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Published Mar 17, 2022 9:29 AM

From Philippine urbanites to movie vigilantes and TV show goons, nothing seems cooler than a butterfly knife. Known as a balisong or Batangas knife in its country of origin, these have been the two-in-one self-defense tool/grown-up fidget spinner for roughly 1,200 years. They’re sleek showpieces, razor-sharp deterrents, and masterfully elegant tools when placed in equally-masterful hands.

Fancying yourself a butterfly knife of your own? Not sure which one is the right blade for you? I get it. There’s an overwhelming catalog out there with more choices than even I knew about when I purchased mine, but no worries. Task & Purpose is here to guide you through a market loaded with options and help you decide what is the best butterfly knife for you with added tips and know-how along the way.

Best Overall

The Kershaw Lucha butterfly knife seemed like quite an easy pick. Stylish, razor-sharp, and smooth as silk, the Lucha has proven itself as one of the best performers among higher-quality options. A relatively new offering, it has been acclaimed by professionals and consumers alike for its stellar operation and build quality.

It has a resilient Sandvik 14C28n steel blade, a material shared with chef’s knives, and is highly resistant to abrasions, dulling, and corrosion. At a threatening 4.5 inches, it sits on the lengthier side of the category. Because of it, some consumers have made note of the Lucha’s ability to function as a legitimate tool that can take quite a beating.

Flipping is effortless and rapid with ball-bearing pivot pins and tight tolerances. Do note that it’s reportedly one of the heavier knives around which will affect the balance when attempting tricks. Some users, however, insist that the extra weight’s momentum will help flipping. To each their own. Just know that what you’re buying is among the largest of its kind.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel Sandvik 14C28n
  • Weight 5.9 ounces
  • Blade Length 4.5 inches
  • Overall Length 10 inches
PROS

Strong value among higher-end knives

Durable blade material

Praiseworthy speed and smoothness

Lengthy, frighteningly sharp blade

CONS

Price may still seem steep to some

Flippers may find it too heavy

Best Value

The Bear & Son 114B is an excellent and highly affordable starter balisong. It’s a simple, robust piece and has an undeniable value. It can slice or dance, all for a stellar price tag well under $50. Just know that what you pay for isn’t anything truly special as far as butterfly knives go.

The design is fairly basic and standard across the board, although special edition variants do exist for a smidge more dough. The actuation is remarkably smooth and quick even without ball-bearing pivots, but there is a level of play that may garner the word “flimsy” in conversations. Despite this, the overall construction is fairly durable with little-to-no reports of failure after years of use by many consumers.

An important tip to flippers eyeing this as a starter piece: The free-hanging latch is quite loose and has been known to catch on the blade when flipping or concealing. Be wary of this as it could damage the edge over time.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel 440
  • Weight 5.1 ounces
  • Blade Length 4 inches
  • Overall Length 9 inches
PROS

Highly appealing price point

Clean, simple design

Durable construction

Flips well for the money

CONS

A teeny bit flimsy

Free-hanging latch can hinder flips

Not for those seeking more interesting designs

Editor’s Choice

The Bradley Kimura butterfly knife sets itself apart by being a distinguished-looking, well-rounded performer that can be a jack-of-all-trades to many enthusiasts. It presents itself as a quality, usable product without completely raiding your bank account.

It’s smaller size makes it easier to flip for those who may be intimidated by much larger options with some consumers believing it to be better balanced than the acclaimed Lucha. It’s still on the heftier side, weighing in roughly the lame as larger rivals. The smaller size also means easier concealment in one’s pocket for EDC duty.

The 154CM steel blade is of a much higher caliber than less expensive options, and the Kimura can be had in an array of colorful, removable handle grips. Do note that the screws for the grips could strip in the hands of the less cautious. A few buyers have reported mildly concerning build quality over time as tolerances widen and play becomes apparent, but most experiences have reported an overall stout build.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel 154CM
  • Weight 5.9 ounces
  • Blade Length 3.88 inches
  • Overall Length 8.88 inches
PROS

Well-rounded performance

Compact size for concealment and rapid flipping

Unique, interchangeable grip finishes

Reversible latch

CONS

Somewhat shaky build quality

Flippers may find it too heavy

Best Butterfly Knife Trainers

What makes a great butterfly knife trainer is something balanced that anyone can learn on while being nearly indestructible for those inevitable accidents. The Boker Plus Balisong Trainer fits the bill perfectly.

