Friday, September 28, 2012

Kerhsaw Zing SS Review

As custom knife makers go, RJ Martin is something of a celebrity, aided in part by his New York Yankee-like dominance at the Blade Show Awards--in 2010 his custom DRT won Best Folder, his Devestator CF won Best Tactical Folder in 2009, his Rampage won Best Tactical Folder in 2008, and his Q36 won Best Tactical Folder in 2008.  There is little more a custom maker could do to get noticed by production companies.  In particular the Q36 is one of my all time favorites, a knife I'd buy if I were a millionaire.  He uses flipper designs and many, including myself, think his flippers are the best in the industry (about a year ago Blade Magazine ran a piece on editor's choices for knives and RJ Martin's designs did quite well because of his skill with flipper designs).

If there is one drawback to Martin's designs it is their size.  All are tactical in nature and few are anything less than massive.  The "small" knife in his custom lineup is Contender, which stretches to a still very large blade length of 3.5 inches.  There is, of course, the hefty price tag and limited availability that comes with any custom knife.  So when Kershaw announced years ago that it was going to work with Martin on a flipper design, it was pretty exciting.  When the Zing came out that excitement quickly and almost irrevocably divided into two camps--those that liked the design and those that loathed it with a passion.  I was in the second, much smaller camp.  The knife's silhouette was fine, but the striations on the blade annoyed me to no end.  Year after year I'd think about getting a Zing and then put it back in the dealer's case perturbed that the knife was so garish and ugly.  The silly, curly q pocket clip didn't help matters.  But there was a faint siren's call to the knife in part because of the elegant blade shape and the allure of a Martin flipper design.

Years have passed and finally Kershaw announced, earlier this year, a Zing without the striations on the blade.  It would be a budget knife, with Chinese steel and stainless steel handles, but the amazing blade shape would survive sans the silly grooves.  And of course there was the flipper design.  I was pumped.  The Zing SS was totally overshadowed in the SHOT Show announcements by a budget Hinderer, the Cryo, but having used both extensively, there is no question--the Zing SS blows the Cryo away.

Here is the Zing SS's product page.  There are a few major differences between the original Zing and the Zing SS.  First, obviously, are the stainless steel handle slabs.  The Zing SS is assisted opening while the original is not.  Finally, the Zing SS has tiered as opposed to angled thumbstuds like the original had. Here is a video review for the original Zing, there are no true reviews for the Zing SS.  This is, apparently, the first written review of the Kershaw Zing SS.  Here is a link to BladeHQ where you can buy a Zing SS (they sent me this copy for review; all proceeds benefit the site's giveaways):

Blade HQ
Finally, here is the Zing SS I reviewed:


Design: 2

Its that silhouette that makes the Zing so interesting.  The blade can only be described as a Martin blade shape, an organic form that seems to be biological in origin without the funky anti-utility design snafus of an Onion blade.   All of that curvy work-oriented cutting is backed up by a superb flipper.  Martin's flipper designs deserve every bit of praise they receive.  They are really first rate, even when translated through the sometimes flaw-inducing production manufacturing process.  Its amazing to compare this flipper to one on the Scallion.  Furthermore, here the flipper really does do double duty, whereas on other, less elegant designs it seems begrudgingly conscripted into the role of protecting your hand.  I like the subtle humps on the spine as they give the knife a bit of grip while adding to the aesthetic of the knife.  Removing the grooves does make this knife, finally, aesthetically appealing in every respect.  I only wish the vestigial thumbstud would have been left off this version of the knife.

The Zing's size goldilocks itself into well-loved company--hitting around the same size as the Benchmade Mini Grip, the Spyderco Delica, and the Small Sebenza to name a few.  It is neither too big nor too small for the average person.  I tend to like my EDC blades on the smaller size, so I found the Zing to be large not but too large.  Here it is in comparison to the ubiquitous Mini Mag AA (thanks for the size comparison suggestion):


The blade:handle is a very excellent .78 and the blade:weight is exactly 1 (3 inches to 3 ounces).  It strikes me as odd how much better these ratios are than those found on the Cryo.  The handle is essentially the same length (3 7/8 inches to 3 3/4 inches) with a quarter inch more of blade and the weight, well hell, I can't even compare the two.  Exact same material, exactly the same--blade steel and handle slabs, and the Zing weights 3 ounces on the nose and the Cryo, aka Steel Turd, weighs 4.2 ounces.  This is a perfect example of why ratios matter.  For the same price, with the same materials, you get more blade per inch and more blade per ounce.  

Fit and Finish: 2

This will be a recurring theme, given how much praise the Cryo got in comparison to this blade, but again the Zing has the Cryo beat hands down.  There is no question that this knife is superior in fit and finish.  The edges were rounded, the blade was and remained centered, and the bead blasting was nice and even.  I have no complaints whatsoever about the Zing SS and for the price, I can't think of a blade that was better fit and finish-wise.  Outstanding achievement.  Only one note and it is not a big deal at all.  When the knife is between the closed and open position there is a bit of rattle in the handle from the torsion bar.  It does not affect performance at all and given how infrequently you carry or hold a knife in that position, it is really barely worth even a mention.   

Grip: 2

I went back and forth here and I would not argue with someone that awarded this blade a 1.  The stainless steel handles are slick.  There is a bit of jimping on the thumb ramp, the flipper, and the backspacer (the humps) but that's about it.  The difference in my mind and hand between this knife and the Cryo is the shape.  The shape, for me, gave me a sure purchase on the handle even with minimal jimping.  I took the knife along for some really great hiking with my son and wife in the woods and we had to cut all kinds of things.  I was hanging over a stream, cutting down a thin branch for my son, and I never lost the knife, even when deploying it.  There is a small sample size issue, as I had both knives for about three weeks, but still, in those three weeks the Zing stayed put and the Cryo did not.  

