I’m a bit of a knife snob. I carry a folding knife daily and love having a blade handy for all the various cutting tasks that pop up during the day. There are very few utility knives I’d contemplate carrying in my pocket, especially since a fair number of them would seriously endanger my femoral artery. The original Milwaukee Fastback was the first utility knife I found myself clipping into my pocket while working on projects in the house or garage. There was a lot to like about the original, and now, Milwaukee has stepped it up a notch with the Fastback II. They sent us one of their pre-production models hot off the fabrication bench and we’re here to tell you whether the sequel is better than the original.
One thing that’s remarkable about this knife is that it exists at all. The original Milwaukee Fastback, which I described back in December, 2010 as “utility knife meets pocket knife meets butterfly knife”, didn’t have many flaws. Most companies would have been happy to continue churning out a great tool like that without investing another dime in it. Milwaukee, just like they did with the newest version of their M12 Heated Jacket, wasn’t going to rest on an already great product. I applaud their aggressive innovation and willingness to make solid tools perform even better.
So, What’s New?
The biggest change in the new Fastback II is onboard blade storage. A solid-feeling black plastic tab nestled next to the folding blade swings out to deploy a single new blade. A powerful magnet holds the blade securely but still makes it easy to release the new blade. I liked how the magnet not only secured the blade, but it also helped the spare blade holder click authoritatively back in place. Once you have the new blade, swapping it out with the nasty, old, mangled blade is a breeze thanks to the simple pushbutton blade release on the knife itself. There’s no such thing as a free lunch though, so this new feature also comes with a slight drawback of a thicker body to the tool. Despite the increased girth, I still found it clipped fairly comfortably to my work pants pockets. If you run around like Mick Jagger in skin-tight jeans or leather stretch-pants, you may find the knife thickness problematic. Barring rockstar apparel, the typical user likely won’t notice the extra thickness. Since most people I know don’t make it a habit of carrying bare razor blades in their pockets, the new onboard blade storage feature is a simple but very welcome improvement over the original Fastback.
So, What’s the Same?
Other than the bonus blade carrier, just about everything else looks the same. The knife still features that great, easy-to-swing open (and closed) pushbutton action. Great ergonomics, a secure belt clip, wire stripper / cord cutter, and armored-truck-like solid build quality are all still there. Milwaukee wisely improved what was needed and knew not to fix what definitely was not broken on the rest of the tool.
What Can Still Be Improved – Fastback III?
Much to my dismay, the only real complaint / suggestion we voiced in our original review was the fact that the default clip configuration only accommodates a “tip down” carry position. This means when you remove the knife from your pocket you have to reorient your hand to deploy and use it. If the knife came with a “tip up” position or option, the knife could be deployed and used with one smooth motion, no re-gripping required. I had a chat with the Fastback’s product manager about this and he swore the clip suggestion would be considered if there is a Fastback III. He also promised HomeFixated would receive 50% of the increased profits and a bright red Italian sportscar of my choosing since he liked the suggestion so much.
Clip issue aside, I was contemplating all the ways I love this utility blade and was really stretching to find some flaws. Then it occurred to me; this pocket utility does not have a bottle opener! On closer inspection, I realized the slot for wire striping (or cutting cord) looked suspiciously like a bottle opener. In the name of thorough journalism I realized I had to test it out. Sure it was 11:00 PM, on a Tuesday, but a beer had to be opened. These are the kind of sacrifices a true tool tester has to make. The good news is, if you have to get a beer open and all you have is a Fastback or Fastback II, it can be done. The bad news is, it’s a pretty crappy bottle opener. I chipped paint off the knife and mangled the bottle cap during the horrifying long 10 or 15 seconds it took me to open the bottle. I’ve seen the Milwaukee designers work their magic on tablets straight out of Minority Report, and I’m throwing down the gauntlet; let’s see a bottle opener in the Fastback III!
Bottle-opening aside, Milwaukee took something great, and made it greater. Sure it’s a little thicker, but for that extra heft you get an easy-to-access spare blade to save you in a pinch. We think it’s a great product, and I say without hesitation that it’s my favorite utility knife. You can find the Milwaukee 48-22-1902 Fastback II Flip Utility Knife With Storage for around $22 on Amazon.