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Thread: Knife Review: Utilizer 2.0 - premium folding utility knife

  1. #1

    Kiss Knife Review: Utilizer 2.0 - premium folding utility knife

    Introduction.

    I always had serious interest in buying "the best" utility knife (snap-off or trapezoidal blade, retractable or folding make, I didn't mind!), i.e. one single model which was to tick all the right boxes, not only cut all my boxes pun intended. With my snobbish attitude not letting me carry a rebranded tool of a trading company and with Stanley being the #1 traditional name and original maker in the business, back then I believed I had chosen the best product from their catalog; the Stanley Interlock, an ingenious simple model with retractable lockable snap-off blade, did tick two boxes, namely metal construction and zero(!) blade play. In practice, however, the locking mechanism did not prove sufficiently strong for heavy duty tasks, it could not keep the blade from getting stuck in dense sticky material, e.g. silicone joints. And when the snap-off blade (nominal thickness 0.50mm, true thickness 0.49-0.51mm) failed on me repeatedly, breaking off crosswise due to minimal lateral force or torque, I started to realize that my quest wasn't over and that my next utility knife had to have a stronger blade, a trapezoidal blade (nominal thickness 0.60mm, true thickness 0.60-0.62mm). In recent years nicely built folding utility knives (designed and) made in China and meanwhile mass-distributed by Western tool trading companies, have become popular among the crowds, probably because of the very good value, compact size, attractive looks. Or say, unused they looked attractive! After some use, drops, wear'n tear, they start looking cheap and function only as tool anymore. Me, on the other hand, I was willing to spend more than the typical 10, 15, 20 bucks, as long as the product was an EDC-wearable, had superior quality, and I could become a proud owner; the more I spend, the prouder I am of what's in my pants!


    If it were for the tool functionality only, then I would not have looked any further than my bulky Stanley Quickslide Sport gen2, the heavy Milwaukee Fastback 190X (X=gen1/2/3), or the functional Gerber EAB/EAB Lite, which are nicely iterated brandname tools. But they are imho just that. Tools, and with no chance of becoming a substitute for my EDC knife, the Spyderco PM2: the Quickslide being too bulky, the Fastback too heavy, the EAB Lite too ..erh.. "cheap" (said the snob ). In my recent more ambitious search of an all-round satisfying utility knife I eventually came across the Utilizer, a 160-190US$ custom titanium product released to market two years ago by a U.S. machine shop. The small company designs, manufactures, and sells the product direct. Having spent some 150 bucks on my PM2 and really wanting something like the Utilizer to kick the Spydie off its EDC job, I didn't immediately turn my back on this intriguing premium folding utility knife product. Youtube footage was two years old, showcasing the original model which did not have a secure locking mechanism for the blade holder; in the youtube comments the viewers turned their backs after learning about the Spydie-level retail price and that the knife was lacking a lock. I felt put off too, did some further research on Google and social media (Facebook, Instagram, ..) and learned that in summer 2018 the company had worked on the iterated new version which featured at least two notable improvements: the addition of a titanium liner lock and the addition of a blade set screw! When their webshop offered a bunch of display units (exhibition samples) from Blade Show 2018 as so-called "Pre-handled" units at a 15% discount, I didn't think twice and placed the order. The Utilizer 2.0 ticks all the check boxes, in my book. The search is over, the journey is over, which makes it the perfect time to share.



    Shipping / Packaging.


    Not much to say here. International shipping cost was surprisingly low, the bubble-padded gray envelope landed in my country in no time and I received it in record time within a week, probably because we are still far from the super busy postal pre-Christmas season. The USPS shipment number showed some tracking information in the destination country too, interesting.


    The knife came in a simple black cardboard gift box stating the company name/logo and "Made In The USA" ; inside there were two company name/logo stickers, some padding, the knife, and the extra bag of stainless screws which i had added to my order. There was no printed product information, instruction manual, or similar, nor did I expect any such thing. The company is a machine shop, a custom maker, focusing on the product, manufacturing, and quality, not the 'everything else' like commercialization, marketing and whatnot.


