It feels a little churlish to say that there are too many affordable knives in the world, but sometimes that’s the way it feels. Top-tier designs from Spyderco, Kershaw, Cold Steel, and others made it clear that a new paradigm for what we should expect from a cheap knife had been established. Bad fit and finish, poor steel choice, so-so design—these are worries of the past. You can now get a knife, or multiple knives, for less than $40 that will serve you well for the rest of your lives.
Nobody makes more budget knives than Kershaw. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Kershaw has oversaturated the lower end of the knife market. Every year sees the knifemaker release another batch of similar-looking knives at the $40 or under price point.
There isn’t anything wrong with this necessarily, except that sometimes the sheer glut of product makes it hard to discern the great from the merely good or the bad. They all look similar on the surface, and the models that get the brief spotlight aren’t always the best ones.
A knife that has been more or less ignored since its release is the Kershaw Zing. This is a case of a truly great blade getting passed over. Even today, several years after its release, the Kershaw Zing is a knife that is worth owning. It has an excellent blade shape, a custom maker pedigree, a strong lock, and an appealing price point. The Kershaw Zing is a thoroughbred winner, and in this review, I’ll explain why.
But before we get to that, please use our interactive table below to compare the Kershaw Zing to a handful of great knives (and ones worthy of your consideration).
$ = $1 – $30 | $$ = $31 – $60 | $$$ = $61 and above
|Kershaw Shuffle II||8Cr13MoV||2.25” blade||$||4.5/5|
|Kershaw Skyline||Sandvik 14C28N||3.1” blade||$$||4.7/5|
|Kershaw Ken Onion Leek||14C28N Steel||3''||$$||4.6/5|
A Quick History of the Zing
The Zing was designed by RJ Martin. Martin has quite the reputation in the custom knife world: he is a multi-award-winner at BLADE show, his Q36 is a perennial favorite amongst collectors (here’s Jim Skelton discussing a particularly beautiful one), and he has a reputation for making knives with incredible flipping action.
The Zing isn’t his only collaboration with Kershaw. Besides the Zing, he has also designed:
- The Volt and Volt II
- The Tactical 3.0
- The RJ I and II
- The Scrambler
- The Chill
The Zing comes in a few different flavors. The first is a slightly higher-end version, now out of production, made in the USA with better steel, but with an odd ribbed blade grind that was very divisive. The standard, still-available Zing is the overseas-produced, stainless steel framelock model.
It has a regular, non-ribbed blade and 8Cr13MoV steel. There is a third, rarer version, made from black G-10 with a blackwashed blade. This is the cheapest model, but is only available in big box stores.
This review will primarily concern itself with the standard stainless steel Zing, but I will address differences as they come up.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
Although he is most famous for his flippers, RJ Martin knows how to put a handle together as well. The Zing’s simple handle shape is accentuated by a pronounced hump on the spine, allowing this fairly thin (in the stainless steel incarnation at least) knife to feel full in the hand. Moreover, it gives you the ability to make rocking, foodcutting-type chops quite easily – a task made even easier by the blade shape, which will be discussed more below.
The Kershaw Cryo has gotten a lot of attention in the custom maker-designed budget knife category, but I think its handle is strictly inferior – comparatively it feels cramped, undynamic, not terrible but not great. Of course, the downside to the handle is that it looks a little goofy – the Zing is a far cry from the high style of Martin’s customs or even his other Kershaw collabs – but I’ll take goofy and superbly functional over cool-looking and mediocre any day.
The G-10 versions of the Zing are much thicker than the stainless steel version: this can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. They are also grippier. It’s very much a matter of personal preference.
Another area in which the Zing stands out both stylistically and performance-wise is in blade shape. What do you call something like this? A modified sheepsfoot? A heavily modified drop point? It looks a little like the Kershaw Leek’s blade, but the Zing’s is more robust and has more belly.
And speaking of Ken Onion designs, the Zing’s blade, for all its curviness, is easy to sharpen. Pocket knife sharpening gets tricky quickly when you’re dealing with recurves, bends, or deep lines on a blade; thankfully, RJ Martin managed to avoid these pitfalls and still create a compelling, individualistic blade on the Zing.
Whatever you want to call it, this is an excellent working blade shape. You can do food prep, heavier cutting, delicate tasks. The belly means that it cuts aggressively through thick material, the tip facilitates detail work, but isn’t so fragile as to be a problem. The unique blade, working with the unique handle, make the Zing cut much better than the average budget knife.
The steel on the standard Zing is 8Cr13MoV, and indeed on almost all of Kershaw’s budget-oriented knives. This is a much discussed, oft-maligned entry-level stainless steel. There’s nothing wrong with 8Cr13MoV. It can take an edge easily, hold it for an acceptable period of time, and it isn’t overly susceptible to rust. It isn’t going to knock your socks off, particularly compared to the 14C28N of the Leek, the Skyline, or the higher-end Zing, but it can hold its own through everyday use.
I’ve often thought of 8Cr13MoV as the baseline for good steel today. It is completely acceptable, just nothing much more beyond that. I understand that in a perfect world it would probably be replaced by something better, but in order to meet a certain price point, there have to be some compromises, and 8Cr13MoV is an unsurprising, decent, acceptable compromise.
Carry is the only area in which the Zing stumbles. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t up to the standards it maintains elsewhere. It isn’t that the Zing is heavy. Stainless steel knives in general aren’t the lightest blades out there, but the aforementioned thinness prevents the Zing from feeling like an anchor. And it’s a flipper, but it doesn’t feel too wide. No, what it really comes down to is the clip.
The clip on the Zing is short and shaped like a curlicue. It looks bad, but the problem goes beyond looks: it’s quite weak in my experience. The steel narrows to a very thin point underneath the screws that hold it in place, and the flared-out end and wide, spoon like termination at the end mean that it snags and bends very easily.
But even beyond that, it doesn’t work very well—at least with my use. It’s too short to keep the knife from swinging in your pocket. The deep-carry Cryo clip blows this thing out of the water, as does the Skyline’s ZT-style clip. The Leek’s washerboard clip isn’t that much better, but I still prefer it to the curlicue clip on the Zing. This curlicue clip does nothing well.
Framelocks are finicky locks. That may not be the popular opinion, but it’s true. They require a lot of maintenance, more than liner locks or lockbacks, and the advantage (strength) is theoretical at best. I would always take a liner lock over a framelock, but if I have to have a framelock, I prefer stainless steel over titanium. And that’s what we have on the standard Zing.
Despite my grousing, it works just fine. There isn’t any significant bladeplay. It’s just as good as the framelocks on the Leek and the Cryo. The liner lock on the Skyline is a step up, but not so much better that I hold it against the Zing.
If you like the Zing but want a liner lock, the BlackWash G-10 version of the blade has it. It’s very good, like most liner locks Kershaw produces, very comparable to that on the Skyline.
Putting questions of strength aside, one other reason liner locks are preferred is that there’s no chance for overtravel—you can push a framelock too far when disengaging it and ruin it. But, because a liner lock is captured (that is, prevented from overtravel because it is laid within a handle scale), there’s no risk of that.
The Zing is a neglected classic. And the truth is, most of the blades in its class are functional but uninspired. But here, we have a knife brimming with character that stands out from the masses. And, it’s a high performer when put to use.
If you’re looking for the next big thing in Kershaw’s budget-priced, custom maker-designed knives, it’s already out there in the Zing.
- Rating: 4/5 stars
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