Best Utility Knife For the Money 2017 – Reviews & Comparisons

We talk about a lot of tools on this site, but there’s perhaps no more important sidekick to any DIY project than a quality utility knife. It truly sits in the Pantheon of tools--other than a hammer, a screwdriver, and good old fashioned duct tape, there is no more basic staple of your toolbox than the trusty utility knife.

These vital tools will make all the necessary cuts, with the added bonus preserving your wife’s nicer kitchen knives for their intended purpose. As an added bonus, almost all models have replaceable blades, so sharpening or worrying about dull blades affecting your work is a thing of the past.

Quick Look: Top Rated Utility Knives

Features of Utility Knives

Three Different Types

Many people think that what’s known as a “box cutter” or “carpet cutter” is a utility knife. That’s true, but that type of utility knife is only one of the three major types, all of which have pros and cons to their design.

The typical “box cutter” utility knife is known as a retractable knife. Using a sliding mechanism, the user slides the blade in and out of the handle and can make it longer or shorter. Retractable knives usually contain extra blades within the handle, and you can of course buy replacements as the blades dull over time.

While retractable blades are more sturdy and can tackle more heavy duty projects, they are bulky, unwieldy, and awkward to use. You won’t want to walk around your job site with these things in your pocket unless it’s completely necessary.

The second type of knife is called a folding knife. These knives, you’ll be surprised to learn, can fold up when not in use, making them smaller, easier to store and carry around, and safer. The downside of these knives is that they aren’t as sturdy as other knives, making thicker materials difficult to cut.

The third type of knife is the fixed blade style utility knife. Fixed blades are usually used for specialty projects, like cutting drywall or wood.

Here is an awesome video about how the retractable variety of utility knives are manufactured.

Which type of knife do I need?

The type of knife you need depends on what type of DIY project you’re doing. The good news is that most of the time utility knives are very affordable, so you can buy multiple models if you want. There are many different types, though, so deciding which one is best for your particular project can be tough.

If you’re looking for a knife to cut through something thick, you should look for a sturdy retractable knife. These are important for more heavy duty DIY projects, from cutting roof shingles to wood. These knives, although bulky, are going to be more suited to cutting through thick material.

If you want a more general knife that can do it all, you may want to look into a folding knife. These can be a little more flimsy, but should be sturdy enough to do most common DIY projects. Their ability to fold makes them way more portable, and usually they will have belt clips on them so they’re never out of your reach when you need them.

How important is the utility knife’s grip?

A lot of the variation you will see among the different utility knives out there is related to the quality of the grip on the knife’s handle. Grip is vitally important if you are working on a project that will require many repetitive cuts or if you are working in a moist environment, like a basement, a garden, or in the rain.

Mistakes happen, and the last thing you want to happen is having the knife slip from your hands and ruin what you’re working on, or worse, cause injury. These tools are extremely sharp, so unless you are extremely confident in your hands, you should definitely place a lot of value on the quality of the handle grip.

How do the different materials that utility knifes are made of differ?

Not every utility knife is made equal. Although these tools are pretty much all relatively affordable, there are several key differences in the quality of their materials.

The material that the handle is made out of is crucial. Some of these knives are made of aluminum, which may look nicer and last longer, but sacrifice sturdiness. Others may have plastic pieces incorporated into their handles, which are obviously far less durable than metal counterparts.

On retractable and folding retractable knives, the quality of the retraction button is key. A solid button will allow single handed deployment, saving you time and frustration. A solid component will also prevent the knife from retracting on its own under high pressure. A cheap, plastic button will definitely perform worse in that aspect.

Premium features

Some utility knives have really fancy features that, while unnecessary, might be helpful for certain projects, and are definitely awesome, at the least. Examples of these include voltage meters, which can alert you if you’re about to cut into a live wire, wire strippers to make wire stripping fast and easy, and dual blade systems with different blades for different types of jobs.

These premium features will probably not be important for the everyday generic DIYer, but if you tend to get into specialized projects that would make use of some of these features, they may be of great help to you.

Safety precautions to take when using utility knives

This may go without saying, but taking safety precautions when using dangerous tools is essential. Utility knives are particularly sharp, easily capable of leaving a deep slice if you’re not careful. Here are some helpful safety tips to keep in mind when working with them:

  • Keep your body out of the line of the cut

  • Keep retractable blades retracted when not in use

  • Use a cut resistant glove on the hand holding the object you’re cutting

  • Frequently check your blade for dullness

  • Make sure to pay attention at all times; avoid talking or looking away from your work

Comparisons - Best Utility Knives 

Stanley 10-779 Dynagrip Retractable Utility Knife

Stanley 10-779 Dynagrip

The Stanley 10-779 Dynagrip probably has the best grip of any of the knives on our list. This retractable utility knife features cushioned pads along the handle that are both comfortable in your hand and will prevent slipping. While the retraction button is a little sticky and can sometimes come loose if you’re putting a lot of pressure on it, this is one hell of a knife all-in-all.

