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If you’re looking for a small, easily-pocketable utility knife, you’ll want a folder. But non-retractable folders are a pretty serious laceration hazard: You’re prone to leaving it lying around with the blade exposed, and you’ve got to deal with an exposed blade every time you fold it shut. That — plus seeing a friend cut the living crap out of himself folding one once — kept me from owning one. DeWalt’s new model, however, both folds and retracts, offering the same tiny stowed form factor without the danger.

I wrote a preview of this knife when I saw its announcement a while back, but this week we got one in the office to play with, and as promised, I thought I’d share the details.

What We Look For

You can pay anywhere from a few cents to over $10 for a utility knife. So what makes one stand out from another? Easy: feel, build quality, and utility. While cheap-ass knives will indeed cut open a box, we’ve noticed a marked difference in how accurately we can cut with one model over another, and after breaking down hundreds of shipping boxes in the TM offices, we discovered that some knives tire us out faster than others.

Features

The most significant factor in feel is the knife’s shape. A slight curve in the knife positions your hand more comfortably, allowing you not only to push harder without strain, but also to position the blade more accurately. Notice that most cheap-ass knives are pretty much straight, eliminating that benefit. When unfolded, the DeWalt mimics the shape of their more-recent curved knives. So not surprisingly, we found it easy to manipulate and comfortable to hold.

The black rear of the blade handle — which doubles as the cover for blade storage — is made of thick plastic and slightly textured on the outside, making for a grippy surface under your palm when cutting. DeWalt also placed a small similarly-textured pad at the front of the knife, located to fall perfectly under your thumb when you grab the knife.

Like when auto makers chop the top off a car to make a convertible, folding knife manufacturers have to up the build quality and design standards to make a product that isn’t floppy and loose. Thankfully, DeWalt hit this mark as well. When locked into the open position, the DeWalt feels like a one-piece knife with virtually zero play in the hinge mechanism. The rest of the knife feels solid, too — thick and well-made, but remarkably light.

The DeWalt’s retract mechanism is unremarkable, working smoothly and efficiently. It offers two retract positions: one fully-extended and one exposing just the tip of the blade. To replace a blade, just fully extend it, then push the small black button on the side near the front of the knife. This releases the blade and you can pull it out the front. Storage in the rear of the knife (under the black cover and to the side of where the knife itself stores when folded) holds three blades. Unlike the small, super-tight clips we’ve found in most utility knives, the DeWalt’s wide, low clip makes it easy to slide in blades. And while it holds them firmly in place, you can pull them out without yanking — another non-obvious but significant safety feature.

In Use

This knife is quickly becoming one of our favorites around the shop and house. It’s great to be able to take advantage of the smaller size of a folding knife without actually giving up any of the safety or functionality of a good quality full-sized knife. Around the shop it often ends up clipped to (or sometimes just jammed in) a jeans front pocket. Or if we’re using it a lot, it stays lying around in the open position, easily mistaken for a normal knife.

We specifically appreciate the DeWalt’s blade holder. It’s significantly easier to stow or remove blades than with other models, and we like how they don’t flop around — plus we don’t have to disassemble the knife to get at ‘em. The DeWalt’s cover releases via a big latch that’s easily accessible under the knife when unfolded, and we never found ourselves smashing down on a tiny button or fumbling around with sharp razor blades.

Conclusions

MSRP for this knife is $10, and we figure that’s pretty much what you’ll pay for one when they’re readily available. So it’s placed much more toward the high end of the price scale. But we feel the DeWalt justifies the expenditure. We’d readily pay (literally) a few bucks over the price of a cheapie to score a comfortable, easy-to-use, high-quality knife. And that’s what the DeWalt is: For all practical purposes, it’s a full-sized, full-function knife that just happens to fold to half its size.

Folding Retractable Utility Knife (DWHT10035) [DeWalt]

PS: Kudos, DeWalt, for the easy-to-open packaging. You have no idea how many times we’ve had to use a utility knife to cut the indestructible plastic packaging off a tape measure or other small hand tool. Or wait. Maybe you do.

 

12 Responses to Review: DeWalt’s Folding Retractable Utility Knife

  1. Fong says:

    Nice review. Looking forward to trying it out. One question, can it be folded close with the blade out, either in the partially or fully extended position. It would be nice to handle it as a standard pocket knife. With the blade holder always the same color as the blades themselves, I’ve jammed my knife into my pocket with it open more often than I’d like to admit.

  2. Chuck says:

    @fong: Nope, the blade has to be fully retracted to fold the knife. That’s one of the features that appeals to me. Folding razor knife with the blade exposed makes it just too easy to cut oneself, IMO.

