Key Specs: QSP Gannet
This whole prevalence of anti-Chinese rhetoric in US knife circles often forgets that some of the absolute best knives in the world come out of China, and a lot of them specifically come out of Yangjiang, which is like the Seki City or the Pacific Northwest of China in terms of knife manufacturing being centered there. The amount of brands making high-end products in and around Yangjiang, which is referred to as “China’s Capital of Knives & Scissors” is mind-boggling – they even hold an annual fair there.
Who else is located in Yangjiang? WE Knives, Bestech, Artisan, Ganzo, TwoSun, Maxace, Real Steel and Tuya, plus Rike and Kizer which are both located in Guangdong province. The Chinese knife industry is largely based here because the entire industrial chain – steel, parts, materials – are all sourced from here as well, so brands end up located in Yangjiang. So there’s not exactly a lack of knowledge on how to build a knife around Yangjiang, we’ll put it that way. QSP entered the picture in 2017, having been an OEM manufacturer for other brands for approximately 10 years prior to that before starting to produce products under their own label. If you’re curious, QSP stands for “quality, service, price” – so, you know, it’s right on the label.
The Gannet is a recent addition to QSP’s line, and it’s QSP’s first front flipper model. As far as first impressions go, the Gannet is one of the more impressive ones I’ve had recently – considering the quality to value ratio this knife represents. It’s a pretty cool product from a new brand that’s honest about what it’s trying to do, which I appreciate. Let’s take a closer look at it.
The Gannet’s blade is a real work of functional art. The blade measures 3.25” total, with a 3.125” cutting edge thanks to a minimal sharpening choil. Blade shape is a drop point that’s starting to border on a clip point depending on how you’re looking at the spine, with a full flat grind all the way up to the spine. The details that have gone into the blade are pretty mind blowing at this price point, starting with the finish itself: a basically perfect horizontal satin finish that’s silky to the touch. The trailing edge of the spine is rounded, while the leading edge of the spine has been smoothed off to the touch. The plunge grind is dramatic, a long curved arc that starts from the peak of the spine and curves down to the sharpening choil.
Blade steel is 154CM, a nice mid-range steel that used to be commonly used by Benchmade (like in earlier production Griptilians, before they switched to CPM S30V and the price went up). 154CM has actually been around for a really long time, dating back to the 70’s when Crucible Steel developed it for use in airplane parts. It’s similar in composition to 440C stainless steel (around 1% carbon, high chromium) but it has a high 4% concentration of molybdenum which improves its corrosion resistance as well as its ability to hold an edge at similar hardness levels. 154CM is chemically nearly identical to Hitachi ATS-34, just lacking some trace amounts of other elements, and this was considered very high-end and high-performance steel back in the 1990’s. Today, it’s still a good working steel for EDC use, being highly corrosion resistant and able to be easily re-sharpened to a clean edge without too much time or effort. Especially considering the price of the knife, 154CM is a good steel to see here.
Deployment and Lockup
The Gannet is QSP’s first front flipper, and they came out of the gate swinging because this knife has fantastic action. If you’re unfamiliar, front flippers position the flipper tap in line with the spine of the blade protruding forward from the handle, as opposed to regular flippers which protrude perpendicular from the rear of the handle, so you use the side of your thumb to open the blade rather than the tip of your index finger. This is a design choice as much as it’s a functional choice – the knife looks sleeker and cleaner when open (since the flipper tab is hidden in the handle) and it also takes up less pocket space when it’s stowed away.
The last front flipper I reviewed for Knife Informer was the original Kizer Feist a few years back, but other than that I’ve got limited experience with front flippers. The Gannet has a longer flipper tab than the Feist, and the jimping along the traction surface is much finer which I think gives a more solid grip. Minimal practice is required to get this knife to pop open cleanly, thanks to a set of ceramic ball bearings – again, another surprising feature at this price point – but the Gannet never feels quite as hydraulically smooth when opening and closing as the Feist does. It’s possible to slowly roll the blade open, but it’s harder than the smaller Kizer since the QSP has a stronger detent – which obviously helps in opening the knife quickly but makes a slow deployment harder.
Lockup is by a stainless liner lock, which works perfectly – a heavy flip still only results in about 15% engagement across the lock face on the tang, and there’s absolutely zero blade play in either axis, and I’ve experienced zero lock stick during daily use of this knife at work where it doesn’t exactly lead an easy life. The one negative thing I can say, more in theory than in practice, is that the Gannet uses an internal stop pin instead of an external, which is inherently weaker but it is prettier. This isn’t the type of knife I’d want to baton through concrete anyway.
