Everyday Carry

What Is a Utility Knife Used For? The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Purpose Tool

Authored by:
Jesudunsin David
Reviewed by:
Bernard Capulong
Founder and Editor-in-Chief
14+ Years Reviewing EDC Products
What Is a Utility Knife Used For? The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Purpose Tool

Related Gear:
  The 19 Best Multi-tools in 2023
  The 17 Best Utility Knives and Box Cutters in 2024
  The 25 Best Pocket Knives In 2024 - Ranked and Reviewed

You may have come across a utility knife in a buying guide or roundup of everyday carry knives and wondered, "What is a utility knife?" Or “what is a utility knife used for?" What exactly sets them apart from other pocket knives? And why should they earn a spot in your toolkit? Luckily, we’re here to answer your questions.

This guide explains what a utility knife is used for, the different types of utility knives available with some of our recommended picks, and some safety tips you should know when using a utility knife.


What is a Utility Knife?

In simple terms, a utility knife is a knife built for multi-purpose use as opposed to self-defense. These knives have a history dating back thousands of years and have been used for various tasks, including cutting, hunting, carving, cooking, and camping. Over the years, they have evolved into more practical designs with innovative features, technologies, and mechanisms that make them indispensable.

A typical utility knife comprises several key components, including a handle, blade, pocket clip, and, in some cases, additional features like blade release mechanisms, locking mechanisms, retractable mechanisms, or folding capabilities. Each of these components has different functions but works to provide users with a reliable cutting tool suitable for different use cases.

Handle: The handle of a utility knife, typically made from materials like wood, aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, or plastic, serves as the structural foundation of the knife. A good knife handle allows for a secure grip, enabling users to properly and purposefully wield the blade.

Blade: The blade is the cutting part of the knife and is one of its most essential parts. Utility knife blades vary in length, typically from 1.5" to about 4." Some utility knives may use longer or shorter blade lengths depending on the intended use and design. They are also made from different materials, commonly including stainless steel, carbon steel, ceramic, and titanium. Utility blades tend to be thinner and lend better to precision work. Unlike standard folding pocket knives, they often are disposable and are meant to be replaced rather than re-sharpened.

Blade Release Mechanism: The release mechanism allows users to easily and safely release, retract, and replace the blade. It may consist of a button, lever, or sliding mechanism.

Locking Mechanism: Locking mechanisms, often used in folding and retractable knives, secure the blade in place during use, preventing it from accidentally retracting or slipping out of position, which is vital for preventing accidents or injuries.

Pocket Clip: A pocket clip is often attached to pockets or other EDC gear, facilitating easy carry.


Types of Utility Knives

Utility knives come in different forms, each boasting unique designs, features, mechanisms, and methods of use that cater to various tasks and user preferences. Below, we will describe each type of utility knife and explore some of the best utility knives available on the market.

Fixed Blade Utility Knives

A fixed blade utility knife, as the name implies, is a type of knife that sports a blade that is permanently fixed in place—it doesn't fold or retract into the handle. These knives are designed to be general-purpose knives for cutting, craft making, hunting, scraping, cooking, camping, and other practical tasks.

The design of fixed blade knives makes them suitable for tasks requiring precision and stability or force because they are more durable, reliable, and stable, which is vital for heavy-duty tasks. They are generally easier to handle, clean, and maintain because there are no moving parts to worry about. However, because of the exposed blade, fixed blade utility knives may pose a safety risk if not handled properly, especially when carrying them around or in storage, so you want to be extra cautious and ensure you stow them away properly. Knife sheaths can help to cover the blade and minimize the risk of accidents/injuries.

Our picks:

X-ACTO Z Series Knife

Deviating from traditional fixed blade knives that are often big and bulky, the X-ACTO knife is built like a pencil—long and slender cylindrically-shaped, ergonomic body with a uniform diameter through its length, which was the first thing that stood out to me about the knife. It's well-rounded and smooth, with a grippy part that allows for optimal handling and maneuvering, with a blade that tapers into a sharp, precise point. The body is built from lightweight aluminum and ergonomically designed for comfortable, easy handling, which reduces hand fatigue during extended periods of use.

