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Irwin Utility Knives
Updating for accuracy, performance and safety
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 4-20-2011
Utility knives have been around in various forms for many years. For exactly that same length of time they have frustrated us on a good day or on a bad day were capable of inflicting scary-looking injuries. Virtually all of the problems associated with the traditional utility knives revolve around the first ¼” of the blade. When the tip and that first little bit of the cutting edge get dull or damaged we instinctively apply more force to get it to cut anything. When you apply more force with a knife the chances of it slipping or breaking through the material unexpectedly can instantly release the pressure you were applying. If that pressure was directed towards any part of your body (or close) cutting yourself could be what happened in the next split second. The folks at Irwin Tool have been contemplating those issues and have come up with some new thinking on utility knives that makes so much sense that you wonder why this has not happened a long time ago.
The overall shape of utility knife blades has not changed since these tools were invented. While Irwin did not change the shape of the blade radically they did add one critical feature that guarantees that their design will cut cleanly at least twice as long as the mere mortal blades from competitors will.
The 4-Point Snap Blade (#1764983) is made from high-quality steel and precisely sharpened but a more subtle feature is the big news here. A slanted groove roughly ¼”-back from either end creates predetermined snap locations. When the critical point and the sharpened edge near that point go dull you just grab a plier and snap that ¼” portion of that end off to create a fresh point and edge. Poof! Instant new blade! Each end of the Irwin blade has this snap groove so they effectively double (if not more) the useable edges on each blade. The quality of the blade itself seems to give them more useable life than the ones I have been buying at the big box store.
The remaining shape of the Irwin blades is very traditional so using them is no different other than you won’t have to apply the extra pressure we used to apply to get a deteriorating edge to cut. The top of the Irwin blades have four notches which insures full extension regardless of which end is in use. They do make two-notch blades as well.
Irwin also makes a Bi-Metal welded blade (#2084100, 2-notch) that has a very sharp edge but a more flexible body. They also make a Bi-Metal Safety Blade (#2088100, 2-notch) that has rounded points that help reduce the chance of sustaining a puncture wound. Another offering is the Large Carbon Hook Blade (#2087100 2-notch) that is designed to cut one layer of material while protecting the layer below it. They also make traditional carbon blades (#2083100) with no snap grooves and 2-notches. Irwin blades will fit most utility knives on the market.
ProTouch™ Retractable Utility Knife
The ProTouch™ Retractable Utility Knife (#1774106) is a the top of the Irwin utility knife list and brings a bunch of new thinking that adds convenience along with accuracy and safety. The most obvious change is the shape which now includes a trigger-type grip area. The rear half of the body drops to give the user a more comfortable grip but also adds lots of gripping power without having to squeeze it to death.
The storage compartment under the rear half of the body has a rubber over mold that dramatically increases the grip. Combined with the trigger grip area at the forward end of this cover you have much more control which helps make the ProTouch™ Retractable Utility Knife safer to use.
The storage area in the handle lets you keep up to 10 fresh blades on hand. If you use any utility knife a lot you will need extra blades but with the ProTouch™ Retractable Utility Knife having 10 extras on hand is like having 20 (or more) of the traditional blades!
Another nifty feature on the ProTouch™ Retractable Utility Knife is their Quick Change™ system that lets you install a fresh blade or turn the installed one around very quickly and without tools. Just line the slider button up with the mark on the side of the body and then press the yellow button to release the blade. While holding the button in you can turn that existing blade around or slip in a new one. Release the yellow button and the blade is locked in place.
Drywall Fixed Utility Knife
The Drywall Fixed Utility Knife also has the improved grip area with a trigger-grip surface to enhance its grip, accuracy and safety. The front of the body is slimmed down to make scoring inside a folded sheet easier and more accurate. Because of its intended use in dry wall installation the blade is fixed rather than retractable. To place the
existing blade into the internal compartment for storage or to replace it you simply give the side-mounted thumbscrew a half turn or so and the body slides apart. Locate the blade, slide the handle back together and give the thumbscrew a quick turn to lock everything in place. Very quick and very simple, exactly what dry wall pros need.
General Contractor Knife
The General Contractor Knife (#1774105) is tough and tool free to keep you working more on your job and less on your tools. The body of the General Contractor Knife also uses the grip enhancing shape and trigger style contour to afford the best control and safety.
The General Contractor Knife uses the two notch style blades and has storage within the handle for spares. The mechanism for extending and retracting the blade appears reasonably traditional but how you get to it is not. Push the button on the side of the handle and slide that half rearward. That releases the side of the tool which then opens on a hinge at the rear. That gives you full access for changing or storing blades quickly and without tools.
In the Shop
I don’t do much in the way of dry wall and I am not a contractor but I have used utility knives for decades and never really warmed up to their design. Then I tried all of the Irwin Utility Knives shown in this review, using them in as many situations as I could think of in my shop. In all cases they cut very well and the new shapes all gave me far more control than did my traditional utility knives with their common shapes. The trigger-style grip area seems to be a force multiplier in that it really does increase the amount of controlling grip especially during the very common pull cuts.
I really like the Irwin snap-off tip as over the years I like many of you have learned that the part of the utility knife blade that gets dulled and damaged is the tip. We often wind up dragging it on concrete or metal when we cut through things and it only takes one of those “ooops moments” to kill the point. With the Irwin concept I just snap off the end and I am back to work with a brand new edge. And if I make another dumb cut, I can still turn that same blade around to get two more fresh edges.
I also like the tool-free designs because without fail I would kill a utility knife blade when I am as far as possible from a screwdriver to get at the spare I hope are inside the handle. Not having to open the body to change blades on the ProTouch™ Retractable Utility Knife is especially cool and makes turning a blade around to use the other end or replacing it entirely a very quick, tool-free task.
Irwin’s new line of Utility Knives is sure to represent a new direction in the utility knife market. The Irwin knives are well made and their design improvements are too great to be overlooked by the competition. It appears that Irwin put lots of effort into the design process and we are the beneficiaries. The new grip shapes and trigger style finger lock area really do make the knives safer to use because you have lots more control.
I don’t have street prices on these new Irwin Utility Knives but considering the Irwin marketing and distribution horsepower I expect this line of knives will find its way onto the shelves of virtually all home center and other tool outlet stores. That widespread presence will help keep the price more reasonable as has been the case with Irwin products for a long time. And that means that you can get the newest safety and performance technology without blowing up your budget in the process.
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