With its aluminum wheel hanging beneath, the Roberts Roll-O Universal Knife looks like some hapless engineer tried to make a unicycle from a standard utility knife. But there's a method to this madness, and unlike some innovations that fall flat when they get out to the field, the Roll-O indeed rolls smoothly over roofing felt, shingles, cedar shims, heavy-duty linoleum, even commercial-grade carpet. And along the way, it provides easier and safer cutting.
I had the opportunity to test the new Roll-O knife recently, and was pleasantly surprised at the job it did of cutting through some of the toughest materials your knees or a knife will ever encounter.
This utility knife is promoted as a tool ideally suited to cutting roofing shingles, carpet, sheet goods, linoleum, and more. And it showed up for testing just in time to jump in on some major demo work on a "Rebuilding Together" volunteer housing project I had committed to. Scoring plaster walls in a soon-to-be remodeled bathroom went much easier than expected with the knife. It has a hefty, cast aluminum handle, sturdy roller, and a knuckle-saving tailpiece. I could run the knife straight down the plaster and not worry about my hand coming in contact with the embedded sand particles, which can shred your skin faster than a cheese grater. The blade sticks out as much as on any utility knife, so deeply scoring the wall was no problem. The wheel serves an added purpose as a fulcrum to help keep the blade at a desired depth–something almost impossible to do with a regular, fixed-blade utility knife.
After the walls came down, it was time to get rid of 70-year-old linoleum on the floor. I never doubted the knife's ability to get through this task. But just to make it challenging, I put my full weight on the knife while I drew it along the material, even cutting into the subfloor. The roller again allowed for forceful contact and made straight incisions even without a guide. The knife also helped in gutting rooms of carpeting and slashing through roofing felt and asphalt shingles, becoming my regular go-to tool as it kept my hands out of harm's way.
The Roll-O knife has steel reinforcements in its nose and tail, where the most wear occurs on utility knives, and a big grip handle that lets even the largest hands wrap around it for a solid feel. A push-button opening of the tool allows for easy blade changes, and its storage area will hold up to 10 blades. Both the storage area and the knife's nose have magnets for positioning and holding the blades firmly until the handle closes.
While its size is a plus for making it bombproof, it's also a drawback for carrying–it does not fit into standard holsters made for utility knives. And while many utility knives have a retractable blade, the Roll-O's blade is fixed, which helps give it that super-duty appeal. The fixed blade is a sturdier design. Bearing down really hard on retractable-blade utility knives often makes the blade slide in suddenly, and sometimes damages the sliding mechanism. This knife is all about being as tough as can be.
This is a great knife that any roofer, flooring installer, drywaller, or carpenter will really enjoy. Its unique function lets you apply maximum pressure while maintaining control and protecting your knuckles. Its serious size keeps it from getting lost in the melee, and makes me think you could drive over it with your pickup and it would still keep on ticking.
–Jim Flasch owns Chip-Squared Construction in Appleton, Wis., and writes about his work for a number of publications.
Roll-O Universal Knife