Folders....Steel bearings versus Ceramic


"The Montana Bladesmith"
For a long while now I've comtemplated ceramic bearings in my folders, trying to justify if the cost to performance was worth it.

Well, after much hum hawking around, I finally did some testing over the past couple of months. Now there is no question in my mind. I have never found anything that improves the smoothness and over action of my folders moreso then simply changing from steel bearings to ceramic. Most of the guys I spoke with used them in the IKBS bearing configuration, and although I've used "loose" bearings in the past, its a headache when a customer calls or emails telling me that they took their folder apart, and lost "some" of the bearings.

Just for that reason I have stuck with using "captured" bearings (those with some type of race). Currently the bearings I use come from an outfit in Florida (Boca Bearing), that have nylon races...... I've actually been removing the 52100 bearings, and replacing them in the races with ceramic....... Not saying its a "cure all", but if you nail your numbers on folders, and replace steel with ceramic bearings, it makes a HUGE difference. (at least for me it has).
I have dealt with Boca Bearing and they are very helpful folks, and nice to boot!!!
Their product quality is very good and I rebuilt numerous fishing reels with their bearings....
I've wondered about this topic of ceramic verses steel. Thanks for posting this.


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In case anyone is interested, I've been purchasing my ceramic bearings here:
(I believe he also offers quantities of 100 and 500) but each race I use contains 7 bearings, which means for one folder I use 14 ceramic bearings......100 or 500 doesn't last long)

Just make sure you order/purchase the size you need/want. The link above is for 1/16"...... I've searched around, and its the best price I've found. The seller assurred me that these are first quality bearings, and NOT seconds or rejects. I've not come across a bad one yet in the 1000 quantity order I placed.

Several sellers I found that had cheaper prices are selling "seconds" (look for the "G5" specification... those are what you want for folders), and unless you ask the right questions, you might not be pleased with what you receive. The first batch of 500 I ordered, I didn't ask, and those ceramic bearings were worse then steel in my folders. When I contacted the seller, they replied with "You didn't ask if they were seconds". :) So just don't take anything for granted.
Sure they make the action smooth but the biggest benefit I find with ceramic balls are for detents. No messing around having to mask it to anodize. Time is money right?
No doubt though, if your tolerances are proper ceramics make a difference. Although if the tolerances are dead nuts, PB washers make a nice buttery smooth knife as well.
Ed, you talk about the smoothness of the action, but I was wondering if there is any concern over the toughness or durability of the ceramic over the steel bearing? Some guys are pretty rough on the pivots.

Ed, you talk about the smoothness of the action, but I was wondering if there is any concern over the toughness or durability of the ceramic over the steel bearing? Some guys are pretty rough on the pivots.


IMO the counterbore on the handle and/or the lock relief will fail well before those bearings will.
Finn.... Yep! they make a major difference when used for the detent too! Certainly part of the equation is "nailing the numbers" (tolerances)...... if those are correct, then there is a night and day difference between steel and ceramic bearings. I still use a lot of PB washers for higher end liner locks, and other applications where bearings are not appropriate.

Erik...... I've had to change how I set detents with ceramic versus steel..... with steel I would "tap" the detent ball into place with a small hammer, but quickly found that doing that with a ceramic ball will often fracture it. With the ceramic ball being used as detents, I set them with an arbor press. I have a set of feeler gauges, from .010" thru .025", each has a #52 hole drilled in it. I use those for the "stop" when setting detents. I set the ball onto the pre-drilled detent hole, place the feeler gauge over the ball, then press the ball in with the arbor press.