BALISONGS: What does one look for?

Feb 20, 1999
I'm interested to find out what the balisong enthusiasts abroad (in the States) look for in a balisong knife.

Since I'm located here in the Philippines, and balisongs are aplenty, I have to be meticulous when choosing which ones to get. What matters most to you guys? The handle materials? blade steel? blade design? I need inputs here.
I've been buying them out of the sheer pleasure of buying, but now that I learned a lot here at BFC (and I mean A LOT) I'm a bit more "choosy", and won't be buying from the the first knife stand I see on the sidewalk lining up the streets of Batangas.

Most common steel used are either railroad tracks (and they are wondering why there are derailed trains around, hehe) and truck bearing housings. Some of them even use bandsaw steel. These are individually forged and tempered. And since these are handmade, no two balisongs will truly be identical. They don't know anything about 5160, 1095, etc... they don't even have temperature gauges to tell if the steel is "well done" or "medium rare". They can tell simply by looking at the glowing piece of steel, or by striking on it until no sparks comes out of it (impurities, they call it). I'm not a knifemaker, so I can't really tell if any of these are true or not.
These are handed down from generation to generation.

The regular tests done on the blade is to punch it through our old 1-peso coin, which is made of (I think) carbon-nickel or something, around 4mm. to 5mm. thick, and still retain its point and edge. For them, this is already something of an achievement to be proud of. I guess the coins are thicker than the doors or hoods of the car.

As to handles, which is more preferable? Stag-horn or stag-bone, wood, imitation wood, plastic, or skeletonized brass?

Some things I would like them to improve would probably be the pivot pins and the locking latch. The knives may be strong, but these are the ones that are almost always the first ones to give up. I guess it's because brass is soft, and wears away quickly against the steel pins (normally made of nails).

Any other thoughts?

I'm jealous..... It must be nice to be able to walk down a street lined with your choice of Balisongs.

As far as the handles go, my personal preferance is with skeleton handled, brass or steel. They're much more durable and seem to perform better for me. The down side is, the added weight rips through pins like nothing else. I think increasing the diameter of the pins might help. I have a Taylor/Seto Balisong I've had for about 12 years and, until recently, the pins never broke...... but when one did, I noticed the difference in diameter.

Blade shape is not as important to me, though the weehawk types seem better for me at work.....cutting cartons, strapping, getting into small areas in machinery, etc. I'm not very familiar with different types of steel, so I can't help ya' there.

Something I found to be very important lately is the balance point, both open and closed. This seems to make a big difference in the way they perform. Dead center when closed, slightly above (toward the blade) when open.

Clay G.

I am not a balisong expert, but I have an intrest in the design and I know what to look for in a knife;

First, I will have to trust the maker to have used a suitable steel and to have tempered it apropriately. There isn't really much you can do to test this that you won't have to buy the knife for if it fails the test.

First, I'd look at the actual shape of the blade. I hate concave edges as they're no fun to sharpen on my flat diamond stone, and I want a centered point, that's relatively accute, but still leaves a fair bit of steel up front. Of course, the quality of the grind and finish are important too. This is indicative of the maker's skill, and also the attention to detail he gave the knife during construction.

There "tang" should form a servicable gaurd, and I like those corners rounded off. The only part that should have sharp corners on a knife is the cutting edge. I even like the spines to be rounded off.

Second, beefy pins. Especialy if they are made of questionable steel. They should be well peened over, and the knife should rattle too much.

Third, I have a preference for man-made handle materials. They tend to be less prone to decay, you can easily disinfect the entire shebang, and I would take steel over brass, even if it's not stainless. I wouldn't care for plastic at all.

Contrary to popular belief, carbon steels don't just automaticaly start rusting. There are many very, very old antique weapons that are in pretty good shape, even though they saw serious use. If you don't believe carbon steels are any good, go ask buckskinners sometime. Besides, even if they do rust, they're real easy to clean.

The latch is the most annoying feature. It can be made solid and reliable, but all the ways I can thing of involve precise machining operations.

For instance, it'd be real nice if somebody drilled a hole from the outside surface of the scale a little way through, then a little smaller on all the way through. Then you'd tap the larger hole, get a little nub of metal that poked through the small hole but who's base wouldn't fit through, and then back it up with a small spring and use a small screw to close it all up.