    Looks / Design / Artistry.


    I have a hard time forming an opinion about whether a knife looks harmonic'n beautiful, or not. The Utilizer with solid liners looked so-so in my eyes, being a knife with a short blade section versus much longer handles; the metal ratio of what met my eyes seemed skewed, too much titanium, not enough blade (cf. Spyderco PM3).


    The skeletonization however really did it for me, and the overall looks seem to fall into place now, I honestly dig the result ymmv, both in the fully opened and in the closed positions.



    At first I didn't understand why the thumb stud (Thumb-Open) was designed so big, longish, until its triple function became clear to me, acting as a nicely formed comfortable thumb rest during cutting operations…



    …and also as stopper for the blade holder in the fully opened position:



    Let's not forget that the color (and partly the material itself) of the four component groups can be customized. I preferred the all titanium material all titanium color look anyway, imho it is the most classy timeless configuration. When I look into my wardrobe at all the colorful T-shirts which I had ever bought for myself, then I could facepalm me all day long. Fashion and personal tastes change. A titanium knife in natural titanium color? Sounds like a safe, reasonable choice to me, risk-free, no harm done.



    As you can see, the metal surface is smooth, dense, shiny, reflective, and also has a different titanium color than the CN titanium knife on the left which has a matt, porous finish.



    Size / Dimensions / Weight.

    Most/many folding utility knives come in an all metal construction. But this one comes in titanium (Grade ?), and my unit even in skeletonized titanium.


    The overall size and weight is similar to a Spyderco Delica 4 FRN (71g) or Byrd Meadowlark 2 FRN (67g). My measurements with installed Stanley blade and pocket clip are 75g w/ (wrench+lanyard) and 71g w/o (wrench+lanyard).



    Maybe some other owner can chime in and share the weight of her/his unit, e.g. with flipper construction and solid titanium scales, thanks.



    Ignoring the pocket clip, the handle has a total thickness of 11.5mm, which is similar to the PM2 handle (11.6mm).



    The max width is 33.1mm, the length is 95.0mm in the closed position.



    Pocket clip.


    For tip-up carry, left or right side, the shallow ramping lets the firm flexible clip slide, almost "glide", bump-free over the pocket brim to the deep-carry-like end position where the knife is held nice securely.



    The two smooth metal contacting spots generate little friction, which should translate to less tear on the fabric over time than, for example, a metal<>FRN or a metal<>G10 interface.



    Time will tell how pocket-friendly this cute stylish titanium clip performs in the long run. I dig the size, looks, secure mounting, and functionality of the clip.



    There would have been space on the handle to design it longer but there was obviously no need for it (re functionality, aesthetic proportionalism).



    The backspacer.

    Originally backspacers serve as mechanical support for the handles and as void fillers for a better feeling in the hands. On my customized PM2, the silver-shiny CN titanium(?) backspacer is for decorative purposes only, even though its macro-jimping might help with traction in the hands. On the Utilizer, the titanium backspacer also serves to pocket one end of the included allen key. Together with the included lanyard the allen key is stored neatly and held securely in the space between the scales, what a great idea!


    It took me several minutes of struggling to realize that the allen key cannot be introduced and put into place from the backspacer's side (handle|palm). So with some amusement and relief I eventually discovered that the allen key is to be introduced from the opposite side (handle|fingers).



    The lanyard.

    Once the allen key is put into place, the supplied paracord loop must be threaded through the hole at the corner of the knife/the corner of the wrench. Fitting a loop of ungutted paracord through that otherwise spacious hole makes it a tight, fiddly task, and also time-consuming if you can't help yourself (a pin, a nail, long fingernails, pliers/tweezers). A loop of gutted paracord is too thin to keep the wrench in place, so it has to be ungutted paracord.


