In 1976, Sal and Gail Glesser began traveling across the United States, selling Spyderco’s early products out of a converted bread truck. The company took its name from two inspirations: The look of one of its earliest inventions, a hobbyists’ helper device called the Portable Hand, and the automotive categorization applied to certain high-performance sports cars. The rounded configuration of the company’s arachnid logo reflected Sal Glesser’s desire to make its identity friendly rather than aggressive. His drive to perfect every product Spyderco offered testified to his commitment to excellence.
In the years since Spyderco’s founders drove from one knife show to another to promote first their Tri-angle Sharpmaker knife sharpener and, later, their knives, the company grew from kitchen-table sized to become a multimillion-dollar enterprise, headquartered in Golden, Colorado. Many of Spyderco’s design exclusives and innovations first showed up on the C01 Worker, a knife that the company introduced in 1981. These firsts included the Spyderco Trademark Round Hole™, the assistive feature that enables users to open knife blades one handed and ambidextrously, and the pocket clip that Spyderco translated from other types of products to become a fixture of knife design. Throughout its history and into the present, Spyderco has focused its brand on introducing new functional features, new blade steels, new handle scale designs, and an unrelenting focus on using the best materials to make the best products.
Second-generation knife maker Eric Glesser carries his father’s dedication to ergonomics and functionality into a new millennium. Along with designs such as the Kit-Carson-inspired Domino flipper, the Signature Series Manix family, and the Tenacious folder, he also transformed his love of knives into something completely different, in the form of the Spyderco BaliYo butterfly knife pen.
Butterfly or balisong knives knives date back more than 1,000 years, although the restrictions on their use make them rarities in many parts of the world today. Eric Glesser always has loved them, but these fascinating blades labor under the stigma of illegality in a lengthy list of countries, states, and municipalities. Even in the Philippines, in which butterfly knives originated, only those who can demonstrate a professional need for these unique knives can carry them. Some jurisdictions ban them outright under the same statutory language that regulates automatic, switchblade, gravity, or flick knives; some allow them as collectables but not for sale or purchase; and some ban their use as concealed weapons.
With the Spyderco BaliYo pen, the flipping, fanning, and other manipulations that characterize the butterfly knife become a legal pastime that anyone over the age of 5 can enjoy.
The Butterfly Knife
Call it a click-clack for the sound it makes as it opens and closes during a flipping maneuver, a fan knife for the way it pivots, or use the traditional Filipino terms Batangas knife or balisong: This enduring pocket-sized blade style conceals itself within its two folding handles. Depending on the construction method, a butterfly knife either conceals its blade within a sandwich of layers of material, or hides it inside a milled or cast channel or groove, with half of the blade inside one and half inside the other of two handles. Regardless of whether it uses the sandwich or the channel method of construction, a butterfly knife incorporates specific and distinctive parts and features.
The bite handle of a butterfly knife covers the cutting edge, and typically incorporates the latch that secures the blade in its closed position. The safe handle covers the unsharpened edge. Pivot joint pins allow handles and blade to rotate, while a tang pin keeps the blade from contacting the handle in the closed position, protecting the cutting edge from dulling contact. The user can open the knife with one hand, and can perform fast-opening maneuvers that approach the wizardry of sleight of hand.
Given the suspicion that greets many automatic, switchblade, or gravity knives because of their association with self defense and their use as weapons, butterfly knives have become less common, even among collectors. Whereas once they entered the United States by the hundreds of thousands as Asian and European imports, they now lack the legal status to be sold and carried in the U.S. and many other countries. Even the U.S. manufacturers, including Spyderco, who craft knives of this type do so virtually only for an overseas market.
In light of the diminished popularity that results from the challenged legal status of butterfly knives, those who love them, including Eric Glesser, must look for other ways of enjoying the unique features they offer beyond their fundamental nature as cutting tools. To rekindle the love of butterfly knives in a form that everyone can enjoy, Eric Glesser designed and Spyderco began marketing the BaliYo pen, first introduced in 2008.
