On any given work day, my utility knife
is opening boxes, cutting plastic sheeting, trimming shims, cutting drywall and laminates, sharpening my pencil, and likely scraping dried joint compound off my putty knife. The list of its regular achievements goes on and on. In fact, it might be the most important tool I own. It's a simple item, but there are a few key things to look for when buying one.
The first is make sure that the blade is retractable
. Every once in a while I see someone with the kind that has the blade always sticking out and I just hold my head in my hands. It's a razor blade
-- and in addition to it being one of the most useful tools, it's also one of the most dangerous. I should know; I've worn a lot of band aids in my time as a carpenter, thanks to carelessness with my utility knife.
If you don't like the kind with the retractable blades, there are also knives that flip open
, so that when it's not in use, the blade is covered. My only problem with this flip style is that the design usually gets in the way of my second requirement, which is blade storage
. I won't even look at a knife unless I can keep four or five extra blades in the handle.
With a lot of common tasks like cutting drywall or cement board, you end up going through blades like tissues. And I make sure to stay away from the knives that you have to open up with a screwdriver in order to get at the extra blades. The whole thing usually ends up falling apart and is a hassle to get it back together. If you're buying a knife, my advice is to try to find one that has a little flip up blade storage compartment at the rear of the handle.
Another style of knife is the kind with the segmented, or snap-off, blades
. These are great because you can extend the blade a couple inches out and make a nice flush cut against a smooth surface, making them ideal for cutting out old caulking. Because the blade is segmented, when the edge gets dull, just take a pair of pliers and snap it off (always
were safety glasses when you do this), and you're good to go.
Good utility knives are available for as little as $5, but can get closer to the $15 range if you start getting into molded grips and wire stripping notches.
For your safety, always use caution when working with a utility knife:
- Always pull the knife toward you, slowly, in short strokes. Pulling the knife gives you more control than pushing it.
- Wear safety glasses when operating a utility knife, as it can send shards of material into your eyes.
- Keep your fingers away from the blade's path at all times.
- Never take your eyes off of the blade.
- Remember to retract the blade as soon as you're done using the knife -- even if you expect to use it again in a few minutes.