“I’VE GOT A DIAMOND ON THE HEEL OF MY TOOL.”
Inspired by the Paul Simon lyric, “diamonds on the soles of her shoes,” this is one of the many nuggets we heard from our founder, Tim Leatherman, when the marketing team asked him to meet up at headquarters to show us everything he carries in his pockets.
Joining us was his son, Lee Leatherman, who runs the innovative gears behind The Garage. If you haven’t heard of it, the Garage is driven by the same sense of discovery that inspires Leatherman users (and Lee’s father). It puts innovation first, pushing the limits of design, engineering, and even ourselves to release limited edition tools for today and tomorrow.
While their pockets are very different from one another (Lee is a minimalist, and Tim is a maximalist who has backups for his backups—wait until you see his wallet), both share the same ethos of problem-solving, helping others in need, and pushing forward to make things that work today—and 100 years from today.
Here’s what we learned when we asked both to dump their pockets and share their stories (some of Tim’s had never been heard before!).
First, we started with Lee. He had a couple of tools, a slim wallet, and a phone.
Lee: What I’ve been doing is just carrying around tools that we’re working on to test them out. Kind of the opposite of my dad’s philosophy.
My badge –it’s an old one.
Tim: I just put away my first one a few weeks ago. The only badge I’ve ever had this whole time.
And now… Tim’s turn (with color commentary from Lee).
Tim: Start with my shirt pocket. A cell phone, with a neck lanyard. I don’t know how many times the lanyard has kept me from dropping my phone or breaking it or dropping it and not knowing I dropped it and losing it. I added the lanyard myself. I drilled the holes. I engineered it. On the back of the phone, I have notes on how to restart it. Contact information. Athletic club QR code [so he doesn’t have to use the app].
I carry an IDenti-pen®, which of course is multipurpose. It has a fine tip and a medium tip. I also carry a retractable ultra-fine point Sharpie®. Here is my new favorite pen, which an employee brought back from Japan for me on a recent trip. It’s a five-barrel pen: four colors of ink, a pencil, and an eraser. One of these days I’ll substitute the eraser cover for a stylus you use on touch screens.
Lee: The pens are good for the grandkid to tattoo himself.
Tim: [laughing] And to mark up my house and your house.
Somewhere I have a note that if I’m ever asked what objects are most important in my life, I’d rank a pen right up there – I almost always carry one and would never want to be without.
Lee: When I was a little kid, I used to go through and be like, what’s in here? And I’d go through his wallet and be like, why are you carrying all this stuff? Like the keys. The keys, too.
Tim: Yeah, you’re right. I do carry a lot. In my fleece I carry a few extra of these lapel pins [of the multi-tool], and that makes me pretty popular sometimes. In another pocket…doesn’t everyone need a few extra bags? [laughing] Lucky money. I forgot I had these envelopes. In Vietnamese culture during Lunar New Year, the young people go to the old people and if the young people wish the old people Happy New Year and other things, the old people give the young people what we call lucky money. My wife gives the amount of money that their age is. And then the kids gamble it away. In this pocket…yes, I do have a key ring…
2. lights + keys
Lee: Oh my gosh…
Tim: This is my key ring. This key will get me in and out of the house. This is for Leatherman. This is for a small fishing boat we no longer own—never owned—my dad owned it at one time. Keys for a storage shed and car keys. The two halves of the keyring are connected with a Key-Bak® quick release.
On this side…all lights in some form or another. These are only part of the lights that are in my pocket. This little AAA was my sole flashlight when I traveled through Africa – 30 days and 29 nights, 21 nights in tents. Although I will admit I stole some other people’s light now and then. If they had a headlamp on while eating dinner, I’d sit next to them so I could see my dinner too.
This one is a Photon Micro Light from a local company founded by a fellow Oregonian. Someone gave me this one when I attended a conference. It’s a generator light. No battery required.
I have two LEATHERMAN Style on my keychain. One with a blade that I usually remember to take off before I get on an airplane and another with no blade.
This is a ferro rod. There’s a story to this, too. Leatherman’s first acquisition. Way, way back one of our customers wanted a combo-pack from us that would distinguish them from the others, and suggested combining our tool with a ferro rod. And somehow, I found (back in those days there wasn’t the Internet), but I found out that there are ferro rods out there and I found a company that made them. I called them up to ask whether we could order them, and he said yeah, you can buy all that we have, and you can buy the assets of my company, too because I’m going out of business. So…[slight, nonchalant pause]…I did.
Okay, I showed you everything on my keychain. I carry a couple more flashlights in my pants pockets. One of them is a custom light that Ledlenser made for me that has three functions of light - bright, battery saving, and the strobe. I wanted something that when the battery started to lose its charge, it would send me a signal. So, they did some extra engineering inside for me. The second one is a stock item for back up.
