Butterfly Knife Anatomy

Anatomy/Parts of a Butterfly Knife by Anna Gardner

What is a Butterfly knife? A Butterfly knife is a folding knife with two handles counter-rotating around the tang (part of the knife where the blade is extended out of and usually where the handle is attached to), such that, when closed, the blade is hidden within the grooves of the handles.

Other NAMES: “Balisong”, “Fan Knife”, “Batangas Knife”, “Click Clacks”, “Bente Nueve”,

CONSTRUCTION: “Sandwiched” or “Channeled”

Sandwiched: Assembled in layers that are generally pinned or screwed together. Pivot pins can be adjusted tighter without binding. When knife is closed, the blade rests in between the layers of the handles.

Channeled: Each handle is formed from one piece of material. The groove (where the blade rests when knife is closed) is created by folding, milling, or being integrally cast. Channeled construction is known to be stronger than the sandwiched construction.


Bite Handle: The handle that closes on the sharp edge of the blade.

Choil: Small curve found on some knives just above the kicker, that makes it easier to sharpen the blade.

IKBS: Ikoma-Korth Bearing System. A high end ball bearing system that maximizes smoothness, found in high-end custom Balisong knives.

Kicker (or Kick): Area on the blade that prevents the sharp edge from contacting the inside of the handle and suffering damage. This is sometimes supplanted by an additional tang pin above the pivots.

Latch: The standard locking system, which holds the knife closed. Magnets are occasionally used instead.

Latch, Batangas: A latch attached to the bite handle.

Latch Gate: A block inside the channel of the handles stopping the latch from impacting the blade.

Latch, Manila: A latch attached to the safe handle.

Latch, Spring: A latch that utilizes a spring to propel the latch open when the handles are squeezed.

Safe Handle: The handle that closes on the non-sharpened edge of the blade.

Spine: The thickest par of the blade, the blade spine would usually be at the back (top) of the blade.

Swedge: Un-sharpened spine of the blade that is angled to appear as if it were sharpened.

Tang/Ricasso: The flat section of the base of the blade where the handles are attached with pivot pins.

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Benchmade 32 Review

Benchmade 32 Review by Ryan Howard

If you are looking for a great collector’s piece for your balisong collection, the Benchmade 32 black serrated knife would be a great addition.

The Benchmade 32 comes in blade different styles than even the hugely popular Benchmade 51. You have the choice of either Black BK1 coated or Satin D2 blade in plain or partial serration, and they all come with the same machined skeletonized G10 handles, spring latch, Titanium pocket clip and jeweled ti-liners as the 51.

One of the many reasons for purchasing any balisong knife would be for performing tricks, and because the 32 weighs in at only 2.7 oz it’s a great choice for stunning acrobatic displays. Another reason for a balisong is using it as an Every Day Carry (EDC) and the most desirable qualities of any EDC is that it’s small and lightweight. The 32 is both,  making it perfect for carrying on your person (always remember to check your local knife laws- laws are different from state to state).

Now, I am a little guy with small hands and find the 32 a perfect fit, however, it would be quite the challenge for someone larger to handle the 32 and it’s 4.39” handles. If you’ve got bigger hands,  I would suggest the Benchmade 51.

If you’re looking for a stunning butterfly that is lightweight and small enough to carry on your person, the Benchmade 32 is the perfect choice.

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Buyers Guide to Budget Butterflies

Buyer’s Guide to Budget Butterfly Knives

Not too long ago if you were in the market for a new butterfly knife you had two options: the first was taking out a second mortgage on your house in order to purchase one that was so expensive that you were scared to touch it and the second option was to buy one that is was so poorly made that it doubled as a fixed blade if it left its pool of WD-40.

The conundrum of butterfly knives is that their sole purpose of being thrown, flipped, spun and inherently dropped lends little comfort to those purchasing them at high dollar. Those who choose the second option are confronted with an even steeper learning curve than already exists with just flipping knives. This is of course due to the poor construction of economical knives. No washers, loose stop-pins, cracked handles and
poorly balance will not help the novice flipper.

What should one look for when buying a cheap butterfly to ensure the best quality and performance for the price? Follow these 5 steps and you will be well on your way to budget butterfly bliss:

1. Is there a designer associated with the knife? Even though many butterfly knives are made in China they still have designers. This ensures that someone took care in creating a knife. In turn that means a more balanced and functional blade.

