There’s no shortage of utility knives in my home and shop. Our kitchen drawer usually has a couple of cheap knives with extendable snap-off blades. They lead a pretty cushy life, rarely getting summoned to do anything more strenuous than slicing through packing tape on the latest package from Amazon. My work knives don’t have it quite so easy; they may be scoring aluminum flashing or cutting shingles in the morning, and chewing through drywall in the afternoon. All of these activities are guaranteed to trash the average breakaway knife blade. We recently received a little box of assorted Olfa utility knives, which are definitely NOT your average breakaway knives. Cut out whatever you’re doing, stay sharp and join us for an incisive look.
Olfa utility knives come in a variety of sizes and strengths. We received the Goldilocks assortment to evaluate: the papa bear Olfa XH-AL, the mama bear LA-X, and the baby bear XA-1. One of these is likely to be just right for your inner Goldilocks.
Olfa is targeting pro users with these knives, and the quality is evident as soon as you pick one up. Even the smallest of the Olfa utility knives, the XA-1, has a much different heft and feel than the typical cheap breakaway knife. The knives all have a rubberized grip that makes them comfortable to hold, and less likely to slip and cause an “Oh, $#!^” moment. The handles are fiberglass reinforced, and much sturdier than the typical plastic knife. Take a peek at the list of features common to all three knives, then we’ll take a closer look at each knife:
• Convenient lanyard hole
• Automatic blade lock for safety
• Retractable blade
• Acetone-resistant, anti-slip rubber grip for comfort and control
• Stainless steel blade channel
• No-tool blade change
• Lifetime guarantee
The Olfa XA-1 – Slicing The Smaller Stuff
We’ll start out with the smallest of the three Olfa utility knives, the Olfa XA-1. Although very lightweight, it feels much sturdier than any of the flimsy disposable knives we had been using. I used it to break down a bunch of cardboard boxes, and it worked fine. Olfa recommends it for jobs like cutting wallpaper, precision cuts in vinyl or window film, shrink wrap, caulking, and foam board or similar materials.
The Olfa XA-1 has a feature the other two don’t: A pocket clip. As if that’s not excitement enough, along with keeping the knife secure in your pocket (don’t forget to retract the blade!), it also serves as a blade snapper-offer. Just depress the yellow tab and slide it off the back of the knife, and use the built-in slot to get to a freshy-fresh blade. I think it’s a pretty snappy little feature.
The Olfa Utility Knives Work Horse: The Olfa LA-X
If you’re looking for a dependable EDC (every day carry) utility knife, take a look at the heavy-duty Olfa LA-X. Close in size to a standard utility knife, the wraparound rubber grip makes it much more comfortable to use for those marathon sessions of cutting carpet, drywall or shingles.
I put the Olfa LA-X to work cutting up some old carpeting, cutting drywall, and cutting up an old 24’ round pool cover. I also used it to clean up some insulating foam that had expanded beyond the edge of the window and door I had insulated a bit too overzealously. Being able to extend the blade out a couple of inches made it easy peasy.
One other handy feature not found on the other Olfa utility knives we received is a little metal pick that extends out the back. I used it to open a paint can and scrape excess tile mastic out of a freshly-tiled backsplash, but it could also be used as a screwdriver, to tuck carpeting in under baseboards, for scraping caulk, or…use your imagination!
Here’s a short promo video on the Olfa LA-X:
A Cut Above: The Olfa XH-AL, King Of The Olfa Utility Knives
We’ll wrap up with the beefiest of the Olfa utility knives, the extra heavy-duty Olfa XH-AL. A bit taller and thicker, and about an inch longer than the LA-X, the XH-AL has the size and leverage to right-size pretty much whatever you throw at it.
I used on several projects, none of which came close to testing its limits. It trimmed a bunch of cabinet and door jamb shims, scored several sheets of drywall, cut insulation, and sliced through the caulk when I had to cut out a rotted window sill. I also used it to cut a couple of roofing shingles into tiny, bite-size pieces, just to give it something a LITTLE challenging. After all that, I used it to get a spiffy new point on my pencil. It did it all on one blade, and that blade was still usable. Although it probably wasn’t 25% sharper anymore.
Olfa recommends the XH-AL for cutting industrial materials such as nylon, synthetic belts, expansion board, gasket materials, high pressure laminates, flexible plastics, rope, Styrofoam, and more. With its very robust 25 mm blade capable of extending 4”, it would be perfect for cutting through thick foam boards, foam rubber cushions, or…what’s on YOUR cutting agenda?!
Oh Snap – Those Suckers Are SHARP!
All three of the Olfa utility knives we got came pre-loaded with Olfa’s ultra-sharp premium carbon tool steel black blades. Olfa says the blades are 25% sharper than their Olfa silver blades. Our precision measuring equipment is all out for recalibration (uh huh), so we don’t have any way to measure that, but they sure tore through everything they came in contact with, so watch your fingers!
The blade quality on the Olfa utility knives seems excellent. When using lesser breakaway blades, I’ve had the tips break off. This is annoying at best, and dangerous at worst, if the tip disappears onto the floor and someone finds it later with their bare feet, or it flies into your eye (although you ARE wearing eye protection, right?!).
As I mentioned, the blades are sturdy, and when it’s time for a fresh one, they snap off cleanly. When you’ve snapped ‘em all off and it’s time for a refill, the process is fast and easy, with no tools needed. Just depress the black slider mechanism, and slide it out the back, along with whatever’s left of the blade.
Slide in a new blade (watch your fingers!), slide the tab back in, and resume slicing. Olfa offers a variety of blades for each knife, including specialty blades like an insulation blade, a hook blade, and stainless steel blades.
Do The Olfa Utility Knives Make The Cut?
When I’m working, I have a utility knife with me all the time. I have several, including many old-school steel knives that take the double-ended replaceable blades. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my favorite knife, a nice folding Milwaukee model. I like it because it’s easy to open and close, blade changes are fast and tool-free, and the belt clip keeps it handy. Until I leave it somewhere.
The old standards all work pretty well, but when it’s time for a fresh blade, it’s also time to find a screwdriver. Not a huge deal, but a bit of a time-waster in my otherwise super-efficient workday. The Olfa utility knives make it easy to get a fresh edge by snapping off the old edge. No screwdriver required, but unless you have really tough fingers, it does call for a pair of pliers. So we’ll call it a draw. Now if they incorporated a removable clip/snapper like the one on the XA-1…
I will say that the Olfa utility knives are much more comfortable to work with. The fiberglass and rubber feel better in my mitt than the old-school cold steel. The knives are very well designed and built, and with the variety of models offered by Olfa, you should be able to find a model perfectly suited to your slicing and dicing needs. Olfa backs the knives with a limited lifetime warranty, making for carefree cutting. Providing you don’t lose them.
Buy the Olfa LA-X from the Home Depot:
Buy the Olfa XH-AL from Amazon:
Buy the Olfa XA-1 from Amazon:
Buy Olfa replacement blades from the Home Depot:
The Olfa web site also offers a “Where to buy” section.