It’s no secret, I like sharp things. Except for when I cut myself with one. Luckily, ever since I sliced my finger with my first Swiss Army knife at age five-ish, I’ve held a healthy respect for blades. I also learned directing cutting force away from any body parts is key. Here at HomeFixated, we’ve long been extolling the virtues of the Milwaukee Fastback Utility Knife, as well as it’s new sibling, the Fastback II. When Milwaukee recently vastly expanded their line of personal cutting tools (I just made that term up), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them. Luckily, Milwaukee sent a stash our way to check out. From new snap off designs to spring assisted blades, we cover almost their entire line of knives. I got so excited about them, I also shot a video which will tell you possibly more than you ever wanted to know about these tools.
Milwaukee Fastback Folding Utility Knives
In addition to the awesome Fastback and Fastback Utility Knives, Milwaukee has expanded the line with more traditional folding knives. If you’re a fan of more traditional folding pocket knife designs, this is great news. On the plus side, these larger knives provide a much more robust blade than utility blade or snap off blade designs. The downside to that is that if you’re using the knives regularly, you’ll also need to deal with keeping them sharp.
A couple years ago, we made a suggestion to Milwaukee’s hand tool overlord. I’ve used folders for many decades, and have always favored a knife clip orientation called “tip up.” This means the folded knife has the tip of the blade pointed up in your pocket. The original Fastback and Fastback II came only in “tip down” orientation. That meant that when deploying the knife, you would need to re-orient the tool in your hand before deploying. My suggestion was to add a second clip tap so that the user could select their preference. Naturally, “tip up” is the correct way to carry, but according to Milwaukee about 50% of users haven’t been enlightened yet and prefer “tip down” carry. Long story short, Milwaukee added that feature to the new Fastback knives, which we think is very cool.
Like the original Fastback utility knife, the new Fastbacks offer convenient press and flip one-handed operation. The action on these is much tighter than the original utility knife, and flipping closed one-handed is NOT an option on these. As discussed in much greater detail in the video, Milwaukee’s new Fastback knives feature a liner lock design. So, while you can flip them open with relative ease, closing is typically a two-handed affair. While the liner lock might provide a more secure lock than the original Fastback design, we’re not huge fans of it from a user-friendliness standpoint. Closing a liner lock is just a bit too finicky for our tastes.
Fastback Smooth Folding Pocket Knife (48-22-1990)
Like the other new Fastback folding knives, this model also sports a lanyard hole. Most folks will opt for pocket carry though, which of course is what a folding knife like this is really designed for. The open length is 7 3/4″, but the knife still feels relatively compact and easy to grip. A basic, but still solid folding knife.
Fastback Spring Assisted Serrated Knife (48-22-1995)
If you watched the video at the start of this article, you’re already aware of my bias. I’m not a huge fan of spring assisted folding knives for pocket carry. If, however, you plan to clip yours in your tool pouch or have it on the workbench, this is a fun knife to use. We like the tanto-style tip on this, which provides not only piercing power, but also strength. A black oxide-coated blade rounds out this handy and quick to open folder.
Fastback Hawk Bill Folding Knife (48-22-1985)
This particular Fastback is a little easier to flick open thanks to the additional blade mass. If you’re doing any projects like linoleum or carpet cutting, basically anything using a draw stroke, this is a great tool to have on hand. Most similar style blades are NOT folders, which makes the Milwaukee Hawk Bill folding knife particularly handy and accessible.
Milwaukee Snap Off Knives
For whatever reason, I’ve never really used snap off blades. I guess I have liked the more robust feel of a solid utility blade design. Olfa has long made snap-off blades and largely dominates that market. One look at the Olfa snap off knife lineup on Amazon shows Milwaukee has some stiff competition. Amazingly, almost every Olfa snap off knife has not only a bunch of reviews, but a consistent and impressive 5 star rating.
After spending some time with Milwaukee’s snap off lineup, I’m impressed. Some people feel that having to snap off a segment of blade with a pair of pliers is a hassle. When you compare it to the hassle of flipping a typical utility blade around, even on some of the better designed utility knives, suddenly snapping off a blade starts to seem pretty easy. I also like the fact that there’s a decreased incentive to use dulling blades past their prime. With so many fresh edges, as soon as you notice dulling, a fresh blade is a quick snap away.
Milwaukee’s snap off blades come in 3 sizes and two varieties. Sizes include 9mm, 18mm and a beefy 25mm. All the blades are made from Microcarbide, which Milwaukee deems to have up to 2x blade life. In addition, each size blade is also available in a Precision Cut version, which Milwaukee says is up to 50% sharper. While we don’t have a reasonable way to test the 2x life and +50% sharpness claims, we liked what we saw in both the durability and sharpness front. Also, for tradesmen working with acetone, or for anyone trapped in a nail salon, the knife housings are also acetone resistant!
9mm Snap Off Knife
We tested this particular model with the precision cut blade and found it to be wicked sharp. As we mentioned in the video, this particular model does not have a blade lock wheel, so it’s not something we’d recommend for pocket carry. Blade changes (once you go through all the snap off’s) are easily accomplished by pulling the cap off the back of the tool.
If you hate products that come in anguish-inducing blister packs with even 10% of the hatred I have for them, this is a tool you’ll want on hand. In a feat of meta extraction, we used the 9mm precision cutter to free several other Milwaukee Fastback tools from the shackles of their clear prisons. This cutter is great for everything from crafting to precise cuts on light-duty building materials. Even though Milwaukee’s current tag line is “Nothing but heavy duty”, we don’t think that applies to this small cutter. If you’re cutting anything thick or more robust, step up to the 18 and 25mm knives.
18mm and 25mm Snap Off Knives
Milwaukee’s 18 and 25mm blades are great for more heavy duty cutting. The “Nothing but heavy duty” tag line applies here, particularly with the 25mm sizing. Unlike the 9mm snap off knife, these models feature a dial to lock-in the blade position, whether that happens to be open or closed. The action on the dials feels solid and precise. We tested two models here, and definitely prefer the version with the black overmold. It sports a metal wheel and provides a much more secure grip. Unlike the 9mm version’s butt cap, you swap out a new blade by loosening the wheel until the blade assembly freely slides out the back of the tool.
These snap off knives are great for the workbench or tool pouch, but I’d think carefully before getting in the habit of using them as everyday carry in your pocket. They’re wicked sharp and the potential to forget to retract the blade before pocketing the tool is real. Just because these blades aren’t powered by an 18v motor doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. The snap off line all feature a lanyard hole so you can easily hang the tool from a pegboard, tool bag, etc.
Whether you’re looking for a traditional folding knife, or more jobsite-friendly utility or snap off blades, Milwaukee has you covered. Despite all these new products and advances, I’m still biased toward the original Fastback and Fastback II utility knives. They’re exceedingly user-friendly, well made and an essential for both home and jobsite. And, to top it all off, they’re very reasonably priced.
HomeDepot.com offers the complete line of Milwaukee Fastback Knives for around $10-$30 each.
HomeDepot.com offers the complete line of Milwaukee Snap Off Blades for around $5-$20 each.