Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leatherman Squirt P4 vs S4 vs PS4

This post will likely interest only a small number of people on the planet, those who know of Leatherman's tiny multi-tool "Squirt" range, and wonder what they are like, or possibly which one to buy. In particular, the latest model, the PS4 combines some of the features of the previous generation - so it's the latest, but is it the greatest? Note that I am not an electrician, so the E4 is of no interest to me and I don't have one (the main tool is a pair of wire strippers).

Firstly, the three tools share some components. They all have a slip-joint (non-locking) knife, for example. This is decent, and fairly sharp when you first get it, so you need to treat it with respect or you will lose some flesh. Note that it's flat ground but the final edge is only on one side of the blade. I use the blade a lot, it's good to have one in your pocket, and nobody is going to feel life threatened when you pull it out HOWEVER, it's also a good way to lose your tool. All you have to do is take it through airport security and they will confiscate it. In fact, that's where two of mine came from, second hand from airport security auctions.

Moving on, they all also have a bottle opener, wide flathead screwdriver (that's one tool) and a one-dimensional phillips head screwdriver. The later arguably also has a small flat head screwdriver at the end also. The one-D thing, in case you have never used it, works surprisingly well. Anyway, that's it for the common tools amongst the P4, S4 and PS4.

Let's cut to the chase and get to the main tools. The clue is in the name of each tool, of course. S=Scissors, P=Pliers. The only tricky one is the PS4, which has pliers as the main tool... and scissors as a minor tool. I'll go over that again to make it absolutely clear. The S4 has scissors, but no pliers. The P4 has pliers, but no scissors. The PS4 has pliers (main) and scissors (minor). You can't have two main tools, and what I mean by minor is that they are smaller and an outside accessible tool, along with all the others. While I'm on this thought, this is one of the things I really love about the Squirt design - ALL tools are accessible from the outside except the main tool, which requires the wonderful butterfly action to open.

A picture may really help here, so here goes -

(Click for larger image)

So, anyway, scissors versus pliers? They both clearly have their place. The S4 is a fantastic "personal grooming" tool, as is evident by some of the companion minor tools. For more general work though, I feel that the P4 is a better bet. The reason is that the pliers are fine enough to make decent tweezers and can cut string (in the wire cutters). Most other things that you might want to cut with the scissors you can get away with using the blade instead. The scissors in the S4 are pretty decent, however, they are quite short and so you will only get a maximum 25mm cut each time. You don't want to be hacking away at an A3 piece of paper with these little snippers, although they are sharp enough that most times you can run the scissor along once you start a cut (obviously, it depends what you are cutting, but paper or tape would do this).

The scissors in the S4 have some grunt to them then, but in the PS4, not so much. I'd still cut my finger nails with them, but that's about it, and I don't know if it'd get through my toe nail! Maybe. So they are a bit dinky, more like a SAK pair of scissors, and only good for really minor jobs. They are even shorter too, at 16mm by my measure. One good thing -- both are sprung, so a cut comes back ready for the next cut. I like this in the main tools too - the pliers are sprung also, please don't underestimate how good that makes them. The spring action on my PS4 is slightly stronger than the other two.

The reason for so much pontificating about the scissors is that they are the "line in the sand" between the PS4 and the other models. It used to be pliers OR scissors, and now you can have both. Is there a sacrifice? Well, as it turns out there is. Not just the fact, already pointed out above, that the scissors are fairly wimpy. The bigger sacrifice is that the scissors take up two minor tool spots, and one in particular I have found handy in everyday use. The two tools lost (as per the P4) are the jewellers screwdriver and the awl. These are both thin tools, and this is where they become handy, being able to get into cracks or a small hole. The PS4 loses both these tools, and as a consequence, has no thin tool. You could argue that you can use one of the blades of the scissors as a thin tool, but it's not really made for that.

The one tool on the P4 and PS4 that I don't use much (and I wish they had used instead for the scissors) is the file/saw/chisel. I've never used this, actually. Funny, but there it is. I'm sure some people use them "all the time" and think they are wonderful. Not me. The S4 has a more useful tool instead, a metal nail file / cleaning hook / ruler. The ruler is a joke, managing just 3.5cm with some of the markings missing. But the hook/nail file are excellent. Coupled with the main scissors and the metal tweezers, you can see why this is the one to have for "personal grooming".

The PS4 has some other "generational" changes too. The design is somewhat different than the other two. The scales, for a start are a matt finish. I thought they were plastic at first, but discovered they were not. How did I discover this? Well, this leads to another subtle design change : that the scales on the PS4 are considerably less rounded at the edges. Sharp even. And when you are using the pliers they are a bit uncomfortable on the hand. So I went at them with some sand paper, and after some rubbing, I exposed the metal underneath.

The S4 and P4 I have are second hand, and fairly "well loved". One issue with the scales is that the anodised aluminium chips fairly easily, particularly around the end with the keyring. I have not had the PS4 all that long, but I get the impression that the finish on this might last a little better.

What they also did with the PS4 is change the scooping that is in the scales, so that you can access the tools. On the P4/S4, the scoops were generous, and symmetrical, identical on all 4. On the PS4, they are considerably smaller, and not symmetrical. Actually, that's not quite right. The long tools (blade and file) get a long scoop along the length of the tool. The smaller tools get no scoop at all, the thumb nicks being *just* proud of the scales. The scissors get an off centre tiny scoop. It's all a bit random, really, in a modern way. One advantage, I suppose, is that it might be slightly faster getting orientated with the tool when you pull it out of your pocket. With the symmetry on the other models, you get less visual clues. I will say that I've never had a major problem finding the right tool, quickly, on the P4, so this is only a very minor win. I will say that I have found, on occasion, getting tools open on the PS4 a slight fiddle, so that's a bigger loss. I have ok finger nails, but if you bite yours, you might not be able to open the tools at all.