For years, it’s been acclaimed by rookies looking to substantially up their flip game. The smooth action and bulletproof construction have shed light on Boker as a quality manufacturer for value-minded shoppers seeking performance nearing the triple-digit trainers, while still undercutting their triple-digit price tags.

Most consumers report zero issues after dropping their trainers, aside from the expected dings and scratches, although a few have reported loose screws from the factory, and one buyer had broken a latch after only a few drops. Even so, the actuation remains consistently strong among even the most beat examples, a big plus for enthusiasts consistently attempting some daring stunts.

Keep in mind that some knives have reportedly shipped with sharp-ish edges along the blade and holes which can scratch your hand if you’re not careful. A quick rub down with sand paper has been a proven fix.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel stainless steel
  • Weight 5.4 ounces
  • Blade Length 4 inches
  • Overall Length 9.1 inches
PROS

Affordable price point

Noteworthy resiliency

Built-in pocket clip

Smooth operation

CONS

Some have reported mild blade rub

Some sharp edges may require sanding

Best EDC Butterfly Knife

Seemingly purpose-built in its design, the Bear Song VIII is the utilitarian balisong for all EDC needs. The built-in reversible pocket clip means transporting it with you throughout the day is brainless, and the spring-loaded latch helps keep things secure.

Outstanding quality is the big seller of this option, with near-universal praise for its tightness and perfect lubrication out of the box. A lengthy, usable blade for defense and tool purposes never hurts either, and this option sports a 4.5-inch blade constructed from durable 154CM steel not unlike the slightly pricier Bradley Kimura. For those looking for something a bit more interesting, this model comes in an assortment of colors as well as with a tanto blade to replace the standard bayonet-type.

If there are to be any criticisms, it would be that this entry could prove a little too heavy and chunky for precise flipping during tricks. Most consumers who pulled the trigger on this item acknowledge this and admit to its use primarily as an EDC knife, anyway.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel 154CM
  • Weight 5.1 ounces
  • Blade Length 4.5 inches
  • Overall Length 9.75 inches
PROS

Spring-loaded latch

Built-in pocket clip

Lengthy blade

Quality rivals more expensive knives

CONS

Flippers may find it too bulky for tricks

Best Butterfly Knife Under $100

Another viable choice for EDC, the Boker Plus Balisong Small offers superb quality and precise action in a remarkably compact package. The spring-loaded latch aids in security, while the pocket clip means you can take it to-go in a cinch. The blade is of a resilient D2 steel, but hopefully you don’t have any highly-demanding uses, as it comes in at roughly 3.4 inches, among the shortest knives on this list.

Flippers may enjoy the lightning-fast actuation with ball bearing pivots handling the shear, unbearable weight of a whopping three ounces. Yes, three. Those who enjoy some heft and momentum to their movement might look elsewhere, but those intimidated by such things may have just found their knife of choice right here. Just be sure to have some extra lube laying around. A few owners have experienced a slight stiffness out of the box which a drop of extra lube remedied immediately.

MSRP slots just a hair below $100, but many sites have been selling them for far lower at the time of writing, meaning that this entry represents quite the bargain deal. Get ‘em while they’re hot.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel D2
  • Weight 3 ounces
  • Blade Length 3.46 inches
  • Overall Length 7.75 inches
PROS

Compact size aids flipping and concealment

Spring-loaded latch

Slots right below $100 mark

Handsome, texturized handles

CONS

May require added lubrication out of box

Best Butterfly Karambit

Yes, a butterfly karambit totally exists. Definitely a unique choice for fans of both styles, the Vuja De markets itself as a hybrid crossover between karambits and balisongs. The curved, jimped blade is constructed of a unique M-VX “high-speed steel” aimed at providing better resiliency, easier resharpening, and better corrosion resistance compared to D2 and 440 steels. Some owners have found it to be a handy blade for cutting wires and soft metals. Overall build quality is reportedly stellar with consistently tight fit-and-finish across many consumers.

