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Utility Knife: Discover Your Favorite Multipurpose Tool

Slice Utility knives

Look in any industrial or home toolbox and you'll find a utility knife. This powerhouse tool is durable and sturdy, as it’s used to cut a wide variety of materials. Whereas many knife designs have specialty applications—think hunting knives or surgical scalpels—utility knife uses vary; these tools (sometimes called box cutters, folding knives, carpet knives, or pen knives) are meant to be multipurpose. While the utility knife definition can extend to some specialty knives, such as linoleum cutters, most people use the term to refer to a broader-use all-purpose tool. 

Some typical utility knife uses include:

  • Marking or scoring materials like drywall
  • Cutting through corrugated cardboard, clamshell, and other packaging
  • Trimming excess material off injection-molded plastics or rubber
  • Cutting binding materials like packing tape, cord, twine, or plastic strapping

When you’re looking for the best multipurpose knife, consider: Is it designed to be as safe and effective as possible? Is it well constructed? Is it made of quality, durable materials? 

To examine the safety and effectiveness of a knife, there are two aspects to consider: handle design and blade design.

Utility Knife Handles

Each type of knife has different strengths and weaknesses, so the best utility knife for the job often depends on the job itself. Personal preference also comes into play. What style do you like to use? 

Most manufacturers offer several styles, and we’ll cover the most common ones. For instance, Slice® offers four utility knife handle options: 

  • Fixed-Position Folding Utility Knife (metal handle)
  • Manual Utility Knife (metal or reinforced nylon handle)
  • Auto-Retractable Utility Knife (metal or reinforced nylon handle)
  • Smart-Retracting Utility Knife (nylon handle)

Most people only consider handle design when they buy a utility knife. It’s important to look at blade design, too, and we’ll get to that later in this article. For now, here is a summary of the pros and cons of the handle types you’re most likely to find.

Fixed-Position Folding Utility Knives

The Slice<sup>®</sup> 10562, showing both intermediary and fully extended blade positions.
The Slice® 10562 Folding Utility Knife locks in two different extended positions.

Folding knives, often known as hunting knives or buck knives, feature a hinge that allows the user to fold the blade into the handle when the tool isn’t in use. When exposed, the blade stays in the same position, although some versions have an intermediary fixed position, where the blade is held at an angle from the rest of the handle. This protects the user from excess wrist strain when they’re cutting materials at vertical or overhead angles. Some folding utility knives feature replaceable blades, and some do not.

Strengths

  • These knives tend to have strong handles.
  • If the knife offers an intermediary locked position, this provides a unique cutting angle that may be more suited to some tasks like overhead cutting.  
  • A fixed blade can generally handle more heavy-duty materials.
  • The folding design halves the length of the tool when it’s not in use, making it more portable.

Weaknesses

  • If the user accidentally leaves the blade exposed after cutting, there's a potential for injury. For this reason, many industrial safety officers prefer auto-retractable and self-retracting utility knives for the workplace (see below). 
  • Some of these knives do not have replaceable blades, which means you need to purchase a new knife when the blade dulls or sharpen the old blade, which is time-consuming and dangerous. 

Slice Options

The 10562 Folding Utility Knife

  • Offers two open blade positions
  • Replaceable blade: ships with rounded-tip blade, optional pointed-tip blade
  • Includes finger loop at the hinge for better grip
  • Features a belt clip for portability

The 10495 EDC Folding Knife

  • A smaller, pocketable version
  • Features a lanyard hole for tactical tethering
  • Replaceable blade: ships with rounded-tip blade, optional pointed-tip blade 

Manual Utility Knife

Manual or manual-retraction knives hold their blade in a fixed position for cutting, but also allow complete blade retraction when the tool is not in use. This reduces the chance of accidental lacerations from an unsuspecting co-worker stepping on or blindly reaching for the tool between uses. 

In order to control exposure, the user engages a slider to either extend or retract the blade. These knives usually offer multiple fixed positions, providing a variety of cutting depths to choose from. In general, the shortest blade length that will get the job done is also the safest. You don’t need a 3-inch blade for a half-inch piece of corrugated, for example. Once the user is finished cutting, they must remember to return the blade to its fully retracted position in order to protect the next user. 

Strengths

  • Manual utility knives generally offer multiple fixed positions, allowing the user to choose the appropriate blade depth for the job.
  • Unlike some fixed-blade knives, manual retraction knives allow you to retract the blade fully, protecting the next user.
  • Once the blade is set in its locked position, there’s no need to continue to hold the slider in place. This reduces hand strain.

