While all knives are meant to cut, there are only a few knives you’d really want to put through the ringer on a busy job site. So I did my best to pick out a few folding knives you can bet your fingers on at work after getting some recommendations from blue-collar workers (not some blog boy like myself).
The pocket knives on this list are a mix of “overbuilt” knives that you can pretty much pry with and less expensive but very serviceable blades you could happily carry onto a construction site.
I tried to take price into consideration, which is why you won’t see a Cold Steel 4-MAX, Medford Praetorian, Hinderer XM-18, or a few others that are around $500. Also, if you’re serious about a true work knife, you might want to consider a more reliable and easier to maintain fixed blade. With those caveats out of the way, let’s get to the list.
Benchmade 275 Adamas
The Benchmade Adamas is one of the most common models you’ll see on lists about work knives. The reason? It’s large, reliable, and strong. The blade is 3.82 inches and uses functional D2 steel on a no nonsense drop point blade. Not only is the blade stock thick but so are the liners and G-10 scales.
The AXIS lock is pretty easy to use with gloves and can withstand more force than you’ll need. It can weigh a ton at 7.68 ounces though.
Cold Steel Recon 1
When it comes to reliable locks, few beat the Tri-Ad from Andrew Demko. The lock can withstand an insane amount of force and pressure from all sides. No spine whack will conquer the knife. You could probably put most Tri-Ad Cold Steel model on this list, but I’m going with the Recon 1.
The Recon 1 is a tried-and-true design from Cold Steel and one that works well for tough jobs. It has aggressive G-10 texturing for a secure grip and a long 4-inch blade that now uses S35VN steel. There is probably too much of a tactical look to the knife but your fingers will be very safe.
Spyderco Manix 2 XL
How could the same company that makes the Roadie make a workhorse of a knife like the Manix 2 XL? Spyderco typically picks a direction for each of its knives and the Manix 2 XL is designed to work. It is an oversized version of the popular Manix 2.
The G-10 handles are scalloped around the perimeter of the knife to ensure your hand doesn’t slip off. The blade is 3.85 inches and uses S30V steel. There’s also an oversized Round Hole on the blade to allow for easy opening even when wearing gloves.
The ball-bearing lock is also easy to use with gloves and provides a reliable system to keep your blade in place.
The CSAR-T from Buck and TOPS is a beast of a knife — it weighs 8.6 ounces! Although its blade is only 3.5 inches, it’s extremely thick. The tanto blade is also made from 154CM stainless steel. Stainless steel liners are covered by Rocky Mountain Tread G-10 scales that are grippy and supposedly add strength.
The thumb stud is pretty large for a knife, which is good for those glove wearers. Liner locks don’t always make the best for work knives but the jimping on the liner makes it easy to disengage with gloves on.
Most of the knives so far have been pretty pricey. Now we get to the MULE. MULE stands for Military, Utility, and Law Enforcement and is another large folder with a thick blade. The blade is 3.875 inches and locks in place with a reliable back lock with a Boye dent to prevent accidental closure.
The handle is nearly indestructible Zytel with texturing for a better grip. This knife isn’t beautiful or expensive but it will get the job done.
Zero Tolerance 0350
There’s the ZT 0350. For years, this knife has been touted as a go-to work knife due to its beefy design. In light of some recent allegations that ZT knives fail under pressure, my endorsement of this knife is a bit tepid — though countless people have defended this knife against any claims that it fails under pressure.
The knife has a 3.25-inch blade made from S30V steel with Tungsten DLC coating. The handle is G-10 and tall for a solid grip. It uses assisted-opening and a flipper tab for easy opening. The liner lock is probably its biggest weakest, though if you use this knife the right way, it’ll likely never fail you.
Cold Steel SR1
I initially wanted the Code 4 on this list because it’s a beefy folder designed for work, but the aluminum handles are just too slick to use reliably on a job site. That makes the SR1 probably the strongest Cold Steel has to offer that isn’t the pricey 4-MAX.
SR1 stands for Survival Rescue knife and for good reason. The 4-inch S35VN clip point blade is designed to be used in the most unforgiving environments as Cold Steel puts it. The green G-10 handles are scalloped on both sides like the Manix 2 XL to prevent accidental slippage. Of course, the real star of this knife is the Tri-Ad lock.
Spyderco Gayle Bradley 2
I was torn between the Gayle Bradley 2 and Shaman for a second Spyderco but ultimately went with the GB2. The verdict is still out on whether the Shaman is a good work knife because it was only released last year. However, the GB2 has people from all types of jobs singing its praise.
The GB2 has a 3.66-inch blade made from the popular work steel CPM M4. Here’s more about the handle from Spyderco:
The Bradley Folder 2’s handle features exceptionally thick full skeletonized stainless steel liners, a high-strength LinerLock mechanism, and carbon fiber/G-10 laminate scales that are slightly smaller than the profile of the liners. This handle style offers a hand-filling grip and excellent tactile orientation, while still keeping the knife slim and easy to carry.
The whole thing was slimmed down from the original so if you can find it I recommend grabbing one of those.
Ontario Utilitac II
When so many people describe a knife as a tank, you know you have a good work knife. This is the least expensive knife on this list and remains probably the best work knife for the money. I was actually torn between this knife and the RAT I also from Ontario but the heft and design of the Utilitac II lends itself better for work.
Designed by Joe Pardue, the knife has a 3.5-inch blade made from AUS-8A — which isn’t a high-end steel but it’s easy to resharpen and pretty durable. The Zytel handle stays in the hand while the liner lock does its job as well as a liner lock can. This is a heavy tool at 5.6 ounces so it’s not optimal for EDC but for a hard-use work knife, you can’t beat the value on this.
Buck 110 Folding Hunter Pro
Finally, there’s a classic. You might not think the Buck 110 Folding Hunter as the best work knife out there but have you actually stopped to think about it?
The clip point blade is large at 3.75 inches. The 420HC stainless steel is made even better by the heat treatment from Paul Bos. The back lock is almost as reliable as the Tri-Ad (which is essentially a modified back lock). The handle is not as grippy as the others but this can be remedied by getting the version with the finger grooves. Ebony DymaLux is nothing to scoff at either.
If you want an upgrade you can also opt for the Pro version, which has S30V steel and a G-10 handle. Take a look at this destruction video for evidence.