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Gerber Artifact Review: Artifact v. Atwrench, who wins?

Discussion in 'Gear Reviews' started by Rawls, Nov 30, 2008.

  1. Rawls

    Rawls Loaded Pockets

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    Gerber Artifact Review

    Introduction

    I have no doubt that this review, this product in fact, is controversial among the people that frequent this site. The Gerber Artifact, for those unaware, is a small multitool. More information, including some preliminary information can be found in this thread: http://edcforums.com/index.php?topic=17226.0.

    The controversy comes from the fact that the Artifact is very similar in design to tools made by one of this site’s patron heroes—Peter Atwood. Atwood’s custom tools are so central to the idea of EDC that the Atwood threads are always among the longest and most active on the site. Atwood tools, like the Artifact, are designed to be carried in the pocket or on one’s keychain. Their size is generally inversely proportional to their utility. Peter has a number of different designs each with different features. The Artifact is very similar to, but not identical with, any one of Peter’s designs. It has a bit of the Prybaby in it, a bit of the Nibble, and a bit of the edged tools as well.

    Whether the Artifact is a rip off or not is really for Peter’s lawyers to decide. The question I want to answer in this review is whether the design is worth buying and carrying. As a bit of full disclosure I own a basic Atwrench and carried that on my keychain for the past 6 months. In the last month I opted to carry the Artifact for this review.

    Requirements

    For me the keychain multitool is a “go to” device. That is, I always have my keys with me, so the devices on the keychain are usually the first things I reach for when I need to get something done. This is true even when I cannot carry my normal EDC because of security issues or “fancy” clothes. I have more powerful and better flashlights but the Arc AAA-P on my keychain gets far more use than all of them combined because it is on my keychain. So too with a keychain multitool.

    So the first requirement, at least for me, is that the keychain multitool actually be keychain-sized. And here the Artifact is very much the right size. It is approximately 3 ½” long closed and just over 1” wide at its widest point. The basic Atwrench, by comparison, is just over 3” long and also about 1” wide at its widest point. It is also thin. Not as thin as the Atwrench, but definitely thin enough. In addition to size it is important to have a way to attach the multitool to your keychain. As such all keychain multitools must have is a split ring or lanyard hole.

    In addition to size, I think there a few basic functions that every keychain multitool should have. When you are out and about a few tasks come up again and again. I can think of a half dozen times in past two weeks where I needed to pry something or hold something open. I drop my driver’s license into a tight place and I needed a pry to hold a space open wide enough for my fingers to fit in. Or I am running upstairs to change my clothes for leaf raking detail and I notice a loose doorknob. Some kind of screwdriver would help. So, in my mind, there are three basic functions every multitool, keychain or otherwise, should have: 1) a flathead screwdriver; 2) a Phillips screwdriver; and 3) a pry. The Artifact has these three things. The Atwrench doesn’t have a Phillips head, but it makes up about 80% of that functionality with a very, very good SAE wrench.

    Some people may want an edge on their keychain multitool. I, personally, do not need an edge for two inter-related reasons: 1) I usually EDC a pocketknife; and 2) on the days I don’t I can’t have an edged device because I am in a secure location most of the time. This really limits where you can take a multitool, especially after 9/11, so really think about this. Do you really want an edge on your multitool if it means that you have a hard time flying with it and taking it into secure locations, and that you have to leave places after you have been forced to take it off your keychain?

    The final thing I look for in a keychain multitool is a bottle opener. This is BY FAR the most used feature on any keychain multitool I have had. It is crazy that all the time and energy that goes into designing these items and, at least for me, the vast majority of use is as a beer bottle opener.

    Product Design and Function

    As was said above, the Artifact looks an awful lot like the Atwood Prybaby. But this similarity is really just in the profile. Looked at from an edge, the Artifact has both an extreme angle on the pry end for increased leverage and a wave in the middle to accommodate and hide the Exacto blade. The Artifact is made of cast metal, purportedly steel of some sort (poking around I could not find the specific kind of steel; the Gerber website merely says “stainless steel”).

    It is covered in a TiN coating similar to that used in consumer wood and metal drill bits. The coating is substantially stronger than paint, but not as good as anodizing. Furthermore, the coating also varies in effectiveness from manufacturer to manufacturer. I have a Kershaw with TiN on the blade and it has lasted for a long time. Conversely I had a Cold Steel model that shed its TiN coating like snowflakes. The parts of the Artifact that rub against each other were rubbed bare very quickly. The edges are starting to wear a bit as well, but the body of the Artifact is still smooth and completely covered.

