|Best Overall||ESEE-3 Fixed Blade G-10 S35VN||SEE IT||
Made in the USA, this blade is equipped with premium blade steel and G10 handles for a knife sure to rise to any task.
|Best Value||Artisan Cutlery Sea Snake||SEE IT||
An affordable, compact fixed blade that is sure to be a solid option for EDC or office use, without breaking the bank.
|Editor’s Choice||Benchmade Mini Presidio II||SEE IT||
Benchmade’s popular Presidio model gets an update with this EDC-friendly version, complete with high-end CF-Elite handles and premium S30V steel.
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Blades have many uses, going all the way back to prehistoric times where they were a primary means of protection and survival. Nowadays, however, it’s far more common to see them used for utility purposes. Whether it comes in the form of a multi-purpose tool like a Leatherman, a general-purpose folder for everyday utility use, or a specialized utility knife for something like construction, there’s an option for practically everything.
We’ve rounded up some of the best utility knives on the market. Take a gander and see which blade is perfect for your next big project.
- Best Overall: ESEE-3 Fixed Blade G-10 S35VN
- Best Value: Artisan Cutlery Sea Snake
- Editor’s Choice: Benchmade Mini Presidio II
- Best Safety/Retractable: CIVIVI Mandate
- Best EDC: Cold Steel American Lawman
- Best Budget EDC: QSP Penguin
- Best Multitool: Leatherman Charge+
- Best Backup Multitool: Victorinox Farmer X Alox Swiss Army Knife
- Best Multitool for Electricians/IT: Gerber Cable Dawg Multitool
- Best Hawkbill for Construction: Morakniv Craftsmen Hawkbill
The ESEE-3 is ubiquitous in the bushcraft and EDC communities as a solidly performing fixed-blade. ESEE has brought this long-time staple into the 21st century by upgrading it from its normal 1095 high-carbon steel to modern, premium CPM S35VN stainless steel. S35VN is one of the most popular steels for everyday carry use and features notably higher edge retention and corrosion resistance than 1095 has. With a cutting edge of 3.375 inches, this full-tang knife is big enough for most utility tasks, without becoming unwieldy. The full flat-ground blade is heat-treated to between 59-60HRC and is done in a hard-wearing stonewash finish to help conceal minor scratches and wear.
The chamfered blade is complemented by textured, contoured G10 handle scales that have improved ergonomics over their normal micarta scales. Combined with the spacious finger choil, this ESEE-3 feels great in the hand whether held normally or choked up, allowing you to use it comfortably for extended periods of time. The handle also features a lanyard hole to help you retain the knife in any environment. A molded polymer sheath rounds this knife off nicely, with solid retention and plenty of holes for different mounting options.
This knife has significantly better corrosion resistance and edge retention than the 1095 models, but ESEE notes that this comes at the cost of decreased toughness, due to the increase in hardness over 1095. While it’s not a great candidate for abusive tasks like batoning through logs, it’s perfect for EDC and utility use. The G10 handles also increased the weight slightly over the micarta scales; while some users complained about this, many liked how much more substantial it made the ESEE-3 feel in hand. With ESEE’s warranty, this fixed-blade is sure to last you a lifetime.
- Blade length: 3.875 inches
- Blade material: CPM S35VN
- Handle material: G10
- Blade style: Drop point
- Weight: 6 ounces
- Sheath material: Molded polymer
Durable, textured G10 scales provide improved ergonomics
S35VN provides excellent corrosion resistance and edge retention over 1095 steel
Made in the USA
Not as easy to resharpen as 1095 steel
S35VN isn't as tough as 1095 steel
The Sea Snake, manufactured by Artisan Cutlery, was originally a custom knife designed by Navy veteran Michael Emler as a small EDC fixed-blade for general-purpose utility tasks. This production version features durable G10 handle scales available in green, tan, or black, and a generous finger choil that ensures even large hands can use this small knife comfortably. The Sea Snake has a full tang for increased strength, and its redacted styling adds increased ergonomics and aesthetics. Large jimping on the spine makes proper, consistent indexing a breeze, even in low-light environments, and is comfortably chamfered.
The blade is a flat-ground Wharncliffe with a cutting edge length of 2.5 inches and is available in both satin and durable PVD finishes. It’s made from Artisan’s proprietary AR-RPM9 steel, which was specifically designed for use in folding and fixed-blade knives. It focuses on high corrosion resistance and edge retention, while remaining easy to resharpen and maintain, courtesy of the powdered metallurgy process used. This creates a fine grain structure that improves the edge retention and toughness drastically, while significantly reducing impurities and inclusions in the alloy.
