Best Butterfly Knife: Balisong Knives That Soar

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Bear & Son’s Matt Griffey said with the Bear Song VIII, the company’s design eye was fixed on a knife “being symmetrical and balanced, the most important design elements to start.”

To be competitive, today’s balisongs must excel at flipping as well as cutting.

It’s a focus of versatility. From the style of opening to the enthusiasts who perform a variety of maneuvers with it, blade exposed, the balisong/butterfly knife is an object of curiosity and fascination.

The original term for the subject knife, balisong, is a favorite of Lucas Cao, founder and president of Squid Industries, which produces the popular Tsunami balisong. “Butterfly is a great slang name that describes the mechanism,” he remarked, “but the word balisong has a rich cultural history behind it.”

James Hill
Flipping competitions have played a key role in the resurgence of the popularity of balisongs, especially among young enthusiasts. James Hill is an example of the latter. He won first prize of $1,000 at the West Coast Flipping Championship during BLADE Show West in Salt Lake City this past October.

With that observation in mind, the Tsunami is true to the Squid concepts of user accommodation. “Each knife we’ve created is on the basis of more variety while still offering a premium flipper experience no matter the price point,” Cao explained. “At the top of our ladder is the Tsunami, which we designed to embody peak performance and build quality.”

Squid Industries Tsunami

Tsunami balisong knife open
The Tsunami features a traditional Japanese-style tanto blade in a straight-back clip point and flat-ground CPM S35VN stainless steel.

The Tsunami features a traditional Japanese-style tanto blade in a straight-back clip point and flat ground CPM S35VN stainless steel intended to perform well across the spectrum of cutting requirements. However, the knife’s main constituency is the flipper community. “We serve a variety of customers with different requirements,” Lucas said, “but a majority of our customers are focused on the flipping aspect. If I had to estimate the customer desirability, I would say approximately 99 percent flipping and 1 percent cutting.”

The Tsunami employs a combination of bushings and phosphorous bronze washers in its mechanism, ensuring smooth deployment. “This is critical to flipping because it allows the user to consistently and reliably manipulate the knife,” he added. “Bearings aren’t used in our products and many other competitive balisongs from other brands because they produce a flipping experience that’s usually too smooth. Bushings are the preferred style because they offer a specific amount of smoothness and speed.”

Tsunami Butterfly Knife
The Tsunami reflects Squid Industries’ goal of offering balisongs that exhibit both variety and flipping fun, no matter the price. “At the top of our ladder is the Tsunami,” Squid’s Lucas Cao noted, “which we designed to embody peak performance and build quality.”

The Tsunami design is referred to as a “chainwich,” as its 6Al-4V titanium handles come together to mimic an integral grip. The handles themselves are designed with two specific tapers, one along the width and the other along the thickness. This dual taper design in combination with the rounding on the top create a comfortable and controllable feel in the hand, according to Cao.

Squid Industries Tsunami Specs
Blade Length: 4.5”
Blade Steel: CPM S35VN stainless
Blade Grind: Flat
Handle Material: 6Al-4V titanium
Latch: N/A
Pivot: Bushings and phosphorous bronze washers
Weight: 4 ozs.
Closed Length: 5.6”
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $775

Kershaw Lucha Carbon Fiber

Kershaw’s Lucha Carbon Fiber Balisong
Kershaw’s Lucha Carbon Fiber is a premium edition of the company’s standard Lucha, including such high-end materials as CPM 20CV stainless blade steel and titanium handles with carbon fiber overlays.

The Kershaw Lucha Carbon Fiber’s spear-point blade of premium CPM 20CV stainless blade steel is ideal for piercing and slicing, while the “working” finish hides scratches from hard use. Company spokesperson Dominic Aiello related, “Our goal at Kershaw is to offer something for everyone, whether that be a budget-friendly knife you can abuse and lose all the way to a premium USA-made automatic. With that said, when we brought the original Lucha to the market, our goal was to offer a value packed, affordable, high-quality butterfly knife. It has been a huge hit and as a result we decided to release a premium version.”

Though the original emphasis on the practical use of the Lucha remains with cutting ability front and center, the knife illustrates the versatility inherent in the balisong style. “Of course, cutting is a critical component for any knife,” Aiello reasoned, “but with butterfly knives the flip ability, balance, and comfort are equally as important, if not more important. A lot of customers enjoy the Lucha for the fun and challenge of flipping, but there is also a segment of users that carry it as an EDC.”

Lucha Carbon Fiber butterfly knife closed
The handles of the Lucha Carbon Fiber are titanium anodized blue overlaid with machined carbon fiber. The handles and carbon fiber are contoured for a rounded profile and ease of use.

The Lucha combines good looks with smooth mechanics and easy maintenance. “Each pivot uses two KVT ball bearings, four total,” Dominic commented. “The ball bearings provide an extremely fast and smooth action for easy flipping. The handles are blue anodized titanium with machined carbon fiber overlays. The handles and carbon fiber have been contoured for a rounded profile and ease of use.”

Kershaw Lucha Carbon Fiber Specs
Blade Length: 4.6”
Blade Steel: CPM 20CV stainless
Blade Grind: Flat
Handle Material: Titanium w/carbon-fiber overlay
Latch: Yes
Pivot: Ball bearings
Weight: 4.9 ozs.
Closed Length: 5.65”
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $423.99

Bear & Son Cutlery Bear Song VIII

Bear Song VIII open
The Bear Song VIII includes a tanto-style blade in flat-ground 154CM stainless steel ideal for detailed cutting and general use.