Then you'd have a nifty index to hold the latch in the locked position more or less securely, and as it wore you could take the screw out and replace the sping. Clean it that way too.

That bit about the coin piercing helped me out recently. A few weeks/months ago I came across a passage that made no sene to me while translating Manual del Baratero. It was discussing the desirable attributes when selecting a navaja, and it mentioned the ability to be driven through two hard coins or a two inch thick board without breaking or bending.

Which makes sense in English, but when you're looking at another language, they say stuff different(if you translate litteraly, you end up with uninteliglibe giberish), so the Spanish equivalent phrase looked real messed up to me and I kept going over it trying to figure out what the author was saying, until I got an e-mail from a fellow forumite that was dicussing the coin trick with the balisongs.

Out of curiosity, do these guys "stab" through the coin, or do they apply steady pressure to get it through?

One coin is really something to stab a knife through, never mind two. My guess would be steady pressure.
I allways liked the "lockless" style handles best, as they are the fastest to deploy (open). If your hand is gripped around the handles there is no chance for the knife to fold up. Some the the original Phillippine designs were the best in terms of the biggest blade for the lightest weight. The later designs from Benchmade and the Japanese imports were unnecessarily heavy for daily wear, but did lend themselves well to various flashy opening moves, etc. I guess it boils down to personal preference---I carry my bali for Personal Defense--(legal where I live--too bad if you live in CA,NJ,NY,MA).

Yeah, it's not so much a lock as it is a latch. It's more there to keep your knife from opening than from closing.

The balisong is a solid design. There's some room for refinement, there ALWAYS is room for refinement, but I'd take a good balisong over the bulk of these "tactical folders".
Clay, yes it does feel nice but rather confusing, as one doesn't really know where to even start looking for these.

Sorry but I'm not familiar with the weehawk type design. Do you have a sample picture?

As to balance, I believe most balisongs here are balanced well when closed, but a little heavy on the blade side when opened, not only slightly.

Oh yeah, I think I made a boo-boo when posting the above.
I meant handle inlays, not handles in general.
The materials that are being used for design and stuffs like that are usually plastic or imitation wood, or bone, or horns. Stag horns are probably the best, since the "song" in balisong basically meant "sungay" or horns.


I also like the tang and spines rounded off, something like the Sebenza.

As to pivot pins, yep, I agree that they have to be beefier, or at least made of some higher quality materials which can last longer. I've been playing with the idea of having something like a roller bearing as pivot pins, so that the outer bearing will stay put on the brass handles and not eat it up, while the inner bearings handle the swinging movement. Though it would be very hard to find such small bearings.

Or they can have those parts that holds the pins made out of stainless or something harder than brass. Though they don't have drill presses, and most drill those holes manually using an egg-beater like device.
Stainless steel would be tough to drill through.

As to handle materials, I'm not sure but I think the reason they use brass is because it's easier to work with, and it's traditional all the way.

Coin piercing is done by stabbing through the coin with one movement. It's not done putting pressure onto the coin. The brass handles would give in long before the blade punches through the coin.
It had to be done with one swift motion. Some of them even stab different coins two or three times, to prove a point (no pun intended). That's their gauge on how tough their knives are.

I wonder if those coins are really nickel or if they're zinc. US cents changed to copper-plated zinc in the middle of 1982 -- any knife ought to be able to pierce a zinc coin without damage. Zinc is much softer than copper and very much softer than nickel.

I seem to be developing a hankering for a really BIG balisong or navaja ... I'm thinking it wouldn't be heresy to buy a folding sword....
Any chance of getting a balisong about 10" (25cm) or longer closed? I want it small enough to conceal but big enough to use as a club without opening it.... Just a thought. When I get these hankerings I try to resist them for a while and sometimes they go away ... sometimes they don't.

Stag scales give a good grip, and bone scales look good even though smooth bone isn't grippy.... Most of the balisongs sold in the US have cast zinc alloy handles with holes in them. Brass ought to hold up as well as zinc alloy ... it's much heavier, but if it's fabricated rather than cast it wouldn't have to be as thick to be strong enough ... I dunno. I think I would like brass handles with holes or checkering or something for grip.