Weaknesses

  • If the manual-retraction knife doesn’t offer multiple blade length options, the exposed blade may be too long for the task at hand, causing damage to materials or users.
  • If users forget to fully retract the blade after use, the exposed blade poses a potential hazard to the next person to come along.

Slice Options

The 10490 Manual Metal-Handle Utility Knife

  • Offers three different cutting depths
  • Replaceable blade: ships with rounded-tip blade, optional pointed-tip or serrated blades
  • Includes onboard blade garage™ for extra blade storage
  • Handle design is familiar and therefore popular with many workers
  • Uses Slice’s thinnest blades; gets through denser materials more easily

The 10550 Manual Utility Knife

  • Offers four different cutting depths
  • Replaceable blade: ships with rounded-tip blade, optional pointed-tip blade
  • Includes lanyard hole for easy storage
  • Durable glass-filled nylon handle is extremely sturdy
  • More robust blade handles materials like roof shingles

Auto-Retractable and Self-Retracting Utility Knives

Auto-Retractable Utility Knive

Auto-retractable and self-retracting—what Slice calls smart-retracting—knives offer added levels of safety. Like with the manual utility knife, the user must engage the slider to expose the blade. But rather than the blade locking in place, the user must hold down the slider to keep the blade exposed. Once the user releases the slider, a spring-loaded mechanism automatically pulls the blade into the handle. This innovation reduces injuries by no longer relying on the user to remember to retract the blade.

The latest advance in retractable knives, self- or smart-retracting, takes safety a step further. With these models, the blade retracts automatically when it has lost contact with the cutting material. That is, the blade retracts when there is no pressure against it, even if the user is still holding the slider down. This prevents accidents if the user slips while cutting.

Strengths

  • There will never be an exposed blade left lying around, which greatly reduces the risk of injury.
  • Some people prefer the slider mechanism over the folding mechanism, a cap, or a sheath.
  • Many facilities mandate the use of auto-retractable or smart retracting knives.

Weaknesses

  • If the knife is in heavy use, it may become tiring to keep the slider engaged.
  • The retraction spring is one extra mechanism that could potentially break, rendering the knife useless.

Slice Options

The 10554 Auto-Retractable Utility Knife

  • Blade retracts to keep user safe
  • Replaceable blade: ships with rounded-tip blade, optional pointed-tip blade
  • Includes lanyard hole for portability
  • Durable glass-filled nylon handle is extremely sturdy
  • More robust blade handles materials like roof shingles

The 10491 Auto-Retractable Metal-Handle Utility Knife

  • Blade retracts to keep user safe
  • Replaceable blade: ships with rounded-tip blade, optional pointed-tip or serrated blades
  • Includes onboard blade garage™ for extra blade storage
  • Handle design is familiar and therefore popular with many workers
  • Uses Slice’s thinnest blades; gets through denser materials more easily

The 10558 Smart-Retracting Utility Knife

  • Blade retracts to keep user safe if the knife slips during a cut (even if the user is still holding the slider)
  • Replaceable blade: ships with rounded-tip blade, optional pointed-tip blade
  • Includes lanyard hole for portability
  • Durable glass-filled nylon handle is extremely sturdy
  • More robust blade handles materials like roof shingles

Additional Handle Features

Ergonomics are another important component of handle design. Look for evidence that the knife manufacturer has considered the ergonomic impact of the tool’s design. Cutting tools should be comfortable to hold and allow for smooth, natural movement. Is there a no-slip surface on the handle and the slider? There should be.

Other handle features to consider include blade storage (some knives allow for replacement blade storage in the handle, like the Slice 10490 Manual Metal-Handle Utility Knife and 10491 Auto-Retractable Metal-Handle Utility Knife) and portability. A tool is only useful if you can find it. Look for some kind of utility knife holder, lanyard hole, or other storage option. You may want a tool you can carry with you. Is the model you’re considering easy to put in a pocket or on a tool belt? 

Some other considerations are handedness, weight, and overall quality: Does the tool work for right-handed and left-handed users? Is it lightweight and durable? Is the tool well constructed? Once you find your favorite tool, you’ll want it to last. 