What we like:

  • Superior cushioned grip that’s comfortable and sturdy

  • Heavy duty blades can handle tough projects

  • Includes lifetime warranty on the handle

  • Great value

This is the perfect general utility knife for a large range of DIY projects. This thing can handle tasks from cutting shingles and cardboard to drywall and thin wood. It helps that it’s incredibly affordable, but it doesn’t sacrifice sturdiness to maintain a low price point. It’s a great starter knife for any tool box.

DeWalt DWHT10035L Folding Retractable Utility Knife

Dewalt DWHT10035L

The best part about DeWalt’s folding retractable utility knife is that it manages to be foldable without sacrificing the quality of its retractable blade. The button mechanism is durable and holds under high pressure, but this knife maintains the portability and ease of use of a folding knife. Combining these two features makes this knife one of the best ones out there, and its features don’t stop there.

What we like:

  • High quality metal handle

  • Combines usability of a folding knife with effectiveness of a retractable knife

  • Large chamber and intuitive casing makes it really easy to change and store new blades

The metal surface of the handle does run the risk of becoming slick and slippery. But with proper preparation (like gloves for instance), this knife is among the sturdiest and most reliable on this list. As an added bonus, it has a handy wire stripper on the blade that will save you some time. It’s a little on the high end as far as utility knives go, but at just over ten bucks, it definitely shouldn’t break the bank.

OLFA 5003 L-1 18mm Ratchet-Lock Heavy-Duty Utility Knife

OLFA 5003 L-1 18mm Ratchet-Lock

The OLFA 5003 L-1 boasts a carbon steel blade that has superior durability, which prevents dullness and will also prevent you from having to change the blade very often. This knife is very sturdy and is great for the more heavy duty DIY projects on your list. It doesn’t look like it, but this is a heavy duty tool that easily cuts through roofing, drywall, vinyl, and thick corrugated cardboard without breaking a sweat.

What we like:

  • Incredibly sturdy for how small of a tool it is

  • Very easy to change out blades--although you won’t often have to

  • Can cut thicker materials like wood and drywall easily

The downside to this knife is its handle--or rather, the comfort of it. More of a straight handle than an ergonomic one, after a little while of using this knife your joints will start to protest. If you need a heavy duty knife, though, this is your tool.

CH Hanson 03015 FlipKnife Dual Blade Utility Knife

CH Hanson 03015 FlipKnife

Truly the Swiss army knife of this list, the CH Hanson 03015 is a double edged sword of a tool. It has two chambers to hold retractable blades and ships with a standard straight blade along with a hooked blade. This tool makes fumbling around with two different knives an obsolete concept, as you can quickly switch from one to the other in under a second.

What we like:

  • Dual chamber to hold two blades, perfect for varied jobs

  • Sturdy, substantial handle with an average grip

  • Perfect for roofers, who tend to need both straight and hooked blades

  • Safety feature doesn’t allow both blades to be out at the same time

Other than the dual blade chambers, this knife lacks any other special features--so no wire strippers. But if you’re looking for a very versatile tool that will remove the need to carry around more than one knife at a time, look no further.

Gardner Bender RKT-21

Gardner Bender RKT-21

The Gardner Bender RKT-21 is truly a jack-of-all-trades. It’s standard retractable blade is nothing to sneeze at, but that’s not the best part. It’s most notable feature is it’s high voltage warning system--this knife will alert you if you’re approaching a hot wire, and its handle is heavily insulated to protect you from an accidental shock. The Bender RKT-21 also features cable ripping and wire stripping attachments, making it a perfect tool for a wide variety of projects.

What we like:

  • This is the perfect utility knife for electricians

  • Voltage warning and insulation safety features

  • Packed with extra features

  • Heavy duty, durable handle

Marketed as an electrician’s tool, the Gardner Bender is certainly tailored to a specific type of project. Although its blade is more than capable of tackling a wide range of tasks, if you’re in the market for more of a heavy duty knife and don’t much care about it’s electrician-friendliness, you might want to look elsewhere.

One thing’s for sure, though: this is the most decked out utility knife out there right now.

Conclusion

Truly a staple for anyone who calls themselves a DIYer, the utility knife is true to its name--it can be used in a number of different ways for a number of different projects. Although all of the knives on our list can get most easy jobs done, it’s important to realize that different projects are more suited for certain kinds of knives.

If you are looking for the best overall utility knife for general DIY projects, the DeWalt DWHT10035L Folding Retractable Utility Knife simply cannot be beat. It combines the versatility and portability of a folding knife without sacrificing the reliability and sturdiness of a retractable knife, and it does so without breaking the bank.

Some projects will be more successful with some of the other knives. If you work with wires and electricity, we have to recommend the Gardner Bender RKT-21. Or, if you find yourself working mainly with thicker materials like wood and drywall, you might want to consider the OLFA 5003 L-1 18mm Ratchet-Lock Heavy-Duty Utility Knife. Just know that no matter the knife you pick, you’re getting an incredibly versatile tool that will serve you well for years down the road.