Best Utility Knife of 2020
The LENOX Quick-Change address all of the common problems inherent in the classic utility knife design. The grip is nicely curved to match the shape of the hand in a thumb out grip position which prompts precision and pressure on the blade. As such, it is comfortable and effective. The internal blade storage is easy to access and no-tool blade release is quick and easy. The combination of these two features makes switching to a sharp blade a breeze. Moreover, the buttons are big, grippy buttons making it easy to operate all aspects of the knife. Finally, the internal blade storage clamp goes a long way to eliminate rattling while at the same time helping to keep the extra blades as sharp as ever.
While the design of the knife is certainly well thought out, the manufacturing could be better. For example, there is a bit of play in the moving parts, particularly in the blade carriage. Additionally, the handle closure tolerance is a bit larger than we would have liked to have seen. We did not experience any failures during our testing. However, if you're going to use this blade for regular, heavy-duty work, you might want to consider a model with fewer moving parts. That said, for most non-professional work, this model will be a godsend.
The Kobalt is one heck of a pocket knife, boasting sound construction and plenty of grip room. Much like a traditional pocket knife, this tool has a spring lock that is quite secure when its blade is in the open position. We really liked this feature because the tool offers users leverage comparable to non-folding knives and you don't want to worry about an unexpected closure. Additionally, when the knife is folded up, you can rest assured that the stiff pocket clip will keep the knife in place even when squatting or high-stepping.
Despite the burly construction and secure pocket clip, this model isn't without shortcomings. First off, unfolding the knife is quite hard to manage with one hand — though not impossible. However, closing it without the use of two hands is even more difficult, even dangerous. As such, we don't recommend attempting it. Finally, there is no onboard blade storage on the model. Counterbalancing this issue is a blade swiping system that is simple and effective. All in all, this is a quality knife at a competitive price.
If you like simple, affordable, dependable tools, the Stanley 99E is likely your kind of knife. This blade has a narrow handle but offers ample grip. It has just one moving part, and it stores up to 10 extra blades. Speaking to the quality and simplicity of the design, the blade carriage has very little play which is more than we can say about much of the competition.
Our main concern about the 99E is that its two halves are secured with a screw that has to be backed out when you want to change out a blade. While it's not that big of a deal, it does require a screwdriver or a penny if you're in a pinch. Annoyingly, the loose blades that are stored in the handle will spill out if you're not mindful to turn the handle flat when you separate the two halves. Yet, we found this model to be an effective tool designed to take a clobbering and keep on cutting.
The OLFA LA-X stands apart from the competition due to its long blade (3 ¼") that is scored to allow the tip to be broken off to expose a sharper tip section. The blade's length offers a real advantage when cutting along a feature such as a straight edge or in a slot. Conversely, when precision work is required, simply retract the blade to its shorted setting. Moreover, the rubber inlay combined with the flaring shape enhances the grip.
While the LA-X is a practical tool, often one owned in conjunction with a traditional utility knife, it is not without some shortfall worth mentioning. To begin with, the blade carriage is made of plastic which is not nearly as durable as metal. In the same vein, the blade lock is a bit flimsy. We did not experience any issues with these parts, however, we would not recommend this model as a stand-alone for heavy use. With that in mind, when you need the extra blade or a fresh edge in quick order, reach for this tool.
The Outdoor Edge SlideWinder is a compact knife that is easy to keep on hand. At just a ¼ inch thick and sporting a pocket clip, there's no reason not to carry this multi-tool on your person every day. The blade is easy to swap while the Phillips and flathead drivers that are built into the frame work well, particularly when compared to other multi-tools in the class.
While this knife's stainless steel frame is sufficiently sturdy, the spring-loaded blade carriage's lock proved to be less than reliable and a bit stiff. Additionally, the tool only allows for a 3 finger grip — at least for bigger hands — and that makes prolonged use uncomfortable. A final concern, albeit an important one after 5 o'clock, is the onboard bottle opener. This tool works, but its narrow mouth struggles to bite into bottle caps. Nonetheless, we found this little tool helpful in a pinch and to be happily unimposing when not in use.
