Utility Knives: Everything You Need to Know

Utility knives are convenient and immensely useful tools found in both household and workplace settings. With a wide variety of designs and safety features, utility knives are as versatile in function as they are in form. Read on to learn more about the wide variety of utility knife purposes, designs, and features available.


What is a Utility Knife?

A utility knife is a popular cutting tool with a wide variety of designs that serve an even wider array of tasks. A fixed blade utility knife is most often used in outdoor settings and should be sheathed when not in use to protect the blade from damage. A classic utility knife has a folding or retractable blade with a cutting edge that can typically be carried in your pocket or on your tool belt. This article will mostly focus on classic utility knives.

Utility knife handles are typically slim and made from plastic or metal, with contoured or textured surfaces for a better grip. Utility knives with manual or auto-retractable blades are popular in industrial workplaces, as they provide a convenient and relatively safe cutting experience for the user.

A retractable utility knife can either have manual or automatic retraction. With manual retraction, the blade is locked in one or more fixed positions (including fully retracted, fully exposed, and possibly other stops in between). This design provides the user with the ability to choose the knife’s cutting depth based on the task at hand.

Automatic retraction is when the blade automatically retracts as soon as the user releases the slider. Folding utility knives, an equally popular knife design, allow the blade to fold into the handle, thus sheathing the blade for safe carry.

Utility knife blades are most often made from steel or ceramic and feature varying blade lengths and shapes designed for different purposes. Generally, utility knife blades will dull over time and must be replaced.

Many utility knives are designed to conveniently store replacement blades in the handle for quick and easy blade change. Depending on the model, the user may require the use of an additional tool to replace the knife blade. Other models simplify blade replacement by designing the handle to open and seat a new blade without the use of additional tools. Steel blades need to be regularly sharpened, as they dull quickly, and they must be properly cleaned to avoid rust. Conversely, ceramic blades wear at a much slower rate and retain their edge, providing more longevity.


Purposes of Utility Knives

Utility knives are very handy cutting tools that come in a variety of shapes and sizes that can be used for tasks both at home and in the workplace. In industrial and construction settings, utility knives are ubiquitously used for cutting through materials like cardboard, twine, and plastic. They’re often sized to fit in a tool belt, and some are even designed with a lanyard hole for convenient storage. At home, utility knives can be used for general purposes like opening packages or bags of potting soil, or for recreational crafting purposes with materials like paper or ceramics. Utility knives are often designed to suit a specific purpose or setting, so ensure that your knife has the specific style and features you’ll need to get your job done.


Utility Knife Safety and Ergonomics

Safety is always an important concern with knife use, especially in a workplace setting. Lacerations and muscle strain are the two most common injuries resulting from utility knife use, so it’s important to have a utility knife that minimizes risk on both fronts. Knife safety should be a regularly reviewed topic at work, and protective equipment should be worn whenever working with a utility knife.

Depending on the frequency of use, ergonomic design can play a big role in the utility knife that you choose to employ. Ergonomic tools are designed to fit a specific task and reduce discomfort and injury to the tool user. Hand injury through overexertion of the hand, wrist, and forearm muscles is a common and often expensive occurrence in warehouse and trade settings. An ergonomically designed utility knife is meant to be held comfortably in your hand, allowing the user to continuously use the knife while minimizing muscular effort and wrist strain.

Lacerations are one of the top workplace injuries that are painful and often result in necessary time off for workers to recuperate, slowing down overall production. However, these types of accidental injuries are largely preventable by choosing safe tools and adhering to accepted safety protocols.

Be sure to wear gloves that cover your wrists, and ensure that the utility knife blade is properly sharpened to make smooth, clean cuts. Dull blades are often the culprit of laceration injuries, as they require more force to make cuts, but overly sharpened steel blades can also present a risk. Some ceramic blades are designed to be safer to the touch, reducing the amount of accidental lacerations and injuries. 

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