Best folding utility knives and retractable blades 2023

We reveal the folding utility knives and retractable blades that are a cut above the rest

A utility knife – ‘Stanley knife’ to many – has long been an essential part of any home mechanic or DIYer’s toolkit. They’re cheap, as versatile a tool as you’ll find, and replacement blades are universal and readily available. 

Today’s crop typically features a quick-release system to swap blades, while some come with folding handles and most include retractable blades. We’ve tested eight folding and fixed utility knives to find which should be in your tool bag, but is the result clear cut?

How we tested them

Given that blades are universal and can be swapped once the originals have worn, we focused on the knives’ usability, functionality and cost. 

Key to a knife’s safe use are the ease of swapping old blades for sharp replacements and good ergonomics to keep fatigue to a minimum. We looked at how easy it was to unfold knives and reveal blades. 

To judge stability, comfort and grip, we made repeated cuts to lengths of 8mm fuel line and less rigid 19mm heater hose, plus sheets of thick cardboard. We balanced our results against prices from online retailers.

Verdict

The Laser blitzed all of our tests, with superb ergonomics and control. For a knife that does one thing brilliantly, it’s unbeatable. We liked the ToughBuilt’s construction and level of engineering, especially for jobs that are likely to blunt blade after blade. The Halfords knife was a winner on price, but it was also a pleasure to hold with its smart design and tactile finish.

  1. Laser 3283 Utility/Quick Change Knife
  2. ToughBuilt Reload Utility Knife
  3. Halfords Quick Change Utility Knife

Review

Laser 3283 Utility/Quick Change Knife

The Laser is proof that when it comes to knives, a singularity of purpose is best: no features you’ll rarely use, just a well designed, ergonomically sound knife that feels good in the hand, is grippy enough and offers the perfect size, heft and build quality to deliver strong purchase on whatever material you’re cutting. 

There’s a metal slider switch, plus one button to quickly swap blades, and a second to fire out a four-blade magazine in the heel. Only the lack of a wire cutter blotted an exceptional performance in our tests.

Buy now from Laser Tools

ToughBuilt Reload Utility Knife

Toughbuilt by name, tough built by nature: no other knife here feels so solid. It has two magazines that are loaded like a cop-spec Glock 17 pistol. It’s more than just a gimmick, because each can store 10 blades, although inserting them into the magazine requires care. 

Old blades are removed from the knife’s tip at the press of a button, then reloaded simply by flicking the retractor switch back and forth. It means no fumbling with new blades, so you always use the sharpest. The knife felt good in the hand, and its dimensions gave excellent cutting stability.

Buy now from Toolstation

Halfords Quick Change Utility Knife

Despite costing only a fiver, the Halfords impressed at almost every turn. Yes, it’s built to a budget so doesn’t have the heft of others here, but it costs half of the next cheapest. Much like the winning Laser, we liked the simplicity of operation and its ergonomics. 

It’s among the most comfortable to hold, with grippy rubberised surfaces top and bottom, and the shrouded wire-stripper slot and storage for six blades are handy touches. It breezed through our cardboard and fuel-line cuts, but struggled a little when cutting the more malleable heater hose. Still, given the low price, it’s very hard to complain.

Buy now from Halfords

Silverline Folding Retractable Knife

The Silverline was our top-performing folding knife. With a chunky handle and chamfered edges around the blade recess, it was the most comfortable of all the folders on test, and we liked the rubberised thumb grip at the tip of the knife, too. 

With a sliding switch to open the knife, it’s the least straightforward here, but is still easier to close than the Stanley or DeWalt. Despite the price tag, it feels as well built as the DeWalt, and while the lid for the blade storage feels a little flimsy, the cover is far easier to open, too.

Buy now from Silverline Tools

Draper Soft Grip Trimming Knife with ‘Safe Blade Retractor’ feature

The Draper is unquestionably the safest knife here, and that alone will make it the top pick for many. The retractor is spring- loaded, so while other blades stay exposed when released, the blade automatically retracts, making it hard to cut yourself when rummaging at the bottom of a tool bag.

But while it sailed through our fuel-line and cardboard cuts, we found the blade slid back in when tackling our heater hose. For lighter jobs, the Draper is excellent, but as ergonomic and comfortable as it is, it fell foul of our tougher test. There’s no internal blade storage, either.

Buy now from FFX.co.uk

Minotaur Folding Knife

The easiest folding knife in our test to work is also the cheapest. The knife, from Toolstation brand Minotaur, can be opened with two hands, or one by pressing a button and flicking your wrist. Just make sure no one is close by if you do, because unlike other folders here, the blade doesn’t retract – which saw it drop down the order. 

Still, when unfolded, it rivals the largest fixed-handled knives for size, and is more comfortable than its small rubber sleeving suggests. It breezed all of our cutting tests, and is a strong performer for the money.

Buy now from Toolstation

Stanley FatMax Retractable Folding Knife

  • Price: Around £12  
  • Rating: 3.5. 5 stars
  • Contact: screwfix.com

We had high hopes for the knife from the brand that gave the tool its name, but it’s just not that comfortable to hold for long periods, or when a tight grip is required. That’s because there are some sharp edges underneath the yellow handle, where the cutting tip retracts, and the switch for the blade-storage cover sticks out a bit too far. 

On the plus side, there’s a wire cutter, a rubberised pad for your index finger, the blades are easy to insert and remove from the storage slot, and it performed well in our cut tests, even if the blade doesn’t protrude quite as far as other knives here.

Buy now from Amazon

DeWalt Retractable Auto Load Folding Utility Knife

DeWalt is the go-to brand for many professionals, so we were surprised to see its knife fall foul of our tests in a similar way to the Stanley. The yellow handle is tough, but made from uncomfortably thin metal that dug into our fingertips. The tip of the pocket clip is sharp and sticks out too much, and the folding mechanism is fiddly. 

The blade-storage cover was also a real fingernail wrecker, and we resorted to levering it open with a screwdriver. Despite all of this, it’s a highly effective cutter, and the business end of the knife is well balanced and feels built to last.

Buy now from ScrewFix

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