Friday, July 26, 2013

Gerber Dime Review (vs Leatherman Squirt P4)

I'm going to write this review over a quiet drink - you have been warned. I have been using a Leatherman Squirt P4 as my every day carry for over 3 years now, and it has served me very well indeed. My review of it remains my most popular post to date, and I am happy with that. I find the P4 so useful that I bought a spare one just in case I lost my old faithful. But it seems the world has moved on since I last checked the mini-multitool segment, and there are some new and interesting models in this space. One that caught my eye via a YouTube review was the subject of today's post - the Gerber Dime. I got mine new on eBay for a very reasonable $30 AUD or so. Here they are side by side...

It is about the same size and weight as the p4, and has a set of pliers as the main tool. There are other tools on the handle accessible without having to open the device further. In short, it is pretty similar the P4 in its basic attributes, but there are more than a few differences to make this interesting.

One thing that strikes you (or at least, did me) as soon as you see the Dime is the prevalent bottle opener. This is fixed, and can not be closed into the handle in any way. Let me start the tour of this device the with this component then. I think there are two questions that need to be settled about this bottle opener - is it annoying to have sticking out like that all the time, and is it any good...

For reference, the opener on the P4 works, but you have to go about it fairly slowly in case you crack the glass - taking a minimum of 2 levers and sometimes up to 4 to get a stubborn cap off. When you have had a few beers, this is more than it should be, and I have had an observer comment by an innocent bystander that they thought it was a bit, well the words they used was "pathetic". The Dime in contrast is a very built for purpose bottle opener, and it is a lot more effective. I would even go further to say that this is one of the main improvements over the P4. If I have to go to a gathering where beer opening may be involved - grab the Dime not the P4!

As for the second question - let me first say that I keep the tool in my pant pockets all day every day. The chance of being poked or snagging somehow on a thread is significant. And it is near to some anatomical parts of me that I am fond of, and don't like being harassed. Many people keep their multitool on their key ring, so keep this in mind - but I don't. Anyway, I was not sure if it was going to be  a problem or not when I ordered it and I am pleased to say that it has not caused any problems in pocket. In fact, in a quick hold of the device, it helps you orient yourself as to which way is what. This is a good thing.

Backing up slightly, the key ring issue. it is located right next to the bottle opener, in what I consider to not be an ideal location. I have not tried it, but I imagine it would not be great to use if it is connected to a key ring and you need to open a bottle, unless you open the tool first. One extra step makes it that much less convenient in my book, but then again I think I'm a fussy bugger. Another issue I have with the key ring is that the place it is joined to on the Dime is fixed, protruding and fairly sharp thin metal. I'll be honest here - I took a fairly drastic and immediate step when I got the Dime. I decided that the keyring was not for me, so I used my angle grinder and within a few moments it was gone forever. For me this simple mod was a fairly significant improvement. No more keyring. 

This leads into another observation I have about the Dime, at least, my particular sample. Overall when I got it it felt like a lot of sharp edges, and very stiff to get certain tools out. The flat head screwdriver, in particular took the tip of my strong finger nails off twice, and I could not get it open without a fight. This is a useful tool, so I wanted to be able to get to it much more easily. This led me to my second mod, well, more of an adjustment than a mod really. It also highlights another feature of the Dime over the P4 too - the Torx screws that hold the tool together. I took off the scale to reveal the two drivers. There are actually two metal washers as well, one on each side, to keep thing spaced and moving. I greased these and reassembled, but found the tool still stiff, so I opened it back up and had another look. I took a slight gamble and bent, ever so slightly, the back bar that provides tension to the driver. It worked perfectly, and as it was just millimetres, it is possible that this is within tolerances and other samples do not have this problem nor need this adjustment. What I am saying is that you can take a few weeks or months (years?) to get to a nicely moving device, or you can help things along a bit and take it apart an shove it in the right direction. That's what I did, and I am glad I did. Be bold, and reap the rewards!! Fortune favours the brave, and all that.

So now I am conveniently talking about the flat head screwdriver, so let me carry on with this. It is tapered, but man, only just. It takes very close observation to see it, at first I thought it wasn't tapered at all, but it is, just. The P4 has a nicer large flat head screwdriver, but it's also a bottle opener, so, I guess it is a close call. The P4 is slightly finer, which I like. What I mean by that is that the blade of the screwdriver is thinner, fitting into thinner slots of screws. Few things are more frustrating than a screwdriver being too thick for the job, so this is a score for the P4. Overall the Gerber large screwdriver works, but I would but I would not say it is exactly a joy to use.

I need another drink. Hold on.

Ah, that's better. Now, where where we? Oh yes. The large screwdriver. It works.

