When the Leatherman Signal was announced, it was billed the ideal preparedness tool to have if you ever find yourself stranded. The literature even uses the example of being stuck at base camp and thus having to rely on this badboy alone – a tall order for what is on paper a folding pair of pliers with “19” tools. In typical Leatherman fashion, the Signal can handle its business surprisingly well with only a few drawbacks.
The reality with multi-tools and their reviews is that I can’t objectively review each tool on its own merit. At the end of the day, by prioritising size and portability, you have to sacrifice performance – it’s just a fact. This is 100% not a negative, but just the consequences of having so much in something so compact.
Will this or any other multi-tool ever be able to replace an entire full-sized tool kit? No it can’t, and no multi-tool can ever. But is it a worthy “it’ll definitely do” backup, in case you have nothing else on you and need it for situations x, y, and z? That’s what’s really in question – so bare that in mind as you read this review!
Aesthetically, the Leatherman Signal reminds me a lot of the MUT with its chunky hammer/strike pommel, but it definitely takes a lot from the Wave, too. It’s visually quite different from a lot of the Leatherman line-up, but once you have it in your hands, it’s a very familiar feel. A lot of the visual cues do not translate into a “different” kind of tool. The Signal is similar to a Wave/M.U.T. crossbreed, but with 2 unique lil’ tools that slide into the side, though more on this later.
One thing that bares mentioning off the bat is the Signal’s weight. At 7.5 ounces, it’s not exactly a featherweight alternative to a Swiss Army knife, but as far as full-sized multitools go, it’s not bad at all. Compared to some of the other Leathermans I have handled (the M.U.T. comes to mind) its positively light.
When we discuss tools like this, it’s important to define the primary purpose. With Leathermans, that’s the pliers, and in this case they are rock solid with very nice mating at the relatively needlenose-like tip. A lot of reviewers wax poetics over the “added” tools like the can opener and awl, but frankly – how often do we use these? When I EDC a Leatherman, I primarily carry it for the pliers, and thus pliers is what I will (primarily) judge the tool on.
As far as pliers go, the ones on the Signal are unsurprisingly excellent. This should come as no surprise as this is Leatherman’s area of expertise after all.
The pliers on the Signal feature the following functions:
- Needlenose pliers,
- Regular pliers,
- 154 cm replaceable wire cutters,
- 154 cm replaceable heavy duty wire cutters,
- And finally, wire strippers.
The ergonomics when using the pliers is fantastic. No sharp edges, unlike the Leatherman Rebar, which can be quite painful to use. The amount of torque I was able to generate is very impressive. I don’t often like cutting hard stuff with tools like this, as I always worry about damaging the cutters and then having a tool that is only partially viable. The ability to replace the cutters is awesome and frankly should be standard on all similar multi-tools. Performance is excellent and I don’t think twice about pushing this tool to its limits.
Case and point, a nail. The hard wire cutters choked a bit, but with a smidgen of torsion, the Signal actually cut the nail cleanly in half.
Now, practically, I don’t see many uses for cutting a nail in the real world, but it’s a nice test for the cutters and not having to worry about permanently damaging the tool allows me to do this.
On that note, zero damage to the cutters. Obviously, I used the specially designed “hard cutter” lower section, but still, I expected some deformation. Nope. Zero damage, edge rolling, or chipping.
I expect you can handle more or less any business with these, but should you come across something that is hard enough to damage the edge – just swap out the blades when you are done. Fantastic.
All the other tools with the notable exception of the saw and blade seem like they exist to check on a box on a features list. Sure, they all work but a dedicated tool they are not.
Take the tool below for example. It’s a bottle opener, a can opener, and what the literature tells me is a wire stripper.
Having this many tool of such a small surface area is never going to result in optimal performance, but I can safely say that these tools are well designed, and yes, do function as intended. As far as the wire strippers go, they do work (see below), but I frankly would use one of the serrations on the blade instead.
Interestingly, all of the folding tools lock up with a neat steel locking tab. Very sturdy with very little play which was quite surprising to me. The construction of the Signal is pivot and screw based, not pinned, so micro adjustments for lateral play are trivial and I reckon warranty issues (by the way, warranty is 25 years) are easy to fix due to the theoretical ease of replacing individual parts.
I haven’t taken it apart, but I imagine cleaning it would also be pretty trivial. I got some sap in the action once, and all I did was run it under super hot water and that cleared it up. Throw in some lubrication and I see no reason why this tool can’t work all night long (it’s so hard to write this without accidental lecherous puns).