One other thing to mention about the scales on the PS4. They are slightly thicker than the P4/S4, and the whole tool is held together by torx screws rather than thick rivets. The screws are taller than the rivets too, so the overall effect is that the PS4 feels ever so slightly wider (about 1mm, it's not much). Potentially this enables you to take the tool apart. I don't intend to, and I don't think many people will, but I guess that's good. The finish also seems to be less cold to touch on the PS4 too, although I might be imagining it. Might be good if you live in a really cold place, but I don't.

I really know how to crap on about nothing, don't I? But for some strange reason, this stuff is interesting to me. I don't know why!

I think it's important to come to a conclusion here. Which is my favourite? And I'm not going to cop out by say "I like them all", even though, I actually do. Let me eliminate the easy one first then. The S4 stays on my keyboard at home. I don't carry it with me as a rule, and like using it but I could live without it by using other tools more suited for the job (I'm looking at you, nail clippers!).

So that narrows down the field to the P4 and the PS4. I had the P4 as an essential every-day carry for ages, and swapping out to the PS4 has highlighted some of the differences. I am yet to use the dinky scissors, but I have had the PS4 in my pocket and missed the jewellers screwdriver. In terms of the (to me) all important "fiddle factor", the P4 I have has the absolute perfect tension to snap back as I open and close it repeatedly. I even half close it and squeeze just enough for the tool to close on it own. It's a joy to do this, again, I'm not really sure why, it just is. Please note that I have used other P4's, and they do not all have this wonderful tension. If the hinge on the main tool has been damaged, this will be ruined, for example.

So which is it, the P4 or the PS4? C'Mon...

Oh, this is hard. Um. Ok. Well, the PS4 I have is new, and black (which I like). But the P4 is a nice blue too, but it's a bit beat up. Oh. Ah...

It's a close race, really, but in the end my heart is telling me this : the one I like the most, overall is the P4. It's just such a nice, tactile experience to use this little wonder. And it has the tools I most often use. I do prefer the symmetry of the scales, if I'm honest too. I partly wrote this post in an effort to make up my mind about this, so now I'm done. Phew!!

BTW, I would recommend buying any of the Squirts on eBay. The retail stores seem to delight in marking these up the wazoo, so it can be half the price. No matter which one you buy, you will wonder how you ever got on without it. They really are wonderful things (and make great gifts too), I'm a big fan of them. I've never wanted or owned a large multi-tool though, it's a compact size and weight of the squirt that makes it the winner it is.

Edit 2013-07-26 : You may be interested in the review of the Gerber Dime against the Leatherman P4 here!


Faysal said...

Found this post just googling around, I think I'm ending up with an s4. I liked reading peoples personal experiences and why they use the tool.

I figure its better to have small scissors than small pliers for my use. The loss of tools on the ps4 is saddening as well.

Saul said...

Faysal : You will be happy with the S4, it's a little wonder. They are all good, it comes partly down to intended use and personal preference.

P said...

I ran across your posts searching for reviews. Thanks for the detailed comparison. This is going to be a multitool for my backpacking repair kit. I'm going with the PS4 b/c my main knife has an awl, and the file and scissors on the PS4 outweigh the mini screwdriver for me. Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Great comparison of the the 2 tools.
I am a fan of the S4 as an all around pocket tool but carry the Juice when I know I'll need more that the s4 has to offer.

jimmy said...

Thanks for the info. Going to go with the P4 I think. That little sissors will never be of any use. I agree with you that the file could be replaced with something much more useful

Unknown said...

I appreciate this insight. Exactly what I needed!! Thanks!!!

Saul said...

Thanks all for your feedback!

Unknown said...

I am one of few on the planet who really needed this post! You helped me buy the better tool for my nephew. Thanks!

Saul said...

Ben : You can get them engraved too for a nice personal touch. I gave a P4 to my son and did this.

baroness radon said...

Not long ago, I had my S4 confiscated by TSA. Bummer, it had the great scissors. I had bought it in a pair deal at Costco; gave a P4 to husband, kept the S4. I couldn't remember what the difference was when I ordered a replacement Ps4 from Amazon (kind of disappointed) but found an S4 on eBay, probably mine! Also have a cheap Chinese is lousy. (Also lost my big leatherman in China in the Hangzhou airport...really need to remember to check these things.) Nice review, even all these years later!

Mpls-MN said...

I am one of those people!

Has to be P4. It's the awl that makes all the difference form me - mainly it's my knot untier.

All other brands are inferior, and I'm not interested in any other size.

Third one now - I usually do something dumb and break either the pliers or file. Have to get them from Ebay now because they are discontinued...

They tried to take mine away from me at the Ryder Cup security gate, but I refused to give it up, and just walked on through.

Started scratching my name and phone number in them, because I can't stand to be without one in my pocket.


absolutCT said...

Too late to the party, but I found your review through a google search and I enjoyed it a lot. So I'm compelled to let you know, as new proud owner of both secondhand P4 and PS4. My bests regards from Spain.