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.
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.
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.
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.
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.