Ever since Stanley introduced the No. 199 utility knife in the mid-1930s, this simple tool has been a staple of every toolbox. That first fixed-blade knife is still available, but in the decades since, manufacturers have gone to great lengths to produce and market knives that are effective, safe, and convenient.
The utility knife’s varied applications are almost endless. A few that make this such an invaluable tool for old-house owners include cutting the paint film between a window sash and the stop molding to free up sash; cutting failing glazing compound to remove a pane of glass; scoring and cutting wooden (or even asphalt) shingles to width; scoring, bending, and breaking thin sheet metal flashing; trimming wallpaper; removing old caulk; and cleaning out the paint-clogged slots of old over-painted screws.
Over the years, advancements in knife design include the retractable blade, the tool-less blade change, and convenient storage of additional blades in the handle. The most recent evolution is the folding utility knife. For the most part, this eliminated the safety demand for a retractable blade and made the tool easy to pocket. Once unfolded, they are similar in size to standard utility knives with many (or more) of the features that make them so valuable. The folding utility knife adds convenience, safety, and ergonomics to an old standby.
Head to Head Test
Anytime you reach for a utility knife, bear in mind that you should use the razor-sharp blade with caution. Remember to wear eye protection and cut-resistant gloves. Make sure the blade is properly seated. Plan your cuts so the blade isn’t moving toward you or someone else. Take your time—several passes with moderate pressure are better than a single cut with heavy pressure. Change blades frequently, since sharp blades are safer than dull ones. Finally, never pry anything with the blade. They are strong but brittle, and can snap and fly easily.
–Ray Tschoepe, Director of Conservation, Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust