The Self-Retracting Utility Knife: Is It For You?

The self-retracting utility knife is an example of what Slice® does best. In our tool design process, we re-evaluate existing safety features and create innovative new ones. We approach every design challenge with fresh eyes: we ask, “What can we do better? What can we make safer?” Many applications benefit from different options, so while we always use a finger-friendly® blade and an ergonomic design, we offer a variety of handle and retraction choices to suit different applications, preferences, and safety levels.

What Do We Mean by Retraction Mechanisms?

Retraction is a handle feature that refers to how the blade is exposed, or made ready for a cut. Here’s a quick rundown of traditional retraction mechanisms:

  • Fixed blade knife: OK, this one is a bit of a cheat. A fixed blade actually has no retraction mechanism. Think of a typical kitchen knife, where the blade is always exposed and designed not to move at all.

  • Folding knife: The blade is sheathed in the handle while it’s not in use, and folded out for cutting. This style typically has two possible positions for the knife: open or closed. Slice makes a folding utility knife that has two cutting positions.

  • Manual retraction knife: A folding knife is, in a sense, a type of manual retraction knife, since the blade is exposed and hidden manually. But ‘manual retraction’ knives typically have slots for more than one open position. This gives the user a few options to set the length of the exposed blade, controlling the maximum cut depth.

  • Auto-retracting knife: An auto-retracting utility knife is a safety manager’s best friend. The user must keep a thumb or finger on a slider in order to keep the blade exposed. As soon as the slider is released, the blade retracts through an automatic spring mechanism. This type of auto-retractable utility knife starkly lowers the number of laceration accidents because the blade is only exposed when the slider is actively engaged.

For years, these were the only options for retractable knives. Recently, however, product developers have made strides with the design of retractable safety knives and introduced the new kid on the block: self-retraction.

The Slice 10558 Smart-Retracting Utility Knife
The Slice 10558 Smart-Retracting Utility Knife

What Is a Self-Retracting Safety Knife?

A self-retracting safety knife is the next level of safety, at least in terms of retraction mechanisms (a finger-friendly blade will of course make any knife safer). At Slice, we call self retracting “Smart Retracting” because it’s about as smart as a knife can get.

Remember, an auto-retracting knife requires the user to hold a slider or button to expose the blade. When the blade is self retracting, however, it needs two conditions to stay extended: a user holding the slider AND pressure against the cutting edge. As soon as the blade loses contact with the material it’s cutting, it retracts, even if the user is still holding the slider. Self-retracting utility knives have the best retraction-based safeguard that exists.

What’s the Big Deal? (Why It’s so Awesome)

Although an auto-retractable utility knife handle prevents blade exposure while the tool isn’t in use, sometimes accidental cuts happen while the user is still holding the blade out. For example, the safest practice when using any knife is to cut away from your body. Why? Because it’s not uncommon to slip in the middle of a cut and lose contact with your material. If your momentum is headed towards your body, guess what the knife will cut next? While prevention (i.e., cutting away from the body) is best, realistically people often cut in a hurry using poor form, especially when they’re under time pressure at work.

Many safety officers also tell us that a smart knife helps overcome dumb actions. We commonly hear that workers who don’t want to hold a slider out will often try to convert an auto-retracting handle to a manual handle by duct taping the slider so the blade stays exposed at all times. This negates any safety benefit from auto retraction. A self-retracting blade utility knife makes this dangerous workaround impossible because the blade retracts as soon as the cut is finished.

Self or Smart Retraction is sometimes hard to picture from a written description. Slice’s self-retracting utility knife video gives you a clear picture of how easily this mechanism could prevent an injury (see the video at the beginning of this article).

Slice’s 10558 Smart-Retracting Utility Knife, of course, includes our patent-pending finger-friendly blade. This means that any contact between the blade and skin (as unlikely as it is) is safer than similar contact with a standard, over-sharpened blade.

If It’s so Great, Why Aren’t All Knives Self Retracting?

While self-retraction is the safest retraction option available, different applications require different handles. For example, cutting through any type of unevenly dense material would significantly vary the pressure on the blade. This variation is likely to cause the blade to retract before you’re finished the job. And, if the user needs to make fairly constant cuts over a long shift, engaging a slider could be unnecessarily fatiguing. In those cases, a retractable utility knife with standard auto-retraction will work better.

Safety managers also tell us that they can only enforce what their staff will accept, and change comes slowly. That’s why Slice offers tools with different handles, blade shapes, and retraction mechanisms.

Slice utility knives are available in primarily manual and auto-retract models. The 10558’s smart-retracting mechanism takes auto-retracting a step further, and retracts the instant it loses contact with material being cut. For users who prefer a folding knife, the 10562 Folding Utility Knife blade folds into the handle to prevent accidental lacerations and to protect the blade.

It’s important to note that retraction is only one safety feature. It’s best to research all aspects of a knife to find the best fit for you, your staff, and each particular application. Whether a self-retracting utility knife or a manual retraction style suits you better, Slice has you covered.

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