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What is in a shape - Gerber Multi-lite and other "Box" tools. (2 Parts)

Chako · 11 · 5108

ca Offline Chako

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Part 1.

I was thinking about shapes of multi-tools, and after a while, you realize there are only so many form factors to go around. There is an old adage in designing/engineering, and it goes like this. Form follows function. Of course if you look at the art world, there were whole movements that riled against this simple concept, such as Dadaism.

With all things toolish, form follows function is a great concept. Nobody wants a tool that doesn't work as such. More over, ergonomics are a key ingredient to the success of such tools. Thus, I have come to a singular thought...and it was based around the Gerber Multi-lite. Possibly an offshoot of another discussion on this forum regarding said tool. The Gerber Multi-lite is a very compact, feature rich tool that is relatively ergonomic compared to most other form factors out there. So my thoughts go off into thinking why this particular form factor isn't seen as often as it could.

The Gerber Multi-Lite came out in 97/98. In terms of modern multi-tools, if you consider the Leatherman PST as the progenitor of this era back in 83, the Multi-Lite is an old design. An old but not very successful design. Once I sat down and thought about it, that statement is rather puzzling to me. Why do we not see more modern interpretations of this box tool? I wish I knew the definitive answer to this, because I quite like this form factor. I find the Multi-Lite to be a very convenient package that is ergonomic to use...which translates into a winner in my books. Mind you, I have drawn to weird and esoteric your opinion may vary from mine. :D

With all these thoughts running pell-mell in my head, I thought to self, self, it might be interesting to gather all such form factor tools and talk about them...and of course, publish plenty of photos. Thus this thread. I shall apologize to all right now... :D

Gerber Multi-Lite

Now as previously mentioned, the Multi-Lite is an old design, but one I like very much. When I first got one, I carried it around for a week and much liked the design. By the time I got my first example, they had already been discontinued, which explains why it went back into the collection quickly enough...but I did get to feel its measure, and I came away thinking this was a good multi-tool. I much approved of its ergonomics.

Gerber came out with two major models, one featuring a corkscrew, and the other, an exchangeable saw blade. Here is a section taken out of a 1999 Gerber catalogue taken from our very own Multi-tool Encyclopedia...

I am guessing here, but I think the Multi-lite probably saw an end of production run in the early to mid 2000s. This is a guess, and would love to hear from someone with an actual date of discontinuation.

The Gerber Multi-Lite features a rather weak LED light that runs off of a CR1620 cell. Replacing the batter is very simply as one just pulls gently upwards on the rubber cover to access it. My copy features a very chick orange LED. I have always felt that the LED light is an area that needed much improvement. Mind you, LED tech back then wasn't anywhere near where it is these days. Just look at all those old Victorinox LED Classics, and it is rapidly apparent that LED technology has done tremendous strides in advancement. Thus, if Gerber ever comes around to re-making this tool, I am certain the LED won't be such a weakling in the newer product. The Light is just strong enough to help you see just enough to let you use keys in dark areas. I like to consider the LED as a nice bonus that filled up unused space.

yes, see that light pictograph on the rubber battery cover. That is also your light switch. Problem is, its a light when you press function. Great to conserve batteries, but an on/off button would be a big improvement. That and the battery companies would love you...hope you are listening Gerber.  :pok:  :pok:  :D

So if Gerber ever makes a Multi-Lite II, I hope they spend some time revamping the LED concept. With that out of the way, the lid also contains a compartment with a clear plastic door. Inside that door is a small packet of tools. You get a small eyeglass flat driver, a pair of tweezers, and a tooth pick. It would appear that over the years, the content of the package hasn't changed...but the actual items have.

In the following photo, is the Multi-Lite with corkscrew, sheath, and the above content package. Still the same weak orange LED.

Here is the removable saw version open, showing the compartment in the lid.

As far as tool features, Gerber, due to the toolbox design, was able to fill every spare space with goodness. Not only that, all the tools lock via a springboard mechanism that you pull backwards to unlock. A spring pushes the locking mechanism, so as soon as the tool is fully opened, it locks in place.

