Knife balance ( general)

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by Hulkie, Oct 31, 2012.

  1. Hulkie


    Oct 22, 2012
    G'day mates, is there a general rule for where a knife should be balanced. I'm refering to a few different categories : chopper, hunter, utility,camper, hiker, chef, large" survival" knife..etc. I have been trying to hone my skills on an outdoor knives that are 3.5" blades approx 8 "oal. I try to get the balance where the riccoso meets the handle, however, depending on what material I use for a handle , the balance can be effected to a high degree. It's difficult to get a good balance with heavy handle material - btw, I'm horrible at getting a good taper but I have tried it and still can't get a well balanced blade.
    How important is knife balance on smaller general use knives?
    I understand that chefs and choppers need consideration as far as where the weight is but I'm having trouble rationalizing why a small user would need special attention to balance. Thankee
  2. Gary Mulkey

    Gary Mulkey

    May 14, 2001
    There are no hard & fast rules as everyone has different likes & dislikes. In general, I want a chopper to be blade heavy (I like the sweet spot about two thirds of the way out on the blade-a hunter to balance at the guard and I don't worry about small blades as they will normally be handle heavy. These are just one man''s opinions though;).

  3. james terrio

    james terrio Sharpest Knife in the Light Socket

    Apr 15, 2010
    When you pick one up that's poorly balanced, you'll know it :D

    I think balance is one of the most fascinating and challenging aspects of building a fine knife, regardless of size or purpose. I hate a knife that feels like a brick or a baseball bat in my hand. Even large, powerful choppers can and should feel lively, not like swinging an sledge hammer. Smaller knives, even more so.

    It's pretty difficult to get a 3.5" blade to balance ahead of the handle without resorting to a "skeleton" or cord-wrapped tang. Severe tapers combined with lightening holes can certainly help, and the differences seen will be greater with thicker stock. (you can only put so much taper on a 1/16" thick tang ;) ) Now a 1/4" thick, 3.5" sabre-ground blade will obviously pull the balance point forward on a knife with a drilled and tapered tang... but may not be a very practical design for other reasons.

    I find that almost everyone feels comfortable with a small to medium knife that balances just behind the guard, where your index finger normally is.
  4. Hulkie


    Oct 22, 2012
    Thank you for your posts
  5. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    I usually say balance is right when the knife "feels" right in the hand.
    If it is off, you will feel it. To decide what to change on the next knife, placing clay temporarily on the blade or a ball of it on the pommel will help decide if there should be more or less weight in the blade or handle.

    For a standard user - the balance is around the ricasso/handle juctction..... farther forward on choppers, father back on slicers.
  6. rustyrazor

    rustyrazor KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 13, 2011
    +1 for James Terrio on this one... i had always heard that exact same thing from the old guys in the hunting camps and carried it with me for years now. the index finger balance point has been my benchmark for a well balanced knife, in the hunter/combat/utility range at least.

    ...just another mans opinion of what better men have said.
  7. Nathan the Machinist

    Nathan the Machinist KnifeMaker / Machinist / Evil Genius Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 13, 2007
    Balance is a fascinating subject and there is a lot more to it than just the center point of balance. If you've never given much thought to it, consider this thought experiment:

    A stick with a weight on both ends...
    A stick with a weight in the center of it...

    Both sticks might be the same length and weight and balance at the same spot, but they will behave very different when swung. One will be very quick to rotate (large center weight, like a blade with a heavy guard and distal and proximal taper or stick tang like an ABS knife), one will be very stable when moved about (heavy tip and heavy pommel).

    Most knives are balanced in such a way that chopping near the tip creates an impact that wants to pull the blade from your hand, your fingers (not your palm) are retaining the knife. This is because the center of mass is behind the impact point and the blade wants to rotate around the center of mass. Though adding a heavy pommel (which moves the center of balance backwards, but adds mass a distance from the center of rotation) helps resist this rotation, adding power to the cut. Choppers tend to be weighted so the center of mass is closer to the point of impact. Something weighted more like a hammer can actually press the handle back into your palm.

    Some knives are used in a way that balance when cutting is very important. Other knives are used in such a way that balance when not cutting is more important.

    All fine knives are made with an attention to balance.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2012
  8. Matt Markell

    Matt Markell

    May 12, 2012
    I have always liked having a knife balance on my index finger. In a chopper I would want it further forward but for knife tasks (cutting, slicing) a light and fast feel is best. I don't really like tapering tangs so I just skeletonize the tang a lot. Honestly I don't even try that hard and they all seem to end up right where I want them, balanced on the index finger.

    Here's a picture of a 3/16" in. thick large hunter I did. Sorry it's blurry but it's the only one I had. This one with 3/8" in. micarta scales balances just a hair behind the index finger.

  9. james terrio

    james terrio Sharpest Knife in the Light Socket

    Apr 15, 2010
    Excellent points, man, and they illustrate how weight distribution and balance affect different knives intended for different uses.

    Drifting a bit from the more involved mechanics you discuss, let me mention an example of a small/medium knife design that, while balanced very near the center (and where it rests on the index finger), still feels like a brick to me... now hold on, because I'm going to offend some folks here!

    ...the typical Loveless-style drop point (and the thousands of copies) with a steel or brass guard/front bolster. There, I said it! Such bolsters add nothing to the strength or usefulness of a knife that size; a simple integral "guard" will keep one's hand off the edge just as well. They only add weight. While they don't interfere terribly with the fulcrum or balance point of the knife, they do make them feel clumsier.

    Naturally this is only my opinion, and should be taken as such. :)
  10. Nathan the Machinist

    Nathan the Machinist KnifeMaker / Machinist / Evil Genius Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 13, 2007
    The authentic Loveless knives I've handled were light and well balanced. He used a very deep hollow grind and his blades and tang are ground thin. Like the ABS knives with their tapers, this creates a knife that is relatively light with a central weight bias. His handles are ergonomic. To me the Loveless I've handled and a lot of the ABS knives feel as if they contain anti gravity. You look at this big knife in your hand and there is a disconnect in your mind. You swear the maker must have snuck in some balsa wood instead of steel. They're lively, they feel good and they give the impression of being lighter than they actually are. Of course that doesn't necessarily mean they're well balanced for a particular application...

    Ever handle an authentic saber? They don't feel so good. But they're designed to hack off limbs, not for fencing, and have a center of percussion designed to impart powerful blows. And they feel like you're wielding a stick with a big turd on the end.

    And you also have modern tactical knives with their thick blades and solid tangs. They are heavy and resist rotation. So they may be durable and they probably hack pretty well, but in the hand they feel like bricks to me.
  11. JamesBro


    Aug 21, 2012

    Gee, I was so happy with the christmas gift I just finished today untill I find I wasted my time with the bolsters and cap!!! (tongue in cheek)
  12. james terrio

    james terrio Sharpest Knife in the Light Socket

    Apr 15, 2010
    No offense meant, there are many ways to skin a cat. I should point out that Loveless is one of my heroes.

    I know what you mean about good ABS bowies, Nathan. I've been lucky enough to handle a few Hansons, Cashens and Andersens, and they're almost spooky.
  13. mete

    mete Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    I had bought a fine Fallkniven hunting knife but the minute I used it I knew it was poorly balanced. Nathan was nice enough to skeletonize the thick heavy tang.Now it's a pleasure to use !! So yes it makes a world of difference ,big chopper or small hunter.

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