    The devices included in the Artifact are as follows: pry tip with v-notch, two different sized flathead screwdriver edges on the pry tip, a small Phillips head screwdriver on the opposite end, a retractable and removable #11 Exacto blade, and a bottle opener. No Atwood has a retractable blade and no Atwood as a built in Phillips head. A number of Atwoods have pry tips, flathead edges, cutting edges, and bottle openers. Furthermore a number of Atwoods have “captive bit” Phillips bits.

    The Artifact also has a lanyard hole but it is not circular in shape (leading to it getting suck in an awkward position every once in a while), and it is TINY. Given how central of a requirement this is, I was seriously disappointed in the Artifact’s design. I thought about drilling out the hole, but the outer edge was so thin that I feared I would damage the tool beyond repair. In comparison the Atwrench easily accommodates split rings, carabiners, and lanyards.

    There is a pivoting arm that holds the blade that swings out from the body of the Artifact. At the end of the arm there is a small and very sharp #11 Exacto blade. The blade is held in place once extended by a small bar of metal similar to a liner lock. The blade has a semi-lock out position at 90 degrees and a full lock out at 180 degrees. The blade can be removed from the arm for travel or going into secure locations (I use this all the time). The blade is not terribly easy to remove the first couple of times, but I got used to it after a while. Additionally because of the shape of the unit and the texturing on the side you can one-hand open and one-hand close the blade. Compared to an Atwood edged tool, the Artifact’s blade is cheap and flimsy. It is however concealed, replaceable, and removable. The Exacto blade works well, but always seems like it is on the verge of failing (though it has yet to do so on me). This is the perfect device for slicing open the ubiquitous and irksome blister packs. So long as you are careful and grip the Artifact correctly the Exacto knives almost melt away blister packs. That said, I am sure that Atwood edges are better at cutting. The Exacto is really sharp but doesn’t inspire confidence. It works, but its not rock solid.

    The pry tip was not as precise and thinly ground as my Atwrench’s. It was however, more aggressive in its bend, resulting in greater prying leverage. This seems to be about equal to Peter’s XL bend models. The bottle opener was more aggressively angled but thinner. The overall result was a bottle opener that worked just as well, but not the same. The more aggressive angle was better, but the thin edge made it’s grip on the bottle cap less stable. Overall—a wash.

    The flathead screwdriver edges were noticeable worse than the Atwrench’s edge. The Phillips head, despite it being thinner in one dimension than the other (like Leatherman bits), worked very well. This is the best feature on the Artifact in my opinion. It could also function as a puncturing device (piercing stupid packaging or packing tape) or a window breaker.

    Conclusions

    So the question is simple: Is the Artifact a legitimate Atwood replacement? The short answer is NO. The long answer is MAYBE.

    For 90% of users the Artifact is just as functional as an Atwood tool. It does a lot of crucial things well, but none of them (except maybe the Phillips head) great. If it had a bolt wrench it would be better in design than any Atwood tool.

    The execution is the Artifact’s big problem. It is not as refined as an Atwood tool. The things that the Atwood tools do, they generally do better than the Artifact. In a cutting tool, the edge is almost certainly better. In a pry tool, the pry is better. But since none of the Atwood tools do ALL of the same things as the Artifact, it seems like it has an advantage.

    In real life though, the Artifact’s execution such a problem. As I was writing this review, a piece fell off my elliptical machine. I had finished the review and declared that the Artifact was a sufficient replacement for my Atwrench. As if the Atwood gods had been watching, the Artifact failed miserably in repairing the machine, while the Atwrench not only worked but did so remarkably well.

    I have a basement full of tools, but in the end only my Atwrench could get into the narrow space without damaging other parts. The super fine pry tip was better than any other tool I had, even stuff from Lee Valley and other premium tool sites. I was able to get the Atwrench into the space and then…used it as a chisel. I really hammered the Atwrench and eventually it pried the piece off. I do not recommend doing this, especially if you are a collector, but when I finally cleaned off all of the oil, grease, and muck the Atwrench was in “like new” condition. The Artifact could not even get into position, and of course there is no place to hammer. Under this torture test, even the finest honed edge had not chipped or dented. And so when it really counted, I fixed the extremely expensive machine myself, the Atwrench worked marvelously.

    The Artifact is TEN TIMES less than the average Atwood. That is a huge advantage, one that I had believed that Atwood tools cannot, in my mind, overcome. I love Peter’s stuff. They are brilliant works of art. But in my mind, before the “chisel” test, I thought that the price advantage trumped everything else. Afterall, I reasoned, EDC is about use and not collection. But then the Atwrench worked a miracle and saved me at least $150 on a service call. So that $65 is really nothing.