Tim: My everyday carry is a LEATHERMAN® Charge® Ti (editor's note: this model is retired but check out the Charge® TTi if you want a tool like Tim’s). In addition to my Charge® Ti, I started carrying a FREE® P4 a couple of years ago. I like it and sometimes use it instead of my trusty Charge® Ti. I also often carry a prototype of a new tool to try it out to see if I like it.
[Tim holds up his Charge and asks] Any of you notice anything about this? Anything special? Why is there an inscription? What is it around? Have you ever heard of the Paul Simon song, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes? Well, I have a diamond on the heel of my tool. The diamond is from France. I should’ve put this tool away as soon as I got it, but I have kept carrying it. I’d sure hate to lose it. Anyone want to hear why there’s a diamond at the end of my tool?
I was in Paris, France. When I visit, I tell distributors that if there’s anything I can do to help sell tools, I’m happy to do it. So, they often set up an appearance at a retail store, and people can come, and I’ll sign their tool. This man comes up and is carrying the exact same tool I am carrying, the Charge Ti. Asked me to sign it. I did. He said, he has a story to tell me.
[Tells a story about this man’s son. While camping, the son is injured and ends up in the hospital. The ER couldn’t find a tool to release a zipper on the boy’s clothes. The father offered his Leatherman tool, and the emergency room doctor used the tool to release the zipper.]
But that doesn’t explain the diamond. The man said, I, too, have a factory, and he says you’re welcome to visit. I said I’d love to, but I’m totally booked, but I took his card. The next day, as it turned out, I had about three hours, so I called him up. We came to a building, walked up a flight of stairs, came to a locked door with bars on it, and we had to ring a buzzer, and someone released the lock to let us through. Went down a hallway to a second locked door with bars on it and a buzzer. Came to a third door, and it’s the same thing. Turns out his factory is a jewelry factory, and he’s a world-renowned jewelry designer. He designs jewelry that’s sold in Tiffany’s. Then he says, “Would you like a diamond in your tool?” “Sure,” I respond. So, he gets out his equipment and picks a diamond. First, he tries the back of the handle, but the metal was too hard. Then he worked on the lock release lever. Finally, he gets this diamond in, and he punches the metal over the diamond. I said, “I signed your tool, so you have to sign your artwork, too.” He goes by Arto, and he put the date.
4. batteries + change
Lee: Hold on. Let’s get the rest of the lights out.
Tim: I wear a nylon sheath on my belt that holds my Charge® Ti and all the accessories that go with it. Next to it is another nylon sheath for another Ledlenser flashlight. My youngest grandson knows that’s there, and every time we visit, he wants to take it out and play with it and shine it in everyone’s eyes. In my back pockets- anyone wearing glasses would want a glass-cleaning cloth. And you wouldn’t want just one. You’d want a few backups. [laughing] In my other front pocket… [the massive wallet.]
Lee: This is what balances it all out. Can’t carry it in the back pocket. Not much in the back pockets, luckily.
Tim: [Dumps out his change] Although the flashlights have rechargeable batteries, I have this. [Shows a tin originally filled with mints someone in Korea gave him…] There’s a AAA alkaline battery mixed in with the remaining mints.
Of course, everyone needs a ruler. You can’t imagine—especially in the factory—how often I use a ruler.
When I fly it takes me a while at the airport to unload and reload.
I have an old Fuse that I’ve modified by removing the knife blade and substituting a file. I engraved “Airline Legal” on it because according to the TSA regulations, it is. But every agent has discretion to make his/her own decisions. Some agents said the can/bottle opener is a blade. I explained that we intentionally make the tip rounded because it’s not just a can opener, it’s a bottle opener, and you don’t want the tip to puncture the cap. So far, that’s worked. I finally ground it even more so there’s no doubt it’s not a blade.
5. extras of everything
Tim: I usually wear a fanny pack. Mainly it’s filled with a piece of foam because I primarily wear it as a lumbar support. But I have a few other things in it as well. You just gotta have a few extra plastic bags because you just never know. And you never know when you might need some cord to tie something up. I don’t mind my grandkids squealing, but there are other times I might want the ear plugs.
6. the wallet
Lee: This [wallet] is what balances it all out. Can’t carry it in the back pocket. [Holds up wallet]: I remember this from my childhood. [Takes a ruler out.] How thick is it? 3 inches? Nope: only about 2.5 inches.
Tim: I admit my wallet is thicker than most but who wouldn’t carry some bandages and a few extra business cards, and their Hostelling International lifetime membership card? And the duct tape holding my wallet together? I believe in using things as long as I possibly can, and to repair rather than replace.
thanks, tim and lee
Thanks so much to Tim and Lee for taking the time to meet with us and show us their favorite things (stories included). If you want even more of this, see how Tim’s EDC has evolved by checking out this 2019 interview he did with Gear Junkie.
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