But let us now move on to more interesting things. The tools that the Gerber Dime has that the P4 does not. There is a tool here that is fairly, in my mind at least, unique. So what is it? Well.... the "consumer package opening tool". Sounds like a real gimmick doesn't it? Well, it isn't so much, it is genuinely useful, although you still have to be careful with it. Basically it is a way of getting into hard plastic packaging with relative ease. Think of the times you have struggled with the heat-sealed edged plastic packages. They may contain a USB device, or a new wonder-gadget, or the kids Christmas present, or whatever. The point it, people hand you shit simply to UNPACK because they can't do it and they expect you to be able to. This tool can do the job, better than scissors, but probably only just. The tiny blade section is designed to cut the plastic and run along the edge to unseal the product. You need to take care that you don't score the product in question at the same time or slip out and dig the tool into your nearby warm flesh. That's just plain embarrassing, not to mention painful. The example on my tool is only semi-sharp, so it does the job but with perhaps more force than I am comfortable with. I have not tried to sharpen this tool because I am too damn lazy I think, but that is where it is at. It is a one-sided tool, so that is not a great thing but does allow for a clean cut. I like that this tool is there, and I have used it a few times, but I think genuine caution and care are required to use it. Overall, a good thing in a mini-multi tool except that it consumes TWO spaces for otherwise smaller tools. The two tools that are missing, at least on the P4 as a result, are the small screwdriver and the awl.

Do you need a small screwdriver? Do you need an awl? Not all the time, that's for sure. But sometimes they are useful, yes. Definitely. I miss them. I clean under my fingernails with them, for example. Wait. Did I just think that or say it? Oh, nevermind.

Let's move on to more comfortable ground - the main blade. This should be easy, right? The blade on the P4 is not strong, in fact, I'd say it is fairly weak. So on the Dime? Well, it is stronger, but also *different*. For a start, it is is not a one sided affair, so YAY! for proper beveling. I think it is hollow ground even, but just by fractions of mm. Here is where it is very very different though - it is a REVERSE TANTO blade. Like, what? Yeah, ok. I'm an old fashioned kinda guy, like most of you (except the gals, and welcome ladies! Leave a comment, to prove you exist!). And to me, a drop point is the way to go (aka P4 blade), but the Dime Tanto is workable. It only just provides enough point to get into packages and puncture things you need to with a small blade. Only just, and angled right too. But once the thing is punctured, you are all good. The blade has a nice belly, it is sharp enough, and overall good enough to handle anything you are prepared to throw at a 3.5cm (almost 1.5 inch) blade. Which is probably not much, but a lot of the irritating thing in life!

If you want to skip the above paragraph - the blade is a bit quirky, but good - better than the blade on the P4.

One last thing before I move on. Like a good monkey, I have learnt that to get the blade, see the Gerber logo first, on the green side, and you are good to go. Of course, if you have a crass red Gerber, or some other ungoldy colour, you need to adjust. I like green.

So, now, scissors. We need to talk about those. Or at least, I need to. I'm just a voice inside your head at the moment. Hello? ....Is there anybody out there? (sing in a Pink Floyd voice). Ahem. Sorry. That was the rum talking. My fingers are back in my control (I think). Scissors. Focus. Yes. They are good. And the P4 doesn't have any at all, so in comparison, they are infinitely good (divide by zero error, anyone?). No, really. As far as mini (or even slightly larger) tools go, these scissors on the Dime are good. Spring action and a sense of a fine edge. A++ to Gerber on this one, and deserving of the patent they have on them.

What's left then? The Phillips head screwdriver. This is similar to the one on the P4. It is a 2D affair, and gets the job done surprisingly well. You don't want to apply too much torque, but a normal amount will get the job done just fine. It's on par with the P4.

Is that it? Holy crap, I have forgotten the main tool - the pliers! These are a claimed three-tools in one I recall - pliers, multi-grips and wire cutters. Ok, I might have made the middle one up, but you know what I mean. Let me be serious for a moment. The pliers on the P4 are good - enough to justify it's existence. The pliers on the Gerber Dime? Again, different, but in a way just as good. They are finer - easier to pluck eyebrows, and importantly open wider. But they are not as grippy. And in wire cutting ability about the same. Overall, not disappointing at all, quite ok. I will say that I did take a fine sandpaper to the whole tool, and the tip of the pliers got a good sanding. As it came, it was sharp cornered and not particularly friendly to the user. Once lightly sanded however, it was on par with the P4.

So now, the tour of tools is over, which I am sure is a relief to you. You may be left with an empty feeling though. What is missing? Is there something we have forgotten?? Well, yes. I suppose so. The Dime does not have a metal file. At least, not one worth a dime (do you see what I did there?). There are some cuts on the Phillips head screwdriver but they are more decorative than functional. So the P4 has that over the Dime, but it is not a big win as I rarely use this tool.

Is there anything else? Well, yes, and this is perhaps the only and main criticism of the the Dime. There is no fine tool - a fine screwdriver or awl. You will recall that this is where the scissors go. And look, scissors are useful, but so are the Awl/Fine screwdriver. The acid test is that in everyday use I have missed these fine tools. You may need them to adjust a fine thing like a screw on a set of glasses, or scrape dirt from a fine groove, such as in a phone or keyboard (or fingernail!). There are honestly millions of uses of a fine point (but not a blade), and you can probably imagine a few yourself if you try for a minute. So that is the one place the Dime fails in comparison to the P4. When I first got the Dime, this seemed like a deal breaker. I gave it a chance though, and I am glad I did.

