Review: Don’t sleep on the QSP Penguin
Is this folder a Benchmade Bugout killer?
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At just five years old, QSP is a relatively new knife company coming to the scene. Its team has over a decade of experience in the industry, providing both original equipment manufacturing and original design manufacturing (OEM/ODM) services. The brand name stands for Quality, Service, and Price, indicating their commitment to furnishing the best product at the lowest price possible. The company achieves this through modern precision manufacturing techniques, including water jetting, vacuum heat treatment, and CNC machining.
The QSP Penguin is available at three different price points, with the liner-lock D2 models forming the lower two price points, and the titanium frame-lock 154cm models occupying the highest price point. There are also a few exclusive models available at select online retailers. The linerlock models have a wide range of micarta-handled options, including tan, blue, red, green, brown, black, and denim micarta; carbon-fiber overlaid G10, copper, and brass-handled options are also available. Their framelock models have titanium handles in various finishes.
I opted to go with the brass-handled liner-lock variant, which is one of the budget-tier models at less than $100. The premium Penguin framelock models, on the other hand, are mid-tier knives coming in on the very low end of the $100-300 price range. Here’s what we found during hands-on testing.
The QSP Penguin comes in a small, black cardboard box that proudly sports ‘QSP’ on the top in silver lettering, with the company motto — ‘better knife, better life’ — in a slightly smaller font beneath. The entirety of the box is covered in coppery metallic accents, which adds some flair to what would otherwise be a relatively simple box.
Inside, the knife is protected from moisture and oxidization by a clear ziplock bag, nestled between two layers of black foam that do a fairly decent job of keeping the knife from getting jostled around too much. Also included in the box is a business card that details the knife’s dimensions on one side, and covers the company’s limited lifetime warranty on the reverse.
The Penguin is one of the smallest folders I’ve handled so far at just over seven inches in length from tip to pommel. The four-inch-long brass scales are approximately an inch at the widest point, and have full steel liners that bring the overall handle thickness to just under half an inch. The black liners aren’t skeletonized, which increases the weight of the brass-handled blade to 5.05 ounces: Not insanely heavy, but definitely hefty for its size. For comparison, the Micarta variants of the Penguin sit at a little over three ounces, and the Cold Steel American Lawman comes in at 4.5 ounces, despite being over an inch longer. The handle has two standoffs in lieu of a solid backspacer, which does help keep the weight down a little.
The left-side scale has a generous cutout to allow easy access to the jimped linerlock, and there’s a slot milled into the scales near the pommel that acts as a lanyard hole. A black, bent steel pocket clip is oriented for right-side, tip-up carry out of the box, and is reversible for lefties. It’s an interesting design: Not only is it a deep carry-style pocket clip, but it attaches to the inside of the handle in between the brass scale and the steel liner, allowing the knife to slide with ease in and out of your pocket. This is an improvement over most of the more common deep carry pocket clips on the market currently, which typically are screwed directly into the side of the handle; while this works, it results in there being two to three screw heads and the mounting end of the clip obstructing the space between the pocket clip and the handle, potentially causing the edge of your pocket to get hung up. As a result, the only thing sticking up underneath the clip on the Penguin is the two black mounting screws.
The linerlock itself is easily accessible, and has around 30% lockup, fully contacting the tang of the blade, while allowing plenty of room for it to wear in over time without developing blade play. The pivot runs on copper washers, and the blade deploys with authority using just my thumb and the ambidextrous thumb studs. The action is extremely smooth, to the point that I initially made the mistake of assuming it was running on bearings, and the blade easily drops shut once the lock is disengaged.
The 3.125-inch long blade is a sheepsfoot-style blade, which is a variant of the wharncliffe. It’s characterized by a straight edge, and a straight spine that curves down sharply at the end to meet the tip. This is an extremely utilitarian design that’s reminiscent of a box cutter. It’s made from D2 steel, and this particular model is finished with a black stonewash. The flat-ground blade features a 2.875 inch cutting edge, and is just under an inch (0.88) in width, with a three millimeter thick spine. The edge is properly apexed, and while it initially appeared symmetrical, it was slightly wider near the ricasso on one side.
