail to prepare prepare to fail
Zombie Apprentice Posts: 14,099 Firm believer of Sturgeon's Law
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #16 on: January 15, 2019, 06:05:47 PM »
an excellent insight, Max! :like:

My toys:

MTs: Surge (2x), Skeletool CX, Rebar, Blast, Fuse, Micra, Squirt (3x), Wave, Crunch, Mini, Spirit (2x), Pro Scout, MP700 (2x), Diesel, Powerlock, PowerPlier (2x), PocketPowerPlier, Blacktip , ST6 (2x), 5WR, A100

SAKs: Bantam, Executive, Ambassador, Minichamp, Classic Alox, Champion, Farmer, Explorer, Swisschamp, Golf Tool, Wenger Champ, EVO 52, Pocket Tool Chest
No Life Club Posts: 1,750 Honey Badger Don't Care
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2019, 06:08:49 PM »
Thanks for the info :tu:  :cheers:

~CsB
Newbie Posts: 19
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2019, 06:43:30 PM »
Thanks for the info :tu:  :cheers:

Thanks all... :hatsoff:   part 2 tomorrow...
No Life Club Posts: 1,750 Honey Badger Don't Care
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2019, 06:46:55 PM »
 :cheers: :tu:

 :popcorn:

~CsB
No Life Club Posts: 1,750 Honey Badger Don't Care
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #20 on: January 15, 2019, 06:48:03 PM »
Edit:

Oh, nevermind  :facepalm:  :rofl:
« Last Edit: January 15, 2019, 06:49:13 PM by CallsignBadger »

~CsB
Newbie Posts: 19
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #21 on: January 16, 2019, 06:16:52 AM »
Bear Jaws 155 Review (part 2 of 3)

Visually, the 155 is polished to an almost mirror-finish. Turning the 155 in your hands reveals its party-trick; the outside-opening tools. There’s no doubt that this patented feature gives the 155 a real advantage over the PST. While it’s not possible to open a tool with one hand, it’s easy to quickly select and deploy any one, with no handle or plier head to get in the way.

But there are a few unwanted consequences of reversing the C-channel handles to face outwards. The first consideration is that more dirt will enter and get trapped between the tools compared to the PST that closes around its tools. The second consideration relates to the geometry of the tools relative to the plier head. Because the plier head enters the handle on the opposite side to the tools, the 155 needs a stop plate midway inside the handle to prevent the head dropping through the handle and pushing the tools to the outside. These stop plates take up valuable space and are not needed in the PST where the plier head can push up directly against the tools, and everything folds up against the spine of each handle.

The 155 sample I have does not keep a tight closed position, which appears to be a result of the plier pivot-handle geometry. Maybe they fixed this in later versions, or maybe not, as it would require a retool of the head or stamping of the handles. Either way, this is a small design quirk that gives the 155 a little bit character that matches its slightly industrial feel.

Turning our attention to the plier head, it looks like it came out the same factory as the head on the PST, but looks can be deceiving as there are some significant, and possibly critical differences.

The 155 and PST plier heads are both 56mm (2.2in) long, and the profile of the 155’s head is a clear copy of the PST, with near-identical needle-nose, normal pliers and wire cutters design. The 155’s head is slightly narrower (by 0.3mm, 1/100in), because the head has to drop through a gap between the rolled edges of the handle, while the PST has no rolled edge where the head folds back into the handle, so is overall a lot thinner across the handle (11.7mm vs 14.8mm / 0.46in vs. 0.58in).

The 155 has a little more flex visible around the plier’s central pivot under load, more than can be explained by the slightly narrower (lower cross section) design alone. The longer pivots that link the plier head to the handles may be creating additional flexing under gripping load, but it’s also easier to apply much more grip pressure with the 155 because of the wider and more comfortable handles.

While we’re on the handles, the 155 uses standard torx button-head screws to secure the pivots, making user servicing a lot simpler that the knurled rivets Leatherman uses on the PST, and to this day on many of its multi-tools. The plier pivots of the 155 span an outside surface distance of 13.2mm (0.5in), which is a little more that the PST pivots that only need to span a distance of 9.3mm (0.35in), so theoretically, stronger.

Like the Leatherman PST, the 155 has ‘USA’ cast into the plier pivot, but facing outwards. ‘MADE IN USA’ is also stamped into the handle, long before the rule regarding material/component sourcing made this mark a little more difficult to use.

The ruler stampings are clear and sharp, and because of the thicker gauge steel, more stable than those on the PST that tend to distort the surface. Also, the 155’s metric and inch rules are on opposite sides of the handle, making it a lot easier to read off the markings compared to the PST that squeezes both scales on the narrow spine (in my sample).

(…the final part will follow tomorrow)
Global Moderator Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here... Posts: 48,832
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #22 on: January 16, 2019, 12:23:56 PM »
Part 2 was worth the wait and I thank you again for taking the time to do these :cheers: :like: Can't wait for part 3 now :ahhh :D
Absolute Zombie Club Posts: 28,114
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #23 on: January 16, 2019, 12:40:51 PM »
Nice write up  :tu: :like:

fail to prepare prepare to fail
Zombie Apprentice Posts: 14,099 Firm believer of Sturgeon's Law
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #24 on: January 16, 2019, 01:00:02 PM »
excellent read  :hatsoff:

My toys:

MTs: Surge (2x), Skeletool CX, Rebar, Blast, Fuse, Micra, Squirt (3x), Wave, Crunch, Mini, Spirit (2x), Pro Scout, MP700 (2x), Diesel, Powerlock, PowerPlier (2x), PocketPowerPlier, Blacktip , ST6 (2x), 5WR, A100

SAKs: Bantam, Executive, Ambassador, Minichamp, Classic Alox, Champion, Farmer, Explorer, Swisschamp, Golf Tool, Wenger Champ, EVO 52, Pocket Tool Chest
Newbie Posts: 19
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #25 on: January 16, 2019, 02:08:23 PM »
excellent read  :hatsoff:

Thank you all for the feedback. I’m pleased it’s of interest!
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 5,711 Man of Multiple MultiTool Manufacturers
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #26 on: January 16, 2019, 02:17:58 PM »
Very attentive and well written! Thank you, Max! :cheers:

I'm only saddened that part 3 will be the finale.  :popcorn:

Main collections: SOG, Gerber, Leatherman, Victorinox. Also lots of cheap & cheerful tools.
No Life Club Posts: 1,750 Honey Badger Don't Care
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #27 on: January 16, 2019, 04:34:35 PM »
Great job on this  :cheers: :tu:

 :popcorn:  :like:

~CsB
Global Moderator Zombie Apprentice Posts: 16,366
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #28 on: January 16, 2019, 04:53:09 PM »
Very attentive and well written! Thank you, Max! :cheers:

I'm only saddened that part 3 will be the finale.  :popcorn:

 :iagree:

Thank you for taking the time to write this.   :hatsoff:

Esse Quam Videri
Global Moderator Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here... Posts: 48,832
Re: A better Leatherman, Tim Leatherman?
« Reply #29 on: January 16, 2019, 06:39:22 PM »
Very attentive and well written! Thank you, Max! :cheers:

I'm only saddened that part 3 will be the finale.  :popcorn:

 :iagree:

Thank you for taking the time to write this.   :hatsoff:

Yes :iagree: :ahhh

 

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