    Alternatively, you could sling a loop of (ungutted or gutted) paracord around the steel spacer post at the extreme of the knife handle. That would mean, though, that you'd give up carrying the wrench in the knife, only in favor of carrying a gutted paracord as you custom lanyard! You could ask yourself "the Allen — to carry or not to carry?".



    Well, in a place or situation with no spare blades around, the wrench won't be needed. As long as your own lanyard is made out of ungutted paracord, there is no harm in carrying the Allen, the tool may come in handy at some point. But let's be honest/clear, threading the loop of ungutted paracord through the wrench corner is challenging with bare fingers. On a stressful time-critical job, one could carry the wrench separately, i guess, and not even think about reinstalling it between the pair of scales during the job. The point is, the Utilizer gives you the possibility to also have a wrench on you at all times and not to lose it. How you deal with it in practice, is up to you.



    Blade exchange.


    If the job is hectic and you consume new blades every other minute, then you probably won't install the wrench back in the knife with the ungutted paracord lanyard every time. In such a work situation, you'd keep the wrench separate and handy together with a 10-pack of spare blades, or, you might prefer a different (folding or retractable) utility knife altogether!



    Exchanging the blade takes twice as many seconds than on another *folding* utility knife, sure, but you're getting all the other product advantages in turn.



    Blade fitment.

    I tested six different standard razor blades: Triuso (thickness: 0.60mm), Wisent (0.62mm), Stanley 11-916 (0.61mm), Stanley 11-921 (0.61mm), Bessey (0.60mm), Workpro (0.61mm):


    None of the six products had identical geometric measurements and it seems that razor blade manufacturers set the angles roughly when cutting the trapezoidal shape out of the sheet metal; the geometric tolerances between the six blade products are very notable! And maybe that is why other folding utility knives have a problem with the 'One Size Must Fit All'-situation. The Utilizer blade holder is precision-machined with tight tolerances and whatever loose blade play (depending on the blade product you bought) would be remaining in either the x-, y-, or z-direction, the so-called blade set screw does eliminate it completely:



    Using the blade set screw is not as trivial as it seems. Before tightening the screw, one must seat the blade nicely aligned in the blade holder. Then one tightens the screw with minimal torque because, fortunately (and I am still wondering why this is so, press-friction?), it takes very little force to secure the blade. When I tighten that screw I just twist the straight part of the wrench, one doesn't need the extra leverage from using the bent part of the wrench. After the successful securing your chosen blade product exhibits no more loose wobble, play, rattle, wiggle, waggle, shake in the blade holder; and the blade doesn't move, even if you pull at it with force. If you pull at the blade and it moves, then it means that your securing was not successful. Then you need to loosen the screw, do a better job at reseating/realigning the blade in the holder, and try again tightening the screw with little torque. With some practice/experience you'll manage to successfully secure the blade after one or two attempts, not more. Overtightening the screw doesn't help the process but will change the smoothness of the knife opening/closing action for the worse. It is very interesting that something as simple as one little screw can completely fix a blade in the holder, what an effective method! And such a method is also needed for accommodating/compensating thickness differences between blade products, e.g. the 0.02mm difference between Bessey vs. Wisent. At this point I would love to know how well the Gerber EAB Lite secures the different blade products (Bessey, Wisent, Stanley, etc) with its one big screw. In fact, the Gerber is maybe the mass-produced article which shares features of the Utilizer the most.



    The Lock.

    The initial Utilizer product release in 2016 did not come with a locking mechanism other than the detents. Back then that was the main reason why I hesitated picking up a unit. Since Blade Show 2018 the newly released successor, the Utilizer 2.0, comes with a liner lock or maybe better said a lock bar. It consists of a cleverly designed precision-cut titanium part embedded in the handle, thus acting as a liner indeed.


    Unlike other liners it doesn't come with a ball for additional detenting effect. When the lock engages, it does so with a clear audible "clack!" sound.



