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Knife chat: Gerber Armbar Drive

Gerber Armbar Drive in the hand
Gerber Armbar Drive in the hand

The Gerber Armbar Drive is a simple multi-tool released in 2020 that includes both a blade and scissors and might suit those venturing into the outdoors. Small and light, it also provides a simple aid to adjusting and repairing equipment, a quarter-inch drive.

Gerber Armbar Drive with all tools open
Gerber Armbar Drive with all tools open

Oregon based Gerber Legendary Blades were established in 1939. The US company was acquired by the Finnish Fiskars Corporation in 1986 and proceeded to introduce an interesting array of knives and tools. Much of their manufacture shifted to China with resultant issues. Initially quality control fell but has more recently begun to improve. The poor rough finishing on some tools from those earlier years has largely departed and recently released products often hold their heads high in a global market with their appearance and finish. However quality of manufacture, the steel used etc., remains an issue. But cheaper manufacture has also meant that Gerber’s products remain competitive, cheap even. This will be part of the reason that Gerber retain their position as the second largest retailer of multi-tools in the US.

Gerber Armbar Drive folded
Gerber Armbar Drive folded
Gerber Armbar Drive with blade extended
Gerber Armbar Drive with blade extended

The Armbar Drive is part of Gerber’s range of smaller tools and while not particularly aimed at the outdoors market, for those travellers, backpackers, skiers and campers that include equipment, such as cooking equipment, snowshoes, even drones these days, that may require some form of quarter-inch drive bit for adjustment or repair, this little multi-tool could be an affordable and practical option. But only for light to medium stress work mind. If a quarter-inch drive hex tool is required for a specific item of equipment, then obviously a dedicated tool for that purpose would be preferable, but for emergency consideration or simple maintenance or adjustment, perhaps a simple small bit or two may be all that is required.

There was also a second tool in the initial Armbar range announced in summer 2019. The Gerber Armbar Cork swaps out the quarter-inch drive for a corkscrew and can opener. I am not looking at that option here as it is a far less practical option for most self-powered camping expeditions.

Blade lock on Gerber Armbar Drive
Blade lock on Gerber Armbar Drive

The plain-edge modified sheep’s foot blade on the Gerber Armbar Drive is made from 5CR15MOV stainless steel. There is a slight rise toward the end of the blade tip but provides a decent length of blade for chopping and slicing food on trail. The remainder of the tool is constructed of anodised aluminium. The 70mm blade has a cutting edge of 66mm and can be opened one-handed with the thumb pushing on the large opening in the spine of the blade. Three Points of the Compass is not a fan of these holes when a blade is intended for use on trail as food gets caught up in them and bacteria is harboured.

The blade is quite chunky in appearance- it is 15.55mm wide and 2.70mm thick across the spine. The blade has a liner lock that is easily depressed with the thumb when the tool is being folded, this is most suited to right-handed users. This lock means the tool is non-compliant with UK knife law for street carry.

Build quality and appearance is pretty good. Gerber products made in China have really come on in their finished appearance. There are no rough unfinished edges and the anodised effect is quite smart. The tool is available in three colour finishes- Onyx, Orange and the Urban Blue shown here. Weight is reasonable. 86.8g with no bit or 91.3g with the included two-ended drive bit. The tool measures 90mm when closed, 138mm when open. 18.10mm wide (max) and 20mm thick (max).

Gerber Armbar Drive folded
Folded Gerber Armbar Drive in the hand. Partly skeletonised frame lightens weight and improves aesthetics. There is no keyring included which is just as well as it is too large to be carried in that manner
Scissors partly unfolded
Scissors partly unfolded
Scissors fully unfolded
Scissors fully unfolded

The addition of a pair of scissors puts this tool in direct comparison and competition with many small tool offerings from Victorinox and Leatherman, both of whom have produced the most favoured tools for backpacking purposes. The scissors are a welcome addition on any tool. Those included on the Armbar Drive are ‘adequate’ and will handle most lightweight camp chores and first aid duties. They are a bit clunky and agricultural in appearance and, more importantly, not as efficient as the scissors found on the Victorinox knives. They are spring loaded and have a small folded tab for the thumb to rest on when operating which makes them a little more comfortable when cutting. There is no apparant sideways twisting in operation. The Armbar scissors are opened with a slightly peculiar and fiddly two-part operation. Unfold from the handle, then swing open the cuting edges. To close them is the reverse procedure. While not onerous, it is a bit of a pain to carry out if frequently used. If only in use occasionally, then fine. Cutting blade length is 25mm.