The Multi-lite has a nice blade, a Fiskars scissor (parent company), Phillips driver, can opener, cap opener with flat driver, and a replaceable saw blade. I  have read on here that the manufacture(s) of this type of saw blade is/are discontinuing them in the near future, or have already discontinued them.

The nice thing about this form factor, it is very ergonomic.

I really like the shape of this multi-tool. One of my pet peeves in multi-tools is tool density. I can't abide by a lot of wasted space, and this design contains none, which in itself is a pleasure to behold. The locking mechanism if functional, and I like that they even utilized the lid space to pack away a small compartment with a few extra tools, and an LED. The biggest down side to this design is the lack of pliers, which for many, is a show stopper.

- Very functional design and tool set. No wasted space!
- Extra little tools in the lid compartment are a nice touch.
- Locking tools.
- Ergonomics.
- Easily replaceable battery.
- Lid design gives the user added safety should the lock on the knife blade ever become compromised during use.

- Design forgoes pliers.
- Exchangeable saw blade may be hard to find in the future.
- LED light is weak, and orange.
- Locking mechanism can be moved during use, accidentally unlocking the tool selected...but the lid will prevent the tool from biting back at you.

No Name Brand Box Tool

Like all good concepts...they eventually get copied, cloned, or down right faked. Usually these type of tools will either downright steal the concept and make a clone, copy some of the features of the name brands, or make an exact copy of the name brand with fake markings in order to deceive buyers. Luckily for me, this tool does steal the main ideas, but it does not attempt to make an end buyer think he or she is getting a Gerber Multi-Lite.

I have two of these in my collection, one with an engraveable metal plate on the lid, and the other which doesn't have this. I can't see any glue artifacts...thus maybe the copy I have that doesn't have the metal plate, may have had one in the past. I don't know. It does look like it never had one. Gee where is my crystal ball when I need it. :D

This tool is longer but narrower than the Multi-lite. However it does feature the same overall design metrics as the Multi-tool. Somewhere someplace, someone said, "hey, we can make something similar for cheaper and make a killing"!

Unlike the Multi-Lite, this tool does not have an LED. Instead, they have added their own little nice touches. For example, they have decided to but in a few cut outs to add to the functionality of the bottom metal plate.

Because there is also no actual locking mechanism on this tool, in lieu of this, you get some metric/Imperial conversion information.

Like the Gerber Multi-Lite, the lid does not fully open 180 degrees. Like the Gerber, there is also a larger compartment in the lid, covered by a clear plastic door. The compartment runs the length of the tool because this tool lacks the space for the LED light.

Tool features are different here. Note the inclusion of a Victorinox style pliers. Also the inclusion of a small bit driver, and file which the Gerber lacked. No saw here, and the scissors are no where as good as the Fiskars found on the Gerber. Still overall not a bad set of tools. Like the Gerber, no wasted space.

In that compartment, instead of receiving tweezers, small eyeglass flat driver, and toothpick, you get 4 double ended bits for the screwdriver.

Overall, a definite step down from the Gerber...but that was to be expected. There are some interesting takes on the included tools which makes this one useful in its own rights, but there are a lot of negatives as well which I will elaborate in the Cons section. If given  half a chance, go for the Multi-Lite every time.

- Inclusion of a small pair of pliers.
- Bit driver gives this tool the edge in drivers over the Gerber.
- I like how they added extra functionality in the body of the tool.
- Durable construction. Fit and finish not bad for a tool of this class.

- Lid does not stay closed as on the Gerber. They included a small metal rod which doesn't mate with anything on the main body. It was as if the engineers looked at the Gerber (which is functional), and copied the metal rod mechanism but forgot to have anything for it to couple with.
- Small odd sized drivers...just try to replace a lost one...I dare ya. Come to think of it, looks like they ripped that part off of Victorinox. Yes, the Victorinox bits from their Cybertool fits. Well I just have to do this...

