A Dictionary of Common Balisong-Related Terminology



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Parts and features of blades and knives:

 Back See also "Reverse." The side of the blade you're looking at when the tip is pointing to your right and the edge is toward you or down.

The Filipino word for a butterfly knife. I've heard it variously translated as "Broken Horn", possibly a reference to the use of animal horn as an insert material, "Breaking Horn", possibly a reference to the sound the knife makes as it is manipulated, or "To Break The Horn", possibly a reference to the use of a closed balisong as a striking weapon.

Balisong is also the name of a city in the Batangas region of the Philippines which is famous for making knives and especially butterfly knives. I am told that the city was named for the knife.

Bali-Song (tm)
A registered trademark owned by Mr. and Mrs. Les DeAsis and currently licensed to Benchmade Corporation of Oregon City, Oregon. It was originally registered by Bali-Song Cutlery Company and then licensed by Pacific Cutlery.
 Batangas Latch A latch attached to the opposite handle. This is the most common style of latch.   See also "Manila Latch."
 Bite Handle See "opposite" handle.
 Blasted Finish A rough, dull, grain-less blade finish achieved by subjecting the blade to an air-borne stream of sand or other abrasive. (Caution: blasted finishes tend to rust easily.)
 Bolster A piece of usually brass or steel added the outsides of a handle at the ends.
Brushed Finish An attractive blade finish achieved by lightly brushing the blade on one direction with a wire brush. The result is a grain of many fine, parallel lines that tend to hide scratches. 

A man-made material used commonly on knife handles in the early 1900s. It was especially popular between about 1920 and 1930. It is easily shaped and yet durable and can be made in many colors. It can be made to resemble stag, bone, horn, ivory, or mother-of-pearl.

Unfortunately, it is fatally flawed. It is chemically unstable and breaks down over time. Not only does it discolor, become brittle, and crack, but it also gives off corrosive gases that can damage not only the knife in question but any others stored with it.

Chisel Ground When the edge of the blade is flat on one side and ground on the other. See also "hollow ground" and "flat ground".
Cocoon (tm)

Benchmade Corporation's trademarked name for a sheath for a butterfly knife.

Balisong sheaths are usually designed to be worn horizontally on the belt to allow a quick draw (done here in slow-motion for the benefit of the camera). (233K)

Choil A cutout area in the ricasso on some blades that makes sharpening easier.
Combination Blade or "Combo Blade" See "Partially-Serrated Blade"
Counter-Sunk holes A hole that has a chamfer around the inside.
 Damascus Steel A blade steel usually made by creating layers in the metal which give a visible pattern in the finished blade.
Double-edged  A blade in which both edges are sharpened from the tip to the ricasso..
 False Edge Commonly misused to refer to an unsharpened suggestion of an edge on the spine of a blade, this term properly refers to a sharpened portion on the spine of a blade that does not run the full length of the blade. An unsharpened suggestion of an edge is properly called a "swedge".
 Flat Ground The sides of the blade are flat up until the edge begins. This is easier to produce than a hollow ground blade. Most all "production" balisongs have flat ground blades. See also "Hollow Ground" and "Chisel Ground".
 Front See also "obverse". The side of the blade you're looking at when the point is pointed to your left and the edge is toward you or down. 
 Fully-Serrated Blade A blade with serrations on the entire edge. This is rarely seen on balisongs. See also "Plain Blade" and "Partially-Serrated Blade" 
 Grain Visible, parallel lines on the blade from either the grinding or from finishing.
 Guard See "Hilt." On a balisong, they are the same thing.
 Gutting hook A feature usually on the back of a blade (but, in my experience, rarely seen on balisongs) used to quickly cut through the hide of an animal.
 Handle Pin A pin that joins one of the handles to the tang of the blade
 Hidden Pin Handle or latch pins that have been polished down so that they aren't obvious on the surface of the handle.
 Hilt Features on the side of the blade on many balisongs that, when the knife is open, help prevent the user's hand from slipping off the handle and onto the blade when the knife is thrust into something or someone.
 Hollow Ground The side of the blade are concave. This is harder to produce than a flat ground blade. It has to be hand-ground. See also "Chisel ground" and "Flat Ground".

