Tim Leatherman reels out his answer with the practised ease of somebody who has heard the question countless times. “Sure, I can give you a corkscrew on your Leatherman. Which three tools would you like to give up to make place for it?”

The man who IS multitools visited South Africa recently as a guest of honour at the annual conference of a brand Leatherman owns, LED Lenser. In case you didn’t work it out, LED Lenser makes extremely powerful torches. These days, the company that Tim built does more than just multitools. And these days, there are all manner of tools to fit a specific niche. To fit a handbag, or a keyring, should you wish.

And you can even (just whisper it, now) obtain a tool with a corkscrew.
Leatherman himself comes across as equal parts Johnny Appleseed wholesomeness and and Bill Gates geekery. Lurking beneath the earnest exterior, though, is a wry humour just waiting to sneak through.

During a four-hour public appearance in Cape Town it was, sadly, only towards the end that he was able to play raconteur for the diehards. A degree of reverence, it must be said, was evident among the modest but rapt audience. Which is understandable, given the value enthusiasts attach to their tools. For his part, Leatherman responded to questions with candour and occasionally, with what could conceivably be called a twinkle in the eye.

For much of the time, however, he was signing autographs at Cape Union Mart’s flagship Canal Walk branch. These were autographs with a difference, though: he engraved his signature on the Leathermans (Leathermen?) of visitors to the store.
And visit they did. In response to an invitation on our own Facebook page, to public invitations from the hosts and by word of mouth. Leatherman’s Dremel whirred away constantly as the queue ebbed and flowed, seldom dropping below half a dozen. Some went as far as buying a new tool to get it signed. Most seemed to bring along their Old Faithful.

Well, I took along two tools for signing. There was my latest acquisition, the Super Tool 300. This modern-day version of the original model replaces a much loved Charge last seen evading my vainly grasping fingers to slip through the crack between lift and landing and plummet to the bottom of the shaft five floors below. I hope the maintenance guy who found it appreciates it.

The other tool I brought with me was my favourite: the Juice. Where my Audax bike goes, there goes the Juice. It’s been pressed into service as a cake slicer, can opener, wire cutters and default screwdriver. Once, in the dank chill of pre-dawn Brittany it came to the rescue of a burly Dutchman, surrounded by a group of fellow Paris-Brest-Paris riders, pleading, “A pair of pliers… can anybody help?” Of course I could.

I suppose this must sound like I am something of a devotee myself, if not an outright praise singer. Well, that’s not quite true. I find much to like about the Leatherman models that I own, and I use them often. There’s just one implement I would like to add: a Swiss Army Knife. For the corkscrew, of course.

(Below: Tim Leatherman relives the genesis of a gamechanging multitool; look out for the full video on popularmechanics.co.za soon.)