Articles in this section:
1. Butterfly Knife History
2. Butterfly Knife Construction
3. Anatomy/Parts of a Butterfly Knife
4. Butterfly Knife Care & Maintenance
5. Lessons in Learning to Flip
1. Butterfly Knife History by Mark Christensen.
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.
2. Butterfly Knife Construction
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.
3. 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.
4. Butterfly Knife Care & Maintenance by Amanda Carbajal
Inspect Your Knife!
If your butterfly knife is constructed with screws, tightening the screws on a regular basis will prevent the knife parts from separating, and will keep the movement smooth. You may want to use a quality thread locker such as Loctite Blue 242 on the screws to keep them firmly in place. Just one tiny drop will be plenty for each screw. If your butterfly knife is constructed with pins, inspect them periodically to make sure they are in place and are tight. Check your knife regularly for any debris or damage. If your knife is covered under a manufacturer’s warranty, you’ll want to have them service the knife for you in the event of any damage.
Clean Your Knife!
A well cleaned butterfly knife will last longer than a dirty one. Grime, dust, and even fingerprints can harm the blade, as well as any moving parts. We recommend a knife cleaner such as Benchmade Blue Lube Cleanser to keep your blades clean and free of debris. In a pinch, a little bit of mild soap and warm water will clean it right up. Be Sure to dry the knife thoroughly, inside and out, to avoid rusting.
Oil Your Knife!
Your knife needs to be oiled after every cleaning, and periodically through the year. Use a high quality lubricant on all pivot points, and on the blade. This helps prevent rust and keeps it looking good and moving smoothly. Benchmade Blue Lube is a great wet lubricant, though it must be applied carefully to avoid stickiness. Tuff Glide by Sentry Solutions is a dry lubricant that won’t attract dust like a heavier oil would. One to two drops on each moving part of either lubricant will be plenty. Apply a thin layer on the blade to keep the steel rust-free and looking good.
Sharpen Your Knife!
We all know that a sharp blade is safer than a dull one. Anyone can sharpen a knife properly, given the right tools. A knife sharpening system is a great investment, as most of them will work for any blade. Look for one that comes with detailed instructions, like the Spyderco Sharpmaker, which comes with an instructional DVD. Having your knife professionally sharpened periodically is a good option too.
Remember: Inspect, Clean, Oil, Sharpen!
5. Lessons in Learning to Flip by Thomas Cox
Have you ever watched someone flip a butterfly knife and think, “Oh, that looks easy”? Well, I did and I was completely wrong. Luckily, the first knife I bought was a butterfly trainer. After a weekend of constant practicing I realized that flipping a Balisong is all about using the momentum of the knife while making sure your fingers are only making contact with the back of the blade.
The basic way to flip open a butterfly knife is to fling the one handle and the blade open, letting the ‘fling’ of the blade and ‘twist’ of the wrist build momentum, and spin the handle you’re holding.
Here are the steps to flipping a butterfly knife:
1. In your Right hand hold the butterfly knife by the handle connected to the dull side of the blade.
2. Tilt your hand backward so that the other handle falls over the top of your hand.
3. Continue tilting your hand and move your hand at the wrist in a counter-clockwise circle.
4. Allow the momentum of the handle and the blade spin the handle you’re holding 180 degrees.
I practiced this basic move in slow motion for an entire weekend. After a while I felt comfortable flipping it faster and realized that I didn’t have to smack my knuckles every time I swung open the knife.
If you’re having a hard time following these written instruction, you are not alone. Like reading a foreign language, you will understand more as you practice and gain experience. Also, there are many instructional videos available online (just check out YouTube.com).
Once you’ve mastered the basics of flipping a Balisong, you’ll be able to perform tricks, flips, and spins that will no doubt impress anyone.