Cut Ups: The 8 Best Utility Knives

DIY work usually requires only a few basic tools. You need your duct tape. You’ll need a screwdriver. You’ll need a fifth of Jack Daniels, and you’ll need a utility knife. These are an excellent and affordable way to handle work around the house without dulling that pocket knife that you got for Father’s Day. With their replaceable razor blades you never have to worry about dulling them while they can be just as easy to carry as a standard folding knife.

Utility knives break down into three basic categories. There’s the folding variety which aren’t as sturdy as the other options, but fit more easily in a pocket or on a belt and can be carried throughout the day for every task from cutting open a box to some really sloppy self-surgery. Retractable knives are heavier, carry more blades, and are better for bigger, harder jobs, though they can also be bulky and awkward. Finally there are fixed-blade style knives which are mostly intended for specialists handling wood or thick drywall. Whatever your job, whether professional or just weekend work, one of our 8 best utility knives will give you all the cutting power you need.

Stanley Dynagrip

Stanley Dynagrip

Pro: Grippable handle
Con: Retracts by itself with heavy pressure

Griptastic: Ever been on a job site or just trying to cut a few notches on the shingles of your roof only to have to chase your utility knife down to the ground as you curse your own clumsy fingers? Then grab a Dynagrip. The rubberized grip allows you to keep a hold of the knife even with sweaty hands, slippery gloves, or while working at odd angles. The retraction feature works well so long as the blade isn’t gummed up and it can handle paper, drywall, and shingle cutting. Avoid doing work on wood or other heavier substances. The blades can take it, but too much pressure causes it to retract on its own. [Purchase: $9]

Milwaukee Fastback II

Milwaukee Fastback II

Pro: Quick, one-handed deployment
Con: Plastic storage compartment

Switchblade Speed: Many folding utility knives claim one-handed opening, few truly deliver, especially with the style of the Fastback II. You just thumb the release switch and flick your wrist. The blade flies out and locks, ready for action. It does lock both open and closed so you don’t have to worry about accidental changes in position when in your pocket. The ergonomic handle with index-finger notch is comfortable and easy to use whether cutting hard or doing delicate precision work. The gut hook on the back lets you get into bags or clip strings without ever deploying the main blade. It only holds a single backup blade and the storage deck is plastic. Disappointing for an otherwise sturdy metal knife. [Purchase: $14]

Bessey D-BKWH

Bessey D-BKWH

Pro: Replaces a pocket knife
Con: Aluminum body

Beautiful Beast: This is without a doubt one of the best looking knives on the list. That isn’t to say it is all flash with no substance, but it certainly has a lot of flash to go around. The handle is wood grain and very slender for easy storage and fast use. The blade can be operated one-handed, though it doesn’t work as quickly as the Fastback and can take a few tries if working with thick gloves. The aluminum frame is meant to stick with you for years and give you a solid “buck knife” feel, which is a great way to change from using a pocket knife. It’s meant for domestic tasks rather than heavy construction work, so DIYers will love it while pros will find it a little flimsy. [Purchase: $17]

DeWalt DWHT10035L

DeWalt DWHT10035L

Pro: Retractable and foldable
Con: Slippery grip

Twofer: The war between retractable blades and flip blades has been put to bed by DeWalt who has managed to put the best of both worlds into a single knife. You can lock the back and slip the blade away or just fold it up for fast action. Blade changes are rapid thanks to the one-button system that can easily be operated with gloves on. The entirely metal body is durable and weather resistant, though it can be a little on the slick side so users might want a tether to keep it in hand. The lockback system is nearly as stiff as a retractable but can fold up for easier storage. Even has a wire stripper. [Purchase: $12]

Irwin Tools 1774103

Irwin Tools 1774103

Pro: Perfect angle for scoring
Con: Time-consuming blade change

Scor Keeper: This is specially made for drywall cutting and scoring thanks to the angled design that gives a trigger-like feel for cutting on the pull. It’s a fixed blade for the improved stability you need for jobs too tough for retractable or foldable knives. The nose is narrower to give you the ability to see what you’re doing and work with total accuracy and for those times when you need to pinch the knife. The storage compartment can house ten blades and is secured with a thumbable screw, so no screwdrivers are required for blade swapping. [Purchase: $11]

Gardner Bender RKT-21

Gardner Bender RKT-21

Pro: Volt sensor
Con: Wire strippers require acclimation

Wire Whittler: This is a great option built entirely with the electrician in mind since it bears not only the typical blade but also cable ripping and wire stripping tools that work wonders. The feature that really makes it stand out from the crowd is the volt meter that alerts you when you are working on a hot wire while the heavily insulated frame keeps you from taking an accidental jolt. The strippers are handy – as strippers always are – but do take a little practice to prevent you from cutting too deep. [Purchase: $7]

OLFA 5003 L-1

OLFA 5003 L-1

Pro: Heavy duty
Con: Uncomfortable grip

Woodworker: For classical purists who need a heavy-duty, professional grade knife that can handle the deep cuts, there is the L-1. It is poetic in its simplicity using carbon-steel blades mounted into a stainless steel body that is meant for punishment. If you aren’t slicing up block of wood or cutting acetates down to size, this is probably going to be overkill, but the price is still right. There’s no fancy features or flashy ergonomics, which can make extended use tiring. This is the machete of the utility knife world meant for hacking and slashing. Truly the burly man’s blade. [Purchase: $9]

CH Hanson Flip Knife

CH Hanson Flip Knife

Pro: Dual blade system
Con: Limited storage

Double-Dragon: This qualifies more as a weird specialty tool than just a simple utility knife. It has dual retractable sides, one offering the standard razor edge and the other comes equipped with a hooked blade, but can be outfitted with anything under the sun. This is typically favored by roofers who need the hooked blade as often as the standard razor, but works for anyone who either swaps blades on the fly or finds themselves carting around two knives to get a job done. The blades can’t be deployed at the same time for safety. It’s lightweight and the grip handle works well. Besides the two blades it lacks any but the most basic features so no wire-strippers, gut hooks, or other goodies. [Purchase: $200]

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