Carry: 2

Stainless steel is not my favorite handle material, but what you lose in grip you make up for in carry and here, where the handle is so shapely, its not that much of a trade off at all.  The Zing SS is thin.  Awesomely thin.  It is a bit wide for a non-Spyderco, but the thinness makes up for it.  This is an absolutely great blade in the pocket.  

Steel: 1

As I have said many times before, 8Cr13MoV is the very definition of blah steel.  Here, with the too-frequently used bead blasting, it is okay.  I had no rust issues, but it did lose its edge when cutting things like sapling and bark.  

Blade Shape: 2

If the flipper was the main attraction for the Zing SS, the blade shape is that really awesome ride that was at the carnival that you didn't see from the road.  I absolutely positively LOVE this blade shape.  It has enough of a belly and a point to do real work.  It has a nice thumb ramp but also has a finger rest for scalpel cuts.  It is one of my favorite blade shapes I have ever used, despite (or because of) being very unconventional. 


Great job, Mr. Martin.

Grind: 2

The dished out, radius grind is nice to look at and helps produce a very fine cutting edge.  There is a bit of unevenness in the cutting bevel as you can see in the picture above, but nothing that impacted performance.  It is a hollow grind, if that bother's you, but it did not jam up when cutting cardboard. 

Deployment Method: 2

Martin flipper design = 2, that is all you need to know.

But really, here is some more.  The flipper is poised and balanced in a way that practically invites you to unleash the blade and because of the new assisted opening torsion bar it really is UNLEASHING the blade.  I don't think the assist is necessary but it is a way to cover over a cheap, rough pivot and a way to get rid of the work necessary to make a smooth manual flipper, which is not easy to do in a production knife.  Still, Martin flipper design = 2.

Retention Method: 1

Have you gone back and looked at your high school year book?  You remember those girls that you thought were super hot and had really sexy hair.  And now they look terrible, like a really young and trashy version of a country music singer?  The hair was a bold design move at the time and now it looks dumb.  That is the clip on the Zing SS, except instead of waiting 15 years to look ugly, it does so now.


But it does work.  Tension is nice, probably aided by the slick scales, but it is so big that it loves to snag on stuff and scratch up cars as you walk by.  Dumb.  

Lock: 2

Cheap framelocks are a high wire act.  Sometimes they somehow pull it off and work well and other times, it is disaster, screwing up blade centering and messing up the knife in many different ways.  Not here.  The lock is solid and the blade is still centered when closed.  There is no blade play at all.  And there is this:


Yep, a nice easy way to disengage the framelock.  See that Cryo?  Its called convenience.  Try it some time.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

I got a truckload of shit for hating the Cryo, but I had to be honest.  It was a terrible design, even for $30.  Now this is how you do a $30 knife.

I know quite a few people who'd be happy with a Zing SS for the rest of their life.  They aren't you and me, we are knife and tool addicts, but that is a different story.  This is a GREAT budget knife, beating out even my old preferred mid-size budget EDC blade the Kershaw Skyline.  The flipper is excellent and the blade shape is sublime.  For all of the people that thought I was a Kershaw hater after the Cryo review, I hope this (and all of my other positive Kershaw reviews) prove otherwise.  I try to be brand agnostic and even to the agnostic, this a knife worthy of angel song, all for $30. 


  1. Very cool, would still rather get a orange Zing though. :p

  2. Tony, your pairs are inspirational/aspirational for quality and value. My values run to a lower dollar than yours, but I do own two of your items: the Dragonfly and the Buck. I'm coming to the conclusion, after handling it more, that my Buck needs the treatment yours got in order to be comparable to my Skyline and my Dragonfly. So my cost may go up, but I think it would be the last knife I would have to buy as a real EDC. Those three knives are "good enough" for me to be very happy with them for all my purposes. (I do carry a Buck Redpoint when I help a friend on his farm for a few days in the late fall. It works well one-handed for cutting bags and bales and tape and fiberglass bands around bundles of root stock.)

    Thanks for this look. Now I need to tackle the flashlight aspect, having been tempted by the Ku.


  3. The Zing SS has changed since this review - especially the clip. Take a look at the product page and the picture of the clip. Let me know what you think. I"ve seen some really good prices on this knife and I'm tempted.

    Thanks again for the great site!

  4. Re: all these vestigial thumbstuds on flipper knives. It suddenly dawned on me the other day: they are sops to the lawyers. They're not for deploying the blade from closed (notice how on the Skyline you literally cannot deploy the blade with its thumbstuds); they're for finishing an incomplete deployment.

    If the blade lacks thumbstuds and you miss deployment with the flipper, you have to pinch the half-deployed blade and pull it fully open to lock. If you are clumsy (or have slippery hands), your finger might slip and get cut. Enter product liability suit. "Knife Maker Inc. was negligent for not including a safe second method for opening the knife! It was foreseeable that the flipper would miss deployment!"

    It's interesting that the cheapo Kershaw Chill is the exception. Maybe they concluded the flipper on that knife was SO good that the risk was acceptable?

    1. Random comment necro!

      I was re-reading this and had to respond to this comment.
      1) I just got a Skyline not long ago, and unless they changed something, I can thumb pad flick it open with the thumb stud. I can't coin flick or SpydieFlick, but it's not impossible in just that one fashion.
      2) That's a really good point about the thumb studs; I'd never thought about that. It's probably a good idea in that context. The Kershaw Oso Sweet is lacking studs as well btw.