What are Brass Knuckles and How are They Used?

Brass knuckles, sometimes known as “knuckles”, “knucks” or “knuckle dusters” are weapons used in hand-to-hand combat. Brass knuckles are pieces of steel or brass that are formed to fit around the knuckles with a grip for the palm. They were originally designed to maximize the force of punches to cause greater tissue bone damage upon contact. It also allows a harder punch due to reduced fear of harming ones own hands when striking.


Early forms of brass knuckles were used in ancient Rome, India, South America and Japan. The Roman “caestus” was a type of glove made from leather and metal and was used in boxing matches during gladiatorial events. Unlike modern day boxing gloves, the caestus was used solely to increase the damage caused by a punch.

An ancient Indian martial art called Vajra Mushti used a knuckle-duster type weapon and incorporated striking and grappling techniques along with the study of critical points. The bagh nakh or “tiger claw” is a similar Indian weapon that was worn over the knuckles. However, the bagh nakh was more of a slashing weapon than hitting device. A similar weapon called the tekko is another of the traditional weapons used in kobudo (a martial art from Okinawa, Japan).

Knuckle dusters were integrated into the Apache revolvers used by outlaws in France in the early 1900s. During World War I and II, trench knives (blades with enlarged guards to be used as brass knuckles) were used in close contact combat such as trench raiding maneuvers. Even in Britain, brass knuckles were made popular by the gangster Dave Courtney when debt collecting.

Legal Issues

In most countries, the possession of brass knuckles is illegal. Brass knuckles are available as reproductions or novelties, and some are even fashioned to be used as a belt buckle.

Authentic brass knuckles can be found at flea markets, swap meets, and some antique shops. The devious reputation and history have made them popular trinkets and can be found as collector’s items, brass knuckle paperweights, framed memorabilia, and brass knuckle belt buckles.

An adaptation of brass knuckles that is often called “clear knuckles” is made out of bulletproof glass or very dense Plexiglas. Clear knuckles, which are lighter than the metal versions, are designed impose topical pain, while brass knuckles were designed to break bone.

In the U.S., brass knuckles cannot be sold to people in several area such as the District of Columbia or the states of California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, or Rhode Island. In Canada, brass knuckles or anything similar in design are listed as prohibited weapons.

Use of Brass Knuckles

Brass knuckles can be custom made to fit anyone. Due to the standard shape, brass knuckles rarely have a perfect fit. This can result in the accidental breaking of the fingers if a punch is thrown straight forward. Some people have been known the tape up the grip with padding to ensure a better fit.


There are a variety of brass knuckles and they include spiked knuckles, “fat boys“, “wedding rings”, brass knuckles with various images on the knuckles, and even knuckle-knives.

Spiked knuckles are one of the most brutal varieties of brass knuckles. The length of the spikes varies from as small as a quarter of an inch to up to six inches. Shorter spikes emphasize the impact of the brass knuckle on bone, while longer blades are used solely to inflict soft-tissue damage.

Certain brass knuckles are available with knives (especially flick knives) built in. These are very dangerous as a hand-to-hand fight can lead to a more serious situation where great injury or even death may be the outcome. These knife dusters are available in many countries across the world and should be handled with care.


One Response to What are Brass Knuckles and How are They Used?

  1. Julian Schmidt says:

    Very cool article. I purchased both the brass knuckle and aluminum knuckles from you, one for me and one as a gift. My father is a retired police officer and he thought the brass knuckles were a unique paperweight for his home office. He said that were exactly like the old school ones he saw in the 1930’s. Anyway, cool article..thanks.

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