A utility knife is a utility knife, right? Just grab the cheapest pack you can find at your local hardware store, use it for a week, throw it away, and repeat the process. So why should I spend more on the OLFA X-Series Utility Knife (XH-AL)? Is it worth handing over the extra coin?
Like most people from Pros to DIYers, I’m used to a $0.99 utility knife that comes with a crazy sharp breakaway blade. Replacing it is no more emotionally stressing that replacing your pencil. OLFA challenged me to think differently. After all, if I’m willing to use my $250 Zero Tolerance folding knife to open boxes, isn’t there room for a good utility knife as well?
After a phone call with the folks at OLFA, I took them up on their offer to try it. It’s been a couple of months now and here’s what I think.
First Impressions of an OLFA Utility Knife
With two knives to work with – the 25mm OLFA XH-AL and 9mm OLFA XA-1 – there’s clearly a difference with this brand as soon as you open the package. These have a little more weight to them and there are metal components showing in areas other than just the blade.
A quick extension of the blade reveals a smooth action with solid stops and a metal-on-metal clicking sound that gives you more confidence than the cheap ones you’re used to. The 25mm OLFA XH-AL feels good in my hand with a rubber overmold that adds both comfort and a secure grip.
For lighter duty work, the 9mm OLFA XA-1 is lighter and smaller. While the XH-AL fills my hand with a pretty natural grip, this one encourages you to let your forefinger guide the cut. It has an overmold wrapping around it along with a pocket clip.
There’s also an 18mm in the series if you’re looking for a solid middle-ground for all-purpose cutting.
- Extended metal frame – helps break off the blade easier
- Lanyard hole – get used to tethering your tools when working at height, it will be a requirement sooner rather than later
- Rubber overmold – wraps around the top, side, and bottom to increase comfort and grip security
- 59° blade angle – gives you greater cutting surface and blade strength
- Stainless steel blade channel – runs the length of the handle to support the entire blade
- Fiberglass reinforced handle – X-series OLFA utility knife designs don’t get hot or cold like metal can and are also acetone resistant
Getting to Know OLFA Utility Knife Blades
I have both silver and blade OLFA Utility knife blades to go with the XH-AL and XA-1. It’s more than just a color preference, but let’s start with a little more basic tour. OLFA blades are cut to a 59° angle. This gives you the greatest combination of cutting surface and blade strength – at least as far as OLFA’s research tells them. Considering they’ve been around more than 50 years and are a Japanese company (who doesn’t love a fine Japanese blade?), I’m inclined to take their word for it.
OLFA is the original inventor of the breakaway blade and it has obvious advantages. Stick a standard trapezoidal razor blade in a utility knife and you get two sides worth of cutting. Each OLFA blade gives you 7 on the 25mm blades and 13 on the 9mm.
So back to the silver vs. black part of the conversation. OLFA already claims their silver blades are the sharpest in the industry outside of their own company. However, OLFA black blades are 25% sharper thanks to a slightly different honing process. First, the cutting edge of the blade has a steeper angle. The secondary grind above it is also part of the equation as it cuts through the material. This section of the black blade is longer, resulting in a cleaner cut.
Using an X-Series OLFA Utility Knife
It’s hard to argue with OLFA’s claims about their blades. They’re clearly a premium grade that cut very well and the steel blend selection offers a nice upgrade in edge retention compared to other breakaway blades.
Speaking of breakaway blades, the extended stainless steel frame helps to break them off easier. Combined with a blade disposal can, it’s a handy system to have.
Blade changes are simple and you don’t need any tools. OLFA believes that you shouldn’t need tools to use your tools, so this is a brand-wide feature. On the XH-AL, just use the thumb adjuster to pull the blade towards you and out the back. On the XA-1, you’ll need to remove the rear clip first.
The price is pretty easy to swallow compared to any of your EDC knives – even the cheap ones. The OLFA XH-AL runs in the $20 range while you’ll find the XA-1 closer to $9. That’s hardly enough to break the bank and likely much less than the folding knife you’re carrying. At the same time, they’re definitely more expensive than the throwaway knives many of us use.
Blade prices vary based on the size and package quantity. However, you’re looking at a relatively small price increase to get the black blades.
OLFA Utility Knife Models and Blades
- (20) Silver 25mm – $26.74
- (20) Black 25mm – $29.74
- OLFA XH-AL Utility Knife – $19.35
- (50) Silver 9mm – $18.09
- (50) Black 9mm – $23.74
- OLFA XA-1 Utility Knife – $8.83
Cheaper Than a Folding Knife, Better Than a Cheap Utility Knife… Is it all Sunshine and Rainbows?
Of course, there are going to be some trade-offs beyond just paying more than a cheap utility knife and much less than a folding knife. There are still plenty of plastic parts on the X-series knives that will be vulnerable over time. Fiberglass reinforcement helps, but it’s not foolproof. While I expect these utility knives to last several years in many settings, the reality is that wear and tear will eventually take their toll over time. However, I’ll wager that you’ll spend more money on throwaway knives than you will on an OLFA knife and replacement blades before you replace it.
Additionally, OLFA has a Satisfaction Guaranteed Policy on these knives. If you’re dissatisfied at any time, OLFA will replace the product with one of equal value through their Consumer Care Center.