2. Does the butterfly have washers? In high-end butterfly knives the makers put ball bearings in the handles to help them rotate smoothly and have customized tension. The cheap way of creating that type of feel is to use Teflon and metal washers in between the handle and the blade. This will dramatically help the way the knife moves.

3. Does the knife have “pin construction” or “screw construction?” Some knives are simply attached using pins to connect the handles to the blade. This creates a limitation. Because the pins are permanent you cannot loosen or tighten the handles like you can with a screw construction. That being said screws are not foolproof. If they are loose they can come out while flipping the knife. You’ll just have to figure out what you prefer.

4. Are the handles milled/machined or cast? This is more subjective but is still something to consider. Casted handles are typically lighter and have a rough feel to them. Milled and cut handles feel smooth and art heavy. Cast means that the metal is poured into a mould to achieve the shape. Milled or cutting of the handles means the handles are usually cut out of plate steel using machines. That being said, knives that are milled are typically more expensive than those that are cut or cast. Judging whether one knife is cast vs. milled can be difficult but usually price gives away the answer away.

5. You get what you pay for. While there is some truth to this statement it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good knife for a good price. Some of it takes trial and error and a little bit of an adventurous heart. Persevere and you will find a knife that performs well and is still within your budget. Check out knife blogs, read reviews and do your research. There is a plethora of information out there to help take the edge off…

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There is hope.

The best knife for under $10.00 is the “Flick.” This knife does have pin-construction but they are well placed and allow for a pretty good action. This is certainly a budget knife at its best. It has a good weight to it and a good action. The cast handles are smooth and the skeletonized design possesses that classic flipper look. A great little knife for pennies on the dollar!

This knife is a saving grace and great knife for the beginner and advanced flipper. Anything made by M-Tech but specifically the M-Tech Twist designed by Darrel Ralph. It has great balance with a heavier weight. It utilizes metal washers for a smooth rotation. It is made in China but on the upper echelon so expect 20-40 dollars to pick one up. This really is the perfect example of a butterfly knife for the masses.

Another great knife- from a historical brand- is the 113 or 114 series by Bear and Son Cutlery. A USA made butterfly that has a lot of reputation to back it up. These knives are made in Alabama from scratch. The majority of their knives are a combination of machined and pinned construction that employs washers for a great action. They also use an epoxy powder coating on the blade for a textured grip. These knives are a great value for an American made blade. Cost for these knives ranges from 40.00-100.00.

Levi Jackson
Chief of Conversions and Knife Repair

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Balisong Uses & Muses

Balisong Uses & Muses by Jessica Hall

The balisong—also known as the butterfly knife—has a place on infamy in modern Western culture. The culprit: Hollywood. Well, mostly Hollywood. It has been so often portrayed in gang fights and other bad-guy-related confrontations that main-stream society considers them the primary weapon of choice in the Underworld. They have, therefore, been banned in several states, regulated in others, and banned in many countries.

Whether or not they are popular among those individuals is, however, beside the point. (After all, so are ropes, screwdrivers, 2×4’s, tire irons, kitchen knives, cars, rocks….and the list goes on and on.) The real point is that the balisong is a very useful tool with a long and helpful history.

So what is so useful about a Balisong?

The Balisong originated in the Philippines as a basic pocket utility knife. The first Western account of them was probably in 1710, the French book, “Le Perret”, but there is evidence of it being popular in the Philippine islands as early as 800 CE and possibly before that. It very well may be the first folding knife ever invented and almost certainly the first one to require only one hand to open and close.

It’s usefulness begins in the design itself, starting with the one-handed opening design. Say you need to cut something, but you also have to hold tight to something else—a safety rope, perhaps—all you need to do is flick out your balisong and presto! Let’s face it—as much as we like our auto, spring-assisted, and other pocketknives, sometimes they’re a little temperamental, or the spring breaks, or it sticks open, or collapses on your fingers….it can be a hassle, at the very least. But the Balisong? One flick and it’s open. Another flick, and it’s closed. As my kid would say “Easy Peasy!”

Since the two handles actually close over both sides of the knife with a latch at the top, it’s a great pocketknife. And the smaller ones (2-4” blade) are actually more useful than the larger ones (5” or more) in my experience, which is especially great if you’ve got those designer jeans with annoyingly small pockets.

Balisongs were, and still are, used as a straight razor, in the absence of modern disposables & co. And they have hundreds of other uses—sharpening pencils, cutting steak, opening boxes…basically, anything you can do with a pocketknife you can also do with a balisong. And there’s another thing which no other knife can offer: endless hours of entertainment.

