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Since Tim Leatherman created the Pocket Survival Tool in 1983, his namesake company has continued to rif on and improve upon that original design frequently, but the archetypal plier-centric multi-tool form has remained (with a few exceptions recently introduced by the brand's Garage innovation team, including a the fixed blade Harvest Knife and cork-screw focused EUROPE75). The newest iteration is the Leatherman ARC, released today 5 October 2023, too, but the company's latest all-purpose multi-tool contains a slate of significant features that set it apart from any multi-tool to have come before it.
For the past few weeks I've been able to use the new ARC multi-tool for myself at home in Vermont, and have a few thoughts to share.
The most notable among them will be obvious only to a small set of passionate knife nerds: a blade made of CPM MagnaCut steel. MagnaCut is a specialized steel that's notable because it maximizes and balances all three of a steel alloy's key traits for a knife blade—edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance—where most types max out one or two at the expense of the third. That means that the ARC's modified drop-point knife blade will hold a sharp edge, will stand up to chipping and cracking, and will handle moisture well without rusting.
The ARC is the first multi-tool to use MagnaCut, primarily because the so-called "super steel" is especially difficult to work with. Leatherman had to rework its production process accordingly, laser cutting the shape from a sheet before using a CNC machine to create the profile and a unique heat treatment to finish the blade. All during the process, MagnaCut "puts up a fight," said Leatherman lead design engineer Peter Parker during a hands-on press event.
A new knife blade isn't the only thing the ARC has going for it though. The multi-tool was heavily influenced by input from a group of over 200 Leatherman users from a broad spectrum of hobbies, jobs, and ages. Using the Leatherman FREE platform, which uses magnets to allow for easy one-handed use of every implement, the ARC contains 20 tools, among them a bit driver and accompanying set of bit heads, a diamond file, an improved awl, and an improved bottle opener.
"The perfect tool is always going to be a compromise from a lot of people's ideals," noted Adam Lazenby, Leatherman's senior product designer. It's clear from our early hands-on that the ARC is a strong assertion against that reality. And, while highly premium materials and features like MagnaCut have previously only been available in limited-edition releases from the Leatherman Garage, the ARC is part of Leatherman's regular catalog, meaning more people will get a chance to make that assessment for themselves.