The Sea Snake is complimented nicely by a taco-style Kydex sheath. It comes with a lanyard to allow it to be carried as a neck knife and has a small drainage hole to prevent moisture from collecting in the sheath and causing corrosion. Thanks to an overall length of a mere 6.75 inches, it’s a fantastic option for scout carry with the addition of some soft loops.
While the Sea Snake has a thin, slicy blade that might be too small for larger, more abusive tasks, it’s not intended for that. It’s designed as a convenient, easily accessed EDC knife for tasks like slicing open packages, breaking down boxes, or cutting twine. And with its ergonomic grip and Kydex sheath, you’ll be able to do so quickly and comfortably.
- Blade length: 3.125 inches
- Blade material: AR-RPM9
- Handle material: G10
- Blade style: Wharncliffe
- Sheath material: Kydex
AR-RPM9 steel is easily re-sharpened
Wharncliffe blade shape is extremely useful practical for most utility uses
Small enough to not attract undue attention
Ergonomic G10 handles with generous finger choil
Lower edge retention than higher-end steels
Too small and thin for some tasks
The Mini Presidio II is a fantastic option for everyday utility use and looks sharp while doing it. After extensive use and testing, it’s proven itself both in and out of the field, and this updated version is no exception. Ultra-lightweight CF-Elite handle scales have replaced older models’ aluminum handles, drastically reducing the weight without compromising strength. The modern aesthetic provided by the milled grooves in the aluminum handles have been duplicated by the molded grooves in the CF-Elite handles, retaining the secure grip of the original.
While the Mini Presidio II’s blade is shorter than that of its bigger sibling, it’s still made from the same premium S30V steel and is available in both satin and black finishes. This plain edge, drop-point blade is great for general purpose tasks, and since it’s a half-inch shorter than the full-size version, the blade length is legal in most jurisdictions. Like most of Benchmade’s folders, it’s equipped with dual thumb studs for easy right- or wrong-handed use.
This fully ambidextrous design isn’t perfect, despite the great grip and fantastic, functionally fidgety Axis lock; S30V is notorious for micro-chipping, and Benchmade isn’t known for having great factory edges. Some users also reported having the deep-carry pocket clip bend or break. However, Benchmade is known for having one of the best warranty services in the knife industry, and their Lifesharp warranty service ensures that you’ll always be able to keep this knife sharp.
- Blade length: 3.2 inches
- Blade material: CPM S30V
- Handle material: CF-Elite
- Blade style: Drop point
S30V steel offers solid edge retention and corrosion resistance
Ultra-lightweight, tough CF-Elite handles
Easy one-handed opening/closing with the Axis lock
S30V is prone to microchipping
Benchmade tends to have poor edges
Pocket clips tend to break
CIVIVI is well-known for manufacturing quality budget knives with CNC’d precision and a great heat treat, and the Mandate is no exception. While it’s solidly in the mid-tier price range, it’s notably more expensive than most disposable box-cutters. One might wonder what that extra cost gets them on such a small knife, and it’s surprisingly quite a bit.
The Mandate’s body is CNC-machined from a solid piece of titanium and is available in blue, bronze, black, or gray. The pommel has a hex wrench in multiple sizes, while the front of the handle has a convenient bottle opener when the blade is closed. The blade is easily actuated with one hand, revealing a blade made from 9Cr18MoV steel, instead of the mystery stainless steel found on most retractable knives. As a bonus, the Mandate comes with two spare 9Cr18MoV blades, and a third made from CIVIVI’s Damascus stainless steel.
While it might be cost-prohibitive for some people, the Mandate is fairly inexpensive at less than $100, especially considering the cost of milling titanium. The only real downside to this handy little blade is that the blades are proprietary. However, this isn’t a real issue because replacement blades are easily purchased from CIVIVI, and the increased edge retention of 9Cr18MoV ensures that you’ll be able to go a long time between blade changes.
- Handle material: Titanium
- Blade material: 9Cr18MoV
- Tools: Three
- Overall length: 4.59 inches
- Weight: 2.49 ounces
- Thickness: 0.27 inches
Durable titanium construction
Easily replaceable blades
Quality CNC machining
More expensive than low-end box cutters
A well-established Demko design, the Cold Steel American Lawman is an EDC folder that’s proven itself time and again, just like our first responders. Featuring premium S35VN steel, textured G10 handle scales, and the indomitable Tri-Ad lock, this tough folder is more than capable of any general utility tasks you can throw it at.
