Leatherman multitools and its similar competitors are pocket-sized wonders of utility: their multi-functional pliers head, knives, saws and scissors allow you to grap, grip, cut, rip, saw and file almost anything. They deliver this versatile functionality in an incredibly compact form factor, and have thus earned their place in the tool boxes, backpacks, belts and pockets of working professionals, outdoors enthusiasts and all-around handymen.
There is one function, however, where these tools have been found somewhat lacking: driving screws. While most of the multitools in the Leatherman lineup do include a bit holder socket which can be used to drive special flattened screw bits, the tools have come with only a single double-ended Flat&Phillips bit. While surely better than nothing, this single bit will fit only a small segment of the whole screw population you may encounter in the field.
To fix this obvious shortcoming, Leatherman has introduced a 21-piece screw bit set, called the Leatherman Bit Kit, which will fit the special drive socket in the tools, and allow you to drive the majority of the small screws out there. In this article, I will review the Leatherman Bit Kit, and share my opinion on its performance, usability and price. If you are considering getting the kit, be sure to read this review first!
Summary: The Leatherman Bit Kit is a well-designed compact screw bit set for Leatherman multitools. The flattened bits work as intended and the 42 different drives included are more than enough for most users. The kit is reasonably priced and a useful extension to the multitool for most application areas such as technical maintenance, outdoors and sports.
|+ Extensive drive selection|
+ Works as intended
|– Carrying needs planning|
The Bit Kit
So what do you exactly get in the Leatherman Bit Kit? The simple answer is that you get a total of 21 flattened-hexagonal drive screw bits in two plastic holders, a drive extender and a user guide. All of the bits in the kit are double-ended, so that the 21 bits actually contain 42 different drives.
The flat drive shank
As already alluded to, what makes the kit special is the shape of the bits. Instead of the standard 1/4’’ hexagon, the cross section of the driven surfaces of the Leatherman bits is, at first sight, just flat. A closer inspection shows that it is actually the familiar 1/4’’ hex, but cut off on both sides to save space: it is like the standard 1/4’’ after a hard diet. The final thickness of these bits is exactly 1/8” (3.15 mm), or a half of the full bit, at least if my caliper measurement is to be trusted.
This special drive shape has allowed Leatherman to save space in two places. Obviously, the bits and the kit itself is much flatter than a standard bit set and this easier to carry, as illustrated in the image below. Second, the drive socket in the pliers handle is much more compact than the standard 1/4’’ hex socket. In the crammed interior of the multitools where a tenth of an inch is a mile, the second benefit has probably been the more important one.
While great for saving space, the flattening is probably not without downsides: the half-thickness flat bits are most certainly weaker than the regular bits. Because of this, they probably lack the durability and peak torque transmission capacity of the normal versions.
In their intended use, however, I expect the flattened 1/4” drive to do just fine. They are, after all, intended for occasional use and to be driven with the multitool, which I would interpret as light to medium duty. You would probably not want to use them for heavy driving of large construction screws or tightening larger hex socket bolts to nominal torques, at least not regularly. Moreover, with all but the largest-size screw drives, the weakest link in the torque transmission chain is the contact between the bit head and the screw socket, not the one between the drive socket and the bit shank.
The screw drives in the Kit
Turning to the business ends of the bits, the selection of drives in the kit is commendably extensive. The bits, or rather the drive heads included in the kit are most of the flat, Phillips, Pozidriv, Allen and Torx heads you will need – even two Robertsons are included! I tried to list all the numerous drives in the kit to the table below to the best of my capabilities.
The selection of drives in the kit should cover any and all probable use cases for such a tool – to the extent that carrying the full bit kit around may actually be a bit of an overkill for many users. Personally, I do not think I would really need six (!) different flat heads or six cruciforms, albeit in two styles (Phillips and Pozidriv). Further, I would probably carry only one of the extensive Imperial and Metric inner hex series, depending on where I work, both to save space and avoid mixing them up.
Just as the 1/4’’ hex drive of the bits, also the screw drives in the ends of the bits are flattened in the sense that they do not extend beyond the 1/8’’ thickness of the shaft. While the flat heads and the smallest cruciform, Allen, Torx and Robertson heads are just the same as in full size bits, the flattening has required some features in the larger-size drive forms to be left out.
Due to the truncation of the drive head forms, these bits will not mate quite the same as the regular bits with the socket in the screw head, and will probably lag the real bits in maximum torque transmission. Again, I do not expect this to be a major limitation in the intended light-to-medium duty use of the Bit Kit. Due to the higher loading on the fewer torque-transmitting features in the heads, it is still probably wise to use these bits slightly more carefully than regular bits and try to avoid cam-out.
The 21 bits come in two flat plastic holders, which hold 10 or 10+1 bits each, the additional bit being the .050” shank miniature flat&cruciform bit.
The holders are clearly designed to be as flat as possible: the bits are organized lying flat side by side, and the holder has only a minimal thickness of plastic below and above the bits. The total thickness of a holder with its bits is only slightly above 1/4” (6.35 mm), making it the same thickness as the regular 1/4” bits without any holder.
The holders appear surprisingly sturdy and take a lot of flexing without showing any signs of damage. The bits fit into the holder with some friction, so that they do not seem all too likely to fall out accidentally, but are still easy enough to pull out when taken into use. Bits falling out was something I was initially worried about, since I had this problem before in my Removable bit driver kit.
How to use the Leatherman Bit Kit
Using the Leatherman Bit Kit is real simple:
- Open the multitool handle
- Flip the drive socket out until it locks
- Slide the chosen bit in until it locks
- Fold the handles into an ergonomic handle position
The bits and the socket have a nice cam lock mechanism, which keeps the bits in place when in use, and allows withdrawal without excessive force.
After locking the socket out and inserting the bit, the multitool can be used as a regular screw driver. The tool body actually allows multiple different handle shapes, which you can select based on your ergonomic preference and the task at hand. Handles straightened will give you the best reach, folded down the firmest grip, and flipped to a T the highest torque, as illustrated in the image below.
You should note that, as the drive socket is in the end of one of the handles, none of the driving positions is exactly symmetric. This means that there will inevitably be some wobble in the driving. Due to the low driving speeds that you can manually achieve with the tool, the wobble is probably not going to be an issue.
After use, you just flip the drive socket back into the handle, pack the bits and move on to the next task.
How well do the bits work?
So how well do the bits actually work? Instead of just admiring the set in its holders, I also put them to test, and used them with the multi tool in various screw-driving tasks. As the flattened bits will actually fit into a standard 1/4’’ hex socket, I also used them with my cordless drill driver for a while in place of the normal bits.
During all of this testing, the flattened Leatherman bits worked just as well as any normal bits would. The eccentricity of the Leatherman multi tool itself when used as a screw driver handle is a minor annoyance. But in the functioning of the bits themselves, I did not once notice any difference to regular bits. Granted, my tests did now probably go all the way to maximum torques, nor were they long enough to constitute proper wear tests.
The tests do demonstrate, however, that the bits are wholly adequate for their intended use. The multi tool itself is a tool of last resort; it is intended for “practical emergencies”, where no other tool is available. As an accessory to a multi tool, any given bit in the set is probably not going to see very frequent or heavy use. Indeed, one could even say that in the best case you never need to use any of these bits – but you do want to have them with you, should you happen to need them.
Although the Leatherman Bit Kit bits have a drive shape different from the standard 1/4’’ hexagon, they are one-way compatible with the standard drive system. To be exact, you can fit the Leatherman bits into normal 1/4’’ hex sockets, but you cannot fit the standard 1/4’’ bits into the socket in the multitool handle.
Although not complete, this compatibility is useful, and can many times come in handy, as it allows you to use the Bit Kit bits with other screw drivers or cordless drivers. The Leatherman Bit Kit is easy to carry with the tool, and can be used as a general-purpose fallback bit set, should your regular bit set go missing or lack a certain bit.