No, seriously! The most popular use for a balisong is for doing tricks—commonly referred to as “flipping”. Spin it over the wrist, figure eights, switching hands and others. It’s a great way to develop good hand-eye coordination. And for those who don’t like the idea of flipping a sharp blade around, there are “trainers” out there with no actual sharpened edges.

As far as their reputation as a street-fighting weapon? Psychological tactics may work—If you’re good at tricks and start showing off, and your attacker is not too determined or high, they may decide to find a less-threatening target, but there are no guarantees, However, one of the big drawbacks of a balisong is that, because of the way it’s constructed, sometimes the hand slips down the handle and onto the blade. Ouch!

Outside of playing around with them, the other most popular use for balisongs is Collecting with a capital “C”. Custom balisongs are constructed of some of the most beautiful and valuable materials available: abalone handles, cocobolo and other tropical woods, mother-of-pearl, ebony, and red coral.

The Balisong is a very versatile tool, and probably the most fun to play with. And if you’re good, it’s a great way to impress the guys…or the girls.

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Butterfly Knife Construction

Butterfly Knife Construction by Chris Jerman

When it comes to the construction of a butterfly knife, there are two types that are the most common. There is the “Sandwich Construction” and the “Channel Construction.” Here is a very brief and basic description of the two.

Sandwich construction is a method where there are many parts of the handle that are layered on top of one another and then pinned or screwed into place. When constructed like this, the blade is allowed to rest within a void between the layers. This method, though popular and effective for its purpose, tends to create a handle that is not very sturdy or strong. As the knife gets more use, the layers can slip, or become loose, causing the knife to feel unsecure and shaky. As I said, it is a great design for its purpose, but it does not score well in the longevity department. On top of regular maintenance, there is a lot of time spent tightening screws, and keeping your eye on the latches and pins as well.

The other method of construction that I mentioned is channel construction. This is when the handles of the knife are constructed, or forged out of one piece of material. Also, instead of the blade resting within a void between layers of materials, there is actually a groove for the blade within the handle itself. This groove is created during the creation of the handle itself, either by folding, milling, or being integrally cast. Due to this form of construction, where the handles are made of one solid piece of material, this generally makes the knife stronger and more durable for use. Last, but certainly not least, with this construction form, you could expect this form of Butterfly knife to last quite a long time (with proper maintenance and care, of course).

When it comes to measuring the pros and cons between these two types of construction, a lot of it obviously relies on personal preference and opinion; You’ll have to draw your own conclusions. However, if looking at the sheer mechanics of the knife from the first step of creation to the time it is in your hand, the channel construction is a much safer bet.

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Butterfly Knife Manufacturers

Okay, you know that a butterfly knife is also called a Balisong, you know their history, you can name every part of the knife and you can even flip them open and closed. Your next step? Really fleshing out your collection. Who makes the best butterfly knives and where can you get them?  This particular article won’t cover anything custom- this is production stuff only (another article will focus on some of the beautiful custom butterfly knives that are floating around).

Who makes butterfly / balisong knives?

Benchmade Butterfly Knives. If you’re into butterfly knives then you’re familiar with Benchmade Knives. Started in the 1980’s Benchmade has been consistently producing quality balisongs for decades. Most famous for their 40 series butterfly knives (the Benchmade 42 in particular),  their current production models as of 2011 are the 51, 32 and the 53. Know for quality and commitment to innovation Benchmade consistently raises the bar when it comes to balisong knives.

Bradley Butterfly Knives. While Bradley doesn’t actually manufacture anything in house, their commitment to quality and value is immediately apparent. Bradley is best well know for their Mayhem & Kimura series. The Mayhem is made by Benchmade, so you know that the quality is going to be second to none. Bradley’s Kimura series is manufactured by Kershaw Knives and may have the most variety. Now in the 7th run, there are dozens of available Kimura styles. These models are well built and economical with many priced below $100.

Bear & Son Butterfly Knives. Easily the least expensive option with many knives available for less than $50,  Bear provides large variety of good quality knives.  Bear offers numerous sizes of knives, some excellent training options (dull blades) and even offers some custom butterfly knife varieties. Later this year Bear is poised to offer some new butterfly knife options under their Bear Ops brand.