Features, Fit & Finish
Wow, how do they make a knife this well finished for ~$80? I think I said that to myself, out loud, more than once while I was carrying the Gannet for review. It’s really a mind blowing achievement for the price. I’m well aware than fancy details and polished surfaces don’t actually make a knife cut better, or carry better, or last longer – but we can be honest about the inherent value of nice things, and the joy they bring to our lives, right? The Gannet brings joy every time you slide it out of your pocket. Every detail has a wow hidden in it.
Long time readers know I’m a huge fan of Spyderco, and I did talk about how the Para 3 Lightweight is so good it makes you lose interest in other knives, which is a bit hyperbolic – I didn’t lose my interest in other knives. But comparing the $105 Para 3 Lightweight (which has gone up about $15 since I reviewed it) to the $82 Gannet, it terms of how nicely it’s made, is just an absolute riot. They’re not in the same universe. A Para 3 is an item that’s clearly engineered and assembled to do a job efficiently without any excess, whereas you can tell a nerd- and I mean that in the nicest way possible – examined every inch of this QSP to see how it could be nicer.
Details? Sure, let’s look. The pivot pin is obviously a Chicago style screw, and the fixed side of it is the triangular logo QSP uses, milled surfaces cut away in relief to show the pattern which has polished flats and black painted negative space. It sits perfectly flush with the carbon fiber bolster. That carbon fiber bolster is black when you look at it straight on, but at certain angles you can see the strands of red and grey carbon that are woven into the composite material, creating a deep 3D pattern that changes depending on the angle you view it from. The rest of the handle is canvas micarta, butted up against the carbon fiber, creating a subtle contrast. The stainless liners are beveled inwards and polished to a glow, level with the scales all the way around and smooth to the touch.
The backspacer, a plain piece of black plastic, is also beveled at the edges, for no reason but to look nicer. But my favorite detail has to be the section of the lock bar itself where your thumb presses to release it, with an arc of scalloped indentations cut in to give you better traction on the lock when you release it, all perfectly done and still totally smooth to the touch. The other hallmarks of careful build and assembly are here too: the blade is perfectly centered between the scales when closed, all the grinds are symmetrical. The only thing that’s not picture-perfect flawless is the transition from carbon fiber to micarta on the show side scale (with a slightly larger gap compared to the lock side) but if I’m honest this is just simple nitpicking. This knife is very nicely made.
As far as features go, the Gannet features a polished stainless deep-carry pocket clip, which is set up only for right hand tip up carry – sorry southpaws. It’s located by two screws and held in place by a shallow groove cut into the micarta scale, one of the screws also serving as a body screw. Construction is two-sided, with the main pivot screw at the front, then center and rear body screws – all standard Torx T6 fittings- at the center and rear holding everything together. The liners are skeletonized – well, they had some holes cut out anyway – to reduce weight. Branding isn’t overdone, with a laser engraved QSP logo with some flames on the show side of the blade, and a 154CM marking on the lock side.
I think the only challenging part of using the Gannet is getting acclimated to a front flipper – as someone who prefers thumb holes or thumb studs, the actual muscle memory of front flipping has never really developed for me. It’s not that I struggle to open the knife, it’s just not as natural to me and requires more active thought. Still, it is fun in a fidget spinner kind of way, the action reminiscent of switch blades – you always look like you’re ready for the knife fight in West Side Story when you pop this knife open, even though you’re just opening an Amazon box full of dog toys. Some may like it, some may not!
Considering the overall size of the knife (7.75” open, handle width 0.875”) the knife is fairly light at 3.44 ounces, but still about an ounce heavier than the aforementioned Para 3 Lightweight. I’m not offended by a 3.4 ounce pocket knife, but if you’re counting grams there are lighter and thinner options. The pocket clip is great, though: a bent steel deep carry clip is always my preference, and it’s narrow and quite long with a shallow entry angle and a good contact patch: so that means minimal doorway and steering wheel scraping but with solid retention very deep in the pocket, with almost none of the handle sticking out of the pocket.