Like most Demko designs, the ergonomics on the Lawman are fantastic, with pleasantly grippy texturing and chamfered edges. Combined with Cold Steel’s customary razor-sharp edge, this hollow-ground, drop-point blade will cut easily for a long time, without becoming uncomfortable in your hand. Its DLC coating drastically prevents wear and tear, while preventing rust and oxidation on the American S35VN steel.
The finishing touch to this thoroughbred utilitarian design is the completely ambidextrous design. Dual thumb studs, the Tri-Ad lock, and pocket clips for both right- and wrong-handed users ensure that you’ll have no issues using, or lending, this knife. Just beware — the pocket clips and locking mechanism tend to be a little stiff out of the box.
- Blade length: 3.5 inches
- Blade material: CPM S35VN
- Handle material: G10
- Blade style: Drop point
- Weight: 4.5 ounces
S35VN for excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance
Ergonomic textured G10 scales
Durable DLC blade coating
Stiff pocket clip
Triad lock can be difficult for weaker hands to disengage
Balling on a budget, but need a solid folder with decent steel? Look no further than the QSP Penguin. While new to the market, QSP quickly proved that they lived up to their name: Quality, Service, and Price. Their use of CNC machining and vacuum heat-treat allows them to produce great products at an even better price.
Available in a variety of colors and handle materials — including micarta, brass, copper, carbon fiber, and titanium — the Penguin is a discrete yet aesthetically-pleasing folder. Its budget variants have D2 steel blades providing solid edge retention compared to most stainless steels in that price range. The sheepsfoot-style blade is similar in shape to a box-cutter and is extremely utilitarian in nature. This Wharncliffe variant comes with a flat grind and is available in satin and stonewash finishes.
Our only complaint about this knife comes from its main selling point: D2 steel. While it has good edge retention, it has less corrosion resistance due to being a “semi-stainless” tool steel. Our stonewashed test model had no corrosion after several months of testing and consistently performed well. Its copper washers gave it an impressively smooth action, while its dual thumb studs and reversible pocket clip provided easy ambidexterity.
- Blade length: 3.375 inches
- Blade material: D2
- Handle material: Micarta
- Blade style: Sheepsfoot
- Weight: 3.17 ounces
Decent edge retention
Multiple handle options
Small, utilitarian design is perfect for the office
Might be too small for large hands
D2 isn’t as corrosion resistant as stainless steels
The brand that’s synonymous with “multitool” to the point that even multitools from competitors get called by its name — Leatherman. Made in the USA, the Charge+ is just like the standard Leatherman Charge, but with a few upgrades.
The most noticeable improvement was the upgraded blade steel. Most multitools on the market use 420HC or similar stainless steel. While this is great at resisting rust, it’s not the best for edge retention. Leatherman went with tough, corrosion-resistant 154CM stainless steel for this blade instead. It might not have as high edge retention as the S30V steel on their most premium model, the Charge TTI, but it’s considerably easier to sharpen, making it a perfect middle ground. The other notable update was having replaceable wire cutters, allowing you to keep your tool in good functioning condition, no matter how much wire you go through.
At more than twice the price of most low-end multitools, a lot of people will pass on this product at the mere sight of the price tag. However, the upgraded tools, easy one-handed use, and overall quality of the Charge+ make it more than worth it. With the included nylon pouch, lanyard ring, and locking mechanisms on all 19 tools, this is one tough multitool ready for anything.
- Tools: 19
- Closed length: 4 inches
- Blade length: 2.9 inches
- Blade material: 154CM
- Weight: 8.3 ounces
- Sheath: Black Nylon
- Serrated blade material: 420HC
154cm steel has good edge retention, while remaining easy to sharpen
Replaceable wire cutters
All tools lock, excepting the pliers
Whether you enjoy hiking and camping in your off time, or were involved in the scouts as a kid, chances are you’ve used a Swiss Army Knife at some point. Originally designed for the military, this handy little multitool is produced by Victorinox, which has a great track record for quality. The Alox series SAKs have been upgraded with textured aluminum scales for improved grip and a massive increase in durability.
At just over 3.5 inches long when closed, the Farmer X model is easily stored in backpacks, gloveboxes, purses, or attached to your car keys, yet packs away 10 versatile tools. The only one we haven’t had the opportunity to use yet is the wood saw, but every other tool has performed well. All edges were sharp and properly apexed, the scissors were properly tensioned, and all of the tools were finished in a smooth, near-mirror finish.