    As other liner locks it disengages through a press by the right thumb/thumbnail.





    Because of the very construction this liner lock cannot develop travel! Unlike a conventional liner lock where the lock squeezes into zero play (and travels further to the right over time) this lock clacks against a stop, a titanium hook, which prevents further lateral movement of the lock bar. The 2nd knife from the left has reached its EOL: its liner lock gets jammed in the right corner whenever i open the knife, and I'd need a secondary tool (a screwdriver or a key or something) to unjam and disengage the lock, argh!



    One advantage of the Utilizer 2.0 lock bar is maintainability. The manufacturer claims that the lock should not fail, wear out, deteriorate, break under normal use. But if it did, it would be straight-forward and easy for them to replace the part, and they would do so for free (100% lifetime warranty under intended use).



    Detents / Stops.






    For either position —knife fully closed vs. knife fully opened— a small titanium hook acts as fastener on the same steel spacer post.



    The springiness of the hook arm accounts for a very positive clipping and unclipping of the hook; when you try to flip the knife open, you could actually hear an unclipping "pling!" clean sound reverberating from somewhere (either the hook or the post).



    The clipping/unclipping functions as detent to provide clear feedback for the user if the blade holder is fully engaged.



    The detent feels great, strong (for being a detent), but not too strong to compromise the one-handed operation of the knife.



    Blade exposure.


    54mm
    cutting edge of the 61mm are exposed! And because of the low standoff (on the Thumb-Open version, that is) most of the exposed cutting edge does get used in practice. Once you have experienced working with such a long trapezoidal utility blade, there is no going back. That's also what users like so much about the
    Gerber EAB.


    Spare parts.

    Since the Utilizer 2.0 gets configured by the end consumer as BTO ("Built To Order"), there is no doubt that one could also ask for spare parts as special order. Spectrum Energetics is not only the inventor and designer but also the actual manufacturer (with machine shop, factory) and distributor of the product. All of the shopper's money goes straight to the maker's team, and I am confident that they would attend to everybody's satisfaction. Currently they offer the Utilizer Hardware Set (i.e. screws) and the Utilizer Hex Keys Set as official SKU's. I wouldn't be shy asking them about other parts for which you'd rather keep a spare from the get-go.


    Ergonomics.

    There are no sharp edges apart from the edge pun intended. The metal surface is smooth, and with all the rounded edges feels surprisingly "warm and soft" in the hand. The subjective warmness must be due to the low thermal conductivity of titanium, which the user would profit from in environments working at sub 20°C with bare hands. With the shape of the handle, the limited length of the handle, the ergos are as good as one would imagine; not as perfect as on the PM2 or the Delica 4, both ergo-champs in their class, but nothing I would dare complain about. Maybe best of the ergos is how the thumb rests comfortably in the thumb-rounded wide titanium top, which otherwise serves as thumb-opener. Probably because of the skeletonization of the liners, my unit isn't slippery; finger flesh and palm flesh would seat in the cutouts and provide great grip. And no, this doesn't feel uncomfortable at all imho!


    Action.

    I chose the Thumb-Open version because I believe that the Flip-Open design could possibly get in the way of my cutting habits or my cutting tasks; the Flip-Open design has naturally a higher standoff because of the (length of the) flipper. While the Flip-Open version can be deployed in a split second like any other flipper knife, my Thumb-Open version can be deployed single-handedly too (by either a righty or lefty) but not through flicking or other automization (cf. Milwaukee Fastback); it must be opened manually (cf. Gerber EAB), which is fine. The opening action is smooth and easy enough, as long as you haven't overtightened the blade set screw, as mentioned earlier. A lefty would close my particular unit with two hands no problem.


    Disassembly.

