What to Look for in a Balisong (Butterfly) Knife
It's no surprise that the balisong/butterfly knife flipping hobby is rapidly gaining popular momentum. Why? It's addictively fun! Flipping with a balisong knife or trainer is like playing with a fidget toy on steroids.
Working a butterfly knife can also help to improve your dexterity, coordination, and timing. The explosion of balisong/butterly knife trainers has also made this hobby safe, even for beginners!
Are you looking to buy a balisong knife or perhaps looking to upgrade from your current one? You may want to check out this brand guide after you read below to get a better understanding of what to look for in a quality balisong.
The first thing you should look into is the materials your Balisong is comprised of.
Almost without exception, knife blades are made of steel -- its a fabulous material that offers toughness, shock resistance, edge-holding and stainlessness depending on steel type. Knife steel technology is extremely complex. If you'd like to read in depth on knife steel options and grades check here. For purposes of this introductory article, we recommend sticking with a mainstream stainless steel for your first knife. Solid options are steels like 440C, CPM-154, S30V, D2 (semi-stainless), M390, VG-10, or AUS-8. Any of these options will provide you with an easy-care blade that won't easily rust or corrode if you store it dirty or in a sweaty pocket.
Modern balisong knives use durable materials to form handles that provide a comfortable grip, rigid handling characteristics, light weight, and a protective cover for the blade when closed. All of the materials below are reasonable choices, depending on how much you'd like to spend.
Aluminum is an inexpensive, rigid, lightweight metal that is easily machined into quality knife handles. Aluminum is rigid, quite corrosion resistant, takes color anodization nicely, and can be blasted to create a smooth-but-grippy surface. If you're looking for a quality knife handle material, aluminum is a solid choice.
Titanium is a high-end, rigid, strong metal with excellent fatigue characteristics and very good corrosion resistance. Titanium makes an excellent handle material. It offers a soft touch, light weight, and very good springiness, making it highly resistant to drops and damage.
Composites are a combination of materials that together offer both strength and resliliency. In knife handles, the one of the materials tends to be a textile fabric or fiber weave and the other is usually a resin or polymer. Composite materials include micarta ( a combination of conventional fabric or paper and resin), the stiffer and more damage resistant G10 (a combination of fiberglass fabric and resin) and Carbon Fiber (Carbon strands impregnated with resin) which is one of the lightest and strongest materials on earth. In deciding on a material, consider that while it is stiffer, stronger, and lighter, Carbon Fiber is also the most expensive of the three common composite materials.
The pivot system refers to the things used to reduce friction within the Balisong. The most common is using just washers, usually made from steel in cheap Balisongs or from Phosphor Bronze in mid to higher end Balisongs.
Balisongs running on washers do require fine tuning via the pivot screws to get optimum performance without too much looseness and play. As always, for best results apply Knife Pivot Lube frequently!
Bushing pivots offer a substantial upgrade from washers alone. Bushings are tubes of metal that fit through the blade of a balisong at the pivot, extending just far enough past the blade's thickness to fit a phosphor bronze washer on each side. When pivot screws are tightened, the bushings provide the perfect amount of standoff such that the blade can pivot smoothly without play.
Bushings are widely seen as one of the best options for balisong blades, as they offer repeatable performance without the need for fine adjustment. A high performance oil maximizes the handling characteristics of busing pivots.
Finally, bearings are used in many high end balisong pivots. In these knives, small steel or ceramic ball bearings fit into a ring-shaped cage, usually made of Teflon or steel and are fitted between the blade and each handle. Ball bearings offer extremely low friction, sometimes causing a butterfly knife to flipping so fast that it actually becomes uncomfortable, especially for flippers more accustomed to bushing or washer pivots. To prevent wear or grittiness in bearing pivots, use a lubricant to keep contaminants in suspension and away from metal-on-metal interfaces.
Tang Pins are commonly used in cheaper Balisongs. In these low-end knives, tang pins are known to fall out or break, but in a well-made knife they offer fabulous performance and are very reliable. The most well known maker who uses Tang Pins is Jerry Hom of HOM Design, utilizing tang pins in his famous Basilisk line. Tang Pins are press fit into the blade and impact with tang cups that are indented into the handles. These stop the handles from slapping each other during use.
Tang Pins can be slightly bouncy sounding, depending on the material used, though they are usually quieter than other pin systems.
Zen Pins are pins that are fit into the handles of the Balisong, with cups in the blade and a nub called the “Zen Nipple” on the bottom of the blade for the pins to hit. As with the Tang Pin system, this is to stop the handles from touching and slapping during use.
There are three variations of Zen Pins, which are: Press-fit, Hardware and Hidden Zen Pins. Press-fit Zen Pins, like Tang Pins, use a press-fitting system to press the pins into the handles.
This makes sure that there is no need to tune or maintain the pins as they are always in place. The downside of this is, if they fall out, they will need a machine to be put back into place, which usually calls for sending it back to the maker for maintenance.
Hardware Zen Pins use a barrel in between the handles and screws on either side to keep the handles from touching. This is the most common in higher end Balisongs and it allows for them to be tuned for maximum tolerances.
Hidden Zen Pins are placed in between the handle slabs inside a little slot, to keep the pins out of view. These are very durable but can be harder to maintain and they can only be done on sandwich construction handles.
Zen Pins are responsible for a very bouncy and loud sound, with a noticeable vibration on impacts. Well known examples of Balisongs that use Zen Pins are the Bladerunner Systems Replicant, Squid Industries Co Kraken and Benchmade 51 .
For more examples on how these Balisongs and more sound, as well as how different builds and materials impact sound, check out @bali.asmr on Instagram!
The final thing you need to know is, well, how well does the Balisong flip? In the Balisong flipper community, balance and flippability is everything.
Balisongs such as the ones made by Squid Industries Co, HOM Design and Bladerunner Systems are held in the highest regard for flipping as they are made with flipping in mind.
General community feedback can make or break the success of a Balisong and is also the best way to learn about which knives are good and which ones aren’t.
To conclude, these are the main factors you should look into when it comes to buying a new Balisong. It may seem confusing at first but it’s easy to get the hang of it.
Soon enough, you’ll be identifying all of these things on Balisongs with ease! Thanks for reading! A special thanks to @99_eggs_on_the_wall on Instagram for providing the pictures for this article!