How we tested the QSP Penguin
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been cut by the QSP Penguin, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice. Needless to say I didn’t need any convincing that the edge was sharp, but I went ahead and put it through my standard gauntlet of testing regardless. The knife easily blazed through the shaving test, and was hair-popping sharp right out of the box: any knife that isn’t dull will pass, as this indicates that the edge is properly, thoroughly apexed. It can also accentuate how good the blade geometry is for slicing, as thicker blades tend to perform poorly.
The Penguin easily sliced through the paper test, with no discernible nicks, rolls, or other deformations in the edge, so I moved on to the edge retention test, which quantifies how long the knife can hold an edge when cutting through various mediums. In this instance, the Penguin managed a respectable 270 cuts through paracord, which I chose due to its durability, wear resistance, and frequent use both in and outside of the military. D2 steel, when poorly heat treated, tends to have microchip (small chips or nicks in the edge) issues. Running my fingernail down the apex of the edge, I couldn’t detect any edge deformation at all, indicating a quality heat treat with decent grain refinement.
Next up: the edge geometry test. Most companies tend to primarily make thicker, beefier blades in favor of strength and durability, while a select few companies like Spyderco prefer thinner, full flat-ground blades for maximum slicing potential. As usual, I tested this by cutting five slices off of a Fuji apple. Thinner blades, such as Spyderco’s full flat-ground Para Military 2 will usually slice through with minimal resistance, without creating any cracks in the apple slices. I was hoping that the Penguin would pass this test, due to it having a slightly thinner spine at only three millimeters, however the primary grind’s taper was aggressive enough that three out of five apple slices ended up with sizable cracks in them.
The final test actually had nothing to do with the blade at all, but rather the locking mechanism itself. The linerlock isn’t known for being an extremely strong lock, but it’s perfectly fine if made correctly. However, the contact surfaces on the lockbar and back of the tang have to be matched up properly; fail this, and they can get stuck, or even worse, the lock can entirely disengage, at the risk of your fingers. I set a piece of leather on the edge of my workbench, and (holding it very carefully, with my fingers out of the potential path of the blade), smacked the spine of the knife against the leather. An improperly made linerlock won’t take much force to malfunction, so there wasn’t any real risk of damaging a linerlock made to proper specs. Ten spine whacks later, the Penguin wasn’t remotely phased. The lock didn’t disengage accidently, and it didn’t get stuck in the open position either. There wasn’t any blade play, or visible torsion to the lockbar either.
What we like about the QSP Penguin
When I first saw the Penguin, I immediately thought that the handle looked surprisingly similar to the Benchmade Bugout, despite them having different locking mechanisms and lanyard holes. So my bar was fairly high, despite this being a budget folder. Needless to say, the Penguin delivered. I loved the reversible, deep-carry pocket clip’s design, and the knife’s slim profile caused me to frequently forget I had placed it in my pocket. The handle’s ergonomics were great, and despite it being designed for smaller hands than mine, it was still very comfortable for me to use. The blade was easy to deploy with either hand, courtesy of the ambidextrous thumb studs, and it was razor sharp out of the box–as demonstrated at the expense of my fingers. The action was impressive for a pivot running on copper washers, and easily dropped shut once the lock was disengaged. Last but not least, something that even Benchmade struggles with: the Penguin had the blade perfectly centered in the handle when closed. Usually, a non-centered blade is just a visible annoyance, but if extreme enough, can cause the blade to rub on the inside of the handle, retarding the action and potentially damaging both the blade and handle.
