Thursday, January 14, 2010

Miscellany: Victorinox Tinker SAK review

The Leatherman-style multitools have become the most popular designs in the MT world for good reason: the combination of standard folding tools with integral pliers is space-efficient and useful. If you want to buy a genuine Leatherman, though, it's going to be expensive (more than $40 for most of their U.S.-made models), and it's going to be relatively heavy (usually at least 5 ounces).

Due to these drawbacks, there's still a place for the classic Swiss Army knife design. Hey, it's MacGyver approved:

Besides being MacGyver's SAK of choice, the Tinker is one of the most practical of the Victorinox models. It's a close cousin to Karl Elsner's original Officer's Knife, which Victorinox now calls the Spartan. The Tinker's sleek, 2-ply design only weighs 2.2 ounces - less than half of the compact size Leatherman Juice, and nearly as light as the ultracompact keychain MTs. The Tinker's one size smaller than the Super Tinker (sacrificing the scissors and the mostly-useless parcel hook), but it's also much thinner and lighter since it uses one less layer and spring in its design.

The main blade on the Tinker is the classic SAK pen blade that everyone knows and loves. It's big, measuring nearly 2-1/2" inches, so it works great for light cutting tasks like opening packaging or cutting apples. It's not the hardest knife steel, but it's flat ground and easy to sharpen. As you can see, the Tinker also sports a smaller, secondary blade; while it works okay, I wish this secondary blade had a different blade shape to make it more useful (perhaps a serrated sheepsfoot or a modified Wharncliffe design like other Victorinox models).

Like most of the 3-1/2" (91mm) size Victorinox knives, the Tinker has two signature tools - the can opener and the bottle opener. The can opener in particular is well-designed, perhaps the best opener out there. While it's slow (you take little bites of the can, working it forward along the rim), I've used it to crack open several different cans with no problems. There's a small screwdriver at the end of the can opener, too, though the awkward placement limits its utility.

The bottle opener works fine for popping beer bottles, but the real star is the big flat-bladed screwdriver on the end. This size is good for a wide variety of screws, including those found on the mounts for scopes and tactical lights. This tool can lock at both 180 degrees and a 90 degrees, increasing its versatility in tight spaces.

On the back of the knife, we see the reamer/awl and the Phillips screwdriver. The Phillips driver's placement is less than ideal, obviously, but it locks up strongly and gives you plenty of leverage.

More problematic, though, is the awl. While it has a good shape, the actual lock-up of the tool is pretty bad. It's easy to push the awl off of 90 degrees with light pressure, and there's even a good deal of side-to-side play. Granted, the awl's still usuable, but it's much less capable than the locking awls found on the newer MTs.

Part of the awl's problem, I suppose, is that it shares a spring with the tools in the front. This is both a blessing an a curse; like Elsner's original design, you can cram more tools into the handle, but the springs have to do double-duty and are thus not going to lock as well as purpose-built springs. This weakness is borne out by the fact that Victorinox's larger MTs with singular, individual springs, like the SwissTool, all lock up solidly.

Nearly every SAK with red plastic handle scales has a toothpick and tweezers, and the Tinker is no different. On the 3-1/2" models, the toothpick is longer compared to the smaller SAKs, enough that you might actually consider using this as a toothpick (wash it first, obviously). Disappointingly, the tweezers are the exact same size and design as the keychain SAKs - I would have liked to see tweezers with an independent spring mechanism and a finer point.

To sum up, the Tinker offers a lot of functionality (three drivers, two blades, and a great can opener) in a very pocketable size and shape. Best of all, you can easily score one for under $15, which is flat-out ridiculous for a product that's made in Switzerland and has a lifetime warranty. It's an inexpensive way to embrace your inner MacGyver.


At 3:03 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I have a Tinker and a Tinker Small. The Tinker Small is worth a look at.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Mike W. said...

Looks identical to the Swiss Army Knife I got in boy scouts.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Charlie said...

clean accurate and short review. I visited yoru review to find out with the small notch is under the bottle opener/screwdriver. I'm on my third Tinker. I keep losing knives or giving them away. I've always found this knife very useful.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

I think the small notch is supposed to be a wire stripper. I find it kinda useless in practice, to be honest - a real Leatherman/SwissTool type multitool works a lot better for wire stripping.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got one of these tinkers years ago for a Christmas present. it ended up in my cars glove box and went missing for over 3 years. Recently, I re-found it and have begun using it on a daily basis. the big blade is my lunch knife. cuts sandwiches, oranges, apples, roast beef whatever. The small blade is for making spear points for campfires and sharpening pencils. The screwdrivers - Philips and can opener - are great for around the house, such as tightening handles on drawers, light switches, etc. For me, the Tinker is the best combination of size/function and cost. If money was no issue, I'd like a pioneer, but for about 1/2 the cost I can get a tinker which is ALMOST as good. in the meantime, I got my oldest son a Recruit with nylon scales and got myself another SAK - this time a Hiker. The Hiker is a 3 layer and is a bit too bulky for every day carry, so it will take car duty or when out camping, etc. My next SAK is going to be a bantam. I think that will be a good option for those days when you are wearing slacks/semi-formal attire as it is smaller/thinner. At that point I'll have a single layer bantam, the double layer tinker and a triple layer Hiker. That is a good variety of choices.

IN all, I am amazed by the quality of these tools, and how they make you feel. I seriously get a smile on my face when I have to use these knives. That is the marks of a quality product.


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