Sunday, 15 December 2013

Chosing the right utility knife - review of the Stanley 18mm Quick Point™ Knife

A Stanley utility knife (bottom) and a clone (top)
If you need a utility knife, there is plenty of choice on the market and most people take what they find first. You can however save time and effort chosing the right one.

Depending on your use, you are going to either want set of adapted knives or a versatile one that is going to work on most situations.

This article goes through the pros and cons of all features:

Snap-off blade

Here you have two options. You either change your blade when it becomes old and blunt or you snap a piece off. Snapping a piece off is really convenient as it lets you get a fresh blade right away but can harm you if it accidentally snaps off during rough work.
I therefore always buy sanp-off utility knives unless it is for really rough work.

Locking mechanism

Manufacturers use different types of mechanisms to lock the blade in position. It ranges from simple and effective to bothersome and complex to use.
My personal favourite is the notch. There are little notches along which the blade slides and press the slider to free it. Some of them can be slided in one move (by pressing the slider) while others need to move a locking mechanism before operating it. The latter is a little safer but it takes a little longer to move the blade. My personal favourite one is the simplest where you only need to press the slider.
Some more sophisticated ones have a thumbscrew to lock the bade. I find it irritating and could injure you, should the blade slip. It is also annoying to screw and unscrew to move the blade. I would stay away from this alternative unless you really want to precisely control the length of the blade you want out.

A blade protection but no locking mechanism

Some utility knives come with a cap to protect the blade. I find this only useful with precision utility knives as it makes the design simpler and therefore less chance to have slack. You however need to be careful as the cap can always come off by accident.
Finally some utility knives -usually heavy duty ones- can be folded to protect the blade (and your fingers). This lets the manufacturer attach the blade more firmly to the knife which is useful for demanding jobs and makes the blade annoying to replace.

Slack

This is where the biggest trade-off comes: you either have an easy to open/close blade or a firmly held with blade. If you want absolutely no slack you will have to trade something less handy.

Weight

If you want to have one handy at all times in your backpack, you should probably go for a light one. Although most some plastic ones can break in demanding conditions, they usually handle the stress well and are much lighter. 
I would therefore go for a well designed plastic one unless you are asking a lot from your utility knife.

Build quality

Metallic ones are usually stronger than plastic ones. This is obviously not always the case and some plastic are thick and therefore much more resistant (than slim ones). Since I like to carry my toolbox around I went for one with a decent grip as the one pictured above.

Price

Utility knives don't cost a fortune. You can buy branded designs and other ones. My experience is that branded designs perform a little better on most if not all features above. It is your choice, really...
I personally chose the Stanley 18mm Quick Point™ Knife as it performs really well and is fairly sturdy and costs close to nothing. I therefore always keep one at hand

Other notes and remarks

Clones

Good designs are often copied and the copies are usually as good as the original design. Ignoring the morale and ethics behind buying cheap copies, you sometimes end up with something looking the same but under-performing.
Looking at the picture above one might think 'what could go wrong with buying this cheaper clone?'. Well it turns out you need less force to push the slider down to unlock the blade before sliding it out. This obviously means that you might have surprises at some point while working with the clone.
This is only one example but the clone syndrome happened to me with other models.

Not for left handed people

My wife is a left handed florist. She uses utility knives every day and most of them are not adapted for them (lefties, not florists ;-). Yet she chose the model pictured (for right handed) and does not complain. After all, she's a pro and knows what's working best for her.
I personally would have found it better to make reversible designs but who am I to complain...

Warranty

Some branded knives manufacturers provide a (limited) lifetime warranty. This is nice but I sincerely doubt anyone ever sends back a 10yr old utility knife that just broke. The postage alone would cost more than a new knife!

My personal choice

My choice went to the most basic and affordable utility knife from Stanley (Stanley product page). It is obviously not best suited for precision and heavy duty work but is very versatile. Here are my reasons for choosing this particular model:

  • It comes with snap-off blades
  • The locking mechanism is easy to disengage yet effective
  • Very light (plastic made) yet very strong (limited number of parts, all very strong)
  • It is obviously not the best choice for heavy duty and precision work (slack)
  • It has blade snapper in the yellow cap
  • Cheap !
  • Limited lifetime warranty (I'm joking ... I don't care)

Notes on the new revision

The new revision is now available across most European hardware stores. In my humble opinion, the previous one was marginally better as your thumb had a better grip on the slider. The slider did not stick out of the handle, reducing the chance of finding the blade exposed after a rough journey inside your bag filled with other tools.
Besides this small change, the locking mechanism is still excellent and easy to disengage and the knife still has that strongly built (although plastic) feel.