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What’s in a Safety Knife?

There are two main components to any safety knife: the handle and the blade. In the past, when manufacturers looked for safer ways to cut, they redesigned the handle to reduce blade exposure. In fact, charts classifying knives according to their handle design are used industry wide. This approach represents a limited understanding of safety. Focusing exclusively on the handle sidesteps the fundamental question: “What cuts you, the handle or the blade?”

Here we examine the features that separate regular knives from safety knives. We highlight often-overlooked safety aspects of handle design, as well as features that put Slice ceramic safety blades in a class of their own.

Safety Knife Handles

Manufacturers of the industrial safety knife have traditionally focused on blade exposure as the main risk to mitigate. Whether a blade endangers its user while cutting or is left exposed to cut an unsuspecting coworker, exposure is often to blame. There are two handle-related design features that make knives less hazardous: handle shape and blade retraction mechanisms.

A Handle’s Shape

Knife manufacturers have developed hook-shaped blade housings that shield the user’s hand from the edge of the blade. This shape works for cutting rope or banding but isn’t suitable for any application where the cutting material can’t fit inside the hook area. The same issue exists for all safety utility knives that rely on a recessed blade.

Slice’s design process starts with safety. Our award-winning J-hook handle, used in our line of box cutters, provides a cutting guide while protecting the user’s hand from staples and other hazards while cutting.

The Slice 10400 Manual Box Cutter is a great example of a safety knife
Slice Box Cutter handles are a safer and more ergonomic alternative to traditional handles.

Retraction Mechanisms

Retraction mechanisms represent a key area of innovation that reduces blade exposure when the blade is not in use. The first, and still most common, retractable design uses a slider and spring-loaded mechanism to expose the blade during the cut and retract the blade when the user releases the slider. Slice offers auto-retractable models for many of our knives, including the Mini-Cutter, our pen cutter, box cutter and utility knife.

Self-retracting knives are increasingly popular as they provide an added level of safety. These knives sense when the blade loses contact with the cutting material, even if the slider button is still engaged. When contact is lost, the blade retracts automatically, preventing lacerations if the user accidentally loses control during the cut. The Slice Smart-Retracting Utility Knife features this added protection.

Accidents from blade exposure are often the result of improper storage or carrying. Slice includes better storage and carrying options in our handle designs as an added safety feature. For example, our box cutters can hook on clothing, keeping the blade outside your pocket and away from your skin. Many of our tools also have embedded magnets or lanyard holes to keep tools handy and off the the floor or seating areas.

In some cases, especially in the workplace, a retraction mechanism simply isn’t practical. When the task involves repeated cutting of the same material at the same depth over long periods of time, retraction mechanisms add unnecessary time and strain. Fixed blade options may be preferable in these cases, but if you choose a fixed blade, it’s crucial to look beyond the handle for safety features. Remember, it’s the blade that cuts you. When you can’t limit blade exposure, the only way to make a knife safer is to redesign the blade.

Safety Knife Blades

From the beginning, Slice has asked, “what is a safety knife?” We’ve gone beyond previous handle-centric industry efforts and developed a true safety blade. Slice ceramic safety blades feature a finger-friendly edge, a product of our thicker blade, smaller cutting zone, and patented grind. Slice blades require much more force to penetrate the skin than typical steel blades and are therefore safer to touch. Read more about the features of our finger-friendly edge in The Safety Blade: Everything You Need to Know.

Another Slice innovation is the microblade: a tiny embedded blade with the same finger-friendly grind as our larger blades. These are used in our Safety Cutter and Precision Cutter, both ideal safety knives for cutting plastics, paper, or any other thin material. Because the tiny blades are extremely unlikely to penetrate skin, these tools are favorites with anyone who works with children.

One of Slice's advanced ceramic blades compared with 11 dangerous metal blades
Slice’s advanced ceramics material is extremely wear resistant. One blade lasts, on average, as long as 11.2 metal blades.

Slice uses 100 percent zirconium oxide, an advanced ceramic material whose molecular structure makes it much harder than steel. This hardness dramatically increases its wear resistance which is why Slice blades last, on average, 11.2 times longer than steel. As a result, Slice knives require fewer blade changes, further reducing the chance of accidental cuts. 

Table lists risks associated with knives and which risks can be prevented with better handle design or a safer blade
Only a small portion of the risks users face are addressed by new handle designs, which is why Slice redesigned the blade.

Engineered ceramics have the added bonus of never rusting, being non-magnetic, non-sparking, and chemically inert. They don’t require the a rust-proofing oil coating and are safe for clean rooms and autoclaves. For more about the unique properties of this material, see Why are Slice Ceramic Blades Safer Than Metal Blades?

Safety Knife Ergonomics

Slice also considers less obvious safety issues, such as repetitive strain injuries, in our designs. Our ergonomic tools have been measured and proven, in independent third-party testing*, to reduce muscle strain in the upper and lower arm muscles, as well as the hand muscles. Safety managers must consider the impact of repetitive strain and the long-term damage it can cause when choosing tools for the workplace.

Always Ask the Right Questions

When you’re evaluating a safety knife, ask yourself what makes it safer. Is it the handle design alone? What about the blade? Is the tool ergonomic? Take a deeper look at safety for your best return on investment. After all, why use a safety knife if you’re not going to use the safest?


* Testing done by U.S. Ergonomics, September 2016, Sea Cliff, New York.


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