  3. browndog77 says:

    [To replace a blade, just fully extend it, then push the small black button on the side near the front of the knife.]
    This sounds a lot like the Milwaukee folder instructions, & refers to the only complaint I have about that knife. I have inadvertently released the blade many times, & cut myself once when I didn’t realize it was left protruding from a hunk of cardboard I was breaking down for recycling. Those releases should be recessed, requiring a deliberate action to operate them.
    Other than that, the Dewalt appears to be on a par w/ the red one, both good tools.

  4. browndog77 says:

    @ Chuck-
    As a long-time carrier of folding knives, keeping the digits clear when closing the blade is automatic. While the design may enable the tool to be slightly smaller when closed, a retracting blade on a folding knife seems counter-intuitive, & possibly dangerous. I can envision someone accidentally sliding the blade open while closing the knife w/ one hand!

  5. PutnamEco says:

    I picked up the Stanley version when it first came out, I’m also of the opinion that a retractable blade on a folding knife is redundant. I really don’t like the extra step needed for it to be ready for use. Had I often needed a shortened blade, I might think differently. I don’t feel this style of knife really saves much room in the pocket. For a really small knife that takes regular utility knife blades, I like the Gerber EAB. I carry one everyday in my cell phone holster. Another neat little knife is the Stanley 10-784 folding safety knife
    A good disposable knife for cardboard packaging is the Klever Kutter.
    Some of the newer auto-retract safety knives are starting to grow on me, as well.

  6. JB says:

    I work in the AV field and have a folding knife from Husky (nothing special), which I use daily.
    @browndog77
    I also agree that it is automatic to keep your fingers out of the way, not a matter of tool design. Without this kind of awareness you WILL cut yourself on any knife/blade.

    In the years since these have been around, I’ve never heard of anyone getting their fingers caught in one while closing them. I did carpet installation for a summer job and used a fixed blade cutter, now that I’ve seen many other people cut themselves. Actually I’ve seen more injuries related to retractable box cutters, than folding ones. Reason is people with these treat them like knifes in which you take it out, use it, then put it back. Box cutters/utility knifes are not usually treated in this way, even though they have such sharp blades.

    The fact that you have to retract it to put it away is a MAJOR deal killer.

    Thankfully I’ve never cut myself badly with one of these type of blades. Few close calls though =)

  7. Toolfreak says:

    I’ve seen the Stanley version, and will probably pick up one of both to try out, or just to have, but I too agree, having it be both a folding knife AND retain the sliding mechanism is somewhat redundant..sort of. The nice part about that is, when it’s folded, unlike a regular utility knife, it can’t open. Pretty good thing when it’s in a pocket. Not just so it doesn’t do any damage while it’s in the pocket, but also so it doesn’t do any when you reach in to get it out of the pocket.

    Despite the safety benefits, I suppose nobody bothered with opening innovation beyond making it fold, either. We’ll probably see something in that regard later on.

    In any case the killer with these so far seems to be the weight, not to mention the bulk. I found a Stanley slim handle utility knife at wallyworld for ~$1.97 that is just a bit longer than one of these is folded, is about 1/4″ thick, and works perfect for any application where I want to carry a nice utility knife around without it being obvious. The only drawback is it lacks any safety mechanism.

    I think the best of both worlds will be when there are “slim” versions of these folding knives, and maybe even versions with steel, aluminum, and composite casings for the varying needs of strength and weight.

  8. PutnamEco says:

    Toolfreak says:
    I suppose nobody bothered with opening innovation beyond making it fold, either.

    Check out the Seber Ratcheting Utility Knife (RU2050CP)
    pricey, but you wanted inovation.

    I found a Stanley slim handle utility knife at wallyworld for ~$1.97

    I have the Stanley Junior Classic Utility Knife (model no. 10-016)as well, and found it to be a pretty decent knife for the price.

  9. miss frannie says:

    My sweet boo gave me a craftsman similliar to this one but without the retractable blade. I can’t wait to get one of these though!!!…

  10. Fong says:

    @browndog77 Thanks for making my point for me. I much prefer folding a knife closed rather than retracting it. Having carried a folding pocket knife for years, the muscle memory is already in place for keeping fingers clear when folding a knife closed & unlike retraction only, I can tell with less attention if the blade is out.

  11. Greg Hester says:

    I have many boxcutters and I do like this one, the only problem I have with the knife is that I really had to smash little black button and almost force blade in holder witch is not to safe. But overall dewalt has made another good product.

  12. Robert says:

    For people who say that retracting and folding the blade is redundant, you’re missing the point. As with anything else, there is always a trade off. You’re trading a slight loss of convenience for a more compact and pocketable tool.

    With the blade extended, the folded length would’ve been longer to compensate for the additional blade length. I don’t mind the slight inconvenience of the additional step to acquire a more compact tool. It’s compactness and easy carry nature is the biggest appeal in the first place.

    If the extra step bothers you, you’re probably not in the market for a folding knife. Get yourself a full sized Lenox, Irwin, etc, and be done with it.

    Robert

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