If you’re an outdoors adventurer, DIY-er, PC builder, or just like to be prepared for anything, you need a good multitool. The Leatherman Wave and SOG PowerLock are both reliable, sturdy, well-built and popular choices, but if you could only have one, let’s decide which deserves to live in your carry-all.
Leatherman and SOG are big names in specialty knives and tools, and they have both been making them since the ’80s. The original Leatherman tool, created by Timothy S. Leatherman, was inspired by his desire to build a “Boy Scout knife with pliers.” SOG’s founder, Spencer Frazer, took his inspiration from a unique combat knife carried by US Special Ops in the Vietnam War, and SOG is still the knife of choice for Navy SEALs today. The Leatherman Wave and SOG PowerLock are the consumer-focused, mid-range models of each company’s multitool, so let’s see how they stack up:
- Leatherman Wave: The Leatherman Wave multitool has 17 different tools, including (1) needlenose pliers, (2) regular pliers, (3) hard-wire cutters, (4) wire cutters, (5) wire strippers, (6) 8cm 420HC (high carbon) stainless steel knife, (7) 420HC stainless steel serrated knife, (8) saw, (9) spring-action scissors, (10) eight-inch ruler, (11) can opener, (12) bottle opener, (13) wood/metal file, (14) diamond-coated file, (15) ¼” bit driver, (16) ⅛” bit driver, and a (17) medium screwdriver. It’s made of stainless steel, weighs 240.97g, and is 4″ long when closed. It costs around $125, depending on where you buy it.
- SOG PowerLock: The SOG PowerLock packs 18 tools, including a (1) 420 stainless steel half-serrated combo knife, (2) bit driver, (3) three-sided file, (4) awl, (5) blasting cap crimper, (6) bolt grip channel, (7) bottle opener, (8) can opener, (9) hard wire cutter, (10) large flat screwdriver, (11) medium flat screwdriver, (12) needle nose pliers, (13) Philips screwdriver, (14) 9 ¼” ruler, (15) scissors, (16) small flat screwdriver, (17) wire crimper, and a (18) 420 stainless steel wood saw. It’s also made of stainless steel, but weighs 272.16g, and is 4.6″ long when closed. It costs anywhere from $US70 ($95) to $150, depending on where you buy it.
On the most basic level, both of these tools perform a lot of the same tasks. There are a few differences, though. The SOG PowerLock has wire and blasting cap crimpers and an awl that the Leatherman doesn’t, and the Leatherman Wave has a smaller bit driver, a wire stripper (more on that later), and an extra blade that the SOG doesn’t. (The PowerLock combines the normal blade and serrated blade into one combo blade.)
Functionality and Accessing the Tools
The Wave and the PowerLock may have a lot of the same tools, but the way you get to those tools is different. The Wave lets you access the standard knife blade, serrated knife blade, file, and wood saw without you having to open the multitool up. You can whip out your Wave and access those tools instantly, as if it were a pocket knife. The PowerLock, however, requires you to open up the tool to “plier mode,” lift a metal wing grip on the side, and then access your tool. Those two extra steps aren’t a total dealbreaker, but it does hamper the PowerLock’s ability to be a pocket knife replacement — and that’s usually one of the perks of having a multitool.
Fortunately, the PowerLock makes up for it with its proprietary gear-driven, Compound Leverage system that lets you flip open the tool with a flick of the wrist. You can access the blades on the Wave with one hand, but opening the multitool up to use the pliers or access the other tools definitely requires two hands. In fact, I found the Wave to be kind of stubborn to open up, especially when I want to use the pliers. Granted, I’m using a brand new Wave and my PowerLock, while barely used, is a little older. There may be a “breaking in” phase with the Wave that I’m not aware of.
Both the Wave and PowerLock have locking mechanisms at the base of their handles that keep tools safely in place when in use. To fold a tool back into its compartment, you just press the locking mechanism on the handle and fold it in. Honestly, the locking mechanisms on both of these tools are so similar it’s kind of amazing there isn’t some sort of legal battle over the patent.
Head to Head Tests
Just because both of these multitools have a lot of the same tricks doesn’t mean each tool does its job well. Here’s a quick rundown of how some of the most oft used tools compare to each other:
- Knives: As we mentioned, the Wave has a dedicated standard knife while the PowerLock has a two-in-one knife with a half-serrated blade. When I tested the standard knife blade edges for each multitool, both made quick work of paper, cardboard, and food items, but the Wave felt sharper and its cuts were a little cleaner. For the serrated edges, however, the PowerLock cut more efficiently. In fact, when using the full edge of the PowerLock’s combo blade, it cut fantastically. The Wave may get points for having dedicated blades that are longer, wider, and easier to access, but the PowerLock’s combo blade gets points for efficiency.