    It is very easy to just exchange the hardware set, i.e. the nine hex screws. I got the original black hardware set and also bought the stainless hardware set for giggles; the hardware on my PM2 is all stainless or stainless-looking titanium. However, once the nine screws were all out, I was not able to take the knife apart with my piano hands. Hmm. There are three steel spacer posts and they look like press-fitted bolts. It means that with the right tools it is, of course, possible to disassemble the knife fully in a nondestructive manner. I just couldn't do it, and I also didn't try hard enough. For which good reason would I want to apply violent force to disassemble a perfectly working knife? Chances are that I will never need to disassemble this knife. But probably, for some big jazzy youtube reviewers, that would still be the Ugly, not the Bad. Even though it is possible to disassemble it fully in a nondestructive manner. Oh well.


    Fit and finish.

    Apart from the three cutouts of my skeletonized liners one cannot perceive any machining marks on the parts. Everything is so smooth and rounded, probably due to the tumble finishing process the company uses. Fit is perfect too. The blade holder has no side to side play (which can be adjusted, as with the PM2, through the pivot screw). The blade has no side<>side play, no back<>forth play, nor practically any other kind of play (up<>down, o. a.). That's due to the construction, the tight tolerances, and the blade set screw (new since 2.0). If I had to detect anything, then i'd say that the blade holder has minimal "down play"; but that's not looseness (no loose play!) because the titanium hook/spring stretches the blade holder open, in the up position. In the end really nothing, neither the blade nor the blade holder wiggles, waggles, wobbles, shakes, rattles; nothing is loose! Upon inquiry the company explained to me that they designed a tiny "purposeful gap" between the lock bar and blade holder when the latter is in the fully open position. Quote begin- "This is an intentional feature for multiple reasons. It increases the longevity of the knife by reducing wear on the lock bar, it makes the knife easier to use by avoiding jamming/sticking, allows the knife to be lighter and handle higher loads (basically allows for higher elastic deformation under load without putting extra stress or friction into the lock system), and also it allows for a slightly easier blade change. So a more precisely fit lock bar would actually decrease the performance and robustness of the knife" -quote end. Basically they are saying that the knife/longevity/operation benefits more from the way they designed it than if they had zero'ed the gap. Let's recall that a traditional liner lock travels until it gets stuck/squeezed/jammed, which is exactly what causes the zero'ing of any gap between the contacting metal spots. The locking mechanism of the Utilizer 2.0 differs from that design principle, as explained earlier. Both liner locks design principles have their own pro's and con's and I am perfectly fine with the design decision made by them. Most importantly, nothing is loose, and the knife does have a strong working liner lock (which the original Utilizer did not have)!


    Cutting performance.

    Since the condition/sharpness of the razor blade determines how much force is required to slice through paper/cardboard/etc, the force will be the same among other utility knives using the identical razor blade. What does enhance the cutting performance/experience is the longer exposed cutting edge, as you could imagine or know from using the Gerber EAB. The Utilizer does all the cutting tasks of any box cutter and heavy-duty carpet cutter, and then some. And with the absence of any kind of play it is very satisfying and efficient to either do some gross cutting jobs or execute very fine cutting tasks. So far I have not had a chance to test the knife as heavy-duty performer in a fast construction work setting, where one would prefer to toss around a Milwaukee Fastback 1903 anyway, but we should hear about applications under tough RL working conditions eventually, from me or other owners.


    Subjectivity.

    Maybe subjectivity does not belong into a review but Nick Shabazz, whose video reviews I personally find very helpful, includes it all the time. I never tested and didn't even consider buying the Gerber EAB or EAB Lite. Various aspects about it had put me off and kept me longing. If it were for the cutting tasks only, something even cheaper than the Gerber would have been sufficient. But what all my hobbies are about, in the end, is tbh not the mere utility or mastery of a product/topic/skill/etc but the feeling of joy (not necessarily pride). Can we ever understand why/how carrying a piece of jewelry can make my lady neighbor feel so joyful all the time? Same here. A unique titanium work of art made in the USA vs a 20$ aluminum gadget made in China. Both cut my amazon cardboard package equally well, same same, no grand difference. However, carrying the former fills me with true joy, while carrying the other would not. And I am not even a collector or collectionist; they would perfectly understand what I mean though. What's worse, I could hardly afford the asking price (of any US made knife, actually); I pulled the trigger nonetheless knowing that 'my utility dream knife would come true' and my endless search would finally come to an end. And it really has. Maybe that's another point why I am so elated.