Spyderco BaliYo: The Pen That’s Also a Skill Toy
The Spyderco BaliYo pen offers a completely legal outlet for the butterfly knife user’s dazzling dexterity and speed, and the clever rotational, flipping, and hand-to-hand transfer maneuvers that typify the advanced implementation of these knives. In fact, the Spyderco BaliYo makes it possible to perform tricks that would expose a butterfly knife user, and anyone in the vicinity, to the dangers posed by a flying razor-sharp blade. With a little practice and some helpful hints from Spyderco, you can turn the BaliYo into a source of unending entertainment that also fosters hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. At the same time, the Spyderco BaliYo also serves as a high-quality writing instrument. Rather than carrying a banned knife that you risk losing to confiscation as an illegal weapon, you can amaze your friends and family with the skill you gain after you master some basic moves and move on to advanced tricks that swing, flip, and launch the Spyderco BaliYo, as well as transfer it from hand to hand.
Spyderco fabricates the BaliYo in three parts, each fabricated from customized injection-molded polymer with stainless steel pivot screws. The two parallel arms that flank the center stem move around it in the same way that butterfly knife handles rotate around their blade. Each arm ends in an opening that incorporates a built-in weight ring, and carries a removable wire clip to help secure the Spyderco BaliYo in your pocket. A third weight ring runs around the center stem just past the twist-open mechanism that reveals the pen. The arms pivot more than 180 degrees, and the brass weight rings balance the handles dynamically so you can flip, swing, and twirl the Spyderco BaliYo to the amazement of friends and family.
Since introducing the BaliYo in 2008, Spyderco has strengthened the product, adding durability to the polymer formulation and improving the steel pocket clips. The symmetry, weight balance and ratios, and sturdy design of the Spyderco BaliYo make it a lasting source of battery-free enjoyment, fun, and skilled play. At the same time, it also functions as a high-quality writing instrument. To replace the Spyderco BaliYo ink cartridge, twist clockwise on the ring below the pen point and pull out the tip after you unscrew it. Twist out the cartridge counterclockwise, and close the pen back up after you insert a new refill.
Spyderco BaliYo Tricks
The easiest and most basic Spyderco BaliYo trick consists of a move called The Drop. Positioning the closed Spyderco BaliYo with its weight rings pointing up, you pinch the ring at the end of the arm farthest away from your fingers, and allow the BaliYo to drop open. To complete the trick, hold your hand palm up, swing the open handle back up, and catch it to close the BaliYo.
The Single Flip, Double Flip, Thumb Roll, Out to In Grip Switch, and Open Thumb Roll round out the introductory series of tricks that Spyderco demonstrates with instructional videos on its BaliYo website. Like many feats of manual dexterity, these tricks make best sense when you see them performed onscreen by an expert rather than simply read descriptions of their steps.
Heavy Duty Spyderco BaliYo Models
The Spyderco BaliYo product line separates into two categories, including the heavy duty models that introduced the action pen to Spyderco customers. The initial Spyderco BaliYo offering features a white center stem with red and blue arms. Manufactured in the United States, it includes a blue Fisher Space Pen ink cartridge that can write upside down, under water, and on surfaces that include grease or oil. The Fisher refills cost $5.95 directly from Spyderco.
In the years following the butterfly knife pen’s 2008 introduction, Spyderco has added new color themes to the heavy duty lineup of BaliYo pens. Model YUS101 features pink arms and an orange center stem. For 2016, Spyderco has introduced three new colors. The red and black model YUS110 BaliYo sports a black center stem. The green and blue model YUS111 BaliYo has green arms. The glow in the dark model YUS112 looks off white in the daytime, but after exposure to the sun or indoor brightness, it emanates a slightly green glow when you switch off the lights.
At 4.25 inches long and 0.41 inches in diameter, the heavy duty Spyderco BaliYo models weigh in at 0.85 ounces and feature a twist-to-open pen mechanism. A one-year warranty covers the product, and Spyderco also makes replacement clips available if you misplace yours. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the heavy duty Spyderco BaliYo models is $34.95.
If you bought a Spyderco BaliYo in 2008, the product incorporated an instructional DVD, which no longer is included. Instead, Spyderco posts its learning videos online on a website dedicated exclusively to BaliYo.
Lightweight Spyderco BaliYo Models
Along with the U.S.-made heavy duty Spyderco BaliYo models, Spyderco also sells two lightweight versions of the product at introductory prices. The company first offered these models in 2009, approximately one year after the heavy duty red, white, and blue BaliYo became a hit.
