- A good utility knife can do just about anything – from cutting boxes open and slicing through carpet to cutting perfect lines into drywall or making crafts.
- With an ergonomic all-metal handle, an intuitive and easy-to-use folding design, quick blade changing, and a built-in wire stripper, the iconic Milwaukee Fastback 3 is the last utility knife you will ever need.
The knife may be the oldest tool known to man, and despite thousands of years of technological development, a good blade remains one of the most versatile items you can own. But your standard steel pocket knife – while great for EDC – isn’t always the best tool for cutting. When it comes to making precise, arrow-straight cuts, there’s no better instrument to reach for than a good utility knife.
Often simply referred to as a “box cutter,” the utility knife is a versatile and indispensable tool suited for a wide variety of applications. For carpet, leather, drywall, flooring, crafting projects – and, of course, cardboard boxes – a good utility knife is hands-down the best tool when you need to make a smooth, clean cut.
Along with super-sharp razor-like blades that are perfect for precision cutting, utility knives offer other advantages over traditional folding and fixed-blade knives: They don’t need sharpening (as you simply replace the blade when needed), the blades are typically retractable, the grips are considerably larger, and a smaller length of sharpened edge is exposed for safer cutting. Modern folding utility knives also offer the same portable convenience as a pocket knife.
Utility knives are simple tools and the good news here is that you don’t need to spend a lot of cash to get a really good one. They’re not all made the same, however, with a number of different types and designs available today. We’ve done the research to sort out the five best utility knives you can buy, from sturdy everyday-use models to ones built for more specialized tasks. Even better: Each of our picks rings in at less than $20.
Here are the best utility knives you can buy:
- Best utility knife overall: Milwaukee Fastback 3
- Best budget utility knife: Stanley Classic
- Best snap-off utility knife: Olfa LA-X
- Best pocket utility knife: Gerber EAB
- Best utility knife for crafts: X-Acto No. 1
Updated 10/29/2019 by Owen Burke: Updated prices, links, and formatting.
The best utility knife overall
A solid and ergonomic all-metal body, convenient folding design with pocket clip, quick and tool-less blade swapping, and handy wire strippers make the Milwaukee Fastback 3 the best utility knife.
When looking for a good utility knife, you naturally want something that is durable, provides a safe and comfortable grip, and has a design that is convenient to operate with easy-to-change blades. Utility knives are pretty simple pieces of kit, but our pick, the Milwaukee Fastback 3, has a few design features that put it well ahead of the competition.
Firstly, everything about the Fastback is dead simple to use: The folding mechanism locks tightly but can be opened with the press of a button and a flick of the wrist, blade changes are quick and simple with no tools required, and it’s got a nice sturdy pocket clip for safe and easy carry. Its all-metal construction means it’ll last for a lifetime, too, and the ergonomically contoured handle provides a secure and comfortable grip with a finger indentation to keep your hand from slipping.
The Fastback also has two additional tools built right in: A small wire stripper placed towards the front of the blade and a larger gut hook on the back of the handle for stripping thicker wires. This gut hook is also ideal for quickly cutting things like twine or for opening bags without having to reach for another tool. The Fastback 3 contains a swing-out compartment that can store up to four spare blades as well, and it has the extra ability to lock the blade at 45 degrees for a more aggressive downward cutting angle.
If there’s one thing that some buyers might consider to be a drawback, it’s that the Milwaukee Fastback is no longer made in the US. This isn’t by itself a bad thing so long as quality control is there, and many happy owners report that the Fastback remains a solidly built tool that should last a long, long time. And with a price tag of around 20 bucks for the Fastback 3, it’s hard to fuss about details like this.
Pros: Sturdy all-metal construction, the folding mechanism locks tightly while offering easy one-handed opening, built-in wire stripper and gut hook, the ergonomically contoured handle is comfortable and safe, quick and tool-free blade changing, and the Fastback 3 has built-in blade storage
Cons: No longer made in the US
The best budget utility knife
Sometimes all you need is a tool that’s cheap, simple, and well-built, and the Stanley Classic does everything you need a utility knife to do.
Good utility knives aren’t super costly tools. Even the more expensive version of our top pick, the Fastback 3, won’t set you back. But sometimes, all you need is a cheap, simple tool to get the job done, or maybe you just want something inexpensive enough that you can buy a couple to keep around so you’ve always got one handy when you need it.
No utility knife fits this bill better than the aptly named Stanley Classic. Your parents and grandparents likely have one or two of these lying around somewhere, and the design hasn’t changed much over the years. This is a simple, no-frills, heavy-duty utility knife made right here in the United States, featuring a large and sturdy six-inch metal handle (which you can store spare blades in) with a thumb-activated three-position blade slide.
Just as attractive as its all-American build quality is its low price tag, which would be impressive even if the Stanley Classic wasn’t still manufactured in the US.
The only drawback we can find is that, being an older design, the handle must be taken apart via a single Phillips head screw in order to change blades. This is easy to do and, given the knife’s incredible value, isn’t something to squint too hard at. At this price, you might as well buy a couple.
Pros: Made in the US, sturdy and large metal handle with a built-in spare blade compartment, secure three-position blade slide, an incredible value
Cons: Handle must be taken apart to change and store blades
The best snap-off utility knife
If you’re tired of frequently swapping out dull blades, then the Japanese-made Olfa LA-X utility knife offers the convenience of a one-piece blade with snap-off sections and a locking slide that gives you a longer working edge.
