Utility Knife Buying Guide
What is an Utility Knife?
A utility knife is a special type of knife that is primarily used for jobs like cutting and trimming carpet or vinyl, opening or cutting down boxes, trimming wallpaper and much more. It can be one of the most indispensible tools in your tool box. For this reason it is important that you choose one that will have the features you need, a design and construction that will last, and a brand you can trust. There are utility knives on the market that are extremely cheap in price, but they are almost always cheap in quality and design as well and you won’t have it for long before you have to buy another one.
Taking the time to sort through the choices available can save you the frustration and disappointment of purchasing one that is not up to par with your needs. It is much better to spend a little more money initially to ensure that you purchase a good quality, long lasting utility knife than to find out it doesn’t work when you go to complete a task and it falls apart in your hand.
Things to Consider
There are some questions you can ask yourself before you purchase a utility knife that will help direct your research efforts.
- What are the available designs of utility knives?
- What types of blades are available and do they each have different uses they are suited for?
- Are there safety features in place to ensure less chance of injury?
- What types of blade changing mechanisms are there?
- What features are important to you when it comes to a utility knife?
All of these questions determine the type of utility knife that will be the best for your specific jobs and needs. Keep these above questions in mind as you start your research.
Types of Knives
Knives have changed a lot over the years, from the materials they are made of to the safety measures put in place to ensure safer usage. Utility knives are used to do a multitude of tasks. They can cut string and rope, sharpen pencils and score wallboard or ceiling tiles for further cutting.
They are even used in more casual settings such as retail stores to open boxes and then cut them down to throw away. The three main types of utility knives are retractable, fixed blade and breakaway blade. Each style has its benefits and drawbacks.
1. Retractable Utility Knives – This type of utility knife is well suited for every day or general use. The design of the retractable utility knife allows the sharpness and depth of the cutting blade to be adjusted quickly and easily, in many cases with one hand.
One of the big pluses of the retractable utility knife is that the blade can be retracted back into the handle fully when you are not using it. This is a very good safety feature to have and reduces the incidents of accidents by stepping on one lying around.
The blade of the knife is moved in and out by a slider or button that will determine how much of the blade is out. A retractable knife is usually able to be put into 3-5 different positions providing an increased level of control that is not attainable with other types of knives that just have one blade and one depth.
You will need to check to see if any retractable blade utility knife you consider can use specialty blades. Not all of them do, so checking ahead of time is always a good idea. There are some characteristics that most retractable utility knives have:
- The blade is moved in and out of the housing with a thumb operated slider or button
- The body of the knife may be straight or ergonomically go designed to fit your hand comfortably and naturally to reduce hand fatigue.
- There are many different forms this utility knife will take. Whether it’s a flashlight keychain or something larger and more substantial, there is a utility knife that is designed for almost every cutting job you can imagine.
2. Fixed Blade Utility Knives – The blade of a fixed blade utility knife is locked into the on position which makes them a great choice for heavy duty cutting jobs where stability is important. Fixed blade utility knives don’t have the same problem with wobbling that retractable and breakaway utility knives can be known to have.
Since they come in all shapes and widths, you want to look for one that will fit in your hand comfortably. It is important to store fixed blade utility knives in a safe protected place since that blade isn’t retracted. Common characteristics of a fixed blade utility knife include:
- More stability and security for tough jobs
- Can be used with a larger variety of different blades which make it more versatile.
- Lightweight and easy to handle, making them perfect for hobbies.
3. Breakaway Blade Utility Knives – A breakaway blade utility knife is typically housed in brightly colored plastic cases and has blades that are connected and scored so they can just be snapped off whenever you need a sharper blade.
This type of utility knife is perfect for jobs that tend to dull the knife a lot such as cutting through materials with adhesives, since that will usually take the edge off the blade and require frequent changes. Characteristics of a breakaway blade utility knife include:
- Suited for light to medium duty jobs that don’t require a lot of strength
- Numerous segments for frequent, easy blade changes, usually 8-13 per set
Types of Blades
There are many different kinds of blades available for utility knives. Each blade type is suited for a specific kind of job or task. Not all utility knives work with specialized blades so be certain to check with the knife manufacturer before purchasing a special knife blade and buy a utility knife that works with different types of blades for the maximum flexibility.
- Carpet Blade – This double edged blade is perfect for cutting and trimming carpet. It is often used by professional carpet installers as well as do-it-yourself-ers that install their own carpet.
- Hobby/Craft Blade – The blade design on a hobby/craft utility knife has a low angle and is curved to be a good fit for the types of materials that it will be used to cut through. It is perfect for cutting, carving, modeling, scoring and whittling a number of different materials.
- Hook Blade – Utility knives with hook blades are used for a multitude of tasks including cutting and trimming carpet and flooring, opening cartons and cutting and trimming roofing materials. It is good to use for these materials because the knife won’t damage anything below the cutting surface. If you are going to be cutting through tough materials, there are oversized blades available that make this task much easier.
- Linoleum Blade – If you are laying linoleum, vinyl or similar material, a linoleum blade makes fast work of the trimming and cutting that is involved in laying a linoleum floor.
- Round-Point Utility Blade – This is a general task blade that is good for basic cutting jobs. The blunt end of the blade prevents the user from stabbing themselves and helps to aid in getting through the cutting surface.
- Scoring – A scoring blade is used to do what its namesake suggests, score materials such as acrylics, laminates and similar materials so they can be broken into smaller sections cleanly.
- Utility – A general utility blade is used for general cutting tasks and also fort cutting sheet materials of different thicknesses. They are not designed for the tougher carpeting and roofing cuts and should not be used for these types of tasks.
Features to Look For
There are several features that a utility knife can come with that make it even more valuable as a regular tool. When you start researching utility knives, be sure to look for as many of these features as you are interested in.
- Folding Fixed-Blade – This feature takes an otherwise less safe fixed blade knife and adds a safety element to it. The folding fixed blade utility knife folds up like a pocket knife, eliminating the danger of having an exposed blade lying around. This also enables them to be carried in your pocket safely.
- Self Retracting Blade – The one drawback of as self retracting blade is that you must keep a button pressed down during the cutting process. Once the button is released, the blade will automatically retract. If you are doing a lot of cutting keeping the button pressed down can become tiresome. The benefit to using this type of feature is that it prevents the user from leaving a knife lying around that has been left open.
- Blade Changes – A tool free blade changes are the feature you want to look for. This type of blade change only requires the body to rotate open. The old blade slides out and the new blade slides in easily. Sometimes the blade release will be a button that the user presses. Other styles will feature an automatic blade change. This saves a lot of time and energy.
- Blade Storage – the utility knives that have storage in the handles make it super efficient to make the blade changes Knives with this feature have a magnet or guide that keep the stored blades in place so they don’t rattle inside the knife.
- String Cutting – This feature does exactly what it says; allows the user to cut string and twine by inserting the piece to be cut in the small notch that us usually just behind the head of the blade.
- Safety Shield – If you will be cutting material like insulation and other difficult jobs, getting a utility knife with a safety shield is a good way to protect your hands from these hazardous materials.
When it comes to ensuring that you have a well rounded tool box with all of the necessities, you want to make sure one of those necessities is a good quality utility knife. With all of the tasks it is capable of performing, you will find it to be one of the most often used tools you own.
The top rated utility knives reviewed here are all excellent quality knives with plenty of useful features. The buyer’s guide has provided you with even more information that can help you sort through all of the choices available and come up with the perfect choice for your needs.