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Gears & Gadgets

Tooling Around With Repair Kits

October 02, 1994|JUDI DASH

Until recently, the only pocket tools I toted around were my two trusty Swiss Army knives--one a basic model with a couple of blades, a nail file and a corkscrew, the other a weighty multi-tool, with scissors, screw drivers and saws for both wood and metal. But newfangled twists on Swiss Army knives are popping up all over the place. Some are veritable mini-tool chests on hinges; others contain special gadgets for repairing bicycles or eyeglasses. All are an acceptably portable size, and can come in handy on the go. Prices below do not include postage and handling:

The Leatherman Tool performs so many functions that in the several months I've had one on hand for testing, I've found only a few tasks it can't do. Especially useful--and unusual in a pocket tool--are the pliers that fold out of the two handles, which fold back to provide a solid grip for usage. Also concealed within the handles are a fold-out can/bottle opener, three sizes of standard screwdrivers, a Phillips screwdriver, metal and wood file/saw, an awl/punch, and wire cutters. When extended parallel to each other, the handles form an eight-inch ruler. The entire tool is only 4 inches long by 1 inch wide and less than one-half inch thick when folded and comes with its own snap-shut leather pouch. Manipulating the handles takes some practice, since the hinges are a bit stiff. Also, I missed the presence of a scissors or corkscrew, items I frequently use, on the go. Still, for tougher tasks, the Leatherman is hard to beat, and the addition of a basic Swiss Army knife can fill in the gaps.

Leatherman Tool (item No. KT547V) is $48.50 from Magellan's; (800) 962-4943. A smaller, lighter version (No. KT547VS) with fewer screwdrivers costs $37.50.

The Nature Company's Pocket Survival Tool is an attractive slim-line alternative to the Swiss Army Knife. The 3 1/8-by-1 7/8-inch stainless steel case is equipped with a folding knife, scissors, magnifying lens, cap and can opener, screwdriver, wrench, three-inch ruler, sharpening stone and nail file. The polished surface functions as a mirror. No, there's no fish-scaler or metal saw, and no plastic toothpick or tweezers pop out of any recesses--standard features on most Swiss Army knives--but you can't have everything in a package this compact. And you do get a carrying case with a belt loop.

Pocket Survival Tool (No. 298232) is $21.95 from the Nature Company; (800) 227-1114.

No slouch when it comes to innovation, Victorinox, maker of the Original Swiss Army Knife, recently introduced a Traveler's Kit. Inside a black leather pouch with a Velcro closure and belt loop are a knife with 18 implements, a mini-Solitaire Maglite flashlight, and a compass/ruler with a magnifying glass and indoor-outdoor thermometer. Each of the three components slides into its own compartment in the pouch. The 3 1/2-inch knife with signature red handle includes: a large blade, small blade, corkscrew, can opener with small screwdriver, cap opener with screwdriver and wire stripper, reamer/punch, scissors, multipurpose hook, wood saw, mini-screwdriver, straight pin, key ring, tweezers, toothpick and tiny ballpoint pen. The effect is very snazzy as well as practical--a neat gift for Yuppie fixer-uppers. Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Traveler's Kit is $91 at sporting goods stores.

Cyclists often fear breakdowns on the road--particularly remote routes, such as mountain paths. The Cool Tool, as advertised, is like having a mini bike repair shop in the palm of your hand--provided, of course, you know how to do the job. Totally ignorant of bike mechanics, I asked a cycling friend who is on intimate terms with his bike's every element to test the tool for several months. He liked what he saw--and used. Of course, in an instrument just 5 inches long and 2 inches wide, there's no spare tire or extra chains. There is, however--and this will only mean something to people who know what to do with them--an adjustable narrow-gauge crescent wrench with square jaws to fit all spokes as well as nuts and bolts up to three-fourth inches; 4-, 5- and 6-millimeter Allen wrenches; a No. 1 Phillips screwdriver; chain breaker; Allen wrench holder, and 14-millimeter crank-bolt wrench.

The Cool Tool bike repair kit (No. K546-241) is $20 from REI; (800) 426-4840.

On a simpler note, I've found an inexpensive eyeglass repair kit that already has come to the rescue in the short time I've had it. The kit includes four tiny replacement hinge screws, a miniature screwdriver and a magnifying glass, all within a see-through plastic carrying case. The screws slide into the hollow handle of the screwdriver. The whole thing measures a mere 3 1/2 inches by 1 3/4 inches and weighs half an ounce.

Eyeglass Repair Kit (No. KO539) is $1.85 from Magellan's; tel. (800) 962-4943. Gear & Gadgets appears the first week of every month.

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