Review: Milwaukee’s Fastback II Folding Utility Knife
A couple years ago we got to review the Milwaukee Fastback folding (or “flip” as they call it) utility knife. At the time, the concept of a folding utility knife still felt new, and the overall ergonomics and styling of this new cutting tool were just spot on. Our electrician friends loved it, and a few of us even put away our pocket knives for a time to carry this thing around with us. It was a new take on an old tool—and that’s generally exciting. While the newly-released Fastback II isn’t nearly as groundbreaking, it adds a much-needed feature: blade storage.
Along with all of the positive feedback we received on the original Fastback knife, the one consistent critique we received from users was, “Where is the blade storage?” Where indeed? The original Fastback knife was brilliant except for that one area. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones receiving that critique, because the Fastback II addresses that—at least partially.
The Appeal of the Fastback
Before I get too far, I’ve been presuming that you’re familiar with the Fastback knife. Since that’s not true of everyone reading this, let me take some time and go over why so many tradesmen have really found this to be a compelling tool.
First and foremost, the knife opens easily with just one hand. And I do mean easily. You press the release button with your thumb to free the blade and then give it gentle flick of the wrist to send the blade swinging out into its open position. Provided you allow the button to release, the knife will then lock securely in place. It’s not something that really takes a lot of practice, you just flip it open a couple of times, and, if you have any coordination at all, that will be the end of it.
Closing the blade is just as simple. You release the lock by pushing the same button and then flick it closed. The blade locks in both positions, so it’s quite safe to carry around or toss into a tool bag. About the only thing easier than the open/close mechanism on this knife is the blade changing mechanism. To swap out a blade you don’t need any tools. You simply press the black blade release button located at the top of the blade holder and the razor blade comes straight out. In this way, you can flip the blade around and use both ends quite easily before having to replace it. Milwaukee ships the knife with the blade nicely oiled, and we’d recommend you keep that up in order to maintain the ease of blade exchange. In the event it ever gets too gummed up, the blade holder can be serviced by removing four flush-set Philips head screws.
Milwaukee really seems to cater this tool to electricians and MRO, though it works as a great knife for just about any trade. When folded closed, I was able to use the Fastback as a twine-cutter since the handle has a notch to let you access the top edge of the blade. Opening the knife gave me access to the bottom side of the blade which is exposed within the holder. This served as a makeshift wire stripper. While I actually had mine on me, the Fastback works in a pinch in the event you leave yours in the truck. It’s these little details that take what could have been a banal tool and make it far more functional, not to mention interesting. In fact, I’m, not sure I could have penned the 600 words I’ve already written on any other utility knife. Most of them are pretty straightforward and vanilla.
What makes the Fastback II an updated model, however, is the inclusion of blade storage. We’re excited that Milwaukee listened to their users. This was the #1 requested feature for this knife and they turned it around in about a year to make it a reality. But they got a little fancy on us. Instead of the typical loose-holder that can store a few blades, Milwaukee opted for a swing arm with a rare earth magnet. You can technically jam a second blade in there, but it’s not really designed for it as it defeats the magnet. Also, a pair of thicker blades simply won’t fit. I just wonder if it would have been better to have a “dumb” holder and allow the user to store more than one extra blade. Then again, perhaps this is all a clever scheme to get us to buy the Fastback III next year!
Comparing the Fastback and the Fastback II
The new Fastback II adds just under 1/8″ to the overall thickness of the knife (It’s 11/16″ thick.) which is hardly noticeable. If anything, I actually feel that the Fastback II fills your hand a little bit more, which helps give you a more sure grip on the handle. The wire belt clip hasn’t changed, though it’s too bad Milwaukee didn’t allow for positioning it on the opposite side of the handle for tip-up carrying. It looks like that feature would only have taken a minimal amount of re-tooling. Still, the design is brilliant in that, even though the wire clip rests against your palm during use, it isn’t the least bit uncomfortable. In fact, the entire knife is quite comfortable to use when opened and I found myself able to hold it just as easily in a conventional grip (for whittling) as I was in a precision grip (for opening packages and scoring lines on Hardiboard or drywall).
Even the blade storage arm slides open easily but never on accident—at least not in the time I’ve been using it. Everything is very purposeful in its design…and solid. The blade arm exhibits almost no lateral movement. In terms of the ergonomics of the tool, you can hold the knife in your hand and use your middle finger to open the black blade holder. Everything seems right where you’d expect it to be. When I used the knife to cut out some drywall, the blade was easy to control and there was plenty of room for my index finger to properly guide the knife along its path. I’d describe it as “quick”. You don’t have to baby it, and it’s going to stay where you put it and follow a line well.
This is a cool knife that Milwaukee just made a little bit cooler. Most of my friends already loved the Fastback and wanted to check it out three years ago when I first brought it around. Now I just need to see if anyone sells them by the box! You're going to benefit from this knife if you do any sort of on-site work. The blade changes are a breeze, leverage is good and it's compact and stores nearly out of sight in your pocket. I wasn't kidding about wanting to carry this around with you—it's very nearly an EDC (every day carry) knife. There are other excellent utility knives on the market, but none that I know of which will garner the stares this one will get when you flick it open for the first time...one-handed. Since it retails for just around $13 you really can't go wrong giving it a test drive.
Don't just read about it, pick one up for yourself!