Like Doctor Who’s Sonic screwdriver or Inspector Gadget’s entire body, multi-tools are designed to squeeze a tool box’s worth of functionality into a pocket-friendly accessory, and with the Volty Bit, Leatherman’s folding multi-tools gain another neat trick: the ability to test the voltage of batteries and other DC power sources.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact appeal of devices like Swiss army knives or Leatherman’s multi-tools. A box full of dedicated tools is in every way imaginable a better way to tackle repairs or construction projects with less frustration. But it probably has something to do with the appeal of always being prepared for a problematic situation thanks to the single tool strapped to your belt. TV’s MacGyver rarely needed anything more than what he could find in his pockets to thwart terrorists or escape imprisonment, and anyone who’s spent any amount of time struggling to find the tool they need that wasn’t returned to its proper place after its last use can see the appeal of the laundry list of functionality a Leatherman offers: which now includes a voltmeter.
Certain Leatherman models, like the Surge and the Mut, feature an adaptor that can hold custom flat-shaped driver bits the company created. The idea is that like with a multi-bit screwdriver, the multi-tool can be quickly and easily customised for handling the various types of screw heads it may encounter. It’s that bit driver adaptor that the Volty Bit relies on.
The accessory looks like a small circuitboard with an assortment of chips and LEDs mounted to it, as well as gold-coated tips on either end to ensure it properly conducts electricity.
When inserted into the bit driver adaptor of a Leatherman, the Volty Bit takes advantage of the multi-tool’s all-metal construction to become a voltage probe, while any of the metal implements on the other side of the tool become the other probe when both are connected to the positive and negative terminals of a battery or other DC power source. (The Volty Bit is not designed to test AC sources.)
Dedicated voltmeters feature some kind of voltage display — be it an LCD readout or an analogue gauge — but to keep the Volty Bit as tiny as possible, a series of green, yellow, and red LEDs flash a series of patterns to indicate the DC voltage being read: anywhere from 2.5 to 30V. So one of the challenges of using the Volty Bit is learning to read and decipher what the flashing LEDs mean. The other challenge, of course, is that holding an all-metal tool touching both terminals of a battery can potentially come with a shock risk, so the creators of the Volty Bit highly recommend users “wear proper safety gear especially with big batteries.” Sage advice, but can users always guarantee they’ll have insulated gloves on hand when faced with a battery-testing emergency?
The $US25 ($35) Volty Bit has been tested with several Leatherman models including the Signal, Wave, Skeletool, Surge, as well as the optional Bit Extender. However, it seems as though the bit adaptor’s tolerances vary from tool to tool, providing a tighter fit for the Volty Bit on some models which may require users to modify the tiny accessory using a knife or file to ensure it can be easily inserted and removed as needed.