As far as the “proper tools” go, the blade is perfectly functional. This is definitely not just “an add-on,” but rather a viable tool in its own right. One hand deployment and decent (not great, but once again: this is a large multi-tool) ergonomics with cutting performance from its 420 HC 2.7 inch combo blade. Grinds are right and in Leatherman fashion have that nice pseudo wharncliff blade that is extremely versatile. Liner lock is solid too, with zero play and plenty of room for the lock to wear in.
Very impressed. I always like to have my own blade, but I reckon this would be fine to EDC as your only knife in 95% of situations.
The saw is a super aggressive sierra style pattern, it chews up wood like a champ and the only real limitation is the length. The spine rocks a sharp 90 degree angle and is perfect for the fire steel (more on this later), although I prefer using the awl because frankly I won’t use it for anything else on a regular basis.
Right, so the firesteel/whistle combo. It’s a neat widget and I 100% get what Leatherman was going for here, but these tools are inherently disappointing due to the compromises the folks in Portland, Oregon had to make.
The reality is that despite the best of intentions, the firesteel is teensy and subpar and the whistle is teensy and subpar. You just don’t have enough “steel” to get optimal sparks. Sure it works, but compared to a LMF, it’s like night and day.
I used it maybe 6-7 times, and whilst it’s better than nothing (in a pinch), I imagine that in a true last ditch situation its lifespan would be limited.
Similarly, the whistle does work, but isn’t loud enough in my opinion.
The diamond sharpener works, technically, but I don’t really see its purpose. I think Leatherman has a huge opportunity here to offer other tools that fit into these slots as the current options fall a bit shy of the mark.
Leatherman: If you’re taking requests, I would love to purchase some additional add-ons you could offer; a proper chunky firesteel for one side and a set of 3 removable fishing hooks for the other.
I think this would provide far more value for actual wilderness use. Especially if you chose this tool as a last ditch/backup option (in which it excels at).
My 2 cents.
On teh urban side of things, you get the standard Leatherman screw driver bits. A full set is available separately, but it comes with the usual Philips and Flat head options. No complaints here. Well machined bits that will give you many years of service.
The hammer butt does complicate use. I wasn’t sure if I should use the screw driver section with the tool fully open or with the butt of the tool pushing against the screwdriver. Both work, with the configuration below superior, if you are going to crank down and push out some torque.
If you need reach, you use it with the tool fully extended. Options are good folks, and the Signal certainly gives you some.
Right, so the hammer butt is first of all pretty badass. I first saw it on the MUT, and I think it really made that tool stand out from the crowd. In practical terms, it’s viable and I can see some situations where it would prove handy – hammering pegs and stakes would be one that comes to mind.
As well as being a hammer and carabiner (and bottle opener), it also has these 2 nifty box wrench drivers. I really dig that, as it opens up a whole host of options without having to go with Leatherman’s “sandwiched” bit driver route, which can be quite expensive.
A generic bit driver set and this tool will allow you to handle your business in most situations even if the design isn’t purpose designed for mechanical work.
Onto the business of the Leatherman Signal and its purpose. It came with a nylon pouch that I quickly threw out opting instead to use the pocket clip. Practically speaking, it’s heavy in your pocket. 7.5 ounces ain’t no picnic to carry all day, but then again I have EDC’d knives that are heavier (the Cold Steel Rajah II, for instance; what can I say, I happily suffer for you guys) and a single knife will never offer the versatility that this tool does.
This is the crux of the issue folks. No matter how you look at it, as far as I can see it’s very difficult to criticize this tool with regards to viability. It’s well made, well designed, and really practical. In fact, it’s a fantastic feeling to have when you really need a tool and you can just whip this out without thinking about it.
A Leatherman, and other similar multi-tools, are the sort of EDC items that grow on you. Over the years you start to think to yourself, “How did I live without one?” You don’t often need pliers in your pockets, but when you do, you really do.
Add to that its fully functional blade, the plethora of random tools including a last-ditch fire steel and whistle (despite their shortcomings), it’s very difficult to say it isn’t worth it.
Can we also agree that its also super sexy – as far as multitools go?
We spend hundreds of dollars on knives and for what I’d consider to be a very low price, you get a very premium product with well made – everything. This is the sort of gear that leaves me outraged when I get a knife with mechanical faults or sloppy fit; Leatherman stuck 19 tools that all function well with no mechanical trouble and they did it all for literally $100. Whats your excuse <knife maker>?
Ultimately, the Leatherman Signal is a bargain and if Leatherman offers clip/slot on tools as an “add on” to replace the firesteel/whistle combo (and the sharpener!) I reckon we would have one of the best modular platforms for survivalists on the market. Bar none.
In any case, solely out of the box, I still recommend it as an excellent backup option for hikers and anyone else would wants a decently lightweight multi-tool option that is geared for survival and the general outdoors.