Matt Griffey of Bear & Son Cutlery says the company has referred to the balisong as the “butterfly knife” since 1986. To that end, the company has continued to develop the famed flippers. With the release of the Bear Song VIII, the company’s design eye was fixed on a knife “being symmetrical and balanced, the most important design elements to start,” Griffey explained.

The Bear Song VIII includes a tanto-style blade in 154CM stainless steel, flat ground and ideal for fine cutting and general use. According to Griffey, the knife’s aptitude is 80 percent flipping and 20 percent cutting.

“A butterfly knife is the strongest folding knife, and as long as you are holding both handles it is as close to a fixed blade as possible for a folding knife,” Matt reasoned. “If the knife is maintained and tight there is almost no chance of lock failure. Maintenance should be just keeping it clean and oiled and checking it periodically to make sure it is not getting loose anywhere on the knife. If you find anything loose, remove the screw, and use Loctite® to replace the screw to the correct tension and let it set for at least twice as long as the thread locker recommends. We find they always give a time that is the bare minimum for the thread lock to work.”

Bear Song VIII closed
The Bear Song VIII sports stainless steel handles, rounded edges, and milled stepped holes and slots for user comfort. A spring-loaded locking latch and a stainless-steel pocket clip in a short design for easy carry and that can be removed if the user chooses completes the package.

In light of simple maintenance, the Bear Song VIII features an encased bearing design that is easily lubricated, while stainless steel handles, rounded edges, and milled stepped holes and slots provide user comfort. A spring-loaded locking latch makes operation a pleasure. A stainless-steel clip is in a short design for easy carry and can be removed if the user chooses.

“The Bear Song VIII has all the modern features with the timeless classic look,” noted Griffey, who sees the recent legislation regarding butterfly knives as positive (see sidebar). “Butterflies are far slower to open than a modern knife with a flipper on the blade that doesn’t have any spring mechanism. So anyone wasting time in their legislation to target this is just trying to fill time so they don’t have to do any work that might help the people they were elected to serve.”

Bear & Son Bear Song VIII Specs
Blade Length: 4”
Blade Steel: 154CM stainless
Blade Grind: Flat
Handle Material: Stainless steel w/Cerakote® finish
Latch: Spring loaded
Pivot: Ball-bearing washers
Weight: 5.1 ozs.
Closed Length: 5.25”
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $182.99

Butterfly Knife History

Butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, are one of the most popular knife styles today. They consist of a blade with two handles that rotate around a pivot and wrap around the blade in the closed position. That much is agreed upon. The origin of butterfly knives is still up for debate.

Where Were Butterfly Knives Invented?

Butterfly knives have a rich history, though much of it has been left up to speculation. Walk up to a knife enthusiast and ask, “Where did butterfly knives originate?” and you may get two very different answers.

Fuzzy historical records and well worn legends are to blame. The two main countries of focus are France and the Philippines. Each has evidence and supporters.

One Version: Butterfly Knives Came from the Philippines

Balisong knife history
Authentic Filipino balisongs (Image from Balislinger on bladeforums.com)

The Philippines is often cited as the birthplace of butterfly knives, where “balisong” is a more appropriate term. Legend has it that the balisong knife has roots that go back to around 800 AD. This style of knife could be opened quickly with one hand and easily used as a weapon. It proved a common choice for self-defense and utility uses.

A rich balisong tradition has been present in the Philippines for more than a century. Countless stands and stores sell handmade butterfly knives today, and Filipino province of Batangas and the area of Balisong in Taal are known for the blades.

At the very least, the word “balisong” is widely recognized to have come from there. That said, the lack of physical evidence to support a Filipino origin fuels the argument.

Another Version: Butterfly Knives Came from France

Pied Du Roi history
A vintage example of the Pied Du Roi. (Image from balisong.net)

Another claim is that the butterfly knife was invented in France between 1500 and 1700. The reason for this is the “Pied Du Roi,” which means “foot of the king” and is a French measurement tool that dates to the 1700s. The “Pied Du Roi” greatly resembles a butterfly knife. This tool has been pictured with measurement handles and a blade that folds out on one end. It looks like a butterfly knife, but could it be considered the first one ever made?

Proponents of the French origin argue that Spain, allied with France at the time, adopted the butterfly knife in their tasks and eventually took it to the Philippines as sailors sailed to different countries. Sounds reasonable, but hasn’t been proven.

Another supporting argument for the French is that these knives comes from Germany and England, where some butterflies can trace back to prior to 1900. I recently came across a collector’s piece online made in England with markings dating to 1873. This rules out the butterfly knife originating in the early 1900s in the Philippines, but like I said earlier, it has also been claimed to be influenced from similar Filipino knife models as early as 800 AD.

So Where Did Butterfly Knives Actually Come From?

Due to the popularity of balisongs in the Philippines, it isn’t surprising to suspect it started there. The lore passed down from generation to generation also support this idea.

On the other hand, France has pictures and documentation of a measurement device that resembles a butterfly knife and dates back hundreds of years. However, that measurement device likely wasn’t used for self-defense, flipping, or other tasks common to butterfly knives today. Could it be considered the same thing? Hard to tell.

Both sides have great arguments. More information is needed to finally determine this unsolved piece of butterfly knife history.

Butterfly Knives Today

Regardless of history, butterfly knives are rising in popularity due to the fun of “flipping.” Flipping involves tossing butterfly knives open to perform all kinds of tricks. Whether it’s the danger of it, the community, the collectible appeal, or anything else, there’s no doubt flippers are mesmerizing to watch.

Editor’s Note: Mike Haskew and Trevor Brown contributed to this article.

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