Oscillating multi-tools: Fad vs Function

There’s a new wave sweeping tool markets around the world, with multiple-function hand and power tools growing in number, quality, and versatility. Australian Hardware Journal investigates.

Are two tools better than one? And by extension, is a tool with two or more functions better than a piece of equipment with only a single function? Recent developments in both the hand tools and power tools markets might indicate that so-called multi-tools are fast taking over from single purpose products.

The move towards multi-functional tools is nothing new. The humble leatherman has been part of every home handy person’s tool kit for generations, even before the Swiss Army managed to brand its own multipurpose knife tool as the best friend of campers around the world.

Toomanytools

Too many tools? A multi-tool system can help replace the clutter and get trade professionals back to work


Too many tools? A multi-tool system can help replace the clutter and get trade professionals back to work
But from those early beginnings, multi-tools have surged forward, particularly in recent years. Power tool versions have sprung up, and found immense demand among DIYers and home renovators in particular, creating opportunity throughout the hand and power tool markets to get on board and innovate. These products are now taking greater prominence in manufacturer catalogues, soaking up more retail shelf space, and earning some of the biggest merchandising promotions. But experts say there is a limit to how much further they can dominate the hardware landscape in Australia.

Hand multi-tools

Andrew Miller, new product development manager for the Apex Tool Group in Australia and New Zealand, says this limit is particularly evident in the hand tools market in Australia. With prices generally low across the board, buyers are happier to invest in tools as they need them, and will look for quality over versatility or range of functions. “We find that hand tool customers are sceptical about multi-tool systems because they can often be ‘a jack of all trades but a master of none’,” he says. “It is our belief that the majority of customers would rather the tool do the job that it is required to do, very well, rather than doing a number of tasks, not so well.”

HandmultitoolThat may be true, but there are still a number of multi-function hand tools finding bigger customer bases in Australia right now. These include ratcheting wrenches with pliers and cutting abilities, and pry bar and nail pull combinations for fast demolition work.

Miller says it would be foolish to ignore the category altogether, but the focus at Apex remains on single purpose tools. “Apex Tools is constantly developing new tools, some of which have multiple functions, but our focus is more on finding ways to do a task better.”

Adding power

The focus may be dimmed in hand tool categories, but for power tool manufacturers, multi-tools are the biggest destination for research dollars, and consequently the fastest moving products at the moment.

“(There is) more awareness of this product category through digital and print media,” Graeme Mather, national marketing manager for Positec Australia, says, adding that a power multi-tool was now a key product for any starting tool kit. “(A drill will) primarily be the first power tool a new or first time purchaser usually buys. The multi-tool must now be considered close to the second tool they’ll buy as it continues to solve many of their current and future day-to-day DIY battles.”

Jamie Costello, national sales manager for Einhell Australia, says the advantages for home renovators and DIYers are clear. “It’s one of those products that handle a lot of tasks around the house,” he points out. “There are a multitude of these where you’ve only got one or two little things to do – you may need to cut tiles one day, and sand floorboards the next.

“Professionals are more likely to prefer a specialist tool that just does one or the other.”

Miller agrees, explaining that multi tool systems are adopted far more readily by the DIY market. “The reason for this is that DIYers use their tools less often so the benefit of the tool having an additional function can override the fact that the tool may not function as well in its primary task. “Professional tradesman on the other hand are doing repetitive tasks, so for them, the priority is to use a tool that does that specific task in the most efficient way possible.”

The priority for manufacturers has therefore been to create multi-function tools that work effectively and efficiently as a single system. The latest focus has been on creating tools that switch between functions more easily, faster, and with greater emphasis on user safety. Positec’s high end DIY brand Worx, for example, has adopted the hyperlock tool-free accessory changing system – which allows users to interchange different parts for different functions in a close-to snap lock fashion. The hyperlock then holds the new tool in place with a force of up to one tonne of pressure, ensuring there are no slips
or fallouts.

Worx also offers a Universal Fit multi-tool, which has been designed to accept accessory fittings from other brands and models. “This factor is true innovation and solves many of the current issues for consumers and retailers in having to either find or stock the vast array of various brands of accessories,” Mather says.

PowerMultiTool

Multi-tool systems are fast becoming a gateway product for bringing new and beginning DIYers into the hardware market


Multi-tool systems are fast becoming a gateway product for bringing new and beginning DIYers into the hardware market
In the same way, Einhell’s TE-MG 200 E Multimaxx offers a full range of functions and accessories that can be easily switched and replaced as required. It also comes with a dust extractor for its cutting accessories, taking care of another potential problem that arises with multi-tools. “Without this, multi-tools can be quite messy to use,” Costello says.

Miller says manufacturers are now looking at further integrating their multi-tool systems – both hand tool and power tool varieties. “The successful multi-tool systems are able to add functionality without compromising on the performance of the primary task. Separate attachments which can be misplaced are a big negative so minimising attachments is the way forward,” he advises.

Who needs single purpose tools?

Multi-purpose tools are certainly the darling of the category at the moment, particularly at the retail level. Their functionality, usability, and value for money are hard to ignore, and many retailers and distributors are pushing hard on their in-store promotions and merchandising for these lines specifically.

Mather notes that multi-tools are being used as almost a gateway purchase, with the aim of getting younger consumers into the DIY market. “(A multi-tool) introduces Generation Y into DIY, as it offers versatility, innovation and is very user friendly in application.”

But does that mean that single use tools are no longer required? None of the experts that Australian Hardware Journal spoke with feel that is the case. Rather, single purpose tools remain an important category for the trade and high-end DIY use. Mather says there is “absolutely” a need for single-purpose tools in both the DIY and trade sectors, “and there always will be”. They become something for beginner and intermediate hardware users to learn about, appreciate, and aspire to.

Apex’s Miller says this is particularly true in the hand tool space. “Single purpose hand tools still dominate the market because more often than not, they perform the task in the most efficient way,” he says, providing the Apex brand Lufkin’s Fluorolok tape as an example. “It is a simple but effective measuring tape that is designed specifically for tradesman that require an easy-to-use, reliable and durable tape to work day in and day out in the toughest conditions,” he said. “No gimmicks – just a solid tool backed up by proven design and stringent testing.”