Question Of The Day: Why A Balisong? Why Not?

Image: Courtesy Wikipedia

The Balisong or ‘Butterfly’ knife is one of the truly unique folding knife designs in the world. But the ingenious indigenous blade of the Philippines has gotten a bad reputation in many parts of the world as well as many U.S. jurisdictions. Including my own state, which prohibits their mere possession . . .

These laws (like all knife laws) are utterly pathetic in their misguided uselessness, because 4″ assisted openers are much faster and easier (and safer, in my case) to deploy than any butterfly knife. And because criminals don’t give a damn what kind of knife they use, or whether they’re considered ‘prohibited gravity knives’ or not.

I’ve never owned a Balisong, and I haven’t even handled one since I was a teenager. I’m not quite sure how many Band-Aids I went through while awkwardly opening them, but suffice to say that my experiences with these knives were less than 100% positive. Even if they became legal tomorrow it’s not too likely I would ever spend my own money on one, but your mileage may certainly vary.

Since I can’t conveniently test or review these knives myself, I’m going to Ask The Audience. Do you own a Balisong? Do you carry it? More importantly, why?


  1. Matt in FL says:

    I’ve never seen the point of them. I guess they were a big deal because they were so fast to deploy back when all most people carried was their Boy Scout Buck knife, but in today’s climate of assisted openers, I’m pretty sure while you were wasting your time doing finger ballet, somebody with an assisted opener could open the knife, and then open you.

  2. Aharon says:

    Asian girl demonstrating her Butterfly Knife skills:

    1. OODAloop says:

      Ahhh, I remember spending hours doing this in high school. Remember, those were the days when they’d bust you for bring a Playboy to school and not your fav Swiss Army knife? I checked into getting one a few years ago (Benchmade!) but they’re a no-no in the state I’m living in. I’d carry one if I could…

  3. Robert D. says:

    My time with “buttefly” knives started in the early 80’s. As did my time with other assorted, daggers, swords, axes, hatchets, machetes… Anyways, I still have one of the cheap ones from the flea market. I have not owned nor carried a Balisong, however, I have had access to them for a long time.
    As with all tools, there are good, better and best. This applies to everything from knives and guns to tires, stereos, and burgers.
    The Balisong is in the realm of best. There is no side to side wiggle, no slop in the latch, no burs nor blemishes upon the blade. Yes, it moves smoother, quieter and faster than cheaper copies. The comment about BandAids is correct.
    I am a chef by trade so sharp things play a big role in my world. Gotta love that Ginsu, but I’ll take my Wustof’s and the knives I bought in Japan over it any day!

  4. jwm says:

    I’m willing to bet that every GI that made it to the PI carried one of those butterfly knives home in his duffle bag. And most of them found out what I found out. Knives made and sold to the tourist market for a few bucks can’t be expected to hold up or perform well. Same for the switchblades we all bought in Mexico. Mostly junk to part a tourist from his dollars.

  5. VaqueroJustice says:

    Well, they are fun, for one.
    Secondly, for the time that they became popular, they were
    a pretty safe knife, once opened. Unless a pin sheared, they would not close
    on your hand.
    Less safe, was the fact that they could be opened one handed in a time
    before assisted openers and wide availability of thumb studs and whatnot.
    They were also generally slim and easy to carry.
    Taken together, that made them a pretty good choice for the time.
    Besides, they are fun.

    1. Mark Davis says:

      Everything that Vaquero says is true.

      I had several back in the 80’s, and I liked them a great deal. I picked up a few cheapies in the PI that were kinda crappy, but I also had a high-quality US Balisong that was awesome.

      I’m surprised that other posters got cut by them. I don’t recall that being a problem. But I also purchased a small book that showed a number of different opening techniques, and that helped my learning curve.

      I think there is a misconception that all opening methods are flashy, but there’s at least one way to open the knife very quickly and with one movement. See 00:38 in the original video for a demo.

      They’re a lot of fun, and I’d probably still occasionally carry one if they were legal in CA.

      1. Robert says:

        balisongs are legal in California as long as the blade is less than 2 inches

  6. mike says:

    Agreed. Fun. I still have scars from when I didn’t know the rule about holding the handle without the latch.

  7. Matt in FL says:

    Please learn how to link YouTube videos as links, rather than inline. Inline YouTube videos frequently break mobile browsers.

  8. Poman says:

    Just like learning how to ride a bike, you gotta get cut before swinging that knife like a pro. In a knife fight if someone demonstrates the skill of the butterfly knife opening they probably win the fight for sure (in all the movies I can remember…think Kickass)

  9. Gabe says:

    i own 8 of ’em, i usually carry at least one of ’em, sometimes i need a knife that i can open and close one handed and i feel like being different and when no one’s looking and i’m bored i can always practice flippin’.. also i like stuff that was cool in the 80’s.

