Knife Balance - By Terry Renner
Terry Renner Wide Blade Bowie
There are few set-in-stone rules concerning knifemaking, and that mindset is what continues to drive the unlimited creativity displayed by knife makers all over the world. Their sheer numbers continue to astound me, and their craftsmanship equally so. I believe, though, that a small few features of design, if ignored, or assigned lesser status, yield a knife, when hefted for the first time, has 'something' that says to the holder, “I'll not be one with you”. That 'something' is its ergonomical character.

The hand knows immediately if and when a particular knife does not fit. Most of the time, it is a matter of individual tastes and fit. There is, I feel, one feature that is intrinsic to good ergonomics, and that is- the balance, fore and aft, of the whole structure. A superior knife will have a balance point in the hand which makes its use near effortless, making control of the blade more precise and less unpredictable during use.

Factors influencing the balance point include blade length and thickness forward of the handle, mass of the front of the blade (deep or narrow), placement of the guard area, mass and size of the handle tang, and size and density of the handle materials.

The length and overall mass of the blade are the most influential aspects here. These will dictate the necessary mass of the handle components. A neutral center of gravity at or very near the guard center-line is desire-able. This is variable depending on whether the knife is exceptionally long in blade; I consider that blade to be meant for chopping, not cutting (we're not talking swords here, though the best swords also have balance built in). The longer the blade, the more handle weight bias should be considered to offset that blade's forward mass. Typically, the bias can be accomplished with modifications to the tang, if a full-tang, as in tapering the sides rearward, or drilling holes, or, in the case of hidden and stick tangs, a metal butt-cap can be used to increase the rearward bias. Full-tang knives up to 4” in length tend to be handle-heavy. Stick tangs tend to be blade-heavy. A stick-tang handle has room inside for ballast weight, if a butt-cap is not desired. I personally prefer the butt-cap method.

There is another consideration here; ergonomics versus aesthetics. Any knife can be balanced by merely adding or subtracting length from the handle. However, the modification may well result in an overall look that is oddly out of proportion. Though aesthetics are certainly a matter of preference in many cases, there is usually a do-not-cross line when judging the look of a knife. Blade and handle should form a pleasing profile when viewed from the side. The handle, in any case, should not be shorter than the hand that wields it. Figure on 3/4” to 1” past the back of your hand to be comfortable. If the blade is long, the aesthetic will work, no matter what. Beyond that, try to achieve the center balance point, whatever means you must. TR*

TerryLee Renner
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