The way balisongs are normally made the rivets don't rotate in the handles; they fit too tightly -- so there shouldn't be any need to bush them. The wear is the blade against the rivet. Rivets made of nails are much harder and stronger than brass rivets, much preferable. I agree the bigger the rivet the better, within reason.

-Cougar Allen :{)

I think 10" closed balisongs are available around Batangas. They even have those folding swords like you said, LOL... even saw them a couple of times on a local comedy show, when a bad guy drew out a balisong, and the good guy exclaims "Prepare to meet your grandfather" and whips out this balisong which has a 2-feet handle... lol...

As to the pins or rivets, yes they are made of nails in general. The wear that I see in my balisongs are those found on the pivot side of the handle. Seems like some aren't really snug fit, and moves around to eat away on the brass.

Ah, what a great new thread. Just when this place was starting to bore me.

And welcome Mr. Metlman. Here's a man who knows a bit about what I look for, having sold me a couple.

I buy them for several different reasons, and I look for different things when I buy for different reasons.

Some I buy as "fidget toys". These are always cheapies, Jaguars or Bears. I keep 'em laying around the house and, well, fidget with them. Nothing to serious.

For serious workouts, I demand a Benchmade Model 45. Fortunately, I have a considerable private cache.

Now, to answer your question, Danny, my friend, a model 45 has a Weehawk blade. Is there a picture of one available? But of course:

I'd link the picture in, but it's 366K, and I know that some of you don't have The Big Pipe. Also, in this picture, the model 30 and 35 illustrate the weehawk. The model 68 looks similar. But, it's a "clip point". The difference is on the back of the blade. The weehawk has a false edge running along the back about 1/4 to 1/2 of the way. This false edge may be optionally sharpened. The edge on the back, false or true, reduces the resistance as you stab the blade into something or someone. Couple that with some vicious serrations along the back and maybe a few of those holes of your's and we're talking about one purpose-made blade, and that purpose ain't openin' boxes, Clay.

Personally, I find the Model 44, the Tanto, very off-balance. As Clay was saying. balance is important. This is one of the reasons, and a key reason, why solid handles often have skeleton holes, to reduce the weight of the handle until it better matches the blade. The 44 seems to me to be very "top-heavy". IMHO, they should have left the holes out and let the handles be heavy to match the blade. I can't get the same speed with a 44 thatI get with a 45.

Recently, with some fanfare, I bought the first Balisong sold at the new auction. I paid a whole $5 for this thing which was billed as the "El Cheap-O butterfly knife." Well, it is the FIRST El Cheap-O butterfly on the new auction and it is now MY El Cheap-O butterfly. I took it out of the box and was shocked to find that it handles very, very well. It's smooth, well-balanced. Almost all of my tricks are right there. Very nice for $5. It seems well-build. We'll see how long it lasts.

For my collection, I sometimes buy because the knife is particularly interresting or historic.

Mr. Snickersnee made an excellent suggestion: a spring-loaded latch that will automatically stay out of your way. I'd be a patentable idea were it not for the fact that I have prior art in my collection, a Sweedish butterfly made by Knifabriken, Gnosja Sweeden in about 1950 featuring approximately the mechanism you've suggested. Someday, I'll put pictures of it in The Vault on my new web site,

Others I am attracted to for my collection because of their artistic value. Consider the piece in The Vault right now,

I'll just stop talking for a minute and let this extraordinary knife speak for itself.

For insert materials, I have a lot with various horns and bones. They're nice. But I like mother of pearl a lot better.

I have a custom maker standing my while I try to find some suitable pieces of amber. I think a butterfly with amber inserts would be excellent.

A couple of years ago, I went through a phase where I think I all but drove Mr. George at George and Son Cutlery in downtown Portland, my favorite cutlerer, mad trying to find me balisongs that sounded right. I wanted nothing but pure notes and those knives clinked and clanked.

So, from play-toy to pure art, there are a lot of reasons to buy an balisong.