So much for not being able to find a source for lost bits, the bit in the no name tool came directly from the Cybertool...just be prepared to $$$. :D

Well since we are comparing this tool to Victorinox, which is an obvious contributor along with Gerber, here is a bonus shot of the pliers of this no name tool compared to that of a Victorinox Cybertool.

Well now that I got that out of my system...back to the cons. :)

- No locking mechanism. Just a flat tab seen on very old multi-tools like the Leatherman PST. Probably not needed as the lid will prevent any accidents, much like the Gerber.
- Some of the tools are nail breakers and require some force to extricate them. On the flip side, the rounded bit driver is a bear to remove. You have to use the removable bit for purchase.
- Quality sub par to the Gerber.

« Last Edit: August 20, 2014, 08:04:27 PM by Chako »
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ca Offline Chako

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Part 2.

Coast Fishing Multi-Tool Box

Based on the same general form factor, the Coast Fishing Box is a neat fishing centric tool that any fisherman would enjoy having in their tacklebox, or hanging somewhere in easy reach. I will tell you right now, I like this tool. It is well made, and like everything else mentioned in this article, feature rich.

There is no wastes space. Much like the above no name tool, this one also features some cutouts in the body to add extra functionality.

The ruler markings are easily seen from any direction as the markings wrap around the tool.

The bottom features a nice diamond hone. There is also a very convenient fishing hook groove.

The tool selection is definitely geared towards fisher folk. The blade is half serrated to aid in cutting rope. There is a nice awl, a hook remover, a saw, a flat Phillips driver for reels, functional scissors, and a cap opener flat driver combo tool. Note no fish descaler...but I guess you could use the saw in a pinch if need be.  :think:

To round the whole thing off, you also get a nice clip attached via a short chain.


Better quality to the no name branded tool above, this is a nice multi-tool for the avid fisherman. What it does lack is a pair of needle-nose pliers. However, this tool does make a good match with a pair. It is small and highly convenient. The lid opens 180 degrees, making tool selection a little easier. There is a basic locking features. The lid is bent at the tip, which fits into a groove found on each tool. Closing the lid locks the tool securely, and your hand pressure prevents the tool from unlocking. Simple and convenient. No worries of springs rusting, etc.

- Ergonomic and well thought out tool selection. Bonus for not including that stupid fish descaling tool.
- Good quality. A step above the no name brand tools.
- Good diamond hone with hook groove.

- Heavy. This is heaviest of all the tools mentioned here. If you drop this in the water, it will sink faster than a lead sinker.
- Some slight wiggle play when the tool is deployed and the handle is closed in the locking position.
- That diamond hone is great, but if you hang it somewhere, it will have the chance (with movement) to eat through anything it rubs against.
- No pliers. If included, they would be more than useless as they would be tiny pliers. No this tool is meant to be a companion to a nice pair of dedicated fishing pliers.

KutMaster MiniMaster

Looking for the perfect ergonomic pocket companion that won't get caught up in many things...then look no further than the MiniMaster made by KutMaster, which is a division of Utica Cutler Company based in the State of New York.

This little tool resembles the Coast Fishing Box the most, even though it is based on the same general form factor. It even features the same functionality built into the lid.

Note that the lid also is the cap opener.

Much like the Coast Fishing Box, this one is well inscribed with wrap around ruler markings.

Like everything else here, there is no wasted space. They managed to cram quite a few tools into this small form factor. Included are: A non serrated blade, nail file, scissors, flat Phillips driver, mini saw, medium flat driver, and small flat driver which could double easily as a small awl.

Conclusion: I have always considered this a mini Coast Fishing Box as it is the tool it most closely resembles. Not sure which was produced first, and I guess that really doesn't matter much other than for academic interest. The MiniMaster is a neat little pocket sized multi-tool that packs quite a little punch. Not sure how useful that small saw is, but it is cute nonetheless. It also packs a better clip than the Coast. That clip also has a better locking mechanism. Unlike the coast's diamond hone that would wear through a pocket in no time, this KutMaster is pocket friendly. Quality wise, I would have to say a step down from the Coast Fishing Box overall.