- Wood Saw: Neither multitool’s wood saw blades work particularly well, but the Wave’s saw tool sucks the least. They both have alternating teeth, but the PowerLock’s saw teeth seem to be too wide. It takes some serious elbow grease to get things going, and saw dust accumulates in the PowerLock’s saw teeth pretty quickly. This YouTube video from CutleryNovice shows a demonstration that seems to echo my experience.
- Pliers: In this department, the PowerLock’s needlenose combo reigns supreme. The grips are more comfortable (thanks to those somewhat annoying metal wings), the pliers’ pivot points move with ease, and the Compound Leverage system makes accessing the pliers super fast and gives them some serious grip strength. The Wave has a similar combo plier system, but it doesn’t feel as springy, and the Wave’s smaller form factor actually hinders the pliers both in strength and grip.
- Wire Cutters: Once again, the PowerLock’s wire cutters seem to work a little better here. When I tested both multitools on an old iPod cable, the PowerLock chomped right through it. The Wave cut through the rubber casing, but couldn’t quite make it through the wiring and insulation inside.
- Scissors: Accessing the Wave’s scissors isn’t ideal. Each time I folded out the spring blade I would catch one of the pointy ends. This is technically avoidable, but the handle you’re supposed to use to fold out the scissors is tiny and doesn’t have enough leverage to pull them out. So I’d instinctively feel for a better grip and poke my finger. That said, the Wave’s scissors work really well, even on thick cardboard. My version of the SOG Powerlock has the V-Cut tool instead of spring scissors, which serves the same cutting purpose, but you use it by pulling the V-shaped blade along material instead of a scissoring action. It’s a lot safer because there’s no exposed blade, but it also doesn’t work nearly as well as regular scissors.
- Wire Strippers: The PowerLock doesn’t have a dedicated wire stripper tool, but to be fair, the Wave’s “wire stripper” is just a sharp notch in the bottom of the combo can opener/bottle opener and doesn’t work like most wire strippers. To use it, you make a small cut around the wire with your knife blade, then set it in the wire stripper notch and rotate the wire until the rubber is cut through enough to pull it off. You can do the same thing with the V-Cutter or scissors on a PowerLock and it would be just as effective. SOG also offers a dedicated wire stripper add-on for the PowerLock that can strip wire from 12 to 24 gauge.
For the rest of the tools like files, screwdrivers, bottle openers, and can openers, they all work as advertised. Neither multitool does anything revolutionary with those tried and true staples.
Warranties and Perks
The Leatherman Wave comes with a no-questions-asked limited 25-year warranty. Basically, if something breaks and the cause isn’t misuse or abuse, Leatherman will fix it or replace it at no cost to you. The SOG PowerLock, on the other hand, comes with a lifetime warranty with similar no-abuse stipulations, but it doesn’t seem quite as lenient as Leatherman’s. You’re protected from manufacturer defects, but SOG’s warranty doesn’t cover rusted or stained blades, broken or bent knife tips, chipped knife blades, or worn tool components. SOG does offer a blade sharpening service, but it will cost you unless your multitool came with dull blades out of the box.
Both the Wave and PowerLock come with leather belt holsters as well. The PowerLock’s holster is all leather, made in the USA, and has a more “rugged” feel. The Wave’s holster is leather and nylon, made in China, and has a more “tactical” feel.
The Wave is for people who want a pocket knife plus tools, the PowerLock is for professionals, electricians, and handymen. There’s no completely wrong choice here — both tools basically put Inspector Gadget in your pocket — but the Leatherman Wave is definitely the best all-around option for the everyman. The decision ultimately came down to functionality. Being able to access the knife blades without opening up the multitool is killer, and makes the Wave feel like a better version of the classic Swiss Army Knife. This is coming from someone who personally prefers SOG overall. So, for most of you, I recommend the Wave.
That said, the PowerLock does a few things way better than the Wave. If you’re doing electrical work, the pliers, wire cutters and clamps make the PowerLock a no-brainer when compared to the Wave, especially if you get the wire stripper add-on. Did I mention the pliers are way better? I know I did, but seriously guys — kickass pliers. For those of you who need a multitool for actual work work, I recommend the PowerLock. Plus, PowerLocks will usually cost a little less than Waves. So, depending on what you’re after, you might actually be able to get more tool for less.