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Brass Knuckles and Fist-Load Weapons

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Knuckle Dusters and Modern Alternatives

In a real-deal, fight-for-your-life self-defense situation, the harder you hit, the better your chances of getting out alive. Hitting hard, however, is more than just generating power; it’s also about delivering that power with a resilient weapon tough enough for hard impact. Unfortunately, the average human hand doesn’t fit that bill.

The human hand is comprised of many small bones (27, to be exact) arranged in a fairly delicate structure. Although the edge, bottom, and palm are reasonably well padded, the knuckles and back of the hand are basically skin over bone. Hitting hard things ­— like an attacker’s skull — with them is painful and can easily turn the many small bones into even more smaller ones.

To overcome this flaw, martial artists often spend years conditioning their hands to make them stronger, more effective striking weapons. For those of us who are less patient and like good penmanship, fortunately there are alternatives to forging your fists into sledgehammers: knuckle dusters.

Knuckle Dusters
Knuckle duster, or “knuck,” is basically a more all-encompassing term for items that most people know as brass knuckles. They’ve been around for centuries and can be found in many cultures and in literally hundreds of different shapes and sizes. In addition to their role as personal-defense tools, they were also used by soldiers on both sides of the U.S. Civil War and were popular close-combat weapons during both World Wars. Metal knuckles have also been paired with blades and even handguns to create various types of military trench knives, knuckle knives, and special-purpose weapons.


Knuckle dusters can be made from almost any material that’s harder than flesh and bone, generally consisting of a ring or connected series of rings through which the fingers are placed before clenching your fist. The outer surface of the rings stands proud in front of the knuckles, focusing the force of a punch with crushing impact, while ideally sparing the hand wielding it from harm. Note that the key word in that last sentence is “ideally.”

The best knuckle duster designs are based on the premise of transferring the force of impact from the striking surface of the weapon to the fleshy part of the palm — the best “shock absorber” the hand has. Good “knucks” therefore incorporate some kind of “standoff” (sometimes called a “palm lobe”) in the design that bridges from the rear of the rings to the palm of the hand.

When gripped in the fist, the standoff braces directly against the palm and in line with the bones of the forearm. When a punch is thrown, the force drives through the arm to the base of the standoff, and the structural strength of the knucks transfers it to their striking face, bypassing the knuckles of the hand and sparing them from pain and injury.

Amazingly, many knuckle duster designs don’t include a standoff and are nothing more than a connected series of rings that fit over the fingers. These designs rest directly against the finger bones closest to the knuckles, which are conspicuously devoid of any fleshy padding. Although these weapons do provide a hard, concentrated striking surface, they also dump the impact shock directly into the finger bones and are prone to twisting on contact. Throwing a full-bore punch with these designs can almost guarantee some broken digits. More “show than go,” this style of knucks is actually more safely used by slapping with the palm side rather than punching with the knuckle side.

Brass knuckles and their brethren have always had a tremendous cool factor and are frequently featured in movies and on TV — usually wrapped around the hands of criminals and mafia enforcers. That portrayal in the media, combined with their wickedly dangerous image, has made them the target of many state and municipal weapons laws.


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