Butterfly knives in closed and open positions

A balisong, also known as a butterfly knife, fan knife or Batangas knife, is a type of folding pocketknife that originated in the Philippines. Its distinct features are two handles counter-rotating around the tang such that, when closed, the blade is concealed within grooves in the handles. A latch sometimes holds the handles together; typically mounted on the one facing the cutting edge (the "bite handle").[1] An exceptionally large balisong is called a balisword.

The balisong was commonly used by Filipinos, especially those in the Tagalog region, as a self-defense and pocket utility knife. Hollow-grind balisongs were also used as straight razors before conventional razors were made available in the Philippines. In the hands of a trained user, the knife blade can be brought out to bear quickly using one hand. Manipulations, called "flipping", are performed for art or amusement. Blunt "trainer" versions of these knives are also available and can be used to practice tricks without the risk of injury.

The knife is now illegal or restricted in some countries, often under the same laws and for the same reasons that switchblades or concealed weapons are restricted. Within the Philippines, it is no longer as common in urban areas as in the past.[2]


Names for the knives in English include "fan knives" and "butterfly knives" from the motion, and "click clacks" from the sound they make when they are opened and closed.

The name "balisong" is derived from barangay (village) Balisong, part of the municipality of Taal, Batangas province, which along with the neighboring barangay Pandayan, were the original manufacturing centers of the knives in the Philippines. The two barangays were home to a blacksmith industry that also produced other bladed implements such as bolo knives.[3][4][better source needed][5] It is also claimed that the meaning of the term balisong is derived from the Tagalog words baling sungay (literally, "broken/folding horn") as the hilt of the blade were traditionally made from carved carabao and deer horn, as well as bones.[6][7] The traditional balisong is also known as veinte y nueve, or "twenty-nine," in the Philippines, because they are 29 cm (11 in) long when opened.


The origin of the knives is unclear. Oral histories claim that the knives were first created in the Philippines in 800 CE. However, there is no documentation or archeological evidence to back this. Balisong mass production in the Philippines can only be attested to the early 1900s. Another claim is that balisong were originally an adaptation of a French measuring tool called the pied du roi ("foot of the king"), invented between the 1500s to the late 1760s. However, how it was introduced to the Philippines is unknown. There are theories that it may have been introduced by sailors in the Spanish Empire, which was then allied with France.[8][9]

Regardless of origin, the modern balisong was perfected in the Philippines, where it became much larger, and was predominantly used as a weapon, not just a tool. The quick opening techniques ("flipping") were also developed in the Philippines. In contrast, the French pied du roi was primarily a folding ruler, with the knife only included in some specimens as a novelty. They were cumbersome to open and unlikely to be used for self-defense, especially since they also commonly included a metal tang at a right angle from the end of the handle to aid in measuring.[8][9] There were also very similar designs to the balisong produced in England in the late 19th century, presumably also derived from the pied du roi. But like the latter they were primarily utilitarian tools.[10]


There are two main types of balisong construction: "sandwich construction" and "channel construction".

Sandwich constructed balisong knives are assembled in layers that are generally pinned or screwed together. They allow the pivot pins to be adjusted more tightly without binding. When the knife is closed, the blade rests between the layers.

For a channel constructed balisong, the main part of each handle is formed from one piece of material. In this handle, a groove is created (either by folding, milling, or being integrally cast) in which the blade rests when the knife is closed. This style is regarded as being stronger than sandwich construction.

Additionally, the two constructions can be combined to form the "chanwich construction", which involves two halves of a channel handle screwed together. Although rare, this construction generally keeps the best elements of both constructions and discards the worst, as it retains the better handle shape channel construction is known for, while still allowing adjustment of the tightness the handles are held together with to some extent, as well as easier access to the inside of the handle for cleaning. One notable example would be the Tsunami from Squid Industries.[11]

There are also three methods of operation balisongs use: bearings, bushings, or only washers.[12]

Bearing operated balisongs have small ball bearings housed in a circular concavity around the hole in the pivot. These bearings allow the handles of the balisong to rotate.

Bushing operated balisongs have a small metal bushing slightly thicker than the tang in each pivot hole with a usually bronze disc known as a washer on each side. These washers clamp down on the bushing, but not on the tang, when the pivot screw is tightened, allowing the handle to rotate around the tang.

