Almost every DIY, construction, or repair project requires cutting or slicing something. While a pocket knife might do the trick, the first nail along the way will dull the blade. Instead, a trusty utility knife with replaceable blades makes a much better choice. The best utility knives are sturdy, lightweight, and compact; every DIYer needs one.
But there are a lot of inferior utility knives on the market, and it’s hard to determine which are the best and which are worthless. This guide will help, as we tested several of the best utility knives available so you don’t have to.
How to pick the best utility knife
There are a few points to consider when choosing a utility knife, whether it’s blade changeability, style, or other features. The following are some of the most important considerations.
Retractable vs non-retractable vs folding
While there are many different types of utility knives, they boil down to three main styles: Retractable, non-retractable, and folding.
Retractable blades are great for DIYers that wear tool belts or keep their knives in a toolbox. The blade pops out quickly and stores safely away just as easily. The downside is that these tools have moving parts that can wear over time.
Non-retractable blades work well for workshop use, as the user can place them safely in plain sight on a workbench or shelf. There’s always a risk of cutting oneself, but non-retractable blades have fewer parts that will fail, making them long-lasting.
Folding knives are similar to pocket knives. They’re compact in their folded position but flip open to provide a functional knife. The issue is that the handles are often smaller than a traditional utility knife.
For most traditional utility knives, when the blade becomes dull, the user has to remove a screw from the knife body, separate the halves, and change the blade. This can be a headache, and losing that little screw can sap workflow.
Many utility knives have quick-change functions that allow the user to slide an old blade out, flip it around, and reinsert it without taking the knife apart. This can save the user much time and frustration over traditional utility knives.
Replaceable vs breakable blades
Utility knife shoppers will have two blade choices: replaceable and breakable. Which to choose is largely a matter of preference.
Replaceable blades are short, stout, and typically have two sides. The user can install the blade, use it until it becomes dull, and then swap the blade around to get a new, clean edge.
Breakable blades are longer and feature breakable sections. When the tip dulls, the user can snap the dull section off with pliers, revealing a new edge. The blades are great for cutting thick foam or insulation, but they’re not nearly as sturdy as replaceable blades.
DIY Gear Review’s best utility knives
- Best folding utility knife: Milwaukee Fastback Folding Utility Knife
- Best retractable utility knife: Lenox Tools Quick-Change Retractable Utility Knife
- Best folding compact: Milwaukee Fastback Compact Folding Utility Knife
- Best EDC utility knife: Gerber Gear Prybrid Utility Pocket Knife
- Best mini utility knife: Outdoor Edge SlideWinder Multitool
- Best breakable utility knife: Olfa Heavy-Duty Breakable Utility Knife
- Budget pick: Stanley QuickChange Retractable Utility Knife
- Best utility knife blades: Stanley 100 Pack Utility Knife Blades & Dispenser
There can be a lot of value in a sturdy folding utility knife, and this model from Milwaukee checks many boxes. This Fastback model features a folding design, a quick-release blade change button, and in-handle blade storage for up to four blades.
One of the largest benefits of the Fastback from Milwaukee is its removable pocket clip. This allows users to rely on it for DIY work and EDC carry. The Fastback has a built-in gut hook that can double as a seatbelt cutter and wire strippers. While the pocket clip is nice, it isn’t multi-positional.
- Ergonomic design
- Heavy-duty construction
- Quick-change blades
- Hinged halves for quick assembly and disassembly
Those looking for a quality retractable utility knife won’t have to look any further than the Lenox Tools Gold utility knife. This knife features a retractable blade, a quick-change blade release, and one-piece construction that makes accessing the in-handle blade storage frustration-free.
This knife’s a favorite among pros, mainly due to its heavy-duty construction and ergonomic design. The forward-sloped blade angle allows users to apply a lot of pressure while the curved handle fits well in hand. While it is a bit more expensive than a standard utility knife, the extra features and design are worth it.
For those who want a streamlined folding utility knife with a small footprint, Milwaukee Fastback Compact Folding Utility Knife delivers. This knife folds to create a small package but reaches 6 inches overall when open.
The Fastback compact has an ergonomically designed handle that allows the user to assume a comfortable grip when cutting or slicing. Also, it offers one-hand opening to allow the user to flip the knife open while holding the workpiece with the other hand. There is also a pocket clip and a built-in tape measure hook used for extending a tape without putting the knife down for fast and convenient scoring.
The downside to this knife’s features and compact design is that they don’t leave room for onboard blade storage.
Rocking a utility knife for EDC is a bold choice, but the Prybrid from Gerber Gear has the goods and is one of the best pocket utility knife options. This mini utility knife has a small footprint with a retractable blade, and it’s packed with many features.
This EDC utility knife features a pry bar, screwdrivers, a nail puller, a bottle opener, a wire stripper, and a cord-cutting notch. It also features a quick-change button in the retractable mechanism that allows the user to swap out dull blades but keeps them secure otherwise.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any onboard blade storage, but this knife’s aim is to be a minimalist carry option that can otherwise do it all.
Outdoor enthusiasts that like to keep it light without sacrificing capability should check out the Slidewinder from Outdoor Edge. This adventure-designed knife is compact but really packs a lot of punch, including its sturdy pocket clip and built-in bottle opener.
This retractable utility knife features an autolocking blade that snaps into place securely but also retracts automatically with the push of a button. Also, the Slidewinder features both flat and Phillips screwdrivers built into its stainless steel body.