  10. CSharp says:

    The idea that in a “knife fight” someone is going to whip out a balisong and flip it a dozen different ways is movie fantasy. Most people who own balisongs do not own them for self defense. They own them for looks, as collectibles (google the going rate for the discontinued Benchmade 42) or for fun–check youtube for more videos of balisong flippers.

    Flipping a balisong takes skill and practice, just like anything else–juggling, riding a bike, twirling a baton, doing tricks with a yo-yo, hitting a baseball with a bat, free throws, etc. And imagine what it does for your manual dexterity and finger strength, especially with the heavier balisongs, some of which can get into the neighborhood of 8 or 9 ounces. Not really that much of a puzzle why so many people like them, if you stop and think about it.

  11. Zak says:

    The first time I handled a Balisong i was left with this surface cuts all over my right hand(beginners luck) but it definitely was fun as hell. If I remember correctly, it was during school days and the guys would start flaunting their skills and it was fantastic…until they were all confiscated. This whole legality issue of owning a butterfly knife has both it’s pros and cons but one would hope that with all the balisong’s that substitute the blades with blunt ones or even replace the blade all together that it wouldn’t be such an issue carrying it around.

  12. CSharp says:

    Some people consider assisted openers and autos to be unnecessarily flashy and gimmicky, so I suppose opinions vary. As for AOs being safer to open, I had just bought a Kershaw Chive, tried it in the store and had no problem with it, though I did somehow contact the edge and it was so sharp that it sliced off a little bit of skin. In any case, the next time I opened it, I was standing in my own driveway and it popped open so fast I lost my grip on it and dropped it tip down on the asphalt–the edge took a tiny ding. That actually hurt more than the skin it removed in the store.

    I don’t own any autos, but I’ve seen footage of otf autos not engaging fully when they meet just a tiny bit of resistance. So, imagine deploying one as you draw it from your pocket. The blade makes contact with any part of your pocket on the way out, it’s not going to lock in place, leaving you with a trick knife. The videos I watched, btw, demonstrated this with Microtechs, not cheap flea market/gas station knives.

    As for balisongs, the question, IMO, is not “why” but “why not”? It’s just a folding knife like so many other folding knives out there. As long as you’ve got a grip on the safe handle, they’re rather easy and quick to open without all the flash and flipping so many people think of. Just one single, quick wrist movement will flip the handle and blade up and around before you can say “assisted opener”. The bottom handle lands on top, in your hand and then you just wrap your fingers around it. No cuts, no fuss, no muss.

    Properly made balisongs are just as useful as utility knives as Spyderco Enduras or Benchmade Griptilians; they just open differently and have different mechanisms to keep them open. And, just like any other knife out there, there are cheap gas station types with cheap blades that may or may not have been heat treated and handles that will fall apart and locks that may fail and there are good ones with good blade steels and well-made handles and locks that will last years–decades, even.

  13. Miyamoo says:

    I the hands of an average user they are about the same stats as any other folding blade. The exception to this is they are a lot stronger and sturdier due to their two pins. In the hands of an expert, however…. The quickest deployment has been clocked at 0.16 seconds and they have been known to petform movements reminiscient of japanese iai. That is to say the will draw, attack, and put their blade back away with in a span of no more than thirty seconds.

  14. KaliMahn says:

    The main issue with legality is to protect against lawsuits regarding sale to minors and self injury. A lot of smoke shops, pawn shops, and swap meets will sell knives to kids, but when they sell kids butterfly knives, kids who have never handled one before injure themselves using them, and the parents sue. As far as a weapon goes, they have a learning curve, just like nun-chuks or a katana, or any other martial arts weapon. Hell, even a gun has a learning curve to use PROPERLY and effectively. Attempting to use any weapon without respect for what it is ultimately used for is going to result in disaster. For those who can competently employ one in combat, they know of it’s benefits. Attempting to grab at the weapon during deployment usually just busts up your fingers, or cuts them up. And once its out, its a freakin’ knife. Just learn the latch drop and horizontal/half fan/vertical open methods, and you can open it quick just pulling it from your pocket.

    1. I missed this post the first time around. Thank you everyone for so many well thought out and lengthy answers.

      I had one as a teen, I have no idea what happened to it. I likely traded it to a friend for something fishing related.

      Now that they are legal in TN, I would like to pick one up to play around with again.

  15. Kaden Snow says:

    One thing I’d like to clarify is that a high quantity of people on the internet seem to think” the balisong” is a brand name. It’s not. Balisong is just another name for a butterfly knife, and any $5 butterfly knife you buy at the fair is also a balisong. There are higher quality and lower quality brands and products, but they are all balisongs.

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Question Of The Day: Why A Balisong? Why Not?

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