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Are ball bearing pivots just a marketing gimmick?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by letsurf, Aug 22, 2019.

  1. letsurf


    Mar 11, 2013
    I have owned a lot of folders and most of them used some type of washer system for smooth opening action. I bought a Topps Mini Scandi folder and it's the first knife I've owned that has bearings. I've used it for very light use for about a year and now there is a lot of play in the blade even though the screws are as tight as they should be. Now I'm thinking I need to take it apart and replace the bearings to fix it.

    In the past I have just taken knives apart and cleaned and oiled them fairly easily and the whole bearing thing seems like a huge pain to be honest. Are bearings just a marketing gimmick? To me it seems like more work and less durability for little noticeable benefit. Would love to hear other opinions.
    CVamberbonehead and insta9ves like this.
  2. Murdamook


    Nov 3, 2010
    Depends on the user. I’ve had bearing knives and haven’t noticed that they are anymore prone to play than anything else. I also tend to not care about washer material as long as the blade isn’t a bear to close. Drop-free close shots are great for Instagram and Facebook, but what do I care if my blade doesn’t drop free?
    Dallas T likes this.
  3. bflying

    bflying Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 4, 2014
    Done right, amazing. Done wrong, not so much.
  4. K.O.D.

    K.O.D. Sanity Not Included Platinum Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    I concur. I on and have owned many of both. It seems to make more of a difference on flippers than thumbstuds and spydieholes. At least feel wise.

    My Spyderco Domino is a little gritty. My two WE knives and my Kizer are smooth, very smooth.. Brous Bionic not smooth at all. Zero Tolerance 0095 is about medium.

    I've never had a knife go off center because of bearings. Then again, I never have owned a knife with bearings under $120.

    Tops is new to the game with this kind of knife. Probably need to iron things out. I would send it in on warranty.
    ErocSD and marrenmiller like this.
  5. Insipid Moniker

    Insipid Moniker

    Feb 28, 2011
    My answer is 'sort of'. Bearing pivots can make a knife feel much smoother and more fun to flick open and drop close. That's a good thing when talking about something that often amounts to a high-end toy. That said, it's not like you can't open knives, flippers included, on decent washers just as fast and as reliably.

    Basically, I think bearings add to the fun factor of a knife but offer no real practical advantage beyond that.
  6. marthinus

    marthinus KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 10, 2006

    Making an IKBS system such as Andre Thorburn takes a lot of focus and fine work as an example.
    Jcsixx01 and Sharp & Fiery like this.
  7. TheEdge01


    Apr 3, 2015
    I wouldn’t say ball bearings are a gimmick if done right. IMO ZT does an excellent job with ball bearing pivots.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2019
    ErocSD and unwisefool like this.
  8. letsurf


    Mar 11, 2013
    Thanks for your feedback everyone. I have made a video showing the issue that I'm talking about. There is enough tension to keep the blade from moving freely but it has at least 1/8" play side to side. Also, there is a tiny bit of play and a ticking noise that can be heard when I open/close the blade. It's like it has 1/16" of play there as well. It's very strange and I have never seen this type of behavior on a knife with washers.
  9. fishface5

    fishface5 Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 3, 2001
    I'd say take it apart, OVER A TOWEL or you'll never see at least one bearing again
    Airborne 1 likes this.
  10. marrenmiller

    marrenmiller Basic Member Basic Member

    Apr 6, 2017
    I don't think they're a gimmick. They reduce friction on a blade while you're trying to open it. That can be a good or bad thing depending on what you like and expect out of a knife, but I find it useful to be able to put less thought and effort into opening a knife and still have it deploy 100% reliably. I probably see this differently than most people here, as I think smooth washers feel more fun to play with, but I like bearings just as much or better in actual EDC use. YMMV, obviously.

    I also don't think they're necessarily more prone to damage in dirty conditions. On multiple occasions, I've had one of my Microtech Socom Elites with caged ceramic bearings get so clogged full of sand that it was nearly locked closed (the tip down configuration + handle design essentially funnel debris down behind the blade, into the bearings and behind the liner lock; this is not an indictment of bearings but rather just a characteristic of this specific folding knife design). The knife runs like it did out of the box after I run it under a tap, and it still works when it's got grit in it but less smoothly. That's about as good as I could expect out of any folding knife, to be honest. I've had synthetic washers rip over time, and had bronze washers get bent, but I've never had a problem with bearings. In the few "tests" I've seen people perform with intentionally subjecting their folding knives to dirty conditions, bearing knives usually hold up as well as any other pivot suspension system does. It appears as though bearings let debris in easily, but also let it be flushed out easily as well.

    Your knife looks like it has a problem. Are you sure the pivot is actually tight? If it is and it still has that level of play, that indicates that TOPS didn't implement the bearings well, and you should return that knife or get it replaced/sent in for warranty repair. There's essentially zero chance that replacing the bearings, which will not deform under use, will fix your issue.