    Potential safety concerns.

    I am guessing that the solid titanium version could(?) be slippery in oily hands because of the missing cutouts; let's hear from other Utilizer users. Also, a kid sticking one two slim long fingers through the two three holes of the skeletonized handle could accidentally get cut, for example when closing the knife. Clearly, i must close the knife with some caution, when doing it one-handedly.


    Summary.

    Pro's:

    • same size and weight (skeletonized model, that is) as Delica 4
    • insane 54mm exposed cutting edge!
    • blade: fully secured, no play/no moving whatsoever!
    • blade holder: no lateral play (and no loose vertical play)
    • premium feel, pride and joy of possession & carry are beyond price!
    • indestructible, timeless titanium, great build quality and fit'n finish
    • 100% lifetime warranty under intended use
    • liner lock, doesn't travel, great detents
    • few parts, open construction, no full disassembly needed for maintenance
    • smooth one-handed operation
    • good ergos

    Con's

    • price
    • difficult to fully disassemble without special tools
    • exchanging and securing blade is imho fun, easy, fast enough, but installing the lanyard through the wrench in the back of the knife is challenging


    Conclusion.

    In no time the Utilizer 2.0 has become my #1 EDC knife and, for sure, my only work knife: I have retired all my other work knives (3 different Stanley utility knives, 2 different Ganzo Firebird knives), as soon as I realized the full potential of the product. And whenever I don't carry a knife, I would still always have a retractable utility blade on me, on my keychain. A folding utility blade can be more than being just a tool, and I have successfully substituted the Utilizer for my nice folders which were as pleasing to carry. Maybe EDC'ing a utility blade/utility knife with joy and pride will become a cool more accepted thing in future. Then Spectrum Energetics was certainly the first to set the premium bar. I am actually thinking of grabbing another unit when the holiday season (Black Friday, Christmas, ..) comes around. One never knows how long a (small/big/any) company manages to stay in business, so it's better safe than sorry to have a spare just in case.

    Note that KnifeKrazy did a video on the old version two years ago:


    Also check out the Instagram page to see how other buyers customized the knife
    Last edited by kreisl; 11-08-2018 at 10:06 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Knife Review: Utilizer 2.0 - premium folding utility knife

    Awesome review!
    Thanks for sharing
    I’ve had my eyes on this one too.
    Guess I’d rather the blade securing mechanism be quicker and not requiring tools.
    But I do agree.. very nice practical knife

  3. #3

    Default Re: Knife Review: Utilizer 2.0 - premium folding utility knife

    Quote Originally Posted by Foot Hill View Post
    Thanks for sharing
    Welcome! It's my first attempt of reviewing a knife, thanks!

    Today i installed a trapezoidal blank in the Utilizer and tried to set a bevel with my Spyderco 204M and then sharpen the edge with 204F and 204UF, all freehand. Also stropped the fresh edge with my leather strop. The resulting edge looks clean and sharp (no visible burr, no reflective apex) but the cutting performance of the DIY razor blade is .

    I can sharpen common pocket knives and kitchen knives with my 204-freehanding technique really well but freehand sharpening a razor blade (out of fun) seems a different challenge. I don't understand this.
    Last edited by kreisl; 11-12-2018 at 10:30 AM.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Knife Review: Utilizer 2.0 - premium folding utility knife

    Is the blank of quality steel?
    What purpose is the blank used for?
    If for demo purposes maybe it’s low quality steel?

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