The X-ACTO knife features a #11 fine-point blade similar to the blade on the Gerber Prybrid X, with a Zirconium nitride coating for enhanced sharpness and durability. It is finely shaped for precision, ensuring clean cuts through paper, plastic, thin metal, and some kinds of wood. This precision utility knife also comes with a safety cap that ensures safe carry, minimizing the risk of accidents. It also has an easy change blade system that enables quick, easy, and hassle-free blade replacements.

The X-ACTO knife is the kind of knife you'll need for precise cutting tasks, and its design allows you to carry this knife around comfortably—you’ll  probably forget you're carrying it until you need it. So, if you're a hobbyist, artist, or professional, this knife is one that you should have in your arsenal, and it's sure to meet your cutting/crafting needs.

WE Knife Co. Quark

The WE Knife Co. Quark is probably the smallest fixed-blade utility knife I've ever seen. It's small enough to carry around your neck, on your keychain, or in your pocket, yet it efficiently gets the job done. The handle on this knife is built from high-grade 6AI-4V Titanium, which guarantees durability and resilience. The 0.47" Böhler M390 blade is exceptionally sharp and durable with a chisel grind and black stonewashed and satin flat finish for a sleek look. It can easily cut through boxes, cardboard, wallpaper, etc.

The Quark also comes with a cover with twill carbon fiber on one side, titanium on the other, and a magnet for secure closure. If you're looking for a utility knife to help you get through the routine tasks of the day, the Quark mini cutter is designed to be the perfect fit.

Folding Utility Knives

Unlike fixed blade knives, folding utility knives, or folders, as they're commonly called, can fold the blade into the handle, creating a compact and portable design. This design is hinged on a locking mechanism that keeps the blade folded and tucked away when not in use and also deploys and securely locks the blade in place to get the job done.

One of the standout features of folding utility knives is their versatility. The design of these knives allows for the integration of multi-tool functionalities, as seen in popular folders like the Swiss Army Knives and Defiance Tools’ utility knife, with additional tools like screwdrivers, bottle openers, saw, etc., adding extra utility beyond cutting.

The folding mechanism allows you to protect the blade from potential damage, thus prolonging its lifespan. However, it also introduces potential points of failure, such as hinges and locking mechanisms, which may wear out over time with frequent use. They may not also be as easy to clean as fixed blades because of the different moving parts.

Folding utility knives are well-suited to several tasks, including box cutting, camping, fishing, and light-duty DIY projects.

Our picks:

TiRant RAZOR V3

The TiRant RAZOR V3 utility knife, recently featured as one of our top picks for cool knives, is a top-tier utility knife. This knife sports premium quality production, machined from skeletonized 6AI-4V Titanium, making the V3 exceptionally durable, corrosion-resistant, and lightweight. The stonewashed finish lends a rugged aesthetic while enhancing its resistance to wear and corrosion. This knife is equipped with a buttery smooth rear flipper action thanks to its full brass caged ceramic ball bearings, a dual-screw swappable lock-bar insert, and a quick-release blade lock mechanism that delivers a seamless operation.

The TiRant RAZOR V3 is also compatible with most of the standard utility blades, so you are not limited to one blade type and can easily switch out blades between tasks. I'd recommend getting this knife if you're looking for a utility knife that handles like a conventional frame lock folding knife.

Gerber E.A.B Lite

The design of the Gerber E.A.B Lite pocket knife brings a unique blend of sleek craftsmanship, design, and functionality to the classic utility knife, making this knife a worthwhile addition to your carry. The E.A.B has a replaceable 1.5" contractor-grade stainless steel blade and a secure liner lock mechanism, offering reliable performance whether you're opening boxes or cutting rope and ensuring secure blade deployment and safety during use.

It also sports a lightweight body machined from solid stainless steel weighing only 2.5 oz. The handle has deep finger grooves for secure handling, enhancing grip and control during use. The tapered shape with rounded edges also contributes to its ergonomic design, and the stainless steel pocket clip that doubles as a money clip adds a whole new level of functionality—I mean, I didn't realize a utility knife could hold my money until I found this knife.

The Gerber E.A.B Lite delivers a seamless blend of top-tier performance and practicality, essential for any utility knife, in a compact, portable package. It also comes backed by Gerber's Lifetime Warranty. You might want to get the Gerber E.A.B Lite pocket knife if you want a super-compact, dual-purpose utility knife.

