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Blade 'balance'

I answered a question about balance points on a couple of Livesay blades in the Review Forum and it got me to thinking.

Does anyone ever buy a blade based on balance (not typing to the throwing crowd here)and if so what are the reasons in respect to muscle fatigue, chopping ability, and general handling.

Second question: Do manufacturers actually take balance into account on initial design or does balance take a back seat to overall design? In other words, if it looks good and works, does balance really matter to most manufacturers?

I understand how balance works for or against you in wilderness blades but I wish for someone to elaborate on this subject in general terms. - Jeff

Randall's Adventure & Training

I don't buy a knife based on just one thing, whether it's balance or anything else. I like for the balance to be appropriate to the work I'll be doing with the knife. I've felt a lot of purported fighters that just feel like a crowbar in your hand -- a fighter should be lively! I expect some weight forward if I'm going to be chopping with this particular knife, but again it depends on the knife -- a machete should feel more lively than a purpose-built heavy chopper. I like my small utility knives to feel a bit nimble, it helps with control when doing finer work.

On the other hand, there are all kinds of other criteria that affect performance, like ergonomics or blade geometry. Performance is the goal, balance is one of the things that can help get you there.

>Second question: Do manufacturers actually take balance into account on initial design or does
>balance take a back seat to overall design? In other words, if it looks good and works, does
>balance really matter to most manufacturers?

Trick question! If it "works", chances are it's balanced nicely. 'Course, if balance is a bit off but the edge geometry makes up for it, then "working well" is more important than "balanced perfectly". There are certainly manufacturers and custom makers who take balance into account, doing things like tapering or drilling the tang to reduce weight for more forward balance, or weighting the tang and grinding off more blade metal for more rear balance.

Yes, I think I did. Though I cannot honestly remember everything that I took into consideration, I believe I ordered my Black Cloud Knives fourth generation Fighting Bowie mostly because of its superior balance. I already had a third generation FB, but I had handled a Mad Dog Panther at a show, and I was amazed at how much lighter and more nimble it felt in my hand, even though basically the same size. I talked to Ernie Mayer about it, and he told me of how drasticly he had improved the balance of his blades in the fourth generation design, so I ordered one. And it turns out Ernie has done an amazing job. My 8.5" FB4, ground from 0.25" stock moves more nimbly than my 6" combat/hunter ground from stock that's just a hair over 3/16". Having the balance point at, or very near the guard area, makes large blades move much quicker in response to wrist motions.

For chopping ability, you want the blade to be a little blade heavy. Pure mass is the key to efficient chopping, and it would take too much mass in the handle area to perfectly match the blade mass of a good chopper. If a good heavy ten or twelve inch chopper were balanced at the guard, the total weight would be too much, and the handle momentum would tend to cancel out the blade momentum.

For utility blades under about 5", I like a little different balance. Generally the lighter a small utility knife is the more pleasant it will be to use, but I like a small knife to be just a tad handle heavy. I think it makes the knife have more of a natural tendency to rest in the hand in a loose grip, and less likely to want to tip out of your palm. Too much weight though, and the knife will feel like it wants to slip through your grip. Over all I think balance is really more important in larger knives, in the 6" and above blade lengths, as that is when the total weight starts to become an issue.

I really cannot say what manufacturers do. I have never been very interested in big factory fixed blades. They tend to be almost as expensive as handmade ones that offer much better steel and heat treatment...and balance.