    Also, does your knife have caged bearings or loose bearings?
  11. Shotgun


    Feb 3, 2006
    Yes. They add an unnecessary complexity to an otherwise simple tool.

    I think this boils down to what a pocket knife is to the owner. If the most use a person gets out of a knife is to flick it open and closed then maybe bearings are essential. I wouldn’t know. I gave away a spyderco mantra because I’m not a flicker and it really sucked as a tool. Part of that was the fact that it was a pita to maintain.
    Alberta Ed, DocJD and NapalmCheese like this.
  12. kreole

    kreole Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 23, 2009
    They're on the same level as assisted opening to me.
  13. midnight flyer

    midnight flyer Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 12, 2009
    Well said. Think of the hundreds of millions of knives that have been made for work tools, all that were made without the benefit of a device intended to prevent undue wear on surfaces exposed to high speed, repetitive actions like motors, axles, machines, etc. Not that flicking doesn't happen at a high rate of speed on some of these knives, and certainly not to diminish the right for anyone to use their knife as a very manly fidget spinner while enjoying some down time.

    Having carried knives for most of my life and thinking back to my first Buck 110 work knife, none of them even had washers and with a drop of 3n1, all was well. That being said, everyone has to have something to sell. To me, we are reaching the end of the road for folders, which are primarily a blade, a frame with scales, and usually some kind of detention device (a detent, backspring, lock, etc.) So really not a lot to work with. Latest and greatest steels, bizarre blade shapes, colored metals the color of peacock feathers, "tacticool", aircraft grade scale material needed to shave an ounce off overall weight, and all the rest of the new offerings seem to be getting very repetitive these days. Hard to see with such a simple design how anyone could find anything new to do to it after billions have been produced, but I have to admit installing a little Chinese bearing set was pretty original to knife design. Not sure how much it adds to the value of a "user" knife.

    Sharp & Fiery likes this.
  14. K.O.D.

    K.O.D. Sanity Not Included Platinum Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    A knife is a tool first and foremost. Like me lol. But, at the same time, it can be fun. I was a desk jockey for 13 years, but opening mail and boxes etc. However, while sitting on the phone for long calls, it was nice to give the ADHD a break.

    I'm back working again at the family business, in a very limited capacity, part time. Also, while I was mostly bed ridden but out of the hospital, the ability to flip/flick a knife was very soothing.

    To each their own.
  15. Korean Hog

    Korean Hog Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 12, 2017
    I only have one knife with bearings, it's some Kizer I forget the name of.
    I like it though...haven't noticed any problems with durability. It's mostly used as a bait knife while fishing on the beach.
    Plenty of sand gets in it and I beat on the thing a bit prying apart and splitting crabs in half and haven't noticed and durability problems.
    The bearings make the knife real smooth, with a flipper it opens like assisted opening without that springy feeling.
    It doesn't thwack into the locked position like an assisted opener, more of a smooth click soft hit type of thing.

    I like knives with bearings, but it isn't necessarily a big selling point for me.
    I have no need for my knife to open real fast.
    My Spydercos and Chris Reeves are smooth too and they just have washers.
  16. robgmn


    Oct 30, 2015

    From a mechanical standpoint, the strongest knife will be a one-piece.
    If two piece-folder, you want to make it as much like a one-piece as possible, which means having the handle and blade locked together as tightly as possible.
    Using a washer means the contact point between the parts is the surface area of that washer x2. Which is less surface contact than if there were no washer/bushing.
    Using ball bearings means the contact point(s) between blade and handle are now 100x less than they would be with a washer/bushing, and 500x less than if there were no washer/bushing. I completely made those numbers up.

    Since a folding knife is for cutting, and we want the "bond" between blade and handle to be as strong as possible, how does reducing the contact patch between blade and handle add a benefit?
  17. afishhunter

    afishhunter Basic Member Basic Member

    Oct 21, 2014
    In answer to your question, I believe bearings in a knife is a gimmick and are un-necessary.
    (Keep in mind that this is only my opinion. I feel quite confident others will disagree with me.)
  18. NapalmCheese


    Aug 24, 2006
    Gimmick IMO.

    I don't sit around opening and closing my knives, they're not a fidget toy; and I don't discuss how easy they are to open or close with anyone because I couldn't care less beyond my being able to get them open or close them.
  19. craytab

    craytab Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 26, 2012
    I would say the issue you are experiencing is with tops. I'd contact them for warranty.

    As for bearings, I've had no problem with them, and the ease of opening I find useful in my knife usage.

    I guess I don't understand the position of both the detractors and the overly zealous. Bearings aren't a huge benefit, nor even the slightest detraction for me. Generally, if I love the knife and the price is right, I'll buy it.
  20. DocJD


    Jan 29, 2016
    :) It's all about personal preference and what you find to be useful or merely entertaining .

    Especially as a hobby , nothing wrong with collecting whatever gives you pleasure .

    I can understand the fun of fidgety flippers and a good bearing system can make 'em very smooth . :cool:

    However , I don't think they add anything to the basic utility functions of a folder and may complicate maintenance .

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