Great blade on this knife, too: Just the right size to be useful without being unwieldy, and the drop point/clip point shape places the tip right in the middle of the blade, in line with the handle center point, so every cutting tasks feels natural. It came with a terrific edge out of the factory, too. Not much belly in this blade so you’re not going to reach for it to cut up carrots, but as an all-around blade shape it works great for day to day tasks. 154CM is quite easy to resharpen even on a basic system like a Spyderco Sharpmaker or other guided rod setups.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.At ~$80, direct alternatives to the Gannet are pretty limited. The most obvious is the Kizer Feist mentioned earlier, which comes in a wide array of versions – from the budget Vanguard model with G10 scales and CTS BD1N for $50, up through fancier variants like the titanium handled version with CPM S35VN for $168. The Feist is smaller than the Gannet, with a 2.875” blade and measuring only 6.5” when open. The Vanguard versions seem like a great deal, especially considering they ditch the troublesome machined titanium pocket clip for a regular spring steel version. I still don’t think the fit and finish is as nice on these as the QSP knife, but neither is a sloppily made product by any stretch of the imagination.
Kizer also makes a larger front flipper called the Assassin, designed by Carlos Elstner. It’s got full titanium handles with an S35VN blade, and a dramatic 3.15” clip point blade shape. It’s closer in size to the Gannet with an overall length of 7.28” open, and a bit lighter at 3.28 ounces. A bearing pivot ensures good flipping action, and a titanium framelock with a metal lockbar insert/overtravel stop keeps it secure. It’s a good bit pricier at $159, though.
Viper Knives in Italy makes an attractive front-flipper called the Novis. They’re available from $139 and up (depending on handle materials, starting out with Micarta and moving into fancier stuff). Designed by Fabrizio Sylvestrelli, this oddly shaped knife foregoes a pocket clip for a leather slip sheath storage with a leather lanyard for retrieval. The blade is a funky wharncliffe shape with a high flat grind, made from high-end Bohler M390 steel, and only the slightest protruding flipper tab at the leading edge. Italian knives to me are kind of like their cars: frequently beautiful and interesting but not always blessed with the best build quality.
An interesting alternative is the Boker Plus Bonfire, which is slightly bigger (8.25” overall) and cheaper ($68) than the Gannet. It’s one more entrant into the growing category of modern traditional knives, reminiscent of old pattern knives but with modern folding knife innovations – including a stainless liner lock and one handed deployment via a rounded front flipper protrusion and a ball bearing pivot. The blade is a 3.375” drop point in D2 tool steel, more prone to corrosion but able to hold an edge longer than 154CM, and the handles are Bubinga wood with a stainless bolster. Boker quality can be hit or miss, but it’s certainly an attractive knife for the price.
Finally, for some cheaper options you have the G5 Metamorph from Real Steel, and the Jukebox by Gerber Gear. The Metamorph is a long skinny ice-pick looking knife, measuring 8.125” long with a 3.5” blade, but a handle that’s only 0.75” thick from top to bottom. Handles are anodized aluminum, and the blade is Sandvik 14C28N, which has similar corrosion resistance but less edge retention than the QSP’s 154CM. It’s very space aged looking and seems like a neat option for $60. The Gerber is stylistically the opposite, a short stubby traditional looking knife with a 2.75” Sheepsfoot blade in 7Cr17MoV. The flipper protrusion sticks far out from the handle like an old barber’s straight razor, and a basic liner lock secures the blade. Gerber build quality can be disappointing, but you can only end up so disappointed for a $32 investment.
The overall impression I got of the Gannet during my review was “man, QSP sells you a really nice product for very little money.” There’s just so much more attention to detail applied to this knife than you could really ever reasonably expect for a sub-$100 knife, and the materials are also well above what I’d expect for the price too. Little tiny details might not make a knife necessarily work better, but they do make it more enjoyable, and this was a knife I found myself showing to people frequently just because of how cool it is.
Slick design, slick materials, amazing build quality from a relatively new brand – it’s quite compelling stuff. I think the knife functions well, even if I don’t necessarily get along with front flippers as well as some other opening mechanisms. It nails the EDC basics though, comfortable handle, useful blade shape with a good grind, nice size. If you’re looking to try out something different this one is worth a shot, and it’s a great first impression from QSP. It’s also a good example of the kind of knifemaking excellence that comes out of Yangjiang, which absolutely should be a city you’re familiar with in the same way you are with Portland, Oregon City, Golden, and Seki City.
- Surprisingly good build quality and materials, lots of nice details, great looking, practical blade shape, great pocket clip, outstanding value for money
- Front flippers aren’t second nature, no left hand carry option, internal stop pin setup