Utility Knife Blade Types

The blade is often overlooked when users evaluate knives, but utility blades are arguably the most important part of the knife. They’re what does the job, and what poses the greatest injury risk. The best utility knife blades combine safety and longevity in their materials and design. 

One Slice ceramic safety blade lasts as long as several metal utility blades
Slice safety blades have been third-party tested to last up to 11 times longer than steel.

Traditional Metal Blades

Everyone is familiar with traditional metal blades because for a long time, they were the only option on the market. 

Strengths

  • Blades are thin and cut very easily.
  • Thinner blades can withstand a certain amount of side load by bending before they break.

Weaknesses

  • Blades are very thin and cut very easily. Notice that this same point is listed as a strength. It’s considered a weakness as well because these blades cut skin very easily too, making them dangerous to handle.
  • Metal blades dull quickly. Because metal is a relatively soft material, metal blades start out excessively sharp and quickly become dangerously dull. This is particularly problematic if you’re cutting abrasive materials like ceramic fiber blanket.
  • Metal has several properties that are problematic: it rusts, it’s often coated in oil to prevent rusting, it sparks, it’s conductive, it’s magnetic, and it can react to chemical agents.

Traditional Ceramic Blades

Ceramic blades are becoming more common. It’s important to note, however, that ceramic blades differ by manufacturer, and no others are the same as Slice. Traditional ceramic blades mimic the thin, overly sharp design of metal blades. Many ceramic blades are even sharper than their metal counterparts.

A thinner edge design makes ceramic blades prone to chipping that ruins the blade edge. And not all ceramic blades feature the same material composition, so performance and properties of the material may vary from brand to brand. We can only make longevity claims about Slice blades.

Slice Safety Blades

Slice is the only company to bring safety to ceramics with our patent-pending finger-friendly® grind. Slice blades are made of 100 percent zirconium oxide, which is an extremely hard material. Our blades are also designed to be thicker, which allows for our proprietary grind. This makes our blades long-lasting: Slice blades have been third-party tested to last up to 11 times longer than metal. That means fewer blade changes, which reduces your risk of injury. 

Strengths of Slice Safety Blades

  • Slice’s patent-pending safety grind cuts materials effectively but is finger-friendly®: the blade edge is safe to the touch. Slice blades are much safer to handle.
  • Slice 100 percent zirconium oxide (advanced ceramics) blades are much stronger than steel; the blade design lasts up to 11 times longer than steel. This is a huge price advantage.
  • Because Slice blades have superior wear resistance, users handle them less often, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Any blade that can reduce injuries will potentially save a company tens of thousands of dollars in injury-related costs.

Weaknesses of Slice Safety Blades

  • Ceramic blades don’t fare well under a side load. Like if you used the blades as a screwdriver or lever, for example. However, no blade should be subjected to side load because they may break and cause an injury. Use tools only for their intended purpose.
  • Slice safety blades are not metal detectable. As such, they cannot be used in certain sectors of the food industry where blade detectability is required.

Snap-Off Utility Blades

Knife featuring dangerous snap-off metal utility blade
This knife has a dangerous snap-off metal utility blade.

The last of the common utility knife blade types is the snap-off blade. These were originally a Japanese invention and consist of a thin razor-like blade with several scores across its width. Once the edge of the exposed blade becomes dull, the user can snap it off, revealing a new sharp edge. Each blade contains several snap-off sections, meaning the entire blade is replaced less often.

Strengths

  • Because each blade has several sections, you will need to buy fewer replacement blades over time, compared with other metal blades.

Weaknesses

  • The snapping action that exposes a new blade is dangerous. It exposes a fresh, sharp edge while the dull section can easily fly off in an unpredictable direction, causing injuries.
  • If subjected to too much stress, the handle may break, causing injuries and exposing multiple razor-sharp sections of the blade. 

Utility Knife Safety

The cost of lacerations from workplace utility knives doesn’t stop with medical bills, or the pain inflicted. OSHA estimates that a laceration injury costs a company on average over $41,000 in direct and indirect costs. That doesn’t include costs that are difficult to quantify, such as lowered morale. No matter what tools you choose, it’s crucial to train workers how to use a utility knife properly, as well as when to use a utility knife and when to choose a specialty tool.

Safety Issues to Consider

When you’re trying to find who makes the best utility knife for your application, always include safety in your evaluation. After all, when a number of safer choices are available, there’s no need to settle for one or the other. Why use a utility knife that’s effective but unsafe?

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