Given Japan’s long history of blade-making, it should come as no surprise that some of the sharpest knives and razors today come from this part of the world. Olfa is a household name in the niche market of utility knives, making blades that are notoriously sharp and cut extremely well. You’ll find more than a few online reviews where the user learned this first-hand, the hard way.
Olfa makes a number of different snap-off utility knives, but our favorite is the LA-X due to its large cushioned handle with anti-slip rubber grip inserts, easy-to-use blade locking mechanism, and metal pick located at the back that can be used for quick tasks like prying off paint can lids (among many other things). This little pry bar will also help you avoid the temptation of using your blade to pry things open when you shouldn’t.
What’s most notable about Olfa knives, however, is the heavy-duty one-piece blades which are cut into eight sections that you can snap off when the exposed edge gets dull, precluding the need for frequent blade changes. Another advantage of this long snap-off blade is that the Olfa’s LA-X slide lock lets you extend the blade itself out a bit further, giving you a larger working edge than is possible with a standard utility knife.
The Olfa LA-X is cheap, too, and replacement blades are also pretty inexpensive. A number of snap-off utility knives are designed with disposable handles, but we find this to be unnecessarily wasteful when you can get the Japanese-made Olfa LA-X for around $10.
Pros: Made in Japan, sturdy fiberglass handle with anti-slip rubber grip, the snap-off blade prevents the need to change blades when the edge gets dulled, the locking blade slide can be extended for a longer working edge
Cons: No storage compartment for spare blades
The best pocket utility knife
The Gerber EAB combines the unrivaled cutting ability of a utility knife with the carry-friendly design of a folder, making it an efficient and surprisingly heavy-duty alternative to a pocket knife.
There are many reasons to carry a good pocket knife, but depending on your needs and the laws where you live, it may not be the best option. Most jurisdictions regulate the length of the blades that you’re allowed to carry concealed such as in your pocket, and shorter pocket knives often lack the size and slicing ability to cut through difficult materials like blister packaging.
If you like to carry a blade with you for everyday cutting tasks, a pocket-sized utility knife such as the Gerber EAB is an elegant alternative to a standard pocket knife. A compact utility knife like this offers a solution to the drawbacks of small blades with its razor-like sharpness, straight edge, and unrivaled cutting ability despite its short length. The EAB with a blade inserted measures at just over four inches when opened and less than 2.5 inches closed.
Like most modern pocket knives, the Gerber EAB uses a liner lock to secure the blade tightly in place when opened. The whole thing is made of sturdy stainless steel and feels impressively heavy-duty for its palm-sized frame. The EAB also has a pocket clip on the side, but the metal here feels a bit thin and flimsy. If you use this, I recommend you do so with the EAB placed inside your pocket rather than on your belt or somewhere else where it may get lost if the clip fails.
There’s another very popular version of the Gerber EAB called the EAB Lite that’s also worth mentioning. They’re both great, but we slightly favor the standard EAB over the Lite for two reasons: Despite its name, the Lite weighs just as much as the EAB and features a bulkier handle, and the grip has holes cut into it which can be a potential ingress point for pocket lint and other foreign contaminants to get into the knife’s liner lock mechanism.
Nonetheless, the EAB Lite is a couple bucks cheaper than the EAB, so if those issues don’t concern you then we’ve included it anyway (it’s also just as well-reviewed by users). Still, the standard Gerber EAB is still an absolute steal given its long-lasting build quality and cutting ability that outclasses pretty much every other blade of this size.
Pros: Great cutting ability despite its small frame, sturdy and corrosion-resistant stainless steel construction, accepts standard utility knife replacement blades, great value
Cons: Pocket clip feels a bit flimsy, it requires both hands to open
The best utility knife for crafts
If a standard-sized utility knife is proving to be too cumbersome for delicate crafting tasks like scrapbooking and modeling, then the fine point of the famous X-Acto No. 1 is just what you need.
Utility knives are, by their nature, precision instruments. For making a straight, clean, even cut, there’s no better tool. But a full-sized utility knife blade can nonetheless be a bit unwieldy when it comes to small tasks like crafting, scrapbooking, and modeling, which require a more delicate touch.
For a good precision utility knife, you don’t need or want a heavy-duty blade or bulky handle: Instead, opt for something with a long, slim grip and a smaller, narrower blade that comes to a fine point. Enter the iconic X-Acto knife, which has been a staple in toolkits craftworkers since its creation almost a century ago.
The design of the X-Acto No. 1 hasn’t changed much over the decades, and there’s little sense in messing with a good thing. It’s got a long, slim aluminum handle that’s lightweight and easy to hold and wield accurately, and there’s a knurled section towards the blade for extra grip purchase. The blade slices cleanly and the handle provides excellent control for making smooth, even marks and cuts.
The X-Acto No. 1 comes standard with five spare blades (for a total of six including the one already installed), all of which come razor sharp right out of the package. There’s no included safety cap, however, but owners have found that standard ballpoint pen caps make ideal blade covers and stay on the knife just fine. Considering its low price, this is a minor quibble – just be careful when opening it up.
Pros: It’s inexpensive, the aluminum handle is lightweight yet long enough to offer good control, the blade is sharp and fine-pointed enough for delicate tasks, comes with spare blades
Cons: Does not come with a safety cap, no longer made in the US