Spyderco Butterfly Knives. In the past Spyderco was more active in the manufacturing of butterfly knives with the SpyderFly, Szabofly and Smallfly series readily available.  There are still numerous Smallfly runs available (which include an excellent butterfly trainer). Spyderco has scheduled their last run of Smallfly butterfly knives to be produced later in 2011 and has announced it will no longer make butterfly knives. Spyderco also operated a company called Baliyo. The Baliyo product is a pen that functions similarly to a balisong knife.

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Companies that had a good things going:

Cold Steel. While no longer available, the Arc Angel from Cold Steel was a very popular butterfly knife. Once available in three varieties (one included a double edges dagger model!) for around $150 these knives are now available on secondary markets for as much as $400 each. Cold Steel has shown no interest in reviving this particular model.

Microtech. During their heyday, Microtech produced both the Dragonfly & Tachyon. The titanium Tachyon is considered by many butterfly knife enthusiasts to be the zenith of butterfly knife production. The Dragon fly was less expensive aluminum version of the Tachyon, featuring the same design. It is our sincerest wish that one day Microtech revives some of these exceptional butterfly knives.

All the rest…

There are endless other options if you’re looking for cheaper butterfly knives. These knives typically have cast handles, low grade steel and questionable construction. If properly maintained, however, these knives can be an excellent introductions to the world of butterfly knives. They can be ideal for practicing complicated tricks (if you drop them, no big deal!).

Where do you buy butterfly knives?

There are hundreds of places to buy butterfly knives. Your local Army surplus store, your local knife shop and anywhere online. All of the mentioned butterfly knife companies in this article have corresponding links to online stores where they can be purchased.

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A Brief History of the Butterfly Knife

A butterfly knife, sometimes called a balisong, is a folding knife with two handles that rotate around the knife’s tang. When the knife is closed, the blade is concealed within the handles. The knife usually closes with a latch that secures the handles.

Due to their irregular construction, butterfly knives can be manipulated differently than traditional pocket knives and can be used to perform tricks.

Where did they come from?

There is currently a debate about whether the butterfly knife originated in the Philippines or in Europe. This much is certain: there is a long history of the butterfly knife being used in martial arts from the Philippines specifically in the kali, escrima, and arnis disciplines.

One version of events states that the balisong originated in the Philippines sometime around 800 A.D. This version of events points to the balisong’s use in ancient Filipino martial arts as proof. People who follow this theory believe that somehow, a Filipino design made it to Europe in the 1600’s.

On the other side, there are documents showing the existence of the butterfly knife in France as early as the 17th century. The French book “Le Perret” shows a sketch of a butterfly knife, and was published in 1710 A.D. The book itself suggests the butterfly knife was developed in the late 1600’s or early 1700’s A.D in France.

The oldest English patent for a butterfly style knife was issued to the German Cutlery Firm of Bontgen and Sabin’s on April 12, 1880. Bontgen and Sabin’s sold many balisongs in the late 19th century. For more information about these documents and some pictures, you can visit here. www.balisongcollector.com/history.html

Scholars who believe the butterfly knife originated in Europe, think that the design was carried by French ships to the Philippines in the 18th century.

Balisong or Butterfly Knife?  A Rose by Any Other Name…

There are a lot of stories that you will see about what the term balisong actually means. Spend just a little bit of time on the web looking, and you will see multiple theories. We are certain that the word comes from the Philippines, but beyond that the water gets murkier. Here are the most reputable theories that we have come across so far.

In their 1983 book, The Manipulation Manual for the Balisong Knife, Tom Wei Ding and Tom Wei Toi claim that balisong means “sharp knife.”

Jeff Imada says in his 1984 book, The Balisong Manual, that bali means “break” and “sung” means horn. The handles of the original balisongs, originally called bali sungs, were made from broken animal horns. This theory was seconded by Tai Jo in his 1985 book, Balisong Knife where he explains that balisong can be translated as “broken horn”, “breaking/rattling horn” or “to break the horn”.

Another theory about the origin of the term balisong is that there is a province in the Philippines called Batangas (sometimes, balisongs  are actually called batangas knives.) In this province, there is a city called Balisong. The city is famous for making knives just like for example, the cities of Seki City in Japan, Solingen in Germany, and Maniago in Italy. Balisong is the name of this city, and it has since come to be synonymous with the butterfly knives made there.

The hyphenated term Bali-Song is a registered trademark of Benchmade in Oregon City, Oregon. The term was also used by Benchmade’s previous iterations Pacific Cutlery, and Bali-Song Cutlery.

The word balisong without a hyphen is a generic word.

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