Made in China, lightweight Spyderco BaliYo models come with bodies fabricated entirely in one color. The black model YCN100 and the grey model YCN101 offer the same endless amusement and dexterity building as their U.S.-made product counterparts. Along with differences in materials and place of manufacture, the lightweight Spyderco BaliYos also use a more nearly generic ink cartridge, which writes in blue like the Fisher Space Pen cartridges of the heavy duty Spyderco BaliYo lineup but lacks its advanced output characteristics. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the pen is $9.95.
The lightweight Spyderco BaliYo pens use a generic blue ink cartridge that’s available as a refill part directly from Spyderco. The shape of the cartridge differs from the profile of the Fisher Space Pen refill used in the heavy duty Spyderco BaliYo pens. The refills cost $0.99 when ordered directly from Spyderco.
Heavy Duty Spyderco BaliYo Refills From Fisher Space Pen
Invented by American pen manufacturer Paul C. Fisher, the Fisher Space Pen and its specialized refill cartridges gained fame as an anti-gravity pen in the 1960s. Protected under U.S. Patent # 3,285,228, this innovative writing instrument uses a hermetically sealed, pressurized ink refill that enables it to write in zero gravity, at angles at which traditional pens lose their ability to emit ink, and in environments otherwise hostile to writing instruments, including under water, in high or low temperatures, on plastics and laminated materials, and on wet, oily, or greasy surfaces.
Contrary to popular belief, the Fisher Space Pen did not result from an abandoned NASA development program. Although the U.S. space agency did field an ill-fated attempt to create an ink-based writing instrument that could function properly in zero gravity, only to abandon the effort in favor of a return to the humble pencil, the large amount of expenditure that the program engendered did not roll over into the privately funded research that yielded the Fisher Space Pen. Fisher reportedly invested $1 million of his company’s money into the development effort that yielded the Fisher Space Pen.
When Paul Fisher approached NASA in 1965 and offered the Fisher Space Pen as a solution to the agency’s flight mission recordkeeping needs, he did so without any prompting from NASA or any other government agency. Like every product and part that must pass advanced military specification testing to gain acceptance in mission critical applications, the Space Pen went through its paces before NASA declared it flight capable in 1967, beginning with Apollo missions. Two years later, Russian cosmonauts also began carrying Fisher Space Pens into orbit on Soyuz flights.
Although the decidedly low-tech pencil provided one answer to the need for a space-friendly writing instrument, both wooden and mechanical pencils also presented dangers to astronauts and down sides to their use maintaining in-flight records. First, the graphite dust from pencil leads can damage equipment in a gravity free environment, as can broken pieces of leads and even eraser crumbs. Second, wooden pencils pose a fire threat. Third, both graphite-lead and grease pencils produce impermanent results that smear. Finally, obtaining flight-worthy pencils had proven to be an expensive proposition. The contract NASA signed with Houston-based Tycam Engineering Manufacturing for mechanical pencils in 1965 yielded 34 units at a per-piece cost of $128.89. By contrast, the agency’s initial order for Fisher Space Pens cost $6 per unit.
The Fisher Space Pen ink refill uses a nitrogen gas pressurized tungsten carbide shell with precision made parts that form a leak-proof seal. The thixotropic ink stays in a nearly solid state, roughly the consistency of rubber cement, until the ball point mechanism liquefies it in a shearing motion across the writing surface. A float slides inside the refill as the ink level drops in use, separating the writing reservoir from the pressurization medium. The refill operates normally at altitudes up to 12,500 feet, in zero gravity, and in temperatures ranging from -50 degrees F to 400 degrees F. Because of its pressurized design and specialized ink, a Fisher Space pen cartridge lasts approximately three times longer than a traditional unpressurized ball point pen ink supply.
Today, you can buy a Fisher Space Pen directly from the company, along with refills that accommodate various brands and models of pens offered by third parties. Paul Fisher set up a separate corporation, established in Boulder City, Nevada, solely to support this unique family of writing instruments. When Fisher died in 2006 at the age of 93, the company stayed in the family as he passed control to his son, Cary Fisher.
Whether you choose a heavy duty or a lightweight model, the Spyderco BaliYo action pen can provide years of fun for adults and children alike. If you’ve always been a fan of butterfly knives but can’t carry them legally where you live, now you can rekindle your love of the dexterous tricks for which these fascinating implements are famed—and share that love with family and friends. The sturdy construction and reasonable price of the Spyderco BaliYo makes it an easy choice for birthday and holiday gifts as well.