The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Gerber Center-Drive Review

This features the most innovative bit driver we’ve used in a multi tool. The other functions round it out, but don’t yet approach perfection.
Top Pick Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $109 List | $84.93 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Innovative and truly useful bit driver, external access blade
Cons:  Some tools hidden in handle, rattly construction
Manufacturer:   Gerber
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 22, 2019
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
57
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 15
  • Functions - 40% 6
  • Construction Quality - 25% 5
  • Ergonomics - 20% 7
  • Portability - 15% 4

Our Verdict

This is a handy person's tool. It has relatively few functions, but those that are present are more useful than average. Notably, the ergonomically friendly bit driver leads the charge and earns the Gerber Center Drive our Top Pick Award. Complementing the innovative bit driver is a set of functional pliers, a readily accessible main blade, and some secondary tools inside the pliers' handles. Each tool is nearly as usable as its dedicated counterpart, and all are jammed together in a package that is just small enough to carry in a pocket, but is best toted in the included belt sheath.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  
Price $84.93 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$167.00 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$119.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$99.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$79.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
100
0
57
100
0
83
100
0
76
100
0
75
100
0
74
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Innovative and truly useful bit driver, external access bladeSophisticated, comprehensiveLarge, excellent construction, full-size functions, customizableComprehensive, well-made, aftermarket accessories and carry optionsCompact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective tools
Cons Some tools hidden in handle, rattly constructionHeavy, expensiveHeavy and large; limited portability. Proprietary bit driver.Proprietary bit driver, no pocket clip includedFew features
Bottom Line This features the most innovative bit driver we’ve used in a multi tool. The other functions round it out, but don’t yet approach perfection.As a top of the line product, Leatherman has equipped the Charge TTI with every imaginable tool, organized and optimized for compact function; in an extravagant move, they have wrapped it in Titanium.A large, heavy tool that does all you might need but is hard to carry around.A full-function tool from a great manufacturer at a reasonable price.A multi tool that optimizes ergonomics and portability at the expense of the feature count.
Rating Categories Gerber Center-Drive Leatherman Charge TTI Leatherman Surge Leatherman Wave+ Leatherman Skeletool CX
Functions (40%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
6
Construction Quality (25%)
10
0
5
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
Ergonomics (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
9
Portability (15%)
10
0
4
10
0
7
10
0
2
10
0
6
10
0
8
Specs Gerber Center-Drive Leatherman Charge... Leatherman Surge Leatherman Wave+ Leatherman...
Number of Functions 13 + bits 19 + bits 21 18 + bits 7
Weight (ounces) 9.9 oz 8.8 oz 12.2 oz. 14.3 oz with case 8.5 oz. 9.5 oz with case 5.0 oz
Locking Tools? All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers
Pliers Type Standard, spring-loaded needlenose Needlenose with wire cutters, crimper Needlenose, regular, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, crimper Needlenose, regular, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, crimper Needlenose with 2 wire cutters
Tools Accessible Without Deploying Pliers Primary blade, bit driver Blades, saw, file Blades, saw, file Blades, saw, file Blade
Blades and Type 3.25" 420HC Fine edge blade 1 serrated gut hook type, 1 straight drop point 1 straight, 1 serrated 1 straight, 1 serrated 1 straight drop point
Scissors No Yes Yes Yes No
Number of screwdrivers 2 incuded. Infinitely more available as aftermarket bits 1 integrated. Many bits included, with more available aftermarket for proprietary driver 4 included, more available aftermarket for proprietary driver 5 included/integrated. More available aftermarket for proprietary driver 4 included, more available aftermarket for proprietary driver
File? Yes Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file No
Saw? Wood Metal and wood Yes Yes No
Openers Bottle Can and bottle Can and bottle Can and bottle Bottle
Other important Features One-handed blade. Replacable wire-cutters Ruler, cutting hook, wire stripper Ruler, awl, wire stripper Ruler None
Sheath Included? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Other carry options Pocket Pocket clip, key ring Pocket Pocket Carabiner style clip, pocket clip
Closed dimensions (Length by thickness, in inches) 4.5 x 0.9 4 x 0.8 4.5 x 0.8 4 x 0.7 4.3 x 0.6
Open Length (Pliers) (inches) 6.6 in 6.2 in 7.1in 6.3 in 6.2 in
Open Overall Length (Primary blade deployed) (inches) 6.6 in 7 in 7.6 in 6.9 in 6.8 in
Length of Primary Blade Effective Edge (inches) 3.25 in 2.8 in 3.1 in 2.8in 2.6 in