Included in most of the Bit Kit packages is a bit driver extender for the Leatherman drive socket. This extender has the flattened Leatherman hex in the driven end, and will fit into the drive socket in the multi tool handle. In the other end, however, the extender has a standard 1/4’’ socket, which will accept both the Leatherman and regular 1/4’’ bits.
This smart arrangement allows the extender to actually perform two functions:
- First, it works as an extender, i.e. it allows you to reach screw heads in counterbores or otherwise restricted spaces.
- Second, the extender functions also as a bit adapter: as it accepts regular bits in the driven end, it allows you to use your Leatherman multi tool to drive regular 1/4’’ hex bits.
The extender also has a knurled section in its shaft. This section allows you to take a decent hold of the extender and do the initial screw tightening fast by spinning it with your fingers. This feature comes in handy, since such low-torque spinning is not very convenient with the wobbling, eccentric multitool itself.
How to carry the Bit Kit
One of the biggest practical concerns with the Leatherman Bit Kit is how should you actually carry it around. Unlike all the other functionality of the multi tool, the Bit Kit is not integral to the tool and will in no way fit into the handle.
At least three alternative ways to carry the kit have been suggested:
Option 1: In the original multitool pouch
The simplest solution is just to stow the bit holders to the Leatherman belt pouch along with the tool. The pouches are flexible, and the kit will fit in most versions, even if just barely. This technique is my personal choice as it allows me to carry the kit around without having to worry losing or forgetting it anywhere.
This technique will only work if you do indeed carry the multitool in its pouch and not in you pocket, for examble, and has the additional downside of making the pouch bulky and difficult to close. The situation is markedly improved if you are able cut down the bit selection you carry and to do away with one of the holders.
Option 2: In a sheath
The second suggested carrying solution is to get a separate sheath for the two bit holders and the extender. These sheaths are available in metal and plastic versions, and may come with a belt clip or lock onto the tool itself.
The standalone sheaths are handy in that they do not interfere with the normal operation of the tool pouch. However, they have the drawback of introducing an another separate piece of gear, which you have to remember to take along. Like most accessories, these sheaths are not exactly cheap either, and may cost as much as the Bit Kit itself.
Option 3: Get a larger pouch
The third solution is to swap the original Leatherman pouch for a larger version that will easily fit both the tool and the two holders. There is a number of these larger pouches available for most Leatherman models, ranging from simple Nylon to expensive tailored leather models, some including a separate compartment for the Bit Kit. This is clearly the cleanest option, but also easily the most expensive one.
Is the Bit Kit worth the price?
At around $20, the Leatherman Bit Kit is not exactly cheap. With the same money, you could get a regular Bit Kit with the same number of specially coated premium bits. The kit is useful and works as it should, but is it worth the price?
My verdict is: yes, the kit is worth its price.
For one, the lack of proper screw driving capability has been a major downside in the standard delivery of the Leatherman-type multi tools: whenever you are dealing with a mechanical device or a piece of equipment, you are bound to find many screws, some of which are sooner or later going to need turning. The Leatherman Bit Kit makes an excellent job of fixing this deficiency, and making the yet more versatile.
Second, in the world of Leatherman tools and accessories, the $20 of the Leatherman Bit Kit is, after all, a relatively reasonable price. As the tools trade at around $100, the kit is around one-fifth of the price, which is a fair price considering the added functionality.
Should you get it?
Although well-made and useful, the Leatherman Bit Kit is not a must-buy in my opinion. The main reason for this is that the original multitools are quite sufficient as such for many use cases, and can drive most flat and cruciform (Phillips or Pozidriv) screws at least somehow with the single bit included. Further, carrying the kit does require some arrangements, and some users may not want to bulk up their gear with the additional two bit holders and extender.
Instead, I would rate the Leatherman Bit Kit it as a recommended-buy. The kit is well-designed and works as it should, the added functionality is often necessary, and the price-performance ratio is OK. While the Leatherman multitools are already true wonders of versatility as such, complemented with the Bit Kit they are a stand-in for your whole tool box!