So. I have crapped on for ages now. My glass is dangerously low. I need to come to a conclusion, to wrap things up here. How does the Gerber Dime compare to the favourite-of-all-time-mini-multi-tools the Leatherman P4? Well, to answer the question I think I need to say that I have been using the Dime as my EDC (Every Day Carry) for some months now. The acid test is simply this - do I miss the P4? Do I want to grab it instead of the Dime each day?

I want to say that I love the P4. My example, at least, is the most wonderful tactile device I think I have had the pleasure of touching. The Gerber Dime is different, in may ways, and not as refined, but it is at least on par, if not a fraction (and I emphasize FRACTION) above. It is a very close thing, and subject to much debate and personal opinion, but I would recommend purchasing BOTH devices. Use the Dime as your EDC, and have the P4 as your backup. That's what I do. It works, and for now, I am a happy man.


I like comments, so please add yours if you have something to say!


Update 2014-09-25 : My trusty green dime scissors broke after about 1 year of use. Actually, the scissors were fine, it was the tension bar that provides the spring action that broke, so they simply did not spring back. That was enough for me to buy a new one on ebay, and I went the red this time. Actually, as I write this I don't know where it is - usually it is in my pocket. I have my leatherman squirt P4 on me now as a backup and it feels very much like a downgrade now.


Update 2015-01-15 : The red dime I purchased also failed on me, this time within 6 months. The issue with this one is that the backstop for the blade bent under pressure (and possibly a screw that was a fraction too lose). I could not bend it back and I didn't like the blade bending back in use. Despite this, I am still a believer that the dime is currently the best mini-multitool out there. I replaced it with a black one this time and I feel that this is ever-so-slightly more sturdy. I have not modded this one by removing the keyring attachment, and it has been fine - this seems less sharp on this model. The black coating seems to be holding up remarkably well so far.

Out of curiosity, I also purchased a "Bear Grills Compact Multi-tool" to give it a try. In a few words this is a very solid device, chunkier and sturdier than the Dime and is pleasing in the hand, but lacks scissors in favour of two blades (one serrated). The tweezers are lame also, so I find it overall less useful due to the tools available. I'm still using the Dime in preference, it just seems lighter and better.


Update 2020-09-09 : I still have a Gerber Dime in my pocket at almost all times, and a larger dedicated knife, as part of my EDC. The above-mentioned black coated version lasted a really long time and failed again with the tension bar on the scissors - the metal can't keep the tension up over the (very) long term. I feel very lost without this tool, so I did buy another TWO units on eBay. Reminds me of the line in, I think, the movie contact "Why buy one when you can get two for twice the price!". So I have a new one again in my pocket and a spare boxed new one at home waiting for day when I lose or break it. For the money, I see these as incredible value items, so useful. I will note that the feel of each piece is subtly different, but they tend to wear into the same feel eventually. The snap point of the pliers, for example, can be different. I've noticed the tweezers are easier to get out on this example compared to my old one. It is little things, but now I've owned a couple I can see them. I still think this is the best option out there -- easy to recommend one.


Unknown said...

thanks for the review. Planning to buy a Dime this week.

this will be the first time i'll be using a MT. have a Swiss army knife for the last 6 years.

Guy said...

Hey. Cheers for the excellent review. Would you recommend one of these or any favourite Swiss army knife for overnight hikes? The only thing these lack that i'd like is a wood saw...

Perry said...

You didn't mention that the Dime has a small pair of tweezers (they're easy to miss)

Saul said...

Thanks for the comments people! It has been while since I have been on Blogger - sorry about the delayed response!!

Guy : the Dime is good for EDC, but for a serious camp use I think maybe something larger might be appropriate. YMMV.

Perry : Quite so, sorry about that. I think it was the wine! The tweezers are there, but I don't find them great and have not really used them much. The pliers actually make better tweezers than the tweezers do!

Unknown said...

So let me see if I understand this: You carried the P4 for over 3 years and the first Dime failed after about a year of use; and the second Dime failed after six months of use but you still think the Dime is worth purchasing?

I'm asking because I carry a Dime but really think I should have bought a Squirt PS4 because the Dime won't last.

Saul said...

Wesley, well, that sounds right but it does not really tell the whole story. These things are fairly easy to push past their limits and in some ways they are disposable if you *really* want to get something done.

The black Dime I now have as my EDC is slightly more solid than the green/red one and seems to be holding up well, although the black has worn around the edges. Even though I carry it loose I have left the keyring loop on this one. I also wanted to briefly update on the tweezers - I do use them a lot now, not as tweezers but simply with my nail pulling them out a bit and pushing them back in as a kind of habitual movement. Similar to opening the pliers a little to just the right tension point and letting them snap back with the smallest of squeezes, so satisfying.

I stand by my recommendation of the Dime over the P4. After using both extensively the Dime has the edge.