6 Types of Utility Knives and Their Household Uses

A utility knife is a common and versatile hand tool to have around the house, but which one should you buy? What do they do? There are about a million different practical utility knives and cutting tools available on the market, but they’re definitely not all created equal.

Different types of utility knives are specifically designed with different tasks in mind, from opening packages to arts and crafts projects. Some feature advanced safety technology, others have a more ergonomic design, while still others are meant for small details or tight spaces. Some are better suited for industrial applications than others. Some have longer blades for cutting thicker materials.

Like most other household tools, you’ve got to choose the right one for your job and cutting material, in terms of safety and efficiency. You wouldn’t use a butter knife to chop vegetables or a scalpel to cut laminate flooring, right?

Let’s talk about the different types of practical utility knives, the differences between them, and what kinds of household tasks, projects, and jobs that each tool is best suited for.

Manual Utility Knives

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you might use one of these manual utility knives to cut carpeting, linoleum, laminate flooring, fiberglass insulation backing, roofing materials, or even to score drywall. You can also use manual utility knives to slice through and remove old caulk or grout from bathtubs and showers and from around windows and doors.

Elsewhere in the house, a manual utility knife is perfect for cutting cable, cutting or scoring foam insulation board, or stripping wire insulation.

Self-Retracting Utility Knives

These multi-purpose tools are pretty similar to the manual utility knives, with an added layer of protection: a blade that automatically retracts the instant it loses contact with the material being cut. This additional safety feature makes self-retracting utility knives ideal for opening boxes, cutting cardboard and heavy cardstock, foam, rubber, leather, and lightweight plastics.

It’s also a great tool for many of the same tasks you’d use a manual utility knife for, when safety is especially important.

Another feature of self-retracting utility knives that makes them great for using around the house is that it’s impossible to accidentally leave the blade exposed. So if you take a break from your project or you’re called away in a hurry, there’s no danger of injury since the blade automatically returns to its housing once it loses contact with the cutting material.

Auto-Retracting Utility Knives

Much like their self-retracting counterparts, auto-retracting utility knives are a safe, yet powerful cutting option. They can be used for all of the same tasks and applications as the self-retracting utility knife.

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Typhoon at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons

The blade on auto-retracting utility knives automatically retracts into the knife’s housing when the slider is released. This way, you’ll never accidentally leave the blade out and exposed when you’re not using the knife.

Pen Cutters

For maneuvering in tight spaces and projects with fine or small details, slim or pen cutters offer more control and dexterity. They can be used for many of the same materials as standard utility knives, as well as more delicate materials like weatherstripping and vinyl.

Folding Utility Knives

These are prized for their portability and compact size. Folding utility knives usually fit in your pocket, have a blade-securing mechanism to prevent the knife from accidentally opening, and often include a belt clip. They can be used to open boxes, cut rope, cardboard, and lightweight plastic materials, score drywall, and slice wallpaper. Folding utility knives are also the perfect Christmas morning tool, to help your kids get through frustrating toy packaging, plastic clamshells, tape, cardboard, paper, twine, plastic barbs, and tags.

Typhoon at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ergonomic Utility Knives

When you’re doing a repetitive task, or working on something that really takes a lot of elbow grease, having an ergonomic cutting tool can reduce forearm, hand, and wrist strain, and minimize fatigue and muscular effort.

Typhoon at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An ergonomic utility knife might come in handy when cutting cardboard down to size for recycling or opening lots of boxes—in other words, any time you want a tool with a comfortable handle that’s safe and easy to use over and over again.

Choosing a Utility Knife

After you’ve narrowed down your use and specifications, look for a utility knife that offers quality, innovative materials, and the safest tool possible. Don’t forget to consider blade settings and the size, shape, and length of the blade itself, as well as the type of grind on the blade. After all, a utility knife is only as good as its blade. And finally, select the tool that’s right for you: If you’re left-handed, you’ll need a utility knife that’s specifically designed to either be a left-handed tool, or better yet, one that’s ambidextrous, and can be used comfortably and interchangeably in either hand.

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