Famous in The Worst Places

Emerson Knives

I don't own an Emerson knife, but someday that might change.

I own a Kershaw Emerson, which is sort of a mediocre Chinese rendition of an Emerson, and I own a ZT knives Emerson, which is a gentleman's rendition of an Emerson. So I still need to fill the gap with the real thing.

These knives are well known for being rough around the edges, intended to be hard duty knives. They are not about fit and finish like Spyderco or Benchmade. People advise not to buy one until you have handled one first.

These knives have a certain "thing" about them. People compare them to 1911 pistols or Harley Davidson motorcycles. You either get it or you don't -- and to the people who get it, the "rough around the edges" is part of the deal. If there is actually something wrong with the knife, Emerson will fix it, that is what I am hearing.

These knives are not made for EDC and general daily use, these are hard duty combat knives. They have a spectacular warranty and a fine reputation for customer service.

100 percent made in America.

Most people prefer the CQC-8 to the Commander, but the recommendation is to hold each one first and decide. The CQC-7 seems to be the most popular Emerson, and by far the most common CQC-7 is a Tanto blade. But there are other variants. The CQC-7AW is a spear point variant, and with a black blade might well be the Emerson I would choose - 3.3 inch, and with a conventional V grind. The usual CQC-7 is a chisel ground Tanto. The CQC-8 is a 3.9 inch blade, and can be obtained with a conventional V grind. The CQC-10 is a 3.6 inch blade, and can be obtained with a V grind, but I honestly think I would get a black CQC-8 instead. The CQC-8 handle is proven.

"The CQC-8 model has long been considered one of the best combat designs that I have ever produced. I agree. ... the CQC-8 is a battle-hardened veteran that you want at your side. ... the CQC-8 has evolved to meet the demands of those who need a knife that will protect and serve - Anytime - Anyplace.

Another idea besides getting an Emerson is to look at some of the Benchmade tactical models, such as the 275 (Adamas). Here you get D2 steel in a 3.8 inch blade, which is almost stainless. This is a big knife with a "tactical" feel, but the D2 steel makes you wonder when there are so many other better options. Especially at the price of the Adamas! As one fellow says, you can choose a steel that will hold an edge 2