The biggest caveat of this oddity is definitely being more karambit than butterfly knife. The shape (when concealed) is bulky and awkward for having in your pocket versus a regular knife, and owners have made it clear how the shape impedes the ease of one-handed operation. Closing the knife is often a two-handed affair. Flippers ought to note that anything beyond basic tricks will be quite difficult and impractical. For hardcore balisong enthusiasts? Maybe, maybe not. But perhaps karambit aficionados or casual butterfly knife fans looking for something interesting may find a whole lot to enjoy in this.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel M-VX
  • Weight 3.7 ounces
  • Blade Length 2 inches
  • Overall Length 6 inches
PROS

Dual functionality as a karambit

Compact overall size

Built-in pocket clip

Great build quality

CONS

Bulky shape when concealed

Awkward actuation

Miniscule blade length

Best Novelty Butterfly Knife

If you thought the karambit hybrid was a novelty gag, at least that could have practical uses as a weapon or tool. The Mantis MK-3b Bottleneck is a full-on novelty gift with a mild bite in the form of a (hardly) two-inch “modified tanto” blade. The latch mechanism is intended to be paired with keyrings for easy transport or, if you desire, a pocket clip is also attached.

The most brilliant feature of this grown-up’s toy obviously has to be the bottle opener. I mean, come on. Look at it. Is this not a cool thing to have at the campsite with your buddies?

Downsides? Definitely. There’s not much hard work to do with the miniscule, awkwardly-shaped blade side from, as one owner put it, “opening letters.” Interestingly, quite unlike the Vuja De karambit from the same manufacturer, build quality is reportedly a concern and an inconsistent one at that. The blade can easily show wear and the latch won’t always secure properly. Key word for this knife: novelty. Use it. Enjoy it. Use it to cut your meat after cracking open a cold one. Just don’t take it too seriously.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel 400
  • Weight 3.1 ounces
  • Blade Length 1.9 inches
  • Overall Length 3.75 inches
PROS

Awesome novelty gift

Built-in bottle opener

Built-in pocket clip

Can be attached to keyrings

CONS

Bulky shape when concealed

Shortest blade on this list

Questionable build quality

Best Butterfly Not-Even-A-Tool

Okay, now we’re deep into the novelty items that are still sold through credible knife vendors; a novelty among novelties. The BaliYo butterfly pen is here to serve all your composition needs at the office or on campus. A novel design gives this pen a surprisingly sleek and compact profile when concealed, and polymer construction means it will certainly hold up to any abuse you end up putting it through showing off to classmates.

For reasons that I hope are clearly obvious to the audience, just hope you don’t find yourself lost in the woods or cornered by bad guys with this thing — unless you’re John Wick.

Product Specs
  • Blade Steel Polymer
  • Weight 0.85 ounces
  • Blade Length 4.25 inches
  • Overall Length N/A
PROS

The cheapest thing on this list

Built-in pocket clip

Uh, you can write with it

CONS

Well, you definitely can’t cut with it

Why you should trust us

Task & Purpose is devoted to providing the best consumer information on any product we review. We’re staffed by a variety of veterans, active-duty service members, and just fun-loving outdoorsmen who care about quality and honesty just as much as the reader. Many of us have seen a million of these products, and we’ve used a million of them. The writers at T&P know their way around a blade, and I myself have owned a handful including a Bear & Son balisong, meaning we can back days of meticulous research with real-world, hands-on experience. 

Types of butterfly knives

As you scour the catalogs of knife vendors searching for your ideal butterfly knife, you may begin to realize that they’re not necessarily segregated into any specific category. A lot of them seem to do almost the exact same thing with much of the differences being more subjective rather than objective. In short, you probably won’t see butterfly knives in the loadouts of soldiers or wildlife rangers. Even so, there are some knives, however, that are able to take care of certain jobs just a little bit better than others. Here are a few disciplines through which a balisong can distinguish itself.

EDC

Balisongs favoring EDC duty may stand out with big, utilitarian blades or an overall compact design that’s friendly on the pocket. Nearly all of them would have built-in pocket clips for ease of transport. Those with spring-loaded latches are easier to deploy and safer to secure on a regular basis until needed. Such knives will often feature the most robust, corrosion-resistant, and dependable build quality to ensure a long life.

