Ah, the humble utility knife, the topic of our reviews today. Every workshop, whether DIY or contractor, has one or more of these tools lying about. They are generally a tool that receives little thought, attention, or care. Grab it off the bench or from the bin, cut, scrape, pry, and throw it back without a thought.
Are there any real differences between one utility knife and another? The design stayed static for decades, and all used a standardized trapezoidal, double blade. Should you care when buying one of these simple tools? Yes, you should. As you’ll see, this nondescript tool has evolved as more folks have taken up DIY and crafting.
Today, designs are much more elaborate, taking advantage of new materials and introducing ergonomics. Ask for one at your local hardware store or browse online and you’ll be stunned by the number of choices. Fear not, we are here to guide you through the morass to the best utility knife on the market in 2020.
|Stanley FMHT10288 FatMax Utility Knife|
|7 1/4 inches||4.8/5|
|Klein Tools Heavy Duty Utility Knife||6 3/4 inches||4.5/5|
|KOBALT UTILITY KNIFE Set|
|8 1/2 inches||4.4/5|
|OLFA 5003 L-1 Utility-Knife||6 inches||4.2/5|
|DeWalt DWHT10295||9 inches||3.8/5|
Let’s get cracking on these reviews. If you think the new designs steal a lot from pocket knives, you are right. That is one of the nicer aspects of the modern utility knife. Wow, there are three words we rarely use, “modern utility knife.” Well, they don’t look much like their ancestor. About the only thing they have in common is they use the same blade. Now that is a good thing, especially if you have a gross of them in your shop.
Stanley offers a ton of utility knives, including their original 99E. That model hasn’t changed since it was introduced in the first half of the last century. Grab one for nostalgia but feast your eyes on their FatMax. We don’t know if the name is tied to Mad Max in any way, but you can bet he had a utility knife tucked away.
This tool departs from the straight lines of the 99E and introduces a nice 33o or so angle. On the grippy end, Stanley adds textured polymer on the top and bottom that is a vast improvement over the plain metal models that came before. Think about it, it’s hot; you’re working hard, you and your hands are getting sweaty. With the FatMax, you can cut with confidence that your fingers won’t slip down to the business end for some unwanted slicing.
The angle relieves the strain on your wrist if you are wielding the knife over extended periods. There is a convenient extra blade storage compartment under the top grip, and the knife boasts tool-less blade flips and changes. When looking at our list of considerations from the intro, the FatMax checks all the boxes.
Note: We are using the highly technical term, grippy for a reason. It is fun and easier to write than ethylene propylene diene rubber all the time. It is an elastomer with rubber-like properties.
It’s not all peaches and cream for our top pick. Here are a couple of nits to watch out for.
Klein makes mighty fine tools, and their HD Utility Knife gave the FatMax a run for its money. At the end of the day, it fell a little short. If you were to walk into the store for the FatMax only to find it sold out, a likely prospect once this review hits, you wouldn’t give up much with the Klein.
Looking at the two tools together, you might think there is a case of industrial espionage here. The angle of the knife, the placement of the grippy stuff, the blade storage, the positioning and action of the blade extension control…they are nearly identical.
We liked all those features in Stanley’s FatMax, and we like them in the Klein as well. Klein adds a wire stripping notch, a nice touch especially if you do a lot of electrical work. So, what kept this big fellow out of the top slot?
Remember we said “big boy” above? Well, this knife is enormous. You aren’t going to replace a machete with it, but you may feel like you could.
This set takes the best value position because it is a “two-fer” as we like to say. In other words, you get two items for near the price of a competitor’s single item offering. Kobalt has taken a page from common pocket knife marketing, sell you a regular size utility knife and throw in a smaller version.
With this kit, that is precisely what you receive, a regular utility knife that uses industry standard blades and their mini-me. The smaller knife would be an excellent glovebox tool. The big version has all the features you need from your utility knife. And, these are both folders which show off some pocketknife DNA.
Kobalt makes excellent tools, and this is without question the best buy for your money if you need a smaller knife.
A few things to be wary of when considering this tool are dutifully noted below.
We are getting into the lower ranges here with the OLFA utility knife and have entered the realm of throw-away design. The OLFA uses blades that are scored. When the leading edge dulls, you snap it off at the next scored line with your pliers. Please, don’t use your teeth!
There are things to like about the tool, which is why we reviewed it. It is lightweight and effortless to maneuver. It has a ratcheting mechanism to advance and then lock the cutting portion of the blade. We’ve used these with great success wallpapering. It just seems to work better than the heavier knives.
The ratcheting mechanism gives excellent control over the length of the cutting edge. However, with it scored to break easily, you don’t want it out too far. Excessive pressure can snap the blade at a score mark. The handle is plastic with grooves for better grip. Still, this strikes us as an excellent crafting knife, or a junk draw tool for cutting open plastic packaging.
There is just something about using a blade engineered to break that sits funny. On top of that, this offering suffers from the following issues.
Nailing down fifth place is an offering from DeWalt. A bit surprising given the reputation for quality that goes along with the DeWalt brand name. I suppose if you must decide where to invest your R&D money, most of it will go to power tools. Can imagine the utility knife product team pitching management for more money right after the miter saw team? You hope that there were donuts there as some sort of consolation prize.
This tool is back to the same form factor as our top two picks. Guess spying on the other company’s utility knife designs is more widespread than previously suspected. The DeWalt offers the same angled form factor with grippy material top and bottom.
The word “ouch” comes to mind when researching this offering from DeWalt. If a company like DeWalt is going to put their name on something, it ought to live up to its reputation. This one does not.
Buying a utility knife has gotten more complicated now that there is a multitude of design choices. Pocket folder or fixed with a retractable blade? Solid blades or scored? Heavy duty or craft duty. No need to let this plethora of options complicate a simple task like buying the best utility knife. Here are the things you need to consider when researching:
The Stanley gives you all of this. If you prefer another brand, keep this list in mind. It is a simple tool, yet some basic features like we’ve noted will make it a long-lasting, pleasant to use, and safe tool.
We don’t consider it to have been a project unless blood is drawn…scraped knuckles, nicked fingertip, or some other minor ding. It seems to be a tradition and fortunately rarely requires stitches or steri-strips. With that in mind, these reviews about razor sharp utility knives had us subconsciously aware of the need for hand protection.
When you want to protect your hands around sharp implements, reach for the Kevlar work gloves. Folks in the meat packing industry have worn chain mail gloves and aprons for a long time and some are moving to Kevlar. We all know Kevlar, the stuff of body armor and military helmets. Now, DIYers and contractors can armor up their hands.
This might be a great topic for another set of reviews, so we grabbed a top choice to whet your whistle, the Ringers R-314 Extrication Gloves, Cut Resistant Work Gloves.
Our favorite work gloves:
The polls have closed on our research, and the reviews are in, putting Stanley at the top. Klein is a good second choice, especially if your hands are the size of the Hulk’s. For double your cutting pleasure, the Kobalt set with the full size and mini-me knives is an excellent value for the money. If your requirements lean more to the crafting side, the OLFA is an excellent choice but don’t take it on a job site unless you like good-natured ribbing over the size of your utility knife. As for our last-place finisher, the DeWalt, let this be a lesson to product managers reading this review, don’t allow your name to go on a piece of junk. And don’t give up R&D funding because another group has a better pitch deck, or in exchange for a donut and coffee.
We will wrap it up here. See you at the next review and in the meantime, go get the utility knife of your dreams. Did we just end with “the utility knife of your dreams?” We suppose this can be the case if your utility knife works like a dream whenever you put it to use.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!