Our Analysis and Test Results

This tool's primary differentiation is right in the name. In most ways, this is a typical slide style multi-tool. One arm of the pliers, though, is equipped with a long bit driver extension. The geometry of this extension is such that, when deployed, the bit you are using is centered on the long axis of the tool handle. You can drive screws (or bolts or nuts or anything that a bit is available for) from the center of the tool; hence, "Center Drive." In actual usage, this feature and its geometry are very noticeable and valuable. Gerber has definitely raised the bar with this product. For years now, we have curated a description of our as-yet-unseen "dream multi-tool." With the "center driver," Gerber has added a bullet point to our dream tool description. (Since you asked, our dream multi-tool has to have: pocket clip carry, locking pliers, scissors, straight blade, bottle/can opener, file and a Center Drive style 1/4" bit driver. The bit driver has been on the list, but to make it centered and extended like this is the new addition to our dream list).

Performance Comparison


"Middle of nowhere " ten thumbs between two rock climbers  and a truck that isn't running that well. Thanks to the Center Drive and LTE signal (for real-time YouTube advice) we got underway and back home to write this review.
"Middle of nowhere," ten thumbs between two rock climbers, and a truck that isn't running that well. Thanks to the Center Drive and LTE signal (for real-time YouTube advice) we got underway and back home to write this review.

Functions


"By the numbers," the Center Drive is nothing special in terms of included functions. It has normal pliers, a pair of blades, a bottle opener, a bit driver, and a file. Others have far more functions included. However, each of the included functions on the Center Drive is generally more useful than those on the competition. The main, straight blade is relatively large, for instance, making it capable of larger jobs. The pliers are stout, and the wire cutters are configured to have greater than average working life and can be replaced. The bit driver, as outlined above, is head and shoulders above the rest.


The file and bottle openers are pretty basic. The bottle opener is also configured as a bit of a pry-bar and nail puller. We dig. There is space in the handle for one extra bit, in addition to the one in the driver itself. Other versions of the Center Drive come with additional bits. We did not test a version that included more than two bits. The awl is sharp, but short and steeply tapered. Yet another version of the Center Drive includes scissors. That untested version gets even closer to that ideal multi-tool function selection. It is likely not worth the bulk and complication, but the only improvement that could be made to the bit driver of the Center Drive would be to make it ratcheting.

This photo shows the geometry of the center drive bit driver. It really does work better than alternatives.
This photo shows the geometry of the center drive bit driver. It really does work better than alternatives.

In some ways, the optimization of the Center Drive bit driver is a game-changing move. For years, multi-tools have worked to optimize the pliers. The pliers have sort of plateaued. With the "center drive" innovation, this Top Pick winner makes virtually no compromise to the pliers but adds legitimate function in another avenue. We look forward to continued optimization in this vein.

The "roughness" along the blade edge is a relic of the blade finishing process at Gerber. Home resharpening cleans it right up  but this shouldn't be necessary in a high-cost tool like this.
The "roughness" along the blade edge is a relic of the blade finishing process at Gerber. Home resharpening cleans it right up, but this shouldn't be necessary in a high-cost tool like this.

