Just a few months ago, I reviewed the Klein Diagonal Cutting Pliers because, as I told readers at the time if there’s one eternal truth about the electrical trade, it’s that wire’s need cuttin’. Well, hand-in-glove with wire cutting is wire stripping – or what is more accurately referred to as cable skinning as wire diameter increases. For that kind of application, I get to see how the Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife handles itself.
Once wire begins to be measured in MCM, removing the insulation from a wire isn’t as simple as using what most laymen think of as a wire stripper for smaller gauge wire. An Electrician can get an expensive cable stripping bushing kit, but it’s more likely that they’ll just use a knife to score the insulation and strip it off. But that’s very hard on a blade and it will dull quickly. And that’s why Klein offers the Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife with a replaceable blade.
The Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife features a 2-1/2-inch, 440A steel hawkbill (although Klein calls it a sheepsfoot). It is possible to sharpen the current blade, but this is designed so it’s not necessary. The copper-to-steel contact blunts blades pretty quickly during the skinning process. 440A steel is inexpensive, so it’s easy to always have the sharpest edge possible on this knife. In fact, a 3-pack of replacements blades costs around $10. And if you’re billing your accessories to the job, that doesn’t put much of a hurt on your bottom line.
At first, it seems like the knife’s girth and length are on the bulky side. It’s certainly bigger than a pocket knife: at least an inch longer than my Kershaw and about a 1/2-inch longer than Klein’s Electricians Pocket Knife with Phillips. But when you consider using it while wearing gloves – even gloves that allow a lot of dexterity, then the size makes sense.
I really like the feel of the rubberized grip which gives you a sense of security in both a glove or bare hand. The knife also features a thumb stud, pocket clip, solid blade lock, and large blade lock release. Time to get skinny!
Skin In The Game
An electrician is more likely to encounter cable diameters – around 6-gauge wire and larger – that the Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife is designed for in commercial applications (although 6-gauge is used for sub-panels and household appliances). But that doesn’t mean a Pro doing a lot of regular residential service work won’t find the tool just as useful. I used the knife for both kinds of work during the review.
The thumb stud is on the left side of the blade rather than both sides. It’s usually a right-handers world when it comes to tool design and as long as over 80 percent of us remain right dominant, that’s probably how things will go.
Now I have above-average sized hands that are – I like to think anyway – stronger than the average Joe’s since I work with them all day long. Even so, I find the deployment to be a little difficult. It isn’t smooth or easy and I find myself having to give it a couple of pushes with my thumb to open the knife. That’s where the advantage of including a bearing system comes into play on folding knives.
Grip, Use, Lock, and More!
My positive impressions of the grip were confirmed in the field. It’s solid and secure in the hand, giving you a lot of confidence during the scoring and skinning.
The sheepsfoot – or hawkbill – shape of the blade makes it easy to turn around cable’s insulation when you score it. The blades are quite thin which might give you the impression that they’ll be flimsy during the cut, but that’s not the case. They are sturdy and stiff, allowing you to cut without worrying they will snap under pressure.
The locking mechanism is excellent. There’s no doubt the blade is solidly in its position until you press the release. Those of us that have grown accustomed to closing our knives with one hand by pushing the lock over with our thumb and gently pushing the blade with our index finger should note the position of the lock release (and the relatively stiff action at the pivot) make folding this knife a two-handed operation.
No matter how much I like a knife, the pocket clip is often its drawback because it gets snagged on things while you’re working or just moving around. It seems like a small thing – until it happens. I’m happy to report that the Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife pocket clip doesn’t seem to catch as frequently, though it’s design doesn’t stray far from traditional.
The bright orange portion of the handle makes the knife highly visible in a tool bag or a dim area – that’s a nice touch!
As I mentioned at the beginning, blades dull very quickly when you’re skinning cable. You can pay a lot for a harder steel blade that you’d still have to sharpen periodically, pay a little less for a cheaper steel that you’d constantly have to sharpen, or you could always have a sharp blade with the Klein because you can change the inexpensive blades. I like the last option! By simply loosening the captive screw, you slide out the old blade and slide in a new, ready-to-skin blade. It’s quick and easy, though not tool-free.
It does mean that you’ll need to keep a supply of blades on hand – but try to use a dull knife for a few minutes and you’ll probably remember to pick some up pretty quickly. I suppose you could sharpen the replaceable blade in a pinch, but I suggest buying several and sticking them in your bag, box, or truck.
The Bottom Line
I love this design – it’s a great idea. What would make it even better?
If Klein will offer some different blade shapes (like a drop point, normal blade, et cetera) for different applications. Hmmm, I think I might be on to something!
I’ve skinned more than 50 cables with one blade of the Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife and when that one dulls, I can easily swap it out for a new one. For less than $20 for the knife and about $10 for a 3-pack of blades, you’ll be skinning cables with this knife for a long time. That means for just over $3, you effectively get a new knife whose blade shape is perfect for removing the insulation from large-gauge wire instead of stopping to sharpen it.
The grip, lock, clip, and color are excellent. If Klein smooths out the deployment on the next version of this knife, it will be a true home run. And if the company would consider making replaceable blades in different shapes, well, then it will just be showing off.
Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife Features
- Heavy-duty sheepsfoot blade is easily replaceable to eliminate the need for sharpening
- Handle has rubberized grip and release lever for lockback mechanism
- Replaceable 440A Stainless Steel blade is held securely by a captive screw
- Thumb stud for easy opening
- Pocket clip keeps knife readily available
- Patent Pending
Klein Cable Skinning Utility Knife Specifications
- Item Number: Klein 44218
- Blade Material: 440A Stainless Steel
- Blade Length: 2-1/2” (63.5 mm)
- Length Closed: 4-3/4” (120.7 mm)
- Weight: 0.36 lb (0.16 kg)
- Blade Thickness: 15/64” (6.0 mm)
- Color: Orange and black
- Finish: Satin
- Handle Length: 4-3/4” (120.7 mm)
- Special Features: Replaceable blade
- Price: $19.97