Retractable Utility Knives

As the name suggests, a retractable utility knife is a type of utility knife with a blade that retracts into the handle. This retracting mechanism could either be manual, as in the Milwaukee Fastback Utility Knife, or automatic, with the latter auto-retracting into the knife's handle without moving the slider. Once the blade is deployed, it is held in place by a locking mechanism. By disengaging the locking mechanism, the blade automatically retracts into the handle without you having to slide it back in. This retracting mechanism helps to prevent accidental injuries and ensures the safety of users. However, because of this mechanism, they may be unreliable for heavy-duty tasks, as unintentional disengagement of the locking mechanism will lead to the blade retracting mid-task.

Retractable utility knives are often used for cutting boxes and cardboard, opening envelopes or packages, scoring drywall, trimming and stripping wire, and cutting ropes. They are available in different sizes and styles, with varying blade materials, lengths, and thicknesses, catering to different user preferences.

Our picks:

Slice 10514 Auto-Retractable Mini Cutter

The Slice 10514 Auto-Retractable Mini Cutter is one of the best retractable utility knives available. At a compact length of 2.4", this mini cutter is lightweight, weighing only 0.35 oz. Its handle material, glass-filled nylon, provides a sturdy grip, enhancing control and precision during use. The finger-friendly advanced ceramic blade, made from high-tech Zirconium Oxide, promises to be durable, anti-bacterial, rustproof, nonconductive, and antimagnetic, thanks to its unique manufacturing process. It's also slow to dull, can retain its sharpness up to 11.2 times longer than steel, and can handle tough cutting tasks.

The knife sports a no-tool blade change that allows you to easily switch out its proprietary blades and an auto-retractable design that automatically retracts the blade when it is not in use, minimizing the potential for injuries caused by slips or mishandling and facilitating safe storage.

The Slice 10514 knife combines innovative design, durable materials, functionality, and versatility in one compelling piece, and whether it's for professional use or everyday tasks, it excels in providing safe, efficient, and consistent quality performance.

The James Brand Palmer Utility Knife

The Palmer Utility Knife crafted by the James Brand is one of my favorite renditions of the traditional utility knife, packing all the functionality of a classic utility knife and presenting it in an ergonomically designed rectangular-shaped, travel-friendly modern-day utility knife.

This knife boasts a solid stainless steel blade capable of handling most tasks, housed in an anodized aluminum body with six colorways to choose from. At the core of its functionality, this knife sports the James Brand's patent-pending locking mechanism that facilitates seamless operation and convenient tool-less blade removal/replacement. It also comes with a lanyard for easy carry. Its overall design and functionality make it one of the best utility knives available, and like Bo said in his full video review, the Palmer Utility Knife is probably the best EDC tool for everyone.


Utility Knife Uses

While the primary function of a utility knife revolves around cutting, a utility knife boasts an impressive repertoire of uses that extend beyond simple cutting tasks. Below are some common uses of utility knives:

Cutting and Slicing

A utility knife is adept at cutting and slicing various materials, including food, packaging, textiles, and sometimes plastics. Utility knives with thin, replaceable blades excel especially at breaking down cardboard and tape, which would otherwise damage non-replaceable blades on folding knives. This makes utility knives the tool of choice for EDCers who have to break down boxes without risk of damaging their prized primary folding knife.
With the right technique, it can produce clean, precise cuts, making it one of the best knives for use in a kitchen, warehouse, craft studio, etc. Ensure you have a good grip on the handle and securely hold the item you want to cut in place for clean, precise cuts.

Carving and Whittling

Woodwork requires precision and definition, and a sharp blade and good grip are key to achieving that. A utility knife is often ergonomically designed for easy handling, allowing craftsmen/artisans to easily handle the knife's blade to sculpt intricate designs.

For more control, use push cuts where you push the blade away from your palm rather than towards you. Ensure you're using the right kind of utility knife on the right type of wood, and take small, controlled cuts. Don't try to take too much off at once, as that may damage both the design and the knife.