What we don’t like about the QSP Penguin
While the QSP Penguin left a good impression for the most part, I did have a few minor complaints. For starters, it’s, well, kinda small. The handle wasn’t in any way uncomfortable for my medium-sized hands, but it was definitely a little small, and larger mitts might have some discomfort. Fit and finish overall was pretty good, with the exception of a single screw that stood out a little proud on the lock side of the handle, and a slight inconsistency in the edge near the ricasso. The D2 steel was a slight concern, as it’s not very rust-resistant, however I had zero issues with corrosion in the several months of use. My final complaint was the pocket clip; while the clip itself was hidden behind the brass scale, the screws that secured it in place weren’t countersunk, causing the edge of my pocket to get hung up on them frequently. Not a huge issue, but it did seem odd that those were the only screws on the entire knife that weren’t countersunk.
Overall, the Penguin proved that Quality, Service, and Price isn’t just a meaningless moniker. I honestly can’t think of many other knife companies that offer a product of this caliber, at such a low price point. But don’t let me convince you — it’s not like I just bought two more QSP Penguins or anything. (I definitely did just buy two more.)
FAQs about the QSP Penguin
Q. How much does the QSP Penguin cost?
A. QSP’s MSRP for the D2 brass-scaled variant is $61.85, but it can frequently be found for less than $50 through most knife retailers. The D2 Micarta-scaled variants’ MSRP is $39.95 and the 154cm titanium variants’ MSRP is $121, but they can be found for less than $33 and $97, respectively, at most knife retailers.
Q. What is D2 steel?
A. D2 is an extremely popular steel that was patented a dozen years before the beginning of WW2, yet wasn’t used for knife blades until 1965– two decades after the war’s end. It’s a tool steel commonly labeled as ‘semi-stainless’, due to its 12% chromium content, which was notably higher than other high-carbon steels of the time. However, around 6% of the chromium content is used for carbides, limiting the corrosion resistance of the alloy. It features better edge retention than 154CM and 440C, yet worse than S30V, S35VN, and M390. It also has higher toughness than 440C and S90V, but lower than 3V and A2. Poorly heat-treated D2 commonly suffers from chipping, due to the relatively large carbides, but there are several companies and knife makers, like Bob Dozier, that have nearly perfected it. In 2007, Crucible released CPM-D2, which used powder metallurgy to drastically reduce overall carbide size, improving the overall toughness, corrosion resistance, and edge stability. However, due to its considerably lower cost and high availability, regular D2 is still a solid choice for those on a budget.
Q. What is a sheepsfoot?
A. A type of wharncliffe, typically possessing a straight edge, and a straight spine that curves down sharply at the end to meet the tip. It’s extremely useful for utility tasks, including trimming the hooves of sheep, while the thick tip minimizes the chance of accidentally puncturing something.
Q. What are standoffs?
A. Used as a more aesthetically pleasing alternative for backspacers, standoffs allow for a more open-backed handle design. They typically consist of a series of small metal tubes that are internally threaded and secured between the handle scales by two screws. While they can have a more attractive look to them, and can make it easier to blow or wash out built-up dust and gunk, they also allow more grime in, and don’t protect the blade’s edge from coins, car keys, or any other hard objects you might have in your pocket.
Q. What is a linerlock?
A. The linerlock is a locking mechanism typically made out of titanium or steel. The knife’s liner is cut so that a portion of it forms a leaf spring, commonly referred to as a lock bar, that butts up against the tang of the blade to lock the knife open. Due to the angled locking surface on the tang of the blade, the lock self-adjusts in response to wear. The linerlock concept originated in the late 1800s and was patented in 1906, but the modern version of the linerlock didn’t come about until the 1980s, thanks to the improvements made to the design by custom knifemaker Michael Walker. This included the addition of a heat-treated stop pin to add stability to the blade in the open position, and a detent ball to secure the blade in the closed position. There have been other variations and evolutions of the linerlock, most notably the Reeve Integral Lock (RIL), more commonly known as the framelock, and the Spyderco compression lock.