The Milwaukee Flashback 48-22-1502 is a do-it-all knife that conveniently folds and clips to a pocket or belt. The knife easily opens one-handed and provides 5 1/2 inches of gripping real estate. There are several nifty tools built into the unit, including a gut hook and a cord cutter. The magnetized, five-blade storage arm that folds out opposite the blade further adds to this model's usefulness. The construction is solid, and the open and close lock is well thought out.
If pressed to find some issues with this blade, we would say that if you are doing a lot of work with a utility knife (e.g., on a framing project or a remodel), the act of unfolding the tool may become tiresome. Additionally, it is a bit bulky for front pocket storage, particularly when squatting. Despite these shortcomings, the tool is built for heavy use, fitting in well in a professional kit or a kitchen drawer.
If you need a sharp blade for quick tasks requiring the control of a four-finger grip, the compact folding Mossy Oak is the ticket. The blade release system is simple and effective, requiring no tool to operate, and the all-aluminum body of this pocket knife is light and strong.
Some conveniences are sacrificed to keep this tool simple. For one, there is no onboard blade storage. Additionally, there is no lock securing the blade in the closed position, although it does lock open. Finally, the clip on our model was not as tight as we would have liked it to be — it slipped out of our front pocket more than once during field tests. That said, the clip can be removed with a star drive and bent into a more useful position if needed. Despite the shortcomings, this model is a reliable little knife that won't take up too much room in your pocket.
The Gerber EAB Lite is set-up more like a proper pocket knife than a utility knife. Clean lines and craftsmanship define its refined look, while the finger guard on the cutting edge makes for a practical 4 finger grip.
Despite the practical design of this model, it is in no way cut-out for heavy use. This is not to say that the EAB is poorly constructed. Quite the contrary. It is merely the result of the utter lack of comfort features. That said, the blade is reliable and easily clips to your cash and cards, so it will be there when you need it.
The Stanley 10-499 is a souped-up version of the classic 99E. The old workhorse has been upgraded with push-button blade release and onboard blade storage. Additionally, a gut hook was added to peel tight-fitting plastic wrap and the like. In addition to these add-ons, this tool maintains simplicity and ease of use.
Though we like that this model captures much of its older counterpart's simplicity, we have some concerns about the added plastic components. Plastic locks and springs are potential weak points, and this tool has two such parts. That said, we did not experience any failures in our testing, making this an excellent alternative to the 99E if you must have no-tool blade changes.
Why You Should Trust Us
Here at the GearLab, we have been testing tools for nearly a decade. Whether it's cordless lawn mowers, circular saws, or pressure washers, we know tools. Our testers and writers have worked in the trades and continue to fabricate everything from robots to furniture in their home shops. Senior Review Editor Nick Miley headed up this review. He earned his bread swinging a hammer for a custom home outfit and building wooden boats on the side for many years. Eventually, he was able to transfer his skills to industrial rope access and composite repair. These experiences have taught him the value of a sharp and readily available tool.
We rigorously research and purchase all of the products (and more) that you'll find in this article and use them in both specific tests and carrying them around when working on job sites. For example, all the knives seen here were brought to a construction site and handed out to the workers throughout the day. After work, the merits and shortcomings of each model were discussed. Now that's information you can trust.
Analysis and Test Results
To find the cutting edge utility knives, we developed several practical evaluations that highlight the tools that excel in specific tasks and those that lean more towards general use. These evaluations inform the metrics or the particular categories that collectively describe a quality utility tool. These categories are grip, sturdiness, convenience, and pocketing. The following is a detailed description of the evaluations and the best performers.
The grip defines the power and leverage you can exert on to the cutting edge. Since we used the Stanley 1992 blade on all the tools (except the OLFA), the grip is the most crucial feature. If the grip is short or narrow, the control and power over the blade decreases. Grip was assessed by cutting various materials, including cardboard, garden hoses, rubber molding, nylon webbing, sheetrock, wooden dowels, and braided rope.