A piece of animal horn material used as an attractive insert


An extra protrusion feature, usually part of the tang, that is used as a striking weapon. On many closed balisongs, the hilt becomes horns.

 Ink Marking, usually on the blade, which is stenciled or silk-screened on with hopefully durable ink or paint. Use caution when cleaning any blade with ink markings.
 Insert A material added to the outside of a handle between the bolsters to give width, a better grip surface, and/or for decoration.
 Kick or Kicker

A feature on the ricasso that prevents the edge of the blade from hitting the inside of the handle it closes into.

(A Kicker is also another advantage of living in Oregon.)

 Latch A part attached to the end of one of the handles that locks to a mating feature on the other handle to lock the knife open or closed.
Latch Handle The handle that the latch is attached to. See also "Opposite Handle".
Latch Pin The pin that connects the latch to the handle
Lightening Holes See "Pierced Blade"
 Liner The handles of balisongs made the traditional way consist of a piece of sheet metal formed into a U shape. Bolsters and inserts are then added to the sides to give width, a better grip surface, and for decoration. That piece of U-shaped sheet metal is called a liner.
 Manila Latch A latch attached to the safe handle. See also "Batangas Latch."
 Manipulation The colorful art of handling, opening, and closing balisongs usually with one hand. (4.09M)
 Matte Finish A dull blade finish created with an abrasive. It does not have a "grain" as a brushed finish does, but is not rough as a blasted finish is.
Micarta  Actually a trademark of General Electric, but widely misused for similar materials from any manufacturer. Micarta is an engineered plastic material made from layers of paper, cloth, or linen impregnated with phenolic resin, pressed, and cured. It's commonly used to make electrical insulators, which is what I suspect it was originally intended for. However, when polished, it can be very attractive, so it's often used as an insert material for custom balisongs. The layering gives depth and character. Like a natural material, no two pieces of Micarta are exactly alike. I'm told that it's quite easy to work with. It's resistant to most common solvents. It can be made in just about any color you want. Ivory-colored Micarta looks very much like real ivory. To make the resemblance even stronger, because of the layering Micarta can be scrimshawed much like real ivory. Pearl Micarta resembles Mother of Pearl but is much more durable. I have a wonderful balisong with green Micarta inserts. Very unusual. Micarta is also commonly used to replace ivory or Mother of Pearl on musical instruments and pool cues.
 Mirror Polished The most difficult, most delicate, and most valuable of blade finishes, a mirror polish is achieved by hand using fine polishing compounds. You can clearly see objects reflected in the blade. (Caution: Mirror finishes clearly show even the finest and most minor of scratches. They are very delicate. Handle with great care.) Mirror polished finishes are the most rust resistant.
 Obverse  See "Front"
 Opposite Handle

The handle that the sharpened edge of the blade closes into. When manipulating a balisong, the artist must exercise great care when holding the opposite handle. See also "Safe Handle".

Notice, please, that in both of these pictures, I am holding the handle with the latch. Yet in one picture, I am holding the safe handle while, in the other, I am holding the opposite handle. The latch does not determine which handle is which. See also "Batangas Latch" and "Manila Latch."

On a balisong with a double-edged blade, such as a spear point or Kris, the opposite handle is the handle that does not have the latch attached. See also "Latch handle".

If a balisong has a double-edged blade and is also latch-less, then the handles have no names since there is no distinction between them.

