Don’t be fooled by his tattoo: tradesman Eric Williams’ love of OLFA knives is more than skin deep.
Williams, who hit his 14th anniversary in his industry in April 2019, is the shop supervisor at a conveyor belting manufacturer’s Midwest fabrication and field service facility. Despite the “variety of machinery” the shop has for the fabrication of belts, he likes to kick it old school, doing most of his length-cutting with an L-square, a straightedge and a knife – “always OLFA,” he says. We caught up with Williams to talk knives, and cutting and safety tips.
How and when did first start using OLFA?
When I started in the industry, my boss and the other employees all used OLFA knives, so I got my own pretty soon. We deal in thermoplastic belting, which is usually 1 to 3 mm thick. Having a sharp tip is important for a clean cut, so snap-off knives are a must.
I don’t know of any other big names in the snap-off knife industry that have ever had a product that I thought was any good. I’ve experimented with others over the years, but I always came back to OLFA, and I haven’t touched anything else in a long time.
What do you like about them?
Comfort is important; it has to be in your hand all day, so it has to feel right. It has to have the
right weight in your hand, so it feels comfortable – not like a toy. It has to be built strong, because
you will drop it and inadvertently abuse it at some point – and OLFAs almost never wear out.
What kind of OLFA do you use?
When I started, all the guys used 18mm knives, and it was quite a while before I discovered the 25mm – but now, I only use 25mm, and only ratchet locks. The OLFA ratchet lock wheel is by far the most secure closure I’ve ever touched.
The H-1 is probably my favorite knife and the one I’ve used the most – I like the straight lines. Recently, I discovered the grey NH-1 and I’ve been using that for a couple of months. I like that it has a lanyard hole; I tied a lanyard out of paracord. And I still have the first knife I was given 14 years ago! It doesn’t have a model name on it, but it is very similar to an L-1.
Any cutting pro tips for other tradesmen?
If you are cutting flexible material like conveyor belting, it helps to put tension on it as you cut. Once you start your cut, you can put pressure on one side of the cut, and pull in the opposite direction on the other side. Your knife will go through it like it’s butter. It’s the same concept as the stunt where someone tears a phonebook in half with their hands; they can do it because they are only ripping a few pages at a time. If you bend the material, you are using the thickness of the material to your advantage, even if it is only a few millimeters.
Any safety-specific tips when using cutting tools?
The guys in my shop wear tool pouches to hold their knives and other hand tools. As a
supervisor, I don’t cut as many belts as I used to, so I don’t wear a pouch – but I’m still on the floor regularly, and I carry my OLFA in my right side pocket, tip side down. When you have a new blade in it, it’s easy to think you retracted it all the way, but a millimeter is still exposed. I never cut myself this way, but I’ve cut the bottom of my pocket open more than once and had to sew it closed. (I’ve cut myself many, many times in other ways – although I only needed stitches once – but I’ve never cut myself with my OLFA, and that is pretty crazy when you think of the miles and miles of belting I’ve cut over 14 years.)
What’s up with the tattoo?
I’ve got a bunch of tattoos, and I always told myself that if I made it to 10 years in my trade, I’d get a tattoo to commemorate that I’ve devoted a good portion of my life to this, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like.
A couple of years ago, I decided to pull the trigger. A coworker recommended getting the OLFA knife, and I knew it was a great idea. I’ve worked with a handful of other belting companies over the years, and in every belt shop you’ll find OLFA knives – there just really is no viable alternative. So I thought it would be a great representation of what I do. It was like getting my passport stamped; it says, “This is what I do, and here’s the proof.”