Buying Your First Balisong: A Novice's Guide
Thinking about getting into butterfly knives but don’t know where to start? Looking for an upgrade from your first ccc but don’t know what to get?
When looking around for the best beginner balisong or best trainer you might find yourself overwhelmed by all the options. I’ll be going over what qualities and characters you should be looking for in a butterfly knife as well as what you'll probably want to stay away from.
First Balisong Materials
When looking for your first balisong you will want to pay attention to the materials used to make the knife or trainer. As far as handles go, you will most commonly find them made out of steel, aluminum, g-10, and titanium.
Steel is very heavy in the hand but also very durable. Aluminum is lighter weight but may feel slippery in the hand, and will deteriorate quicker than steel or titanium due to being a softer metal.
G-10 is usually used in conjunction with either steel or titanium liners and is very grippy. Titanium is widely regarded as the most ideal handle material because it is lighter than steel, giving the balisong a better balance and weight distribution for flipping, and is also very durable.
Although the blade shape of a butterfly knife will affect balance, the type of blade steel itself won't noticeably change the flipping characteristics of a balisong. Different types of steel do have numerous other characteristics that can change the value and performance of the knife, though.
Some steels are more durable than others, some steels are less prone to rust, some steels have better edge retention than others, and some steels are used to make the knife more visually striking, such as damascus steel or dragon skin.
If you live in a climate with constant high humidity, you may want to look for a steel that doesn’t rust quickly. No matter what though, you will always want to look for a durable steel because you are likely going to be dropping your balisong a lot while learning and practicing flipping.
I’d encourage you to do some of your own research on knife steels to find out what you’d like to have in a knife, and what best suits your needs. For balisong flipping, blade steel does not matter nearly as much as handle material as long as the steel is good quality.
For more details on what you may want to look for in butterfly knife, check out our article What to Look for in a Balisong (Butterfly) Knife.
Different Balisong Pivots
There are three main types of pivot systems you will find in balisongs: washers, bearings, and bushings.
Cheaper and more budget-friendly butterfly knives usually come with washer pivot systems. Washers can be a bit difficult to work with when you’re trying to re-tune your knife after taking it apart, but you’ll get the hang of it with a bit of practice.
Bearings are very easy to get set in place and tuned, but many flippers don’t really like the feeling of the ball bearings rolling around in the pivots.
Bushings that are sized correctly make putting your balisong together very easy and are by far the favorite choice for balisong pivots for most flippers, but they do come at a higher cost.
When first starting out, chances are you’re going to get either a washer or bearing butterfly knife. I’d actually recommend getting a washer or bearing knife first to figure out what pivot system you prefer, and to practice taking apart and putting together your knife.
If you discover that you like the smooth feeling of washer knives, chances are you will like bushings even more. If you find out that you like the aggressive swinging action and feeling of bearing knives, there are plenty of excellent options for bearing balisongs.
Balisong Tools and Necessities
Butterfly knives require a decent amount of maintenance, so when purchasing your first one you may also want to pick up a few other things.
First of all, you will definitely want a set of torx bits to take apart and put together your balisong. The most common sizes you will find on a balisong is T6 through T15.
T10 is the most common size for pivot screws and body screws are usually T8 or T6, but having a wider range of sizes should prepare you for almost any balisong you may get.
Getting a variety of bits and a decent quality driver is a must for getting into balisongs. I recommend Wiha bits and drivers but you can get whatever you have access to. Just be careful not to strip your screws (but if you accidentally do, here's a handy guide on How to Remove Stripped Screws).
Balisong pivots need to constantly be oiled every day or couple of days depending on how often you use them. For washers, I recommend using a medium weight oil like KPL Original to improve handle swing.
Although some flippers and knife enthusiasts do not suggest oiling bearings, I recommend using KPL Ultralight to ensure a smoother feel and no squeaking pivots. KPL Heavy is always a great choice for bushing knives since the high viscosity keeps the oil in place for longer.
For tips on maintaining your balisong, check out our article How to Maintain Your Balisong and What You Need to Know.
How many balisongs do I need?
You really only need one balisong to get started and learn the basics, though I recommend you try a few different butterfly knives over time to see what fits your style best. Additionally, you can always sell a knife you don’t want or need anymore.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when deciding on your first balisong is your budget. In most cases, the price of a balisong directly correlates with its quality.
Expensive knives are made with a much higher attention to detail and are built to last, and of course cheaper knives will generally develop more problems the more they're used. That being said, there are a variety of good butterfly knives and trainers to choose from at all different price points, including a few that are around or below $50.
If you are someone who is wanting to test the waters of the flipping hobby, the "under $100" price range is where I’d start. If you’re wanting to dive head first into the hobby and have a higher budget, I’ll be including various makers with some of their higher-end knives and trainers as well.
Boker Plus Balisongs ($35-100)
Boker Plus balisongs are a good entry point for the hobby because they are fairly inexpensive and are made with decent materials. Boker makes both live blades and trainers, mostly with steel liners and g-10 scales.
Boker butterfly knives feel both solid and grippy in the hand. Most run on washer pivot systems, but some run on bearings.
BBbarfly has been in the butterfly knife trainer game for over 10 years, and have been continuously providing people with trainers that also act as bottle openers.
The cheapest BBbarfly (the OG) has pinned pivots and nothing in the pivots - not even washers. Despite this, it still has decent flipping action and is a lot of fun to play with.