“If the day asks more of you than a blade alone can handle, upgrade your pocket with the Armbar Drive. This compact multi-tool is designed to fit comfortably in pocket, yet houses a smart lineup of tools to compliment the locking, plain edge blade. Bringing Gerber blade and build quality to the classic pocket tool – featuring a folding locking knife, the handy tool also incorporates a double sided bit driver for both flat head and pozzi, awl, cutter, pry bar, scissors and bottle opener. The smart design features all the tools you need in a multi tool in a pocket friendly package”

Gerber Armbar Drive
Main selling feature on the Gerber Armbar Drive

After the blade and scissors, we come to the main selling point of the Armbar Drive, this is the fold-out quarter-inch hex drive. This is only going to be of interest, if you actually have a use for it! If you do not have any equipment or gear that requires you to carry along a particular 1/4″ hex bit, then there is not much point in considering this tool as there are far better alternatives that include both blade and scissors, alongside potentially far more useful tools. Awl and scissors are folded out with small non-aligning nail nicks. These are rounded a little more than necessary which makes it a little more difficult to flip out the tools. But they are not as stiff as found on some other offerings from Gerber and can still be managed sufficiently well.

Driver with two-ended bit inserted. Drive arm does not lock when open and there is no backsping pressure to hold it
While many quarter-inch hex bit or extension pieces can be used with the Armbar Drive, only shorter bits can remain in place when the tool is closed as space in the frame is limited

When purchased, the Armbar Drive comes supplied with a “2-sided Bit Driver“, though the hexagonal bit is actually two-ended rather two-sided. This is a combination 6mm flat and Phillips head. A flat/Pozi Bit can be easily swapped in/out. While the Phillips head, patented in 1936 was an improvement of the flat, slotted head screw, the Pozidrive, patented in 1963, was a further improvement, further reducing ‘cam-out’.

The beauty of this tool on trail however is that any 1/4″ drive bit will fit. So if a specific piece of equipment is being carried that requires specific bits to be carried, then that appropriate bit(s) can be swapped out. Hex extension pieces can also be used with the driver. While flat Leatherman bits will also fit the drive on the Armbar Drive, those bits are too long to fold away into the tool. Shorter, standard bits are required if they need to be stowed in the tool when it is folded.

Any quarter inch drive bit can be used with the Gerber Armbar Drive
Just about any quarter-inch drive bit can be used with the Gerber Armbar Drive

The Armber Drive is advertised as offering a 2.5″ extended reach, it doesn’t. The unfolded driver is actually less than 2″ long- exactly 48mm. The slot for bits has a rare earth magnet inside which holds bits efficiently. The biggest problem with this tool is that the bit holder does not lock in the open position. It surely wouldn’t have taken much to include a lock in the outer scale adjacent to the bit holder arm. When held in the hand in use, it is possible to choke right down on the base of the driver arm and provide a little stability and largely discourage folding when in use. It is only really an issue when a higher degree of torque is used. For most light tasks there is no problem when in use. It is also possible to fold and hold the driver arm at a ninety degree angle and apply a little more turning torque for more stubborn screws and bolts, again, there is no lock in this position.

Blade side of folded Armbar Drive
Scissors and drive side of folded Armbar Drive

Three more tools remain. The small awl nested beside the scissors does not lock into the open position but is fairly secure when in use and I have opened packages and cut holes in a leather belt and thick cordura with this. At the end of the tool is a small hammer which is probably of limited use. This does open to make a really efficient bottle opener, but bottle openers are not hard to come by on multi-tools intended for outdoor use. Besides, the entire folded tool could be used to flip the cap off a bottle anyway.

There is a short but efficient awl with a 20mm bevelled and sharpened edge but no sewing eye
Hammer end to tool is small- flat face is just 10mm x 13mm
Bottle opener
Ridged hammer end opens to create both efficient bottle opener and pry bar

The tool carries a lifetime guarantee in North America and 25 years outside North America. The Armbar Drive is not intended for heavy work however and I wouldn’t like to try it on with a damaged tool where it was pretty obvious that an ‘unsuitable’ task had been attempted.

In conclusion:

The Gerber Armbar Drive is a competitively priced, reasonably well-made tool. It has a good sized blade capable of most camp kitchen tasks but would have been the better in that role if there were no hole in the blade. The scissors would be fine for most outdoor uses- cutting tape and opening Mountain House etc. This simple little multi-tool has it’s foibles, the most noticeable of which is the inability to lock the quarter-inch drive arm when in operation.

There is not much else, if anything, on the market that provides exactly this tool-set in such a small package. For those people that want blade, scissors, and a hex bit-driver in a small and lightweight multi-tool, then this is pretty much ideal. If it is just the first of those three tools that is required, blade and scissors, then there are far better alternatives. There are larger, heavier and more efficient multi-tools that provide the tools found on this offering from Gerber but few backpackers will be taking those out on trail.

exterior of box packaging
exterior of box packaging

Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.

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