Launch Slideshow

Scandinavia's Answer to the Utility Knife

Scandinavia's Answer to the Utility Knife

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    David Frane_ToTT

    Here are all the Hultafors knives I have. From left to right they are: painter’s knife, general purpose knife, heavy-duty knife, electrician’s knife, and plumber’s knife. These are just some of the knives the company makes.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    The metal “button” on the leg of a pair of European-style work pants (these are Bjornklader brand pants) is what led me to this kind of knife. I wondered what the button was for so I went looking…

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    David Frane_ToTT

    It turns out the button is designed to hold a sheathed work knife. The sheath clips onto the button…

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    David Frane_ToTT

    The sheath fits through a loop on the pants—which keeps it from swinging or flopping around. The knife “clicks” into the sheath and should not fall out. As an added measure, these pants include a piece of webbing that snaps around the end of the hilt. This particular knife and sheath are made by Mora.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    I use the Chisel Knife (model STK) more than any other European work knife; the end of the blade is a chisel and the side is a knife. It’s a good general purpose chisel and cutter. I frequently use it for scraping caulk, filler or glue out of inside corners. The long back edge of the knife is robust enough to be beat with a hammer so you can quickly notch framing by driving it into the edge of stud and then breaking out the waste.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    The Electrician’s Knife (ELK) is designed for stripping wire and cable. The small blade on the top is for slicing the outer casing; the main blade for stripping the wires. I found this knife useful in carpentry as well for carving small reliefs on trim, cleaning up copes, and fine tuning scribes. It’s great for whittling pencils.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    Hultafors' Painter’s Knife (MK) is just what it sounds like—a knife for painters. The slotted screw driving tip can be used for removing and installing the occasional cover plate or drywall screw. The edge will cut plastic, packaging, and whatever else a painter might need to cut. The notch just back from the tip is designed for opening paint cans…

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    David Frane_ToTT

    To open a can with the painter’s knife, put the bump on the back of the blade under the edge of the lid and twist the grip. It contacts more of the rim than a screwdriver would and is less likely to damage a lid that does not want to come off.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    The Plumber’s Knife (VVS) is kind of interesting. The blade can be used for cutting and for scraping the burr off the inside of pipe as small as 1/2-inch in diameter. It’s hard to see in this photo, but the flat of the blade has been cross-hatched just out from the handle. This cross-hatched area functions as a file and can be used to deburr the outside of copper pipes.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    This Craftsman’s Knife with a friction grip (RFRGH) is a general purpose carpentry and woodworking tool. I use it for most of the things I might use a utility knife for, plus some a utility knife’s flexible blade won’t do—like whittling or hacking the edge of a piece. The sharp pointed tip will fit all kinds of places and can be used for scoring.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    The Heavy Duty Knife (GK) is a beefier version of the general purpose knife and is designed for serious cutting tasks. The back edge of the blade is thicker than that of other knives and can be hit with a hammer to assist in cutting, chopping, and demo. It’s useful when dealing with heavy materials like framing lumber—or even metal studs.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    When you’re wearing regular clothes you can snap the sheath over your belt, though it’s really much more convenient to hang it from a metal button on your vest or pant leg. This sheath holds one knife but Hultafors also makes a double with space for one knife next to another.

When I bought my first pair of Bjornklader work pants I noticed a raised metal button on the side of the leg. I wondered what it was for so I did some online research and found that in Europe tradesmen attach fixed-blade sheathed knives to them. My work vest has one of these buttons as do some other brands and articles of European workwear.

A number of companies make European-style work knives. The brands I'm familiar with are both made in Sweden. The first knives I bought were from Mora; the ones in this story are from Hultafors (click photos to see more).

I'm not sure why this style of knife is popular in Europe and yet almost unknown in the U.S. The European preference for fixed-blade knives is probably a combination of experience (the knives work) and like so many things in construction—tradition.

There were several reasons why I started using these knives:
* I thought it would be practical to have a small whittling type knife for cleaning out cope cuts.
* Fixed-blade knives are more robust than utility knives and can do things utility knives cannot.
* I liked the idea that specific versions of these knives existed for various trades: carpenters, electricians, painters, and the like (click photo for more details).
* It doesn't hurt that there is something cool and unusual about these knives; I like having things that are different.

Hultafors' knives are relatively inexpensive and retail for between $12 and $22 including the sheath. Blades are made from Japanese steel (carbon or stainless) and can be resharpened. The polypropylene handles are tough enough to beat on and yet comfortable to grasp.

Knives of this type can often be found where hunting, bush craft (survival), and tactical supplies are sold. Mora products are widely distributed in the U.S. and are readily available online. You'll have to look a little harder for Hultafors knives but they're out there (Amazon and other online vendors have them). The knives in this story were provided by RepconNW, a workwear and tool distributor in Battle Ground, WA.