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Putty Knife vs. Paint Scraper – What to use when?

A close look at a worker scraping the paint off an old window frame with the use of a paint scraper.

As a divorced woman, I try to do household tasks, maintenance and painting on my own so there have been many times I have had to question whether I need a putty knife for a job or a paint scraper. Here is some information to help you decide which one is better used for a variety of situations and to explain the differences.

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What is a paint scraper?

A close look at a paint scraper used to scrape the paint off the piece of wood.

A manual paint scraper is an old-school yet very reliable tool used for removing paint. It takes some muscle grease to use one properly but if you take it slow, with a few breaks, you will get to the finish line in removing paint from a wall, furniture, or object.

There are a variety of manual paint scrapers, including:

  • The heavy-duty three-inch flat scraper:  The best feature about this type of scraper is the shape and design of the handle that promotes a better grip than other scrapers. You can push the paint easier. This scraper resembles a larger putty knife but it still considered a paint scraper.
  • The 2.5-inch two-edge paint scraper: This scraper will put you in the mind of a razor you would use on your face because of its shape. It has a wider head than other scrapers and a thin handle that makes it easy for you to pull the paint towards you while scraping instead of pushing it forward. It does allow you to replace the scraper blades when they become dull and worn-out.
  • Multi-use painter’s tool: Known as a 5-in-1 tool, 8-in-1 tool, 14-in-1 tool, and several other options, this scraper can be used for more than scraping off old paint. You can use this scraper to spread wood filler on a project and you can even use it to open paint and stain cans.

What is a putty knife?

A look at a pair of putty knives on a wooden surface.

While many tools look similar to a putty knife, it is a unique tool all on its own. The putty knife is one of the most versatile hand tools you can possibly have in your possession. It can be used as a scraper, similar to a paint scrapper, but can also be used for applying wood filler, drywall taping compounds, and a number of other things.

There are many types of putty knives on the market today, including a flat-edged blade and a chiseled blade. Some may have a straight-edge blade while others come equipped with an angled edge blade. You can choose between a stiff blade or a flexible one and some putty knives give you the option of plastic, stainless steel, carbon steel, or even a brass blade.

Blades for putty knives are normally 3/4 of an inch to 6 inches wide and are used for spreading and applying compounds, although that is the generic use for a putty knife. The blade edge will normally be straight instead of chiseled and flexible instead of stiff. The least expensive option of a putty knife is one that is made of plastic-like polypropylene. These blades are often disposable, though, since they do not last very long with a lot of use.

If you are in need of a better-constructed putty knife, you will want to spring for the option with a carbon steel blade. Although this putty knife is much more durable than a plastic one, it will rust over time and will need to be replaced. A better option would be a putty knife with a stainless steel blade with a very sturdy and longer-lasting handle made of nylon or wood. These versions of the putty knife can actually last throughout your lifetime.

The better made versions of putty knives with the steel blades are used for spreading and will also have what is referred to as a “hollow ground” feature. This means that the blade is ground down to be more narrow in the center than it is on the sides. It also has a thicker handle. This different design allows more flexibility in the blade to be able to apply more pressure when spreading materials. Also, the width of the blade needs to be contingent upon what you need it for and what type of material you are working on within your project.

A more narrow blade knife can be used if you have to work in a small or enclosed area that makes it more difficult to get the job done. An example would be if you’re putting a tiny bit of wood filler into a small hole or filling a joint crack. It can also be used on the drywall in your home when you are applying a spackling compound. The wider blade knives make it much easier to apply a lot of material, such as when you are mudding out a wall while drywalling or covering up a large patch.

Putty knives can also be used to make a clean paint edge when you are in the process of applying painters tape around a baseboard before painting a wall. You can also use a putty knife to scrape and remove residue but you will need a stiffer more flexible blade with a chiseled flat edge. You will definitely need a steel blade versus a plastic one. Scraping blades have to be stiffer than spreading blades are to promote more flexibility since the blades will be thicker and a lot more rigid.

Putty knives with a chiseled blade need to be angled a little so that you can get under the paint to scrape it off properly. These blades are also very useful when you are attempting to remove the dried putty from an area. A brass blade is best used when you’re doing a delicate application or you’re in an area that has a lot of bad fumes.

Cost Analysis

A putty knife normally costs between $7 and $20 while paint scrapers start out at around $14. The costs of each depend on how much you want to spend and how important certain features are to you and the project you are needing a putty knife or scraper for.

Similarities of Putty Knives and Paint Scrapers

A paint scraper with rubber handle used to remove the blue paint off the wooden surface.

While it can get a little confusing as to whether you need a paint scraper or a putty knife, the main thing is to know and understand what projects you’re going to be working on and which type of tool would be best.

The basic rule is that if you are spreading something, such as a drywall compound or wood filler, the putty knife is the one you want. So just simply associate putty knife with spreading and of course, paint scraper with scraping.

Paint scrapers have a much more durable blade to be able to scrape paint off a very old item that is normally hard to take things off of. Paint scrapers are much more flexible than putty knives which is why there are so many different sizes and different blades for putting knives than paint scrapers. Paint scrapers can be basically narrow or wide and of course, you can pay more money for the more durable ones that will last longer but when it comes to putty knives, you really need to know what you will need ahead of time for the project you are working on.

Now that you know the difference between a putty knife and a paint scraper, it is time to grab the proper tool and get to work on that project you have been putting off.