Oh, Mr. Allen, there is a tradition in the Philippines to make a Balisong with a blade about 27 inches long. It's actually 27 of some Filipino (ever notice how Philippines has two P's and Filipino has only one? Strange. America, American, same number of R's.) coin that's about an inch in diameter. The length comes from a Filipino legend of a warrior who impaled 27 opponents, probably Spaniards, with a single thrust of a long knife. I've seen these things at shows. Perhaps we can get one for you


[This message has been edited by Gollnick (edited 10 August 1999).]
I was wondering when you'll get here, Chuck.

As to the weehawk-type blade, so it's the false edge that makes it a weehawk.
I think I've seen some with those. Reminds me of my bayonet here.
I'm going to try and find what different designs are available. Once I do get them, I'll also try to post up some pics. Of course, they will be hand-picked.

Designs can be modified. I'm more finicky about the quality of the knife overall more than the design or beauty of it.

Most of the balisongs here are well-balanced, except maybe for those very small versions, or pen balisongs. The reason I'm asking all these is that once I'm there, there's no turning back, and I have to make good my long trip to Batangas, and spend a couple of hours checking out each and every store, then visit some of the custom-makers who doesn't have a stall, but makes balisongs per piece at a time, according to buyer's specs.

They are limited to what materials are available at any given time. I'm not sure if mother-of-pearl inlays are available, though I can ask. Most of them have wood handles (sorry, no narra wood inlays, since Narra is illegal to log here in P.I.). Imitation narra wood inlays are more likely it.

Philippine-made balisongs I'm sure won't be able to compete with the fit and finish of Benchmade balisongs, since the latter is machine-made, compared to the handmade ones we have here. One thing for sure, though.. they will outlast the Jaguars and the other China-made ones.

As to the coin, I just confirmed.. the old peso coin is indeed nickel, not zinc. It's around 4mm. thick. I have a hard time driving a nail through it, so balisongs that can puncture these in one shot, must be good.

Oh, and you're right about the 27 being the standard length of the balisong. You amaze me sometimes with regards to your knowledge on these things, hehehe.. even I didn't know that until lately!


I am now told by a known expert that a "false edge" is actually sharpened. It's called "false" because it doesn't run the whole length. An unsharpend suggestion of an edge is properly called a "swedge."

Danny, we must talk before you head off on your trip. Please e-mail me.

and Danny..........don't forget to keep the rest of us informed.

Chuck, I got an E-mail from someone selling a Benchmade, sounds like a model 44. He wants $500 for it though, still in the box with cocoon. Ya' interested? Let me know I'll pass the info on to you.

Clay G.

That first url you gave returns a "file not found," Gollnick, but the Vault picture at shows a Weehawk at the bottom.

Everybody and his hamster has his own personal definition of what a "false edge" is. I avoid using the term; too many people think they know what it means....

-Cougar Allen :{)
I look for a thick blade and handle and smooth action. I prefer Filipino balisongs to the BM's I've seen and touched. I wouldn't mind having a BM though, it's not bad.

I would stay away from the defunct 'Balisong' Brand of balisongs, very small, touristy pieces w/ heavily greased rivets. Ugh.

$500 for a model 44???? LSHIIAGTIHNHMBY (Laughing so hard it is a good thing I have not had my breakfast yet).

There was a fellow trying to sell a BM custom recently, one of the current edition, with a Tanto and skeleton Ti handles. Maybe it's him. I've talked to him about the knife. I already have a few of the current customs. In selecting mine, I specifically stayed away from skeleton handles. I'm looking for different things.


I don't plan to get it from the "sidewalks". I'll get them from those who have hidden cache..
These are the better ones, dunno why they keep it though. Perhaps they are trying to dispose the ones with cosmetic problems, or some other problems first.

I already have a lot of leads as to where to find them.
I'm so excited I can't wait for next week!

I was just reminded while playing with one that the latch should not latch to easily. It should be necessary to slightly squeeze the handles together to get the latch to lock when the knife is either open or closed. Otherwise, it drops into place and latches the knife when you're not expecting it, like right in the middle of sime nifty trick, particularly when in reverse grip.

Chuck, great that you should mention that. My balisongs all have latches that are slightly tapered on one end, and not rectangular. That way, you'll have to squeeze the handles in order to lock it.

I should be on the lookout for those too.

Thanks guys! I'm taking down notes to be sure.