Self-defense

These won’t always be the most featureful knives that can rip through the wind like Sonic the Hedgehog, but they’ll certainly be sharp enough to tear like Wolverine. Knives that best suit this category will often be the sharpest of flippers, typically larger spear points or bayonet-types, constructed with durable blade materials that can take a beating. Nicer examples may also feature spring-loaded latches for easier, quicker deployment in tense situations as well as pocket clips to aid in EDC duty.

Trainers

As per the name, trainers are literally intended to train enthusiasts how to properly deploy and flip their butterfly knives with minimal risk of injury. They’ll be constructed under the same standards and build quality as the real thing and often using the same materials. Some high-end trainers may even use ball bearing pivots just like more premium butterfly knives. All trainers will feature the same common trait: a dull, rounded-off edge all the way around the blade eliminating the risk of cutting one’s self.

Novelty

Remember the bottle opener and the pen? Yeah, that’s as novelty as novelty gets. But there are plenty of novelty butterfly knives out there as the blade has become equally romanticized and demonized in modern times. Since they don’t technically function as a real knife, some may consider trainers to be novelties for playing around with. Cheap, decorative knives with a priority on form over function may also fall under this category, knives constructed of cheap steel and wrapped in fancy pearlescent colors and such. You wouldn’t use them to carve wood. You probably wouldn’t think to use one for opening mail. But they definitely look pretty up on a shelf.

Key features of butterfly knives

Blade steel

Like any other knife, blade material matters. The quality of material used, particularly the content of carbon in the steel, determines the resistance to scratching or dulling. Lower carbon steel, like 440 used in more affordable blades, will generally be softer and easier to dull but are more corrosion-resistant. Steels in more expensive knives such as D2, 154CM, or Sandvik 14C28n (also found in chef’s knives) will be far more resilient and stay sharp longer.

Blade shape 

Most butterfly knives sport the same bayonet or clip point-styles of blade shapes, but the immense variety means there are more unique breeds to be found. Tantos, spear points, and karambit variations are less common, but they are certainly available. Trainers are typically rounded and dull with an edge that roughly mimics the spine of the blade all the way around, thus eliminating the chance of injury when practicing flips.

Pivot pins

As per the name, these are literally the pins on which the handles pivot on giving the butterfly knife its famous actuation. The quality of these pins have a great effect on the smoothness and speed of the movement of the handles. Pricier, higher-tier butterfly knives will enhance their pivot pins with ball bearings not unlike wheel casters or fidget spinners to give users a truly silky-smooth and rapid movement. More often than not, these parts will be lubricated with knife oil, so long-time owners must take proper care of their pivot pins as their blades age. 

Handles

The handles split apart to deploy or conceal the blade. When concealed, the blade rests inside the hollow groove and is held shut by a latch that’s either free-hanging or spring-loaded for added security. When deployed, the handles clamp onto the blade’s tang pin to keep it sturdy and upright. Some handles may have a solid grip, but most are skeletonized with some having purposefully-cut grooves to aid in hand positioning during tricks. Note that there is a specific “safe handle” which faces the spine of the blade as well as a “bite handle” which faces the sharpened edge of the blade. Exercise caution with where your fingers are on the bite handle, as that’s where you’re more likely to cut yourself in an accident.

Benefits of butterfly knives 

Rapid deployment/concealment

In the hands of a trained, well-versed owner, a butterfly knife can deploy and conceal nearly if not just as quickly as a switchblade. Cheap pocket knives may get stuck or be stiff in their deployment. Butterfly knives can quickly and reliably deploy single handedly with trusted consistency, a plus during a stressful self-defense environment. Spring-loaded latches may further ease the deployment process making one-handed draws a breeze. Like any skill, it just takes a tad bit of practice. 

Plenty of variety

As you can tell by now, butterfly knives can be crafted in a multitude of variants from tanto blades to bayonet-style blades and even karambits. Some come with customizable and removable handle grips to suit your tastes. Pick your blade style and finish, but that seems easier said than done, huh? So much variety. Too many choices.

You’ll look fly as hell and have a ton of fun doing so

Uh, it looks freaking cool? Duh. But seriously, aside from being an exotic party piece to flex on your friends with, butterfly knives can be a fun, engaging passtime to take up whether you’re solo or with your pals. As mentioned, it does take skill, especially if you’re in it for the tricks, but the majority of the fun is learning how to tame the blade. Like firearms or musical instruments, it’s just a good deal of fun.