DIY Projects

Utility knives are small and handy, which makes them great for a wide range of DIY projects. Their compact size allows you to maneuver them easily in tight/tricky spaces, especially when removing caulk, trimming drywall, or cutting materials. It also allows for optimal grip for tasks that require precision and control. Keep the blade sharp and use the proper techniques to make the most of your utility knife for DIY tasks.

Outdoor and Sporting Activities

The versatility of a utility knife also extends to outdoor activities. You can use a utility knife for fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking, as it can come in handy to cut lines, ropes, dress game, etc. Ensure you have the right type of knife and blade for the occasion (with spare blades), keep your blade sharp, and practice safe handling and storage to prevent accidents/injuries.


Safety Tips for Using a Utility Knife

As with all knives, while a utility knife can be incredibly useful, it can pose risks if mishandled. Here are some safety tips to bear in mind:

Choosing the Right Knife for the Task

While it's possible to use one kind of knife for multiple tasks and still get them done, there are other specially designed knives that'll do each of those tasks better. For instance, you can use an auto-retractable knife for hunting or dressing, but a fixed-blade knife will definitely do better in that scenario.

Different tasks require different blades with varying strengths, different handles for safety, etc., and using the right knife for the right task is essential for safety and efficiency. Using the wrong knife for any task may require you to apply force, leading to unpredictable movements that can cause injury. So, consider the task you need the knife for and choose the appropriate utility knife. Doing that will ensure both your safety and a smooth, efficient workflow.

Proper Grip and Hand Placement

Maintain proper grip on the handle and position your hands away from the blade's cutting path to avoid accidental cuts. Use caution when applying force, and always cut away from your body to minimize the risk of injuries.

Keeping the Knife Sharp

A dull blade is more dangerous than a sharp one as it requires more force, significantly increasing the risk of accidents. Ensure you regularly sharpen your utility knife blade using the appropriate knife sharpening tools in the case of fixed-blade utility knives and replace the knife when it becomes excessively dull or damaged when using utility knives that accommodate swappable blades.

Storing the Knife Safely

Proper storage is essential to prevent injuries. When not in use, store your utility knife in a cool, dry, and secure location, away from children and pets, and avoid leaving them in places where they can be easily accessed by unauthorized personnel. You can also consider using knife sheaths, blade covers, or toolboxes to keep the knife securely stowed away.


Conclusion

So far, we’ve seen that utility knives are the jack-of-all-trades in the knife world, able to do most things other knives can do to an impressive extent. While this doesn’t remove the place of task-specific knives, utility knives can be a formidable backup when these knives are unavailable. This guide serves as a compass to help you navigate the options available, make the right choice, and properly maintain it, but your choice of utility knife ultimately depends on your preferences. So, consider what you need the knife for, the build, quality, material, and your budget, and pick the knife that resonates with you. Remember that investing in a high-quality utility knife can prove invaluable, ensuring reliability and guaranteeing a smooth, efficient workflow.

Bernard Capulong

Founder and Editor-in-Chief


About the Reviewer
Bernard Capulong is an everyday carry (EDC) gear expert, entrepreneur, all-around nerd, and the founder and editor-in-chief of EverydayCarry.com—the largest online community for EDC gear enthusiasts. Since founding Everyday Carry in 2009, he’s built over a decade of experience in the industry, reviewing and highlighting brands and products, including pocket knives, flashlights, wallets, watches, bags, pens, and much more.

Bernard is known for bringing everyday carry out of obscurity and into the mainstream, having been published or featured in various publications such as GQ, TIME Magazine, The New York Times, VICE, HYPEBEAST, Outside, and many others. He has also played a part in curating, designing, and developing digital and physical products, resulting in successful crowdfunding projects or limited edition collaboration products with established softgoods brands. He stays on the pulse of the EDC industry by attending trade shows, participating in online interest communities, and actively engaging with fellow gear enthusiasts on social media.

In addition to being the editor-in-chief and main social media personality for EverydayCarry.com, Bernard is an avid gearhead and collector in general. His personal collections span technical bags, fountain pens, digital cameras, retro gaming hardware, personal hi-fi audio gear, and mechanical wristwatches, to name a few. Bernard Capulong is a prominent figure and trusted authority in the everyday carry industry with a career dedicated to helping people discover this hobby and stay prepared with quality gear.

Discussion (0 total)

There are no messages here. Be the first to share a comment or feedback.