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Unusual Suspects Most Wanted: Balisong Knives

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In Issue 45, we profiled 7 Unusual Suspects– the infamous balisong crew. Today we will look at the three most wanted of that batch!

As a side note: Every knife I profile in this column is a top-notch design; a lot of knives compete for a slot in the magazine. The ones that make the cut do so on their quality, construction, and how they perform in testing. This article focuses on the top three of that batch of seven knives. For the full write-up, see Issue 45.

Balisong knives or Butterfly knives have been a passion of mine since I first laid eyes on a picture of one in a martial arts magazine in 1981 or 1982. The next year when I started high school, I gave up my yellow-handled Case Trapper for a brass handled, Japanese-made Balisong, and found myself catapulted into the world of fighting knives.

The inherent beauty of the bali lies in its simplicity. A split handle houses the blade, and deployment is achieved by a simple flip of one handle, a 180-degree rotation, and another flip. I saw it as the nunchaku of the 1980s, and for me, it was more than a fad.

These knives are a little harder to come by these days because imports to the United States are forbidden. The good news is if you pick one up from a reputable dealer, you're typically buying an American-made knife.

Emerson Knives

When most knife users think of Emerson Knives, they think of tough, tactical chisel-ground folding knives. Yet, a balisong knife was the first knife that Emerson ever made, some 40 years ago. He could not afford to buy a knife for a Filipino Martial Arts class with Richard Bustillo and Dan Inosanto, so Emerson decided to make his own and began his career as a knifemaker.

He was working as a machinist at Hughes Aircraft and had access to all the right materials. He even heat-treated the blade at his kitchen table.

Emerson's first knife circa 1979

In 2017 he went back to his roots and resurrected the design for modern-day aficionados of the balisong. The new models are a far cry from his earlier efforts from a design perspective and the materials used.

Par for the course for Emerson, the blade steel is 154CM. It comes out of the box razor-sharp, and 154 is one of the toughest blade steels that is easy to maintain.

CQC-7 Flipper Balisong

This time out, Emerson incorporated a removable and reversible pocket clip on the handle, which is somewhat rare for a balisong, but should be a trend worth watching. The latch is completely adjustable, too.

The G10 handles and Phillips head screws keep the design “distinctively Emerson” and allow for ease of maintenance and customization if you want to swap them out down the line. He even worked in his trademarked wave-shaped opening feature into the blade.

CQC-7 Flipper Balisong

This is a bali with all the bells and whistles, and the hollow-ground tanto-styled blade is particularly graceful on this model.

Due to California's restrictive laws, this knife is not sold by Emerson Knives. It's an exclusive with BladeHQ.

CQC-7 Flipper Balisong, closed

Make: Emerson Knives
Model: CQC-7 Flipper Balisong
OAL: 9.1 inches
Blade Length: 3.8 inches
Blade Material: 154 CM
Weight: 4.1 ounces
MSRP: $349

Darrel Ralph

DDR Gemini AA

Darrel Ralph is a custom knifemaker who began his journey into the craft by making balisong knives almost 35 years ago. In the three and a half decades since, he has refined his designs, developed new innovations, and used better materials. The Gemini AA (Added Action) has a number of custom features such as a removable pocket clip and a reversible spring-loaded latch.

The titanium handles make this balisong extremely lightweight and faster in the hand while flipping and performing other manipulations.

DDR Gemini AA

Ralph's Gemini AA uses razor-sharp 154 CM steel for the blade. This is a classic steel for a classic design that just oozes outstanding craftsmanship in every way.

A removable pocket clip makes this knife easier to carry than relying on a sheath. If memory serves correctly, Ralph may have been the first maker to add a pocket clip to a balisong. Fans of the bali might remember the Cold Steel Arcangel that he designed back in the 90s. Some purists may loathe the clip, I really like it, though. In particular, I like this textured clip for that custom touch.

DDR Gemini AA

Make: Darrel Ralph
Model: Gemini AA
OAL: 6.9 inches
Blade Length: 3 inches
Blade Material: 154CM
Weight: 1.6 ounces
MSRP: $575+


Say what you will about Benchmade, they were the first company to build quality butterfly knives and probably transformed what was once an obscure Filipino knife into one with lasting appeal beyond the martial arts world. The Model 62 is based on the classic Model 42 that set the standard for American made high-quality balisongs years ago.

Benchmade Model 62

The knife may seem a bit heavy to some due to the stainless steel handles, but to me, it feels like an old friend that came home after being gone for 20+ years. The Model 62 feels great in hand and is an extremely smooth flipper.

Benchmade Model 62

Departing from the 154 CM found in the two previous models, the Benchmade 62 has a D2 blade that is shaving sharp and what I prefer on a working knife. Some people don't care for the tool steels, and if you live in a humid area, it might not be your first choice as it is not a stainless steel, and it can rust.

Benchmade Model 62 closed

Make: Benchmade
Model: 62
OAL: 9.2 inches
Blade Length: 4.25 inches
Blade Material: D2
Weight: 6.33 ounces
MSRP: $400

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