In recent years BBbarfly has been making revisions to this original design and improving the quality of their trainers, adding washers and bushings to different models. Most BBbarfly handles are coated aluminum but the most recent product, the BBfirefly, has anodized aluminum handles.
Squid Industries ($45-290)
Squid Industries has been innovating in the world of balisongs for a long time. Being one of the first companies to popularize aluminum handles, Squid Industries has become one of the most popular trainer brands.
All of their balisongs under $200 run on washers, and all of their balisongs over $200 run on bushings. Squid industries is also known for making the first fully functionally plastic balisong line out of CPVC, polycarbonate, and acetal.
Kershaw Lucha ($120)
Kershaw has been making pocket knives for several years, and in early 2020 they released their first ever balisong known as the Kershaw Lucha. The Lucha itself is a fairly large and heavy knife, with stainless steel handles and a bearing pivot system.
You can purchase a Lucha as either a trainer or a live blade, and is a great first knife if you’d like to modify and customize your knife. Additionally, more and more aftermarket parts such as handles and spacers are being made for the Lucha.
Maxace is a Chinese knife maker who provides good quality knives for the price points. They have various trainer designs and various live blades with different handles and pivot systems.
Maxace continues to produce new balisongs and pocket knives, and are definitely worth checking out if you're in the market for a new knife.
The SvixCo ($150-310)
Svix has been making extremely high quality and durable balisong trainers for a few years now. Their goal is to make the highest quality aluminum trainer for the lowest possible price.
All of their balisong trainers run on a bushing pivot system to ensure extremely tight tolerances. Currently Svix has three different trainers that have been through several revisions, making various improvements with each new version.
If you’re looking for a trainer that will stick with you and can take a beating, Svix has you covered. They also has a great warranty and will replace broken parts.
Like Svix, NRB has also been making high quality durable balisongs for several years. NRB has several knives including both trainers and live blades.
With a prior history of reviewing and modding, NRB knows what characteristics make a balisong flip well and feel good in the hand. All NRB balisongs are made to be high quality and run on bushings.
Glidr makes several different butterfly knife trainers that all have the same basic foundation. All Glidr trainers are made out of the same grade aluminum and run on a washer pivot system.
Different models have different shapes and unique features but the same foundation. They are great for the price and come in tons of vibrant colors and some mismatched colorways.
Bladerunners Systems ($200-500)
BRS was the first company to produce balisongs made for flippers by flippers. They’ve made themselves a staple company in the balisong community for their main three knives: the Alpha Beast, Replicant, and Barebones.
Everyone knows BRS products to be very reliable and made with good materials. They are a favorite by many flippers in the community, and a lot of new flippers strive to get a BRS knife eventually.
Flytanium Talisong Z ($290)
Flytanium made a name for themselves in the knife community by producing high quality aftermarket parts for balisongs and pocket knives. More recently, they made their first full butterfly knife in collaboration with Eldon Talley.
The Talisong Z from Flytanium and Eldon Talley is an amazing flipper that competes well with knives around the same price point. The Tali Z has a very interesting knurled texture on the handles, just like an original Talisong.
It runs on bearing pivots and has high quality aluminum handles. You can buy a Talisong Z with either a trainer blade or a live blade.
The brands above are organized by price, and I don’t believe any one brand to be inherently better than another. The price estimates are simply the approximate retail price for the range of their products.
When shopping on the secondhand market, these numbers could be higher or lower than the retail amount. Most balisong companies release knives and trainers in drops, meaning that only a certain amount of a specific balisong is released at a time. This means if you want to buy one brand new, you may have to wait for the one you want to drop.
In recent years there has been a huge rise of plastic trainers in the market. These plastic butterfly knives were made to be fun flippers that you’d be able to take anywhere, due to them being plastic and public friendly.
I would not particularly recommend any of these as a first balisong. Due to their very light weight, plastic butterfly knives can be much harder to learn on than metal ones.
They are still a lot of fun and I do recommend getting one if you're interested, but they are often difficult to learn new tricks with and you might have trouble transitioning from a plastic balisong to a metal one.
If you are looking for a plastic balisong then I’ve got a few recommendations. @ndk.arts has made the (p)Oni - the first plastic balisong that is also flexible. It looks extremely interesting and is very fun to play with.
@canto.group has just recently released his Angler balisong that is very high quality plastic trainer. Canto put in lots of detail and design work to make the most feature packed flippable plastic trainer.
And of course, the Squiddy lineup by Squid Industries are very fun trainers that come in several varieties, and feature a little face on each trainer blade.
What to Stay Away From
When trying to find your first butterfly knife there are a few things you will want to try to avoid. First of all, a lot of butterfly knives you find on Amazon are not going to be made out of good solid materials, especially if they have a pinned construction.
Secondly, you should try your best to stay clear of knock offs and clones of other knives, mainly found on AliExpress or DHgate. They are often made with cheaper materials and so even though they look similar to the real thing, they tend to have more issues and do not come with any warranty should something break.
Choosing your first butterfly knife can be intimidating, and might be hard for some to choose. You won’t know for sure what characteristics of a balisong you like until you try it first.
I’d recommend your first balisong to be something that fits in your budget and that will last a good while. Chances are the further you progress in the hobby, you will purchase another balisong and try out various models to see what you like and don’t like. The only rule of flipping balisongs is that you have a balisong in the first place!
If you have any questions or would like some help with talking through recommendations send me a DM @poip._.sus on Instagram.