A Whole New World of Multitools

New tools from Craftsman and Crescent can perform lots of tasks cheaper than buying individual tools – and they work pretty darn well too.

When someone says multitool, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the classic Leatherman style piece. You know, a pair of pliers, more or less, with a nice assortment of fold out tools in the handle. Convenient, useful. If you're more of a heavy duty tool user, the multitool denomination might make you think of a versatile power tool with exchangeable head units that can accomplish a decent variety of things, from cutting to sanding to different kinds of cutting. Okay, so it's not that varied.

No matter what you used to think when you heard “multitool,” there are a couple of brand new contenders that completely change the idea of what a multitool is. No longer is it necessarily a tool that does a few jobs pretty well, but instead it may just become a single unit that accomplishes almost everything. Sound too good to be true? Of course. No one system is ever going to take the place of everything in your toolbox, but if you're a Do-It-Yourselfer or just someone who wants to have a decent selection of tools around without breaking the bank, this new generation of tool is for you.

The Craftsman Bolt-On system is a clever contraption that starts with a Cordless Power Unit that comes with a 3/8″ Drill/Driver attachment, a battery charger, and a 20-Volt battery. This unit currently retails for around $112 and is a handy little drill/driver. If that's all this were, you'd have a decent entry level drill that's pretty competitively priced against other drills in its class, but then it wouldn't really be worth mentioning. The magic comes in the quick change Bolt-On system that, with a press of a button, allows you to slide the drill unit off of the piece, leaving you with a handle ready to accept a whole bevy of different attachments.

There are 8 additional attachments you can pick up for the system. For $40 a piece you get a sander, an impact driver, a router, a trim saw, a multi-tool (remember that one we talked about earlier?), a 2-speed hammer drill, and a nifty high pressure tire inflator. For $30, you can pick up the jigsaw head. So basically, for the entire system, you'd be looking at around $465, which is a very reasonable price when you consider just how many tools you're getting (nine). For comparison sake, if you wanted to pick up the more commonly used individuals tools, you'd probably be looking at four hundred dollars just for a decent drill/driver, impact driver, jigsaw, and multi-cutting tool. There are often various combo deals you can pick up, but you're not often going to find quality tools under $70 a piece.

As a Hollywood Leadman (an art department job, with responsibilities that range from crew management to project oversight, design, building, and repair), my job often revolves around power tools and their various applications. On an easy job, I'll probably have two tool bags with me and on a big job I'll have a whole kit of stuff with various saws, drills, drivers, routers, and pretty much anything else you can slap a battery in and climb a ladder with. I've used everything from the cheapest Ryobi starter set you can get (which I still own and use) to Black & Decker's, Dremels, Hitachi's, and my current go-to equipment, Makita 18-Volts. This is all to say that I appreciate a good tool. When you're on a twelve-foot tall ladder perched on the back of a lift-gate four feet off the ground, sixteen feet feels a whole lot higher, so you want the tool in your hand to do real work without weighing a lot – the downfall of the Ryobis, which weighed about six pounds.

Craftsman power tool accessories

The Craftsman Bolt-On will never replace a full tool kit, but it does perform admirably at a reasonable cost and at a light weight. The 20V Die Hard battery provides enough juice to run the tools and accomplish most of what you should be able to with a hand tool. Remember that heavy duty use calls for real power, not a battery. The Craftsman does feel slightly underpowered when compared to the 18V Makita, but then again it is significantly cheaper. That said, in my tests I had no problem driving screws through multiple pieces of wood or swapping to the trim saw and making quick cuts. While it's not the most powerful battery operated gun you'll ever hold, where it shines is speed and versatility.

A typical task for me on set might require me to cut a bunch of lumber to length, drill pilot holes, and then screw them together. This means having a saw nearby and then either a drill and a driver, or a couple of bit changes. So I either have 3 tools, or two that must have the bits switched out. Throw a busy schedule on that and it doesn't make sense for me to be using both drill/drivers because there is undoubtedly something else someone can be building. Changing bits is obviously not a hard, long, or intense process, but the Bolt-On actually makes it faster and easier. There is no need to open the chuck, no fumbling to find the drill bit that rolled away, and no need to hog all the tools. I actually found just swapping the attachment from Drill to Impact Driver to be a lot faster and more preferable to changing bits. The attachment heads are also a lot bigger than a bit, so they're not going to roll off your bench and disappear.

During my tests, I used the trim saw to cut wood to length, then put on the included drill to make my pilot holes before swapping to the impact driver to secure everything. I often found myself swapping the drill and driver heads and the process is very quick and easy. Switching to the router or jigsaw to shape was just as easy and slapping on the sander attachment was, again, super fast. While you purchase the attachments individually, you might want to grab a medium sized hard-case with foam inside to store it all. Or just a standard tool bag from any retailer could probably quite easily hold the equivalent of nine tools, something that usually takes me two bags and a large tote to get around.

