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In the Workshop: Utility Knives

Filed Under: Tools, Know-How

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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.

utility knife, retractable blade, snap-off bladeX-Acto Snap-Off Blade Utility Knife. Blick Art Materials

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.

  • Sean

    "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. "

    Yet the photograph above has a blade that is not retractable.

  • T

    Actually both blades retract. The other side of the silver knife has a press and release lever to allow the movement of the blade. The orange blade also slides down. I have used both in the past.

    Also the article SHOULD have said pull the blade AWAY from your body. I know lots of people that pulled toward themselves and ended up woth stitches for their foolishness.

  • barniejekyl

    i''ve been a drywall contractor for 32 yrs....i wouldn't own a knife that's closes too many times when you are making your cuts. pain in the tail ====losing time and money. as a general rule...a retractable might be a good harry homeowner tool....not for the pro.....

  • bobsag

    clearly barniejekyl has never used an OLFA blade. These are retractable knives that are designed for the pro.
    Every trade person around here uses one.

  • Denise

    We are able to supply various snap off utility knives .


    zhilijs at

  • Zor

    You mean "always pull the knife AWAY from you" right? so that if the blade slips you don't plunge it into your body?

  • lukas

    Okay so I wrote a few poems and, I wondered if I could get some opinions?

    Waiting for You to Come Home:
    It’s been a year
    since you left me here.
    I’ve waited for you
    outside your door.

    Now, it’s raining;
    you can’t see my tears, but they keep coming.
    They’re swept away
    by the pouring rain.

    This story is so cliché;
    it’s been told too many times before.
    These words in my mouth are so bitter;
    they’ve grown trite with the pitter patter of the rain.

    Why do people ask
    when my face says it loud and clear?
    I have nothing to say…
    I’m in the same place that I promised to wait for you that day.

    The rumble of this thunder
    tells me you’re not coming back.
    I hide my head under my hood,
    my faith is dying and, of time, I’m losing track.

    It’s still raining…
    blindly, I search for you.
    I reach out to touch your hand…
    you slip away like sand in the summertime.

    A year and a day since I last saw your face.
    My lungs burn. I’ve been running a race.
    In the end, I came in last.
    I gave it my best; it’s a thing of the past.

    Little did I know that you were with her…
    when you promised to be with me.
    You realize I waited for you…?
    I waited a year…

    A year and a day… that’s how long I waited for you.
    Even after I knew that you wouldn’t be back.
    I stayed on your doorstep; time slowed down, too.
    I was thrown off track.

    I was so blinded by my own hurt…
    I’m torn; should I have considered you first?
    I was more broken than ever on the very next day…
    When I found out that you had wasted away.

    In your hospital bed, it was your very last wish…
    you only requested one final kiss.
    Alas, I had slipped from your mind.
    My hope fell short this time.

    You never got your dying wish.
    She passed almost instantly; you never got that last kiss.
    Now, I’m at your wake…
    I miss you so much more with every breath that I take.

    I still have the poem I wrote for you that day.
    I wanted to read it aloud,
    but, with you beside me and your eyes closed forever…
    I couldn’t do it. I broke down in front of the crowd.

    In the days that followed, I dwelled on the fact
    that your eyes were closed;
    forever, an image I would never forget.
    Here I sit, alone, in the dark. Heart broken, eyes wet…

    Should I blame you for the turn of events?
    You got what you wanted… you won this time.
    It’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen your face…
    And I’m still waiting in the very same place…

    I’ll roll the dice; once again, snake eyes.
    My luck fell short this time.

    I’m still dying inside.
    I remember that night: we sat up together.

    We were still laughing then, not crying just yet.
    I thought we stood a chance, given how strong we were then.

    You didn’t know how I felt, I’d make that bet.
    Cliché but true, all good things come to an end.

    This same old story is growing trite,
    but the details of it keep me up at night…

    I can’t accept the reality of the situation.
    Heartbreak and naïvité are a pathetic combination.

    That night, I gave it a shot.
    I tried to take my own life.

    I tried the gun, but the bullet wouldn’t budge.
    I tried the knife, but the blade just wasn’t sharp enough.

    I tried to jump, but I didn’t know how.
    I tried the razor; I saw stars.

    With that night, came some scars.
    With that night, came a fight.

    I don’t know what I was fighting for.
    I was trying to take my own life, wasn’t I?

    The question becomes was I fighting to live,
    or was I fighting to die?

    No one even heard me cry.
    My heart was aching, my blood was flowing.

    No one even knew.
    Would you truly have cared, had you been there?

    I wish I had succeeded that night.
    Sometimes, I wish I had won that fight.

    I’ll never understand just what happened that day.
    I mean, why it ended that way.
    With my heart broken, and yours smiling.
    Your eyes twinkling, mine crying.

    As a matter of fact, the order of events
    don’t seem to make sense.
    What hurts the most is I never knew;
    I kept holding on when you were through.

    Now I know that I was becoming a piece of your past.
    Though, I was too afraid to ask,
    I was able to figure it out.
    You wanted her; I had no doubts.

    You were done with me.
    You let us grow apart.
    You went after her,
    breaking my heart.

    Was it a trick of the mind?
    Was it all in my head?
    Was it made up by wishful thinking?
    Or was it an illusion that I fell servant against?

    Of this, I’m sure.
    There was a time when you loved me back.
    You were as in love with me as I still am.
    We could have been perfect.

    Why does my heart hurt so much more than yours?
    Why does it ache?
    Why did it have to break?
    Why am I still so torn?

    It’s clear now and I understand.
    You were falling in love with her,
    while I was in tears.
    You still hold my heart in your hands.

    It may be all in my head.
    I feel like I lost you,
    but you’re not dead.
    Nor am I; no, not yet.

    I prevail; though, I don’t know why.
    I wake up every morning,

  • Suzana

    OMG you took my breath away with these, so full of your heart.
    I fee my own pen's ink is pale in comparison. I honestly applaud your work, fellow writer!!!

  • Benjammin

    i usualy carry a small folding knife in the city and a small sheath knife in the countryside at home.
    and i know that there are different blade laws around the world, i am traveling to morroco in the summer and was wandering if i will still be able to carry or if the law will prevent me.
    bear in mind i dont carrry for self defense but purly out of utility

  • tom

    You say the knives that you have to take a screw out to get at spare blades fall apart are a hassle. If you have been doing the work you say have you would know they DO NOT fall apart if know how to use them. Bottom housing,blade slide,slide button,storage behind slide,top housing,screw. You either have no patients, or you are a moron. You need to find another job. Most of the advice you gave is wrong. (By the way, the photo above does retract. The wheel on the side loosens and tightens the blade slide.)

  • tom

    Yes it does. That is what the black wheel is for. Loosens and tightens the blade slide. You must be female. Don't know what your talking about.

  • Brian

    The yellow blade does indeed retract but the gray sheet rock knife at the very top does not. and for the record the wheel is what holds the blade in place and then you use the wheel to push the blade forward. turning the blade will not extend and retract the blade. Having a variety of utility knives is a must for any tradesman.

  • Brian

    I mean turning the WHEEL will not extend or retract the blade.

  • Captain America

    Snap-off blade knives have a slot in the removable plastic butt-end for snapping off the blade. It's the black piece in your photo. No need for pliers.

  • 14 Comments / 1 Pages

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