Overall, the Farmer X Alox comes off as the Gucci version of its plastic-handled sibling and is just as much at home in the office as it is on the farm. While its diminutive size and non-locking might limit it from larger tasks, you might be surprised at just how handy this tough multitool can be.
- Tools: 10
- Blade length: 2.75 inches
- Blade material: Inox
- Handle material: Alox
- Blade style: Drop point
- Weight: 3.84 ounces
Durable, textured aluminum handle scales
Non-locking blade and tools
Too small for some tasks
Ergonomics aren’t great, due to its size
Comms down? Not for long! The Cable Dawg was originally developed by Gerber for use by military communications personnel and has a limited lifetime warranty. Whether stripping wires, cutting cables, or crimping ethernet connectors, this multitool is indispensable for telecom and IT professionals.
Engineered from the ground up, Gerber started off with a set of glass-filled nylon handles, preventing electricity from being conducted to the user’s hand. They followed that up with wire/ cable cutters, wire strippers, Cat5 insulation cutter, RJ45 crimper, a multi-bit driver, and a partially serrated knife. While there might be more tools in your toolbox, having this many on hand can save you from making extra trips — and with the included black nylon sheath, you can easily keep it on your belt.
Despite both being designed for the military, the Cable Dawg is gargantuan in comparison to the SAK, at 7.5 inches long and nearly 14 ounces. The knife is, sadly, the main issue with this multitool. Made from mystery stainless steel, it has horrible edge retention, ameliorated only by its corrosion resistance. However, you don’t buy a multitool for just the knife, and the tools on this Dawg are sure to come in handy!
- Tools: Six
- Blade length: 3 inches
- Blade material: Stainless steel
- Blade style: Drop point w/guthook
- Handle material: GFN
- Closed length: 7.5 inches
- Weight: 13.8 ounces
Limited lifetime warranty
Includes black nylon sheath
Large and heavy
No-name stainless steel blade has poor edge retention
Hawkbills are some of the most useful knives for construction. Whether installing carpet, flooring, roofing, or drywall, or stripping insulation, the recurved design helps pull material into the blade, instead of letting it slip off like on a traditionally upswept blade. Meanwhile, the needle-like tip easily penetrates most materials with ease, allowing for very precise, controllable cuts.
Morakniv is known for making quality knives at an affordable price, and the Craftsmen is no exception. This knife is all business with no bells and whistles. The claw-like blade is made from Sandvik stainless steel, which is known for its quality, fine grain structure, and corrosion resistance. The molded polymer handle has a finger guard and pommel swell to keep your hand from slipping off the grip and is very comfortable in hand. They also made it red for high visibility.
The only complaint we have with this knife isn’t even the knife — it’s the sheath. It would have been nice to have seen one that could be easily attached to a belt, but the plastic sheath that it comes with is only designed for storage. Thanks to the convenient lanyard hole, however, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Blade length: 2.6 inches
- Blade material: Sandvik Stainless Steel
- Handle material: Polymer
- Blade style: Hawkbill
- Weight: 3.5 ounces
Limited lifetime warranty
Plastic sheath only designed for storage
Why you should trust us
A self-described knife nerd, I’ve dabbled in blacksmithing, martial arts, and competitive shooting in the past. My past reviews for Task & Purpose include the Cold Steel American Lawman, WE Stonefish, Leatherman Curl, Cold Steel Storm Cloud, and Spyderco Slip Stone.
Types of utility knives
Utility knives come in many different forms and sizes. No matter what task you have in mind or what your local restrictions are, it’s probable that you’ll easily find a utility knife that suits your needs. You can find them at pretty much any hardware or big box store, and they’re available at pretty much every price point.
Also referred to as a pocket knife, a folder is a compact knife that features one or more blades that fold up into the handle, in lieu of using a bulky sheath. Meant to fit easily inside your pocket, these knives are legal to carry in most places, and are convenient to carry and use daily. They are frequently smaller than fixed blades, with blades typically between three and four inches long, although there are many exceptions that are both longer and shorter than this. However, they’re quite handy — they can do everything from peeling an apple to cutting small rope or twine to opening packages. Though these folding knives are typically smaller and not as strong as their fixed blade siblings, they’re highly versatile.
A fixed blade is any knife with a blade that is “fixed” in place, meaning that it doesn’t have a pivot, and is firmly, immovably attached to the handle. They’re essentially the opposite of pocket knives. The blade is always exposed unless it’s covered by a sheath. They’re simple, easier to manufacture than folding knives, and very user-friendly due to the absence of a confusing locking mechanism.