There are also washer-only operated balisongs which are usually much cheaper and lower quality than the other kinds, as they don't need bushings, but the handles will always bind to the tang when the screws are tightened enough and the washers, tang and handles all wear themselves down much faster due to the increased friction.

Some of the blades of traditional butterfly knives in the Philippines were made from steel taken from railroad tracks thus giving them a decent amount of durability and toughness, while others are made from the recycled leaf springs of vehicles.

Most modern balisongs, such as the Benchmade 51, do not use tang pins. Instead, they use "zen pins", which are two small pins embedded in the top of the handles of the balisong which make contact with the bottom of the blade. A balisong with zen pins negates the problem of having the tang pins fall out (as is typical of some cheaper models).

Some modern balisongs also have a "pinless" system, in which they do not have any pins, and instead rely on the material of the handles to make contact with the blade, similar to how zen pins work. One notable example of a pinless balisong would be the Squid Industries Swordfish.[13]


Parts of a Benchmade 42
A balisong being opened and closed
Bite handle
The handle that closes on the sharp edge of the blade, and will cut the user if they are holding that handle when the knife closes. This handle usually carries the latch.
The unsharpened portion of the blade just above the kicker, that makes it easier to sharpen the blade.
Kicker (or Kick)
Area on the blade that prevents the sharp edge from touching the inside of the handle and suffering damage. This is sometimes supplanted by an additional tang pin above the pivots.
The standard locking system, which holds the knife closed. Magnets are occasionally used instead.
Latch, Batangas
A latch that is attached to the bite handle.
Latch, Manila
A latch that is attached to the safe handle.
Latch, Spring
A latch that utilizes a spring to propel the latch open when the handles are squeezed.
Latch gate
A block inside the channel of the handles stopping the latch from impacting the blade.
Pivot joint
A pin about which the Tang/Blade/Handle assemblies pivot.
Safe handle
The handle (generally the handle without the latch) that closes on the non-sharpened edge of the blade.
Unsharpened spine of the blade. Some balisongs are also sharpened here or on both sides with either a more traditional look or wavy edges similar to a Kris sword.
The base of the blade where the handles are attached with pivot pins.
Tang Pin(s)
Pin meant to hold the blade away from the handle when closed to prevent dulling; and, in some cases, a second pin to keep the handles from excessively banging together while the butterfly knife is being manipulated.
Zen Pins
Screws mounted inside the handles that collide with the kicker mounted on the tang to prevent the blade from moving around while in the open or closed position.
The blade is the piece of steel that runs down the center of the knife that is secured by both handles when closed. One edge of the blade is sharp and will cut the user if they are not careful, especially when flipping the knife. The other edge, called the swedge, is blunt and won't cut the user. The swedge commonly impacts the user's hand when flipping.

Legal status

Further information: Switchblade § Legality

The balisong has been outlawed in several countries, mainly due to its easy utility in crimes and ability to be easily concealed for the same purpose. In some jurisdictions its criminal use is considered a knife crime.

Balisong trainers feature a special blunt and unsharpened "blade" and are legal in some areas where balisongs are not.

See also


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  2. ^ a b "legal possession". www.butterflyknifebutterflyknife.com. Retrieved 2019-10-25.
  3. ^ Rivera, D. J. (August 27, 2017). "BATANGAS | Balisong: Few Things About this Famous Knife from Taal". Pinoy Travelogue | A Philippine travel blog by DJ Rivera. Retrieved 2019-10-25.
  4. ^ 'The Making of the Batangas (Balisong) Knife' by Dr Jopet Laraya
  5. ^ "Balisong". Taal Heritage Town. Archived from the original on April 13, 2019.
  6. ^ Imada, Jeff (1984), The Balisong Manual, California: Unique Publications, p. 130, ISBN 0-86568-102-3
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  11. ^ "Tsunami - First Production". Squid Industries Knives. Retrieved 2023-11-09.
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  13. ^ "Swordfish (Black Blade)". Squid Industries. Retrieved 2023-11-09.
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  15. ^ (eISB), electronic Irish Statute Book. "electronic Irish Statute Book (eISB)". www.irishstatutebook.ie.
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