So am I trading in my hundred pounds of tools for this system? No. As neat as the Bolt-on is, you probably won't be seeing it populating construction sites and movie sets. While handy, the unit is a bit underpowered for heavy, professional use, but it is superb for the home user and casual Do-It-Yourself guru. If you're looking for a way to do repairs around the house and tackle the occasional project, the Craftsman Bolt-On system deserves serious consideration. The basic Drill/Driver unit, at $112, performs as well as any comparable entry level drill. A basic Ryobi with the Ni-CAD battery is significantly cheaper, but also significantly heavier. The more comparable unit would be the Ryobi Li-On driver, which retails for around $130. The Black & Decker 20V Li-On drill driver currently retails for $70 and comes in around the same weight.

If all you needed in this life was a drill-driver, you might find a better fit or a cheaper fit with a different tool, but whether you're installing new gutters, fixing up the deck, or working on some shabby-chic art project, there is always one constant: you don't have everything you need at hand. There's almost always the invariable trip back to the hardware store. So if you find your drill/driver isn't cutting it (figuratively or literally, since now maybe you need a cutting tool), the Craftsman Bolt-On system will save you time and money in the long run. You can end up throwing down more money on space consuming tools you might not use again, or you can throw down $40 and upgrade your Bolt-On.

Final word on the Craftsman Bolt-On? A neat, affordable, space saving set that's perfect for casual work, apartment living, and home repairs that your average guy is capable of knocking out.

Oddjob tool diagram

Crescent Oddjob

While we're talking new multi-tools, there's another new arrival on the scene, this time from Crescent. It's called the “Odd Job” and it's 11 tools tucked into a hammer. Or maybe it's 10 tools tucked into a hammer plus a hammer. Either way, the Odd Job at first glance appears to be a gimmick, but once you handle it, you see the value in it.

The Odd Job is primarily a hammer (on one side) and a soft mallet (on the other). Protruding from the base is a reversible ratchet driver, which works surprisingly well. Tucked into the shaft is a removable, small size utility knife and on the other side is a a six bit storage container with, you guessed it, six bits. On top of the Odd Job is a nail puller and the package also comes with a flexible shaft for getting at hard to reach screws. So if you're keeping count, two hammers, six bits, a knife, a ratcheting driver, and a nail puller makes eleven. Granted,they're being a bit generous with the count. I'd give it an honest four, but hey, that's advertising for you. The nail-puller gets a thumbs down for any real work, but then again the Odd Job isn't meant for your tool bag, it's meant for a drawer in your kitchen.

It's almost as if the tool was designed to help you assemble furniture and decorate the home. The nail puller is tiny, meant for small nails, the kind you use to put the backing on Ikea bookshelves or hang framed photos in the living room. The hammer has a decent heft with a head heavy design that is suitable for applications around the apartment, again, like hanging pictures and assembling furniture, and doing minor repairs like banging nails back into place or fixing the random loose post. I'm most impressed with the ratcheting driver, which is always very useful, and the hammer head design makes for a good grip.

If you're finally moving into your own apartment away from Dad and his old metal toolbox full of everything you'd need, throwing down $20 on the Odd Job is a smart investment. Most things around the home don't require much more than a screw driver and a hammer, and you get both here with a little extra sass and presentation. If you've already got a bunch of tools, you won't throw this in with the rest of your stuff but keeping it on hand in the kitchen or the hallway dresser makes a bunch of sense. There's no reason to swing a 16oz hammer to hang a four ounce photo and no reason to whip out your 18V Impact Driver to tighten the screws on the lock plate on the bedroom door. Functional and practical, the Odd Job is a neat gift idea for someone lacking in tools or a friend moving into a new place, just not for your carpenter Uncle. Unless he's a collector of tools, then why the hell not?

So while the definition of multi-tool may remain unchanged, sufficed to say there are a lot of great combination tools out there that are smart pick-ups once you head out on your own into the world. The average apartment liver or new home owner probably won't need the tool kit of someone who depends on tools 70 hours a week, so there's not much reason to pay the same premium price as they do. When it comes to bang for your buck, the Craftsman Bolt-On set seems like a real, space saving winner and the Odd Job isn't bad either.

Robert Fure

Robert Fure is a fitness, lifestyle, and entertainment writer living in Los Angeles. He is also a certified Personal Trainer and the Creator/Editor of Fit and Furious, an online outlet dedicated to the pursuit of a fit lifestyle. His entertainment work can be viewed at Film School Rejects.