Fixed blade utility knives come in many varieties, including drop-point and wharncliffe-style knives. The better-designed fixed blades are also full-tang, where the part of the blade that’s part of the handle is the same size and shape as the handle, as this provides the greatest overall strength. The majority of cheap utility fixed blades, unfortunately, are not; these knives have a thin metal ‘tail’ that is typically pinned or glued inside of the handle and are more prone to breaking.
Though technically a sub-category of folding knives, the main selling point of a multitool isn’t the blade itself, but rather the multiple tools that accompany it. This can include anything from pliers or scissors to screwdrivers and corkscrews. It can come in the form of a small Swiss Army Knife, or a larger Leatherman multitool. Companies such as Victorinox, Leatherman, and Gerber are well-known for their multitool offerings.
One of the most common utility knives, retractable knives can be found everywhere from warehouses to the office, and chances are, even your house. Retractable utility knives are usually very inexpensive, typically taking the form of box-cutters and snap-blades. The latter features pre-scored lines in the blade, allowing you to snap off dull segments and extend the blade further to utilize the remaining undulled blade.
Utility knife features to consider
You wouldn’t use a sword to open an envelope, and you probably wouldn’t use a box-cutter to hack away at brush. Depending on the intended use, you might need a longer or shorter length blade for optimum efficiency and safety. However, you also have to take into account the laws for your state, county, and city, in case they restrict your maximum blade length. That said, it’s usually better to have slightly more length than necessary, than not enough.
One of the most important things when picking out the right blade for your task, the blade shape, and overall geometry can greatly impact how useful your knife is for specific tasks, as well as how long it will last. A box-cutter will do notably better at its stated use than a long fixed blade, and the fixed blade will do notably better in outdoor utility use, or situations where you might have trouble pulling a folding knife out of your pocket. Some jobs require a thicker, stronger blade, while others require a thinner, slicey blade. A knife with a super-thin tip might be great for delicate, detailed work, but will likely break if used for chopping.
As large as the variety of blade shapes is, there are even more types of blade steel you can choose from for utility knives. High-carbon steels tend to be tougher and easier to sharpen than stainless steels, but rust much easier, and often don’t have as good edge retention as premium stainless steels. Lower-end steels are cheaper and typically easier to resharpen, but premium steels, whether stainless or carbon, tend to have noticeably better edge retention and toughness.
Pricing considerations for utility knives
Plenty of utility knives are budget-friendly and priced at $60 or less. You’ll find quite a few pocket knives, multitools, fixed blades, and box-cutters within this price range. If you just need something for a short-term project, an expendable tool, or if your inner Scrooge absolutely has to pinch those pennies, this might be for you.
If you’re looking for a utility knife that offers the best bang for your buck, you’ll find most of those in the mid-tier range of $60 to $150. These knives will tend to be made with better materials, designs, and overall much better quality control.
Only accepting the best of the best? You’ll want to look in the $150-and-up price range. Here’s where you’ll find extremely specialized multitools and utility knives, and they’ll typically come with premium materials and a great warranty.
How we chose our top picks
We chose our top picks by looking at utility knives at various price points, then assessing which had the best customer reviews and highest ratings. We then examined the durability and versatility, along with the materials and quality control that went into making each knife. We also tested the majority of these knives thoroughly to ensure their functionality and quality.
FAQs on utility knives
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q. How do you use a utility knife?
A. Carefully. No, really. All the normal basic safety rules for working with a sharp tool apply. Never cut towards yourself or your hand, always cut away from you. Never cut when anyone is within your reach with the knife extended: It’s colloquially known as the blood circle for a reason.
Q. Can a utility knife cut wood?
A. While almost any knife that isn’t dull can cut wood, there are knives specifically designed for cutting and carving wood that will do it much better than, say, a box-cutter. The Japanese Kiridashi is a great example of a knife specifically designed for this.
Q. How should I maintain my utility knife?
A. That depends on a couple of factors, including steel type, intended use, environment, and whether it is a folder or fixed-blade. If it’s made using high carbon steel, you’ll want to keep it clean and dry to prevent any dirt buildup from allowing moisture to collect and cause rust. You’ll also want to dry off the blade as soon as possible after being exposed to water, and wipe it down every other week or so with a thin layer of oil — more frequently if you live in a humid or salty environment. Modern stainless steels require drastically less maintenance in comparison, but you’ll still want to keep them clean and dry, and lightly oil them occasionally if you’re in a marine environment.