There’s something about having a fresh blade available at the snap of a finger (or pliers) that makes breakable utility knives like OLFA’s heavy-duty utility knife desirable. This retractable knife features an 18mm-long Japanese tool steel blade with 8 snappable sections, allowing users to get back to work quickly once their blade dulls.
Overall, this knife is a little long for pocket carry. However, it features a built-in screwdriver, prybar, and can opener, which account for some of the additional length. Also, this knife has an auto-lock function that keeps the blade securely in position when used or stored away.
When saving a bit of money without losing functionality is a factor, Stanley’s QuickChange Retractable utility knife is a smart choice. This knife features the same overall design as Stanley’s classic utility knives but also features modern touches like swing-out blade storage and a quick-change blade release button.
This retractable utility knife features three blade positions, allowing the user to lock the blade in at just the right depth for safe cuts. Also, a built-in cord-cutting notch is always available, regardless of the blade’s position. Remember that this is an update to Stanley’s older knives, so the Stanley QuickChange Retractable’s ergonomics might not be on par with today’s most advanced knives.
What good is a utility knife without the best utility knife blade? Stanley’s utility knife blades feature a precision-honed edge for general-purpose cutting. This 100-pack of blades also comes with its own dispenser, and DIYers won’t have to worry about the blades coming loose in their toolbox.
These blades will fit most universal utility knives, whether retractable, non-retractable, or folding. While the general-purpose edges might not stay sharp through heavy-duty projects, their affordability allows for guilt-free swapping.
Comparing the best utility knives
|Utility Knife||Knife Type||Blade Type||Features|
|Milwaukee Fastback Folding||Folding||Replaceable||In-handle blade storage|
|Lenox Tools Quick-Change||Retractable||Replaceable||Quick-release blade changes|
One-piece hinged design
|Milwaukee Fastback Compact||Folding||Replaceable||Compact, folding footprint|
Built-in tape measure hook
|Gerber Gear Prybrid||Retractable||Replaceable||Built-in pry bar, screwdrivers, can opener, and more|
Quick-release blade changes
|Outdoor Edge SlideWinder||Retractable||Replaceable||Compact design|
Sturdy pocket clip
|Olfa Heavy-Duty Breakable||Retractable||Breakable||High-quality steel 18mm blade with 8 snappable sections|
Built-in screwdriver and can opener
|Stanley QuickChange||Retractable||Replaceable||Swing-out blade storage|
|Stanley 100 Pack Utility Knife Blades & Dispenser||Universal Fit||Replaceable||Wall-mountable dispenser|
What utility knife is right for you?
Sometimes, a knife might lend itself better to someone in a specific work or skill level.
Pro and DIY builders
Pros and DIYers that spend most of their time building will prefer a heavy-duty knife for slicing open bundles of lumber or sharpening a carpenter’s pencil. For these folks, it’s hard to beat the durability of a Lenox Tools Quick-Change Retractable Utility Knife. We also suggest considering the Milwaukee Fastback Folding Utility Knife.
Woodworkers who use their knives to make precision marks might prefer a knife with a one-handed opening. The Milwaukee Fastback Folding Utility Knife could be the way to go for these folks.
Anyone searching for a utility knife that doubles as a pocket knife (and many other tools) should check out Gerber Gear Prybrid Utility Pocket Knife. It has a built-in screwdriver, a pry bar, and other features, as well as a retractable utility blade.
The Outdoor Edge SlideWinder Multitool is also worth considering with its pocketable size and versatility.
Other features to consider
The features above cover most of the bases, but there are some additional features that utility knife shoppers might want to look for when considering one of these hand tools.
Many of the best folding utility knives feature pocket clips. Some folks will use them to secure the knife in a pocket or tool bet, while others might prefer to remove them altogether for a more streamlined grip.
Some knives feature onboard blade storage that users can access whenever a blade dulls. Some do so with swing-out trays that hold blades securely in place; others may have storage compartments inside the knife that require the user to open it for access.
Cord cutters and gut hooks
The frames of many mother utility knives feature slotted sections within which the blade’s edge is always visible. These are cord cutters or gut hooks, and they can be helpful when slicing wires, ropes, or even seatbelts. They can even help dress an animal on a hunting trip.
Utility knives that didn’t make the cut
The Craftsman Utility Knife 2-Pack isn’t a bad set of knives, but we found removing screws to access blades will hamper progress.
The WorkPro Folding Utility Knife had most of the features we look for, but we found the pocket clip to be a bit clunky, and we weren’t fans of the thumb disc.
The Stanley FatMax Retractable Utility Knife is a solid all-arounder that is slightly cheaper than our pick, the Lenox Tools Quick-Change Retractable Utility Knife. Spending the extra few dollars makes sense, particularly for better build quality and faster blade changing.
Realistically, there’s nothing wrong with the Greenlee Folding Utility Knife. It doesn’t offer as much value as some of the others (which cost significantly less).
How we picked the winners
Full disclosure: We love utility knives and had a lot of first-hand experience with most of these models long before this test. However, we did buy these and put them through hands-on testing.
First, we narrowed it down to 16 picks after poring over online user reviews and drawing upon our prior first-hand experience. The final list of picks we purchased for in-house testing were the ones that offered the best bang for the buck.
Once purchased, we got to in-house testing. We compared each knife for smooth operation, safety, ease of changing the blades, convenience, onboard storage, and durability. Finally, we cut cardboard, drywall, cordage, and many other materials to get an idea of how these utility knives feel. The end result was a well-rounded list of the best utility knives, each excelling in a specific area.