I’ve been working on a series of DIY tool kits and buying guides (thank you to Home Depot for sponsoring the series!), and came across a tough decision. Which utility knife would be best?
I picked up a couple of different models, thinking I would make the decisions at home rather than while standing in the store with arms and a bucket full of other tools.
Stanley Hi-Viz “Old School” Utility Knife ($5.97) – There are three reasons to get a knife like this one. First, it’s economical, which is mainly why I included it in my Best Basic Tool Kit for DIYers post. But, it’s also simple, with few parts and all-metal construction. You need to take it apart to change the blade, no big deal unless you need to do so frequently. I like the hi-viz green finish, as it helps the knife to stand out.
Dewalt Retractable Utility Knife ($14.97) – Dewalt seems to have perfected the quick-and-easy blade change mechanism with this knife. It has a comfortable design that works well and it has not disappointed me yet, except for the defective carabiner clip that I am unlikely to ever use. This – and its predecessors – are among my most-used retractable utility knives.
Husky Lockback Folding Utility Knife ($13.97) – After posting about this Husky lockback knife, a lot of people chimed in about how much they like the brand’s black-handled knives. I opted for this one because its wood-accented handle caught my eye. I am pleased with the Husky’s design, comfort, and user friendliness, and their lifetime warranty is a bonus selling point.
Milwaukee Compact FastBack utility Knife ($8.97) – I have been a huge fan of Milwaukee’s FastBack utility knives, and have found myself using their Compact version most often. It opens quickly, blade changes are a cinch, and its compact size allows for comfortable pocket-carry around the workshop.
Home Depot has a 2pc set with compact and storage FastBacks for $19.97, in case you want a bit of variety.
Dewalt Folding Retractable Utility Knife ($9.97) – Maybe I got a lemon, but I’m not a fan of Dewalt’s latest folding retractable utility knife. The knife opens slowly and blade changes are a pain. Maybe you’ll have better luck, but I’d wait for the next revision. Instead of taking a new “group photo” after testing all of these knives, I opted to leave it in as an example of what can go wrong in a utility knife. Adding to my disappointment, its predecessor had some quirks but worked much better.
Husky Retractable Utility Knife ($10.97) – I occasionally come across unique and innovative utility knives, as well as gimmicks that don’t really serve any purpose. This Husky knife might be a bit impractical, but it has been a joy to use. Thanks to its design, there are actually two different blades loaded into the knife, and they also have a 4-bladed knife.
Milwaukee Retractable Utility Knife ($7.97) – I’ve used this knife’s predecessor for several years now, and unfortunately it has been showing a lot of wear and tear on the rubbery components. The new model has a different design that looks to give even greater durability to the wearable parts. Milwaukee’s retractable knife is a little more compact but also noticeable lighter than Dewalt’s.
Which Ones are Best?
I’m not a one-utility knife kind of person. In fact, I will put each and every one of these knives to use, except for the Dewalt folding retractable knife.
If I had to pick just one, it would be the Milwaukee retractable knife. It’s quick and easy to use, and although the retraction button spring is a little stiffer than older models, I expected it to break in a little.
Controlling blade cutting depth can be important, and this is something that most folding utility knives cannot do.
For a folder, I’d go with the Milwaukee FastBack or Husky, depending on the locking/unlocking mechanism you’re looking for.
The beauty of utility knives is that they’re usually inexpensive enough where it’s not too much of an expense to try new styles and designs. Plus, many if not most users have a place in their homes, tool bags, or workshops for more than one utility knife. You can, for example, load one with rounded-tip blades for opening cardboard boxes, and another with standard pointed blades for scoring and piercing tasks.
I also continue to try new Dewalt retractable knives on occasion, as I like their ergonomically-bent handle shape. The added weight of the handle also gives it a sense of heavy duty strength that you might not get with other models.
There are other folding utility knives out there, but the designs are sometimes compromised. One folding knife that I own, which I did not show or describe here, has a higher frequency of blade pull-out, where a snagged blade can cause the retention mechanism to fail.
Home Depot has been my go-to for utility knives, mainly because I like their brand selection and the wide variety of styles. I also really like it when they have promotional bundles on my favorite models.
What About Blades?
There are more economical blade options out there, as well as smaller quantity packs if you want to try these or other styles with less risk.
Which Would You Pick?
Most utility knives tend to fall into one of 3 basic categories. There are basic retractable knives, such as the Stanley shown above, more premium retractable knives with quick blade change mechanisms, built-in storage, and special features such as cutting notches, and folding knives.
Which style or brand of utility knife would you pick?
Are there other brands or styles of knives you would recommend I take a look at for a future update? I figured that this time I would start smaller, looking only at Home Depot’s in-store selection.