Construction Quality


Generally, Gerber tools are a little more rattly than their closest competitors. Further, slide-to-open multi-tools are more rattly than butterfly or "balisong" style pliers-based multi-tools. The Center Drive is no exception. You can't pick the thing up without noticing at least a little play in some or all of the joints and hinges. Many Gerber slide-to-open multi-tools have been in use for decades now, so we aren't super concerned for the durability. Nonetheless, one's first impressions aren't the most robust.


The machine-sharpened primary blade of the Center Drive we bought and tested arrived fairly burred. It cuts nicely, but a visible bead of metal shavings shines in the right light. Again, this isn't a huge issue, especially if you are handy with blade resharpening. Nonetheless, it suggests at least minor gaps in quality control and undermines user confidence.

We once tested an older Gerber slide-style multi-tool. That one was also rattly and pinchy. It seems that rattly construction is inherent in this slide-style, one-handed deployment. Certainly, some prefer their pliers to deploy this way. However, our test team mostly prefers balisong style pliers for a few different reasons.

Construction of the Center Drive is a little rough and sloppy  compared to the competition.
Construction of the Center Drive is a little rough and sloppy, compared to the competition.

Ergonomics


Our testers had mixed reviews of the ergonomics of the Center Drive. The "centered driver" is an ergonomic boost, and it is this very feature that earns it our Top Pick Award. For extended driver work, this works as well as a multi-tool could be expected to work. We also like the one-handed opening of the generous and locking main blade.


On the other hand, there are some ergonomic drawbacks to the Center Drive. First, few prefer the slide style pliers deployment. It is a stickier way of deploying pliers, and it inherently means more play in the various pivots and moving parts. Next, all but the pliers, bit driver, and main blade require first opening the pliers, deploying your selected function, and then reclosing the pliers.

The business end of the Center Drive. This works nearly as well as a dedicated modular screwdriver. We like it.
The business end of the Center Drive. This works nearly as well as a dedicated modular screwdriver. We like it.

Portability


The Center Drive weighs 9.9 ounces and folds down to 4.5 by 0.9 inches. Among "full function" multi-tools, this is on the large side of typical. You can get this same function count for considerably less weight and bulk. There is more to the portability assessment than size and weight per function. Remember that the Center Drive functions, for instance, are more usable than those on other products.


Your primary carry options on the Center Drive are loose pocket carry or sheath carry. The sheath included with the Center Drive is secure, with extra space for bits and a couple of different orientation/strapping options. There is a loop for attaching a lanyard of some sort if that helps your portability considerations. We don't see much use in lanyard carry of such a large tool.

Roadside  wild country vehicle repairs require cleverness. And a multi-tool doesn't hurt either. Here  lead test editor uses the Center Drive to get his 20-year-old truck firing on all cylinders in the Utah desert. Literally.
Roadside, wild country vehicle repairs require cleverness. And a multi-tool doesn't hurt either. Here, lead test editor uses the Center Drive to get his 20-year-old truck firing on all cylinders in the Utah desert. Literally.

Value


Multi-tool prices keep creeping up. The price of the Center Drive, just a few years ago when we started publishing multi-tool reviews, would have represented the absolute top of the heap. Currently, at the Center Drive's purchase price, you get innovation, to be sure. But you also get the aforementioned limitations. You can spend the same or more -up to 1.5x the cost of the Center Drive- and get more polished construction and tighter performance. At no price, though, can you get a better bit driver in a multi-tool.

The Top Pick Gerber Center Drive has an innovative attribute and is serviceable in all the other ways.
The Top Pick Gerber Center Drive has an innovative attribute and is serviceable in all the other ways.

Conclusion


If "the rising tide lifts all ships," we are happy where multi-tool design is going. The Gerber Center Drive is truly innovative, optimizing actual usage in the field. Our test team realized all this in our extensive testing. We recognize the Gerber with our Top Pick Award for its best-in-class screwdriver, but also point out a few limitations and dreams for the future.


Jediah Porter