- Small pocket friendly size.
- Packs a lot of functionality in a small package.
- Cap lifter is very good with dual prongs that make it that much easier.
- Good included screw lockable clip.

- Small saw more useful scratching an itch. Might put the fear into matchsticks the world over though.
- Quality wise, feels a bit junky.
- Bottle opener lid prongs can get entangled with pocket neighbours.
- Scissors are the first tool to spring out when the lid is opened. Require constant pressure to hold scissors flush with the body when closing the lid. If not, they will spring up and get caught in one of the nut driver holes in the lid (usually the 3/8 nut driver)...not good.

Here you can see the spring loaded scissors popping up like a Jhonny-come-lately. That or its just very happy to see me every time I open it up. :D

Annoying, but gets aggravating when I close the tool. See the tip of the scissors just hanging up on the lid. Can't say if this is a common issue, or just specific to my example. At least the spring loaded scissors lack sufficient force to open the lid on its own. That would be something I could live with.

Wrap Up

I find it a bit puzzling that this form factor hasn't found more favour with more manufacturers out there, let alone with more end users. As with everything multi-tool, there is always a contrast between compromise and usability. The major compromise with this form factor is the lack of sizable pliers. However, for those who do not need large pliers, these tools are the perfect fit. Super ergonomics and high tool density make them great tools to have on you. Can you tell I am a big fan of this type of "box" tool? It would be nice to see Gerber come out with a Multi-Lite II version, or Leatherman. Leatherman has sort of moved into Gerber territory with their OHT, and soon to be released Leap. Why not a box style multi-tool for those who don't need largish pliers. Not sure how that would sell, but it would make me happy. :D

Bonus Size Comparison.

From left to right: Gerber Multi-Lite, No Name Brand Tool, Coast Fishing Box, KutMaster MiniMaster.

« Last Edit: August 20, 2014, 08:02:04 PM by Chako »
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spam Offline comis

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Chako, nice write up and good comparison.

I also do think the tool box design is interesting, and I wonder would it because these tools are more or less competing in Vic space(the similar tool density ideology), so they are not as 'appealing'?

ca Offline Chako

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That is a possibility.
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00 Offline kirk13

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Very interesting little article! I like the look of that bigger no nome job with the bit driver. I've gifted out a couple of the Mini-masters,albeit with different branding. They're very nearly a very good little tool!
There is no beginning,or ending,and for this we are thankful,cos now is hard enough to understand!

us Offline Nhoj

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I have the coast micro tool box version of these. Unfortunately the scissors spring snapped the fist time I tried to use it.

gb Offline tosh

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Great read Dan.

I can remember the sales assistant  at the local camping xtore pushing for me to buy the gerber 600 and then switching tack and pushing the multi lite.
At the time I thought it to be a stupid design - seriously who in their right mind is going to walk about with a steelbox  in their pocket.

Left them both on the counter and went elsewhere and bought the wave instead! lol
I don't claim to know it all, but what I do know is right.

ca Offline Chako

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Hard to compete with a Wave.  :D
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au Offline gregozedobe

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Excellent write-up, thank you  :tu:  Of course I now have another tool to look for (the no-name Multi-Lite sort-of-copy)  :facepalm:  ;)
babola: "Enjoy your tools and don't be afraid to air your opinion and feelings here, but do it in courteous and respectable way toward others, of course."

ca Offline derekmac

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Fantastic write up!! 

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

us Offline 3rdpig

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Nice write up!

I've got the same no name one you have Chako, the second one reviewed. I've had it for a long time, so long I don't even remember where I got it.  Mine is like new and says "Tribble and Sons" on the bottom.  I'm assuming it was just branding for a company handout.  I've never used it, but it's one of the few "cheapie" tools I actually like.  Thus it has managed to stay out of my freezer bag full of "junk".

I've also got to say that the scissors on mine work well, better in fact than those on the Gerber Fit, which are pretty sub par.  The scissors on the Balance however, are better.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2014, 07:15:25 AM by 3rdpig »



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