Utility knives are one of the most essential tools on a jobsite, and long ago I learned having only one doesn’t cut it. Neither does having two. In fact, I try to keep four different knives with me at all times. It might sound odd, but the design differences between each style of knife change the function so much that I view each one as a unique cutting tool, separate from the rest. Here’s what I’ve been carrying these days.
The Milwaukee Fastback is the knife that I keep in my pocket and the one that I use most often. It’s what I go for when I’m opening delivery boxes, sharpening pencils, and shaving off some wood to get a scribe just right. Over the years, I’ve used a lot of different knives, and because of its unique features, the Milwaukee is an all-around favorite.
The Fastback folds and can be opened one-handed: just press a release button and flick the wrist. It’s a quick maneuver and after a couple days, it’s automatic. I also like that you can open it with gloves on, even thick cold-weather ones. You can’t say that about most utility knives.
This tool has the nicest handle that I’ve seen on a utility knife. The massive finger notch makes it easy to grip the tool and once you’re firmly holding it, I can’t see how it could ever slip out of the hands. The back of the handle is also contoured and fits my hand perfectly. Features include a wire form belt hook, tool-free blade changing, a wire stripper, and a gut hook for cutting line without opening the knife,
It doesn’t bother me that there is no spare blade storage on the tool; I keep a pack of extra blades in my bag, so I’m never too far away from a refill. Also I tend not to use it for really aggressive work where I need a constant supply of blades, like cutting shingles. This is my medium to light duty daily carry. The Fastback II is similar to this knife and has a spot for an additional blade, but that makes it a little thicker and I prefer the thinner model. Price: $15; COO: China
For those times when I do need a lot of blades on hand, like cutting shingles, drywall or a waterproofing membrane, lately I’ve been reaching for the Stanley 10-788. This is a more traditional knife with the top mounted thumb slide. The bottom of the handle opens up to reveal a spot where five additional blades can be stored.
What I like about the Stanley is that it has a humpback shape that naturally angles the blade downward. This way, I don’t have to twist my wrist as much as with other knives, which a nice feature to have for repetitive work. There is also a little thumb pad up at the nose that stops my hand from sliding forward. The gut hook can be used to cut string without extending the blade.
I’ve found that the blade release can be a little difficult at times and getting the storage area to open could be a little easier, but overall this has been a good durable knife in the months that I’ve been using it. Price: $8; COO: USA (with global materials)
A Very Long Blade:
It’s also very useful to have a knife with a snap-off segmented blade. The Olfa L5-AL, my current favorite, can extend a new blade to about 3-¼-inches. The longer blade is great for cutting rigid insulation, but I also find myself using it as a thin probe for things like investigating between a baseboard and a wall.
I used to get the 50-cent snap-off knives available in a jar at the counter of the lumberyard, but I finally stepped up to the Olfa and I’m glad I did. Most knives with segmented blades have zero ergonomics, but the Olfa has a comfortable rubberized handle. The blade locks in place with a dial, which is much more secure than the little clip found on cheaper models.
The Olfa also has a little metal fin at the back end that can act as a quick and dirty prying tool for a can of paint or even cleaning out the gunk between two floorboards. It’s not an essential piece of the puzzle, but it has come in handy from time to time. Price: $20; COO: Japan
A Glass Cleaner:
Hyde Retractable Razor Scraper
Finally, for scraping putty and paint off of glass, I like the Hyde Retractable Razor Scraper. I spent years taking the blade out of my utility knife and using that for glass cleaning, but I eventually got tired of it digging into my fingers. The Hyde offers a lot of function and comfort and it only costs a couple dollars, so it really makes sense, even for the non-painter.
Like the Olfa, this Hyde brings some ergonomic features to a tool that normally has none. The case has a rubbery grip area and a nicely curved butt-end that is easy on the palm for aggressive (or long-term) scraping. It also has a sliding lock on it to prevent the blade from retracting back into the body of the tool. Lastly, there is onboard storage for four blades. Because I’m not a painter, these four blades last a long time. When I get low, the painting crew on site usually lets me restock my supply. Price: $4; COO: China