Growing up I always had an affinity for the Swiss Army knife. Strike that, coveted the Swiss Army knife! If somehow you don't know about this modern marvel, let me tell you, you are missing out.

Can a Swiss Army Knife, a.k.a the multi-tool, be a great tool if its components aren't the best at their individual tasks? This post is an exploration around that question.

The Swiss Army knife has it all:

  • large blade
  • small blade
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • scissors
  • metal saw
  • metal file
  • wire stripper
  • bottle opener
  • key ring
  • nail file with nail cleaner
  • toothpick
  • large screwdriver
  • multi purpose hook
  • reamer
  • fine screwdriver
  • pliers with:
    • wire crimping tool
    • wire cutters
  • wood saw
  • tweezers
  • can opener

WOW! All for the amazing low price of $84 (MSRP)!

Now you may say:

That nifty tool sure does do a lot, but does it really excel at any one of those things?

If I am buying a knife I probably won't buy it from Swiss Army. The blades in a Swiss Army multi-tool are usually not serrated and tend not to cut through the types of things I cut (ropes, cardboard, sails, yes strange things to cut). They're no Wusthof.

If I am buying a nail file, well, it definitely won't be from Swiss Army! It will be from here.


The Swiss Army knife is THE tool I reach for if I need to perform any multi-step task or any task that has an open ended problem. For instance:

I am a sailor. If there is a task that requires me to climb to the top of a mast, no matter what the task, I take with me two things:
1. My knife.
2. My multi-tool.

Not one or the other, but both. If I am going to need to seriously cut something, I'll use my knife. If I am going to open a shackle, multi-tool to the rescue! Close a cotter pin, multi-tool to the rescue!

In fact, I bring my multi-tool with me whenever I don't know what I'll be facing. It's with me in my car on a long trip. It's with me in my backpack on a long hike.

Let's take a look at this from another perspective.

Consider these two tools: A Swiss Army knife, a.k.a. the multi-tool, and a stand alone knife.

What would you say the job of each is?

The job of the knife is to do one thing and do it well. A good knife is engineered to be the best at what it does. To cut.

The multi-tool, on the other hand, is there to solve several potential problems. Its job is more ambiguous, more about making sure your job can get done no matter what comes up.

Both are essential. Both are with me on my utility belt (yes, I do have one; no, I am not Batman).

So back to the question can the multi-tool be a great tool despite its components not being the best at their individual tasks?

The multi-tool is very good at the job it's built for. Helping you get through a task that is not clear cut, well defined, or that requires thinking on the fly. Adapting. Being available to you so that you can do whatever it takes to get the job done.

I'll stop here. Intentionally.

It's time to go to the food court and get lunch.

Full disclosure: I don't own a Swiss Army knife. Funny right?
I do own a Leatherman skeletool. Same deal. It does a bunch of things. And yes, it lives on my utility belt.

Thanks to Reece Pacheco for reading and providing feedback.