More rigid tools offer an optimal grip. The LENOX provides the best grip overall, but it was favored, particularly by those with larger hands. This tool's pistol grip allows the fingers to sink into the curvature for added purchase. Though it's thinner along the spine and cased with rubber to limit slips, the OLFA LA-X boasts a similar handle. And though they lack articulation, both of the Stanley knives — the E99 and 10-499 — offer a reliable, 4-finger grip.
The folding knives offer a substantially inferior grip than their rigid counterparts, as they have uneven surfaces and narrow spines that make prolonged cutting tasks uncomfortable. That said, the Milwaukee and the Kobolt offer the most gripping real estate of the folding models and would pass muster on a job site.
Quality of knife design and construction can go a long way in mitigating the risk of injury. As such, sturdiness looks at the manufacturing tolerances, as seen in the fit of parts and the action of moving components. Construction material is also assessed. We took apart the knives when possible to see if parts could be tightened or replaced, as even the best equipment wears and requires maintenance.
Leading the pack in this metric is the Gerber EAB Lite. In typical Gerber fashion, the manufacturing is nearly flawless. The lock fits precisely, and there is zero wobble in the blade. In contrast, the Stanley E99 isn't much of a looker, but the fit of the handle's two halves is tight and even. If we're nit-picky, the blade carriage has a bit of play. Nonetheless, the model's durability is legendary, and the steel components speak to this reputation.
As their actions are smooth, the lock secure, and the moving parts tight-fitting, both the Milwaukee and the Kobalk folding tools are deserving of honorable mentions. A few of the knives had manufacturing issues. The Mossy Oak has a weak pocket clip, the Outdoor Edge has some problems with its lock and carriage, and the OFLA has some thin plastic parts.
What's the point of having a utility knife if it's not convenient to use? The main features that make a knife convenient are onboard blade storage, blade changing sans tool, and smoothness of operation. This latter point is particularly crucial with the folding knives where a one-handed opening can be a challenge.
Three models particularly stand out in this evaluation — the Milwaukee Flashback, the LENOX, and the Stanley 10-499. These models check every box with easy access blade storage, push-button blade release, and ease of operation. The Flashback's easy swing blade locks open and closed with the push of a button. Additionally, the blade storage folds out like an arm, and the blades are held in place with a magnet. It's all very slick.
We had trouble smoothly operating the Kobalt, E99, and Gerber models. The Kobalt because it requires two hands to operate, the E99 because it requires a screwdriver to swap the blade, and the Gerber because it has both issues.
The pocketing metric assesses how well each product fits into the various pockets on work pants, specifically the front and the thigh pockets. We also test how well the products stay in the pocket. If the tool has a clip, we look to see if it will fit over bulky denim seams.
For the most part, the models with pocket clips crushed this metric — EAB Lite, Outdoor Edge, and Kobalt. These tools can essentially be securely fastened to any pocket, belt, or bag. The Milwaukee was an exception as it is substantially broader and longer, and thus more uncomfortable than its peers. A notable difference on the EAB Lite' is the shallow arch of its clip, making it better suited to pinching credit cards and cash than a pocket. Finally, the Mossy Oak's clip was too loose, resulting in multiple incidents of it being pressed out of pockets when testers squatted.
As for the rigid knives, these models best fit into work bags or a side pocket. The lack of a clip attached to these knives, particularly the Stanley models, certainly makes them prone to slip out of the pocket they are stored in. The OLFA is an exception as its rubber grip helps keep the knife where you put it, but this means it's hard to get it in and out of a pocket.
This review covers the best utility knives on the market. We made countless cuts of common materials from garden hoses to rubber molding, from sheetrock to wooden dowels, from webbing to braided rope. These practical tasks clearly showed each tool's preferred use and which models were built for heavy use. We hope that you have the information you need to go forth and cut with confidence.
— Nick Miley