Partially-Serrated Blade A blade in which part of the edge is plain and part is serrated. See also "Plain Blade" and "Fully-Serrated Blade"
 Pierced Blade A series of holes in a blade usually near the spine. The theory is that these holes will trap air as the blade is thrust into an opponent. Getting air deep into a puncture wound is very bad for you, especially air bubbles in your blood. The holes are supposed to create air bubbles in an opponent's blood as the knife is thrust in and withdrawn. Less dramatically, these holes can also be used to bend wire and even cut wire by bending it back and forth repeatedly until it breaks. These tasks are often involved in various packing and bailing operations.
Pivot pin See handle pin
Plain Blade A non-serrated blade. See also "Partially-Serrated" and "Fully-Serrated"  
 Pommel Please, on a balisong we say "Punyo."
 Punyal Opposite of punyo. The proper term for the blade on a balisong.
 Punyo The base of the handle, opposite the punyal, the blade. The punyo is used as a striking weapon.
 Quillion See "Hilt." On a balisong, they are the same thing.
 Reverse See "Back"
 Ricasso  An unsharpened portion at the base of the blade before the handles Not to be confused with "tang".
Rostfrei A German word (not a maker's name or mark) that means "Rust Free" and indicates stainless steel. Note that just because a knife has a German word on it does not mean that the knife was made in Germany.
Safe handle 

The handle that the unsharpened spine of the blade closes into It's called "safe" because, on a single-edged blade, you can not be cut while holding this handle. See also "opposite handle"

Notice, please, that in both of these pictures, I am holding the handle with the latch. Yet in one picture, I am holding the safe handle while, in the other, I am holding the opposite handle. The latch does not determine which handle is which. See also "Batangas Latch" and "Manila Latch."

A balisong with a double-edged blade, such as a spear point or Kris, does not have a "safe" handle. See also "Latch Handle".

 Satin Finish A bright, shiny blade finish achieved by a fine abrasive. It does not have a "grain" as a brushed finish does, is not "mirror polished", but not dull as a matte or blasted finish is.
 Scale / Skin See "Insert" and/or "Bolster" 
 Serration A series of notches or teeth cut either into the edge or into the spine of blade. Serrations are generally considered better for quickly ripping through fibrous materials when a clean slice cut isn't necessary. Often, the serrations seen on, especially the spine, of balisongs are not intended to quickly cut rope, but to rip an uglier wound and do more internal damage. Notice that it is not possible to do fancy manipulatons with a balisong that has serrations on the spine near the base because the serrations would rip up your finger when you inserted it. Such a knife was not intended for fancy use.
 Skeleton Handles A handle with holes drilled into for decoration, to give a better grip surface, and to reduce the weight of the handles to better balance the weight of the blade.
 Spine The unsharpened part of the blade opposite the edge. Often incorrectly called the "back".
 Swedge An unsharpened suggestion of an edge on the spine of a blade
 Tang The portion of the blade that the handles are attached to. When a balisong is closed, the tang becomes a horn.
 Tang Mark/Stamp A bit of a misnomer. A "tang" mark or stamp is usually found on the ricasso. This is a mark that identifies the maker or manufacturer.
 Tang Pin A feature on the tang that stops the handles and the handles are held against when the knife is latched closed. It is usually a metal pin driven through a hole in the tang.
 UPS Unrepentant Package Smashers. A group of demolition expert who pose as a delivery service. The package in this picture was sent via Unrepentant Package Smasher's so-called 2nd Day Air service. It took two weeks for it to get from Georgia to Oregon. During this time, their "instant tracking system" reported that the package was, "in transit." On top of all of that, UPS refused to refund the shipping costs since it was sent at one of their contract stations.
 Zamak One of a series of popular metal alloys consisting mostly, about 95%, of Zinc. Zamak alloys are inexpensive, readily available, and excellent for mass-production of simple shapes such as balisong handles using automated pressurized forming techniques. Many inexpensive production balisongs have handles made of Zamak. Often, these handles are then powder-coated, painted, or chrome plated. Unfortunately, parts made of Zamak are brittle. This may not seem like a concern for balisong handles, but there's considerably stress on a balisong handle when manipulated. This is why the handles of inexpensive balisongs often crack or break near the handle pin.