Choosing the Right Knife
No toolbox is complete without the presence of a utility knife. Whether it features a retractable, fixed or breakaway blade, a utility knife will undoubtedly prove to be one of your most indispensable tools. Trimming wallpaper, cutting carpeting and roofing materials and opening boxes are just a few of the tasks utility knives can be used for. Each type of knife offers a different set of advantages and many are available with a wide array variety of features. Though incredibly handy, utility knives are also very sharp and need to be handled with care to prevent accidents.
Keep the following questions in mind as you search for the best utility knife to meet your needs:
• What different designs are available?
• What types of blades are available and what applications are they used for?
• How can you ensure safe use of a utility knife?
• What different blade-change mechanisms do knives have?
• What features are important to you?
Knives, Blades and its Uses
Formerly made of rock, bone, flint and obsidian; knives have evolved through time just as technology has. With blades being made from bronze, copper, iron, steel, ceramics, and titanium, these are termed as very sharp objects. Utility knives can sharpen pencils, cut rope and string, score wallboard or acoustic ceiling tiles and a host of other activities. Regardless of what you’re using a knife for, there are steps you can take to ensure its safe and proper use. Wear eye protection and make sure the blade is properly seated and locked into place prior to cutting.
Be patient when cutting through thick materials and make more than one pass if needed. Make sure blades are sharp because dull blades can easily slip. Keep retractable blades safely sheathed when not in use and be extra cautious when handling fixed-blade knives. Look for blades with rubber nonslip handles to provide a better grip.
Retractable Knives: Retractable blade knives are a good choice for general or everyday use and offer the handiness of being able to quickly adjust the sharpness and cutting depth of the blades. It also offers a safety feature of allowing the blade to be retracted fully into the handle when not in use. Utility knives with retractable blades feature a button that allows you to slide the blade in and out.
The two primary advantages of this style are increased safety and greater ability to control the depth of your cut. Simple knives let the blade slide all the way out and then lock into place while more advanced knives allow you to lock the blade into multiple positions, usually three to five, giving you precise control over how deeply you cut. Retractable knives may not be able to accept all types of specialty blades.
• A thumb-operated slider moves the blade in and out of the housing
• Always confirm that the blade is securely locked into place prior to cutting
• Knife bodies may be straight or ergonomically curved to fit your hand
• Retractable-blade keychain knives fit in your pocket and are always close at hand
Fixed-Blade Knives: Fixed-blade knives have blades that are securely locked into place making them ideal for heavy-duty cutting jobs. Unlike retractable knives, fixed-blade knives don’t experience any blade “slop,” the term used to describe the wobbly side-to-side movement that can sometimes occur. Handle sizes and widths vary, so look for one that fits comfortably in your hand. Be extra careful when storing fixed-blade knives and make sure they are in a safe place when not in use.
• Fixed-blade knives offer greater stability for tough jobs
• Accept a wider variety of different blades for more versatile use
• Hobby knives are often constructed from strong, lightweight aluminum and have a round,
slender body for more precise control
Breakaway-Blade Knives: These knives are usually housed in a brightly colored plastic casing and feature segmented blades that can be broken off in sections to provide a fresh, sharp edge whenever you need it. They eliminate the hassle of having to stop what you’re doing to open up the knife and replace the blade. Their design makes them ideal for tasks that constantly dull or otherwise affect blades, such as cutting through packing tape and other adhesive material.
• Ideal for light- and medium-duty cutting tasks
• Blades usually have between 8 and 13 segments
• Does not accept different blades for specialized tasks
• Break off blade tips as soon as they become dull to reduce the risk of slipping
Blades: In addition to standard utility blades, there are a number of other specialized blades available for more specific tasks. Consult the chart below to learn more about the range of blades available and what types of jobs they are best suited for.
Applications and Points to consider
|Carpet||• Double-edged blades used for cutting carpeting|
|Hobby and Craft||• Used for cutting, carving, whittling, modeling, trimming and scoring a wide range of
• Blade designs include low-angle and curved
|Hook||• Used for cutting and trimming roofing, carpet and flooring materials as well as cartons
• Won’t cause damage below the cutting surface
• Oversized blades are available for thicker materials
|Linoleum||• Used for making clean cuts in vinyl or linoleum floor covering and similar materials|
|Round-Point Utility||• Designed for general cutting tasks
• Blunt ends help prevent stab injuries while aiding in penetrating the cutting surface
|Scoring||• Used for scoring deep grooves to make clean breaks in acrylics, laminates and other
|Utility||• Used for cutting sheet materials of varying thicknesses
• Used for general cutting tasks
Folding Fixed-Blade: One of the dangers of using a fixed-blade knife is that the blade is always exposed. Fixed-blade knives that fold in a manner similar to a pocket knife eliminate this problem and they’re easier to fit in your pocket or tool pouch as well.
Self-Retraction: Self-retracting blades require you to keep a button depressed while you are cutting. Once you release the button, the blade automatically retracts, helping to prevent accidents that can occur if you forget to retract the blade manually.
Blade Changes: Changing the blade doesn’t need to be difficult. Many knives allow for tool-free changes. The body simply rotates open, allowing you to slide the old blade out and slide in a new one with ease. Some knives let you release the current blade with the touch of a button so you can turn it around and make use of the unused, still-sharp end. Other knives have the ability to change blades automatically, saving you time and effort.
Blade Storage: Knives that store blades internally make it easy to change blades quickly and efficiently. Look for knives that use a guide or magnet to keep blades in place rather than letting them rattle around loose inside. Loose blades can dull over time.
Hang Hole: A hole at the end of a utility knife makes it easy to hang on a nail or to run a lanyard through for easy access.
String-Cutting Feature: Some knives have a small slit in the body located just behind the head of the blade that is ideal for sliding strings and twine through for quick, easy cuts.
Safety Shield: A safety shield keeps your hand safe from abrasive surfaces and hazardous materials while you work, making it ideal for use when cutting insulation and other difficult tasks.