    The Atwrench is clearly the superior tool. In fact, it is one of my three favorite tools I have (my sliding compound miter saw and Arc AAA-P are also on that short list). The Artifact can do a lot of things and for most of the time it is more than enough, but Peter’s stuff just puts it to shame when performance, not convenience matters. This review process not only proved that Atwood stuff is amazing, but in tools execution is just as important, if not moreso than design.

    The Artifact is not a bad tool. It is a suitable replacement most of the time and the huge price difference is something that many people cannot get over. Would I give up my Atwrench now that I have an Artifact? No. Would I buy an Atwood tool if I didn’t have one and I had an Artifact? I don’t know. With perfect information, knowing what I know now, the answer would be "yes" but I am not sure, just by comparison shopping, if I would come to that same conclusion. The Atwrench's superiority only became stunningly clear in a real world torture test. Just looking at it, the Artifact is a handy little tool and it is super cheap. This is why I said “maybe” above.

    Now what would an Artifact tool design made to Peter Atwood’s exacting standards perform like? That is an interesting question.

    Gerber Artifact
    http://www.gerbergear.com
    $7.99 for older package (the price at Target as of 11/29/08 is now $9.99)
    $13.76 for new package (available online)

    The new package contains the Artifact, 3 #11 Exacto blades, and a blade holder. Older packages contain just the Artifact.

    Recommended: good performance to cost ratio, but some drawbacks exist.
     
  2. houdini28

    houdini28 Loaded Pockets

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    Nice comparison of the tools. I thoroughly enjoy Peter's work; however, I always had difficulty buying it because of how quickly it sells out. The one Atwood tool I did have, a bike tool, I just didn't use that often. The Gerber Artifact and McFeely's Pocketwrench work wonders for me and I use them frequently.
     
  3. zshiner

    zshiner Loaded Pockets

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    Excellent Review.

    Being newer at EDC - I have entered a few of the Atwood Auctions. Also have seen how quickly the items sell. By the time I see the RSS feed the word sold out is a part of the text. Clearly this is a supply and demand issue and there needs to be more supply.

    I applaud others for getting into the hand tool market to help on the supply side.

    The thing that is attractive about this tool is the mix of the pry and the opener.

    I want a Prybaby - until I get lucky enough to be able to get one via lottery or timing - I think I'll go buy and Artifact.

    KM
     
  4. El_Cid

    El_Cid Loaded Pockets

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    I just bought an Artifact - its good enough for me - for the rest of the money I can buy me a SAK Farmer and a Benchmade Mini-Grip... and I'm sure thats a better deal than just one very well made tool
     
  5. vrocco

    vrocco Loaded Pockets

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    Good review. Atwood's tools are no doubt top-notch, but cost and availability makes some of us have to settle for slightly less
     
  6. Guarddog
    • In Omnia Paratus

    Guarddog EDC Junkie !!!!!

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    This is the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) according th the OP. Butt ...

    :iagree: Well said El_Cid
     
  7. Mr. kydex

    Mr. kydex Loaded Pockets

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    Good in-depth review, Rawls! O0
     
  8. Smokey

    Smokey Empty Pockets

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    One thing the Artifact does really well, It keeps a lot of money in my pocket ;D
     
  9. Stelth

    Stelth Banned

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    I just bought an Artifact and have already used it 3 times today. For $10 I don't think you could ask for much more in a tool.
     
  10. SnWnMe

    SnWnMe Loaded Pockets

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    I have an Artifact too. Love the little bugger.
     
  11. jimboinwv

    jimboinwv Loaded Pockets

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    Be careful. That little Exacto blade will open in your pocket (I have one), and no amount of saved money will pay for a "flat tire".
     
  12. Stelth

    Stelth Banned

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    Does the blade detent get looser over time because my blade is very tight. Did yours start tight and then get loose? Also, what is the flat tire reference about?
     
  13. jimboinwv

    jimboinwv Loaded Pockets

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    Sorry, been gone for awhile. The blade just got looser and looser. Mine was tight at first. If the blade opens in your pocket, it could puncture what hangs below your most prized possession. :idiot2:
     
  14. jehan60188

    jehan60188 Loaded Pockets

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    nice review of the atwrench, you think you can review the artifact sometime?
    :D
     
  15. Vandenhoues

    Vandenhoues Empty Pockets

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    Shard is coming soon. :roof: