It’s nice to deviate from standard patterns when it comes to knives. We all like our bearing pivot flippers, I’m not saying we don’t. They’re great, and there are many reasons why they are so popular. But boy is it refreshing to try out something different. It’s like how seemingly every new car these days is another stupid pointless rhobus-shaped crossover piece of shit with no actual clear purpose, so we’re all enthralled by weird stuff like those three wheeled half car half motorcycles that Polaris is making. (Don’t be, they’re garbage.)
Tired of big ornate titanium flippers that cost several Benjamins and have the edge geometry of a trench shovel? Do you keep buying maker/designer collaborations but your soul still feels empty? How about a small slipjoint pocket knife that incorporates a lot of what makes modern knives good but actually focuses primarily on superb cutting performance over impressing people on the internet? The Manly Wasp might be the knife for you.
Key Specs: Manly Wasp
Manly is probably not a household name to you if you live in the United States. They’ve only recently started selling their products here, but they’ve been producing knives in their factory in Bulgaria since 2010. They’ve started distributing their knives in the US market now, and despite being in the market for close to 2 years they’ve hardly gotten any press coverage. I think that’s undeserved, because after carrying and using some of their knives – sent to us by US representative Lyubomir Trayanov – I think Manly is catering to a part of the knife market that many other brands have thrown up their hands and forgotten about. Reasonably priced knives with top notch materials and a focus on actual cutting performance. Of course, there’s more to the Wasp than just the blade, but that’s where we should start.
The absolute best part of the Wasp is the blade. Everyone else making pocket knives for actual use should take notes and update their products. The Wasp is probably the best cutter I’ve had in years- we’ll talk about performance more in the field test section of course.
What’s remarkable is that this knife has an $80 MSRP and a blade made of CPM S90V steel. Just for comparisons sake, at the time of writing the cheapest folding knife on BladeHQ with an S90V blade is the new Benchmade 319-2 Proper slipjoint with carbon fiber scales and an S90V blade for ~$200 retail. S90V is rare as it is, but seeing it in a knife under $100 is basically unheard of. It would be like if Dodge sold a Dart with the Hellcat engine for $20,000. It’s found on a number of Spyderco sprint runs and high-end expensive production models like the Southern Grind Penguin ($400.) If you ask knife nerds what the best stainless steel on the market is, chances are a few of them will answer CPM S90V. Why?
S90V is both highly wear resistant and highly corrosion resistant, and thanks to powdered metallurgy it’s extremely uniform and clean, so it takes a gleaming edge. Carbon content is crazy high at 2.3% – compared to a “premium” steel like S35VN at 1.38 or even Bohler M390 at 1.9. Carbon being the primary determinant of steel hardness and edge retention. It’s lower than some anomalies like ZDP 189 (3.0) and CPM S110V (2.9) but it actually has higher carbon than notorious belt-destroyer Maxamet (2.15.) It’s got a reasonable amount of chromium (14%) for hardness and corrosion resistance, but it has a huge amount of Vanadium – 9% is about equal to S110V, but way higher than S35VN (3%) or Maxamet (6%) as well as ZDP 189 (trace.)
Beyond the blade steel, the shape and geometry are ideal for cutting as well. The blade is full flat ground, and only 0.11” thick at the spine – coming down to under 0.01” behind the edge with a narrow 30 degree inclusive sharpening angle per Manly. This means it’s thinner behind the edge and has a much thinner blade angle than most pocket knives (which aids in slicing performance) but has a steel hard enough to support the shallow edge. Manly does their own in-house heat treat of this steel, and claim it’s hardened to 61-62 on the Rockwell hardness scale meaning it will hold an edge for a long time.
Blade shape is a traditional drop point with the tip relatively high compared to the pivot. There’s a minimal thumb ramp, but probably the most interesting aspect of the blade is the curved plunge line that terminates in a sharpening choil with an increasing radius. The edge bevel continues onto the blade stock above the sharpening choil, which is unusual, but you still have a very clean sharpened edge when it comes to maintenance.
The blade finish is a shiny vertical satin, and markings are minimal – the Manly leaf logo on one side and S90V on the other. There’s a shallow nail nick on one side of the blade, but as we’ll get into you don’t spend a lot of time using it.
Deployment & Lockup
“Deployment and lockup” aren’t the right terms for a slipjoint, as there is no lockup, and deployment is decidedly a two-handed affair. This isn’t a Swiss Army style slipjoint – it has an extremely stiff spring, enough to render the nail nick unusable. You’ll break your thumbnail before you open it that way. This knife requires a hard pinch with your thumb and forefinger to pull it open.
The upside to this super-strong backspring is that at no point are you ever worried it’s going to close on your hand accidentally. The blade snaps into place with a satisfying click. What also sets the Wasp apart from other slipjoints is the quarter-stop mechanism. Some slipjoints have a half-stop for safety, where the blade can rest at a 90 degree angle on another flat on the blade tang. The Wasp actually has two light quarter stops, at 45 degrees and 135 degrees relative to the closed position, which serve as additional closing safeties so the blade doesn’t snap closed on your hand. The pivot uses phosphor-bronze washers.
Manly doesn’t apply any thread locker (which I’m thankful for) to the pivot screw, so after a few days opening and closing the pivot had backed off and created horizontal wobble. I removed the pivot screw and put a touch of medium-yield thread locker on after setting the tension – the problem never recurred after this. In the open position, there is no discernible side-to-side play, and just slight downward play – no upward. It is a slipjoint, but it’s a very secure one.
Features, Fit & Finish
This is not a knife that has a lot of features. There are no hidden ¼” hex bit drivers, wire strippers, flippers or bearings or what-have-you. Manly just created a knife that cuts things very well.
Handle construction is pretty typical – it has dyed G10 handle scales (you can get an S90V Wasp in Red like tested here as well as Black, Black/Red, Black/Green, Camo, and Orange) over nested, lightly skeletonized stainless liners. It’s not over-encumbered with hardware but it all serves a purpose. The pivot pin is a Chicago-style screw that is keyed to the frame to prevent it from turning with the male screw. The body screws in the center of the spine thread into a tube that also anchors the backspring in place as well as holding the scales on. The rear screw holes – which mount the pocket clip – also thread into a tube that holds the tail of the spring in place. Manly has included a small stop pin in between the blade and the backspring that prevents the edge of the blade from accidentally contacting the backspring in the closed position.
The pocket clip is nice in this day and age of over-complicated, poorly performing 3D titanium sculpture clips. It’s a bent steel deep carry clip which sits in a recess in the handle scale, and is secured with a single screw which the clip slides around. To remove the clip you just loosen the screw a few turns and slide it out. There’s a “blanking plate” for the unused clip mounting hole, and if you want to remove the clip entirely you can have Manly send you a spare blanking plate to close it off as well. Manly includes two allen keys in the box the knife ships in, which is a nice touch for the user to perform maintenance and disassembly/cleaning.
Fit and finish is a mixed bag. I think the blade itself is flawless – it came razor sharp with clean, even grinds. The vertical satin finish is beautiful and the fully terminated sharpening choil is a nice touch. There’s a YouTube shop tour of the Manly plant in Bulgaria where they show how the knives are made (you can see it here) including them hand sharpening the blades on a rotating wheel with a clever pivoting jig.
The handle itself is less impressive. The backspring doesn’t fit flush with the scales – it’s high in some spots and low in others, most pronounced towards the butt of the handle. The body screws in the middle of the scale are nice flat headed screws but they sit below the surface of the scales, while the pivot pin sits above, and the clip screws are a different style entirely. The tang of the blade doesn’t line up with the spine when open, sitting slightly above it. These are probably all things that bother anal-retentive types, but none of the actually effect how the knife functions in any meaningful way – it’s still a solidly built knife with good ergonomics and a great blade. How important these fit and finish issues are is up to you.
I’m not a slipjoint guy, really. I like flippers and thumb studs, it’s what sparked my interest in pocket knives when I was around 15 years old. But I can make exceptions. Sure, a two hand opening knife is decidedly less convenient that a one handed knife. But you realize it’s not the end of the world. You just need to take your time and use both hands opening the knife, and you get that mechanical engagement of the quarter-stops for tactile feedback, with a satisfying “snap” when it opens. It eliminates the whole “fidget toy” aspect of carrying a pocket knife, which I view as a negative but I’m quite certain my wife views as a positive. Some people find the noise annoying.
But let’s pretend that pocket knives aren’t just fidget toys for adults, and they’re made to cut things. The Manly Wasp is just absolutely excellent at cutting things like very few other knives I’ve tested are. It’s closer in cutting performance to a Swiss Army Knife than it is to a big chunky Cold Steel. The Wasp does every type of cutting well: it’s thin and flat ground and slices like a scalpel. It has a great tip that’s narrow even on the spine side and it pierces things well. There’s no thumb stud to catch on what you’re cutting, and nothing gets caught on that neat curved ricasso either.
S90V is amazing here as it is on any other knife. It showed no signs of rusting or patina even after cutting a lot of food. It stays sharp so long that even after carrying it for almost 2 months I never needed to actually sharpen it, just doing a couple passes on the corners of the ceramic rods on my Sharpmaker brought the edge back. The edge is very stable despite the narrow sharpening angle as well. It never chokes up on what you’re cutting. This is how pocket knife blades SHOULD be, and I’m surprised that more of them aren’t.
Ergonomics on the Wasp are decent. There’s not any crazy shape to the handle, it’s quite neutral and allows for a full four finger grip, and the slight finger guard combined with the thumb ramp on the spine give you a positive forward grip for detail work. At no point in using this knife did I ever feel insecure because it lacked a lock- the backspring is very strong and the quarter-stop mechanism is an additional safety net even for the inept.
It’s also excellent to carry. One thing worth mentioning is that this knife will be legal to carry in most places where it’s legal to carry a knife of any sort, having a blade under 3” and being a non-locking knife. Despite these “limitations” it’s still 100% functional as an everyday carry knife. The pocket clip is exemplary, having perfect tension without causing too much friction to chew up your pockets. It’s super deep carry, the entire handle being concealed when in the pocket. The light weight (2.95oz) and thin profile as well as a lack of flipper tabs or thumb studs make the Wasp great in the pocket, taking up little real estate.
The Wasp is a pretty unusual knife, without a whole lot of direct competition. At ~$80 MSRP on the Manly USA website, there’s nothing else in CPM S90V that comes close in terms of price.
In overall profile and use, the Spyderco UK Pen Knife is somewhat similar. It’s a non-locking slipjoint with a sub-3” (2.94”) full flat ground blade, in basic form with CTS-BD1 steel. It is a one handed opening knife thanks to the Spyderco thumb hole, but it has textured FRN scales versus the Wasp’s nicer G10 scales. It also has an ambidextrous deep carry clip, but it’s Spyderco’s unique wire clip, and the UKPK is an entire ounce lighter at 1.9 oz. The basic CTS-BD1 version is only $58, but the upgrade CPM-S110V variant rings up at ~$98 – still a great price. You can’t go wrong with either, honestly.
The Spyderco Chaparral lightweight is also similar, although it offers a locking blade instead of a slipjoint. FRN scales over skeletonized stainless liners keep the weight down to 2 ounces, and it features the same deep carry wire clip as the UKPK for ambidextrous tip up carry. CTS-XHP steel is great but not quite up to S90V performance levels, but the Chaparral is one of the few knives on the market with a similar focus on slicing performance like the Wasp. It’s only a bit more expensive at $90 than the Wasp.
A discussion about “modern slipjoints” wouldn’t be complete without bringing up the extremely popular Benchmade Proper, although it leans a lot more on slipjoint than it does on modern. Available in either a utilitarian sheepsfoot or a beautiful clip point blade shape, the Proper comes in a standard S30V/Micarta version for $120 or an upgraded S90V/Carbon Fiber version for ~$200. It’s a great knife – along with the Bugout, it’s been a sign of Benchmade’s resurgence into building interesting products again. The Micarta Proper is a bit lighter (2.2 ounces) with a similar length blade (2.82”) but it is a whole lot more expensive and has worse steel.
The Kizer Zipslip is another competitor. It’s sold in two variants, a Vanguard version with G10 scales and Bohler N690 steel or the fancier Bladesmith variant with fluted titanium and S35VN. Both are non-locking slipjoints that can be one hand opened with a thumb hole, and feature a useful 2.85” drop point blade. They’re both right around 3.1 ounces so slightly heavier than the Wasp, and both feature a deep carry clip that’s right hand tip up only. The Vanguard is a bit cheaper than the Wasp at $70, while the titanium Bladesmith is a good bit more expensive at $145, but both have less high-performance blade steel.
Of course if you want a high end modern slipjoint that will make the neighbors jealous, the new Chris Reeve Impinda is a looker. With a 3.2” drop point blade made from hollow ground CPM S35VN and a ridiculously smooth slipjoint mechanism, the full titanium Impinda is nice – but it should be at $450.
I’m glad I got to carry and use the Wasp, because I’m used to different varieties of the same thing. I don’t know if the market is really crying out for a product like this – a lightweight slipjoint made with modern design and materials – but it’s an excellent knife to carry and use. It’s always fun to review knives from new brands, and even more enlightening to dip your toe into a market you don’t normally explore. I ended up reserving the Wasp for use around the house and on weekends because I just value having a one handed opening knife very highly at work – when my other hand is frequently busy – but the other knives Manly sent for review can address this concern in an upcoming review.
What’s great about the Wasp is definitely the blade, though. It is just singularly focused on cutting performance, from the steel to the heat treat, to the edge grind and geometry, to the blade shape and even the unique primary grind. This knife cuts like crazy, and that’s the point of a knife in the first place – right?
So if it sounds like this is a fantastic knife that’s in search of a one handed opening method and maybe a lock, don’t despair. There’s a lockback version of the Wasp forthcoming according to Manly USA representative Lubo Trayanov – no word on if it will have a thumb stud, but let’s hope. What a flawless knife that would be, with a one handed opening method and a few tweaks to construction.
- One of the best cutting blades on the market, super steel at a mid-range price, unique quarter stop slipjoint mechanism, great clip and carry, something different.
- Indifferent build quality to handles and backspring, spring is too stiff to actually use nail nick, needed a dab of loc-tite.