Butterfly knives pricing

Under $70

Butterfly knives under $70 are mostly entry-level choices for beginners. You’re getting a basic starter knife (or trainer) that’s effective at flipping and cutting, but not much more. No fancy materials, super hard steel, or unique grip designs, but they can still get the job done in the right hands. Don’t expect the most astounding build quality in this range, but you won’t be buying crap either.

$70 to $150

Build quality and materials take quite a leap in this price range and keep climbing the farther up you go. Tolerances get tighter allowing for more precise action of the knife. Customization options become more commonplace, and stronger blade materials appear. Designs become more intricate as manufacturers attempt to better distinguish themselves in this range. A few knives on the higher end of this scale may start to include ball bearing pivots for enhanced speed and smoothness.

$150 to $300

Now we’re entering a wonderfully diverse territory occupied by the most acclaimed manufacturers utilizing the truly premium materials. Whether they’re worth it depends on your use case and the exact model. Expect exotic, highly-resilient blade materials and ball bearing pivots as the norm. 

Over $300

These are for the truly devoted enthusiasts with expensive tastes and an appreciation for ultra-fine details. Knives in this realm can easily skyrocket to nearly a grand and feature even more exotic materials like finished wood, bronze, and titanium. Bushings may also be implemented to dampen vibrations and blades may be polished to a near mirror-like finish.

How we chose our top picks

Our tedious, in-depth research combined with real experience and knowledge serves to spare you hours in front of a screen. Video demonstrations, expert opinions and, most importantly, customer feedback help us decide on what butterfly knives are appropriate picks for this list. Websites such as Blade HQ and Knife Center are loaded with knives to choose from, accompanied by expert input and an encyclopedia of consumer reviews. 

The best knives were typically multi-talented, purposeful blades that can not only sit pretty but dance, fight, and work with as much balance as possible. They represented strong value in their categories and were backed by armies of consumers who trust in their products. Only the best flippers, precise cutters, and most durable workhorses were considered for each category, with priorities shifting as categories got specific such as being the better EDC or trainers.

Additionally, it must be noted that there were plenty of acclaimed, top-notch knives that didn’t make the cut (sorry) at the time of writing due to a lack of availability. Famous and popular models from companies like Benchmade, Squid Industries, or Bladerunner Systems (BRS) would appear all over different websites but would either be extremely limited, sold out, discontinued, or simply listed as “unavailable.” We wanted to feature blades you can order the second this article dropped. What good are raving reviews when you can’t buy the dang things? Blades with little-to-no consumer feedback or professional testing were also ignored as we heavily emphasize products with trusted, real-world backing.

FAQs on butterfly knives

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: Are butterfly knives illegal?

A: Kinda-sorta, not really. It’s not an easy yes-or-no question, as it’s dependent on your region. Typically, they may be mildly restricted for similar reasons as switchblades, but a handful of states and countries are known to be incredibly strict. Check your local laws regarding butterfly knives. Details on legality in different states can be found here

Q: What is a good size for a butterfly knife?

A: It depends on your use case. Most butterfly knives tend to range between three to over 4.5 inches. Larger knives (four inches and up) can be legitimately effective tools for defense or serious cutting. Smaller blades tend to be easier to conceal and have better weight balance for easier, faster flipping during tricks. This is highly subjective, however, as some prefer the momentum afforded by heavier knives to help move the blade.

Q: How old do you have to be to get a trainer butterfly knife?

A: As they’re not real knives with a sharpened edge, you can purchase a trainer butterfly knife at pretty much any age in most places. Some owners of trainers on the internet are noted to be as young as 12 years old, with parents in forums expressing interest in trainers for children even younger. Additionally, the lack of a sharp edge means trainers may be owned in places where the real deal may not be.

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Jeric Jaleco is an AGE mechanic (2A6X2) in the Nevada Air National Guard as well as a contributor to The Drive and Car Bibles. Born in SoCal and raised in Las Vegas, he’s a diehard car enthusiast and aspiring purveyor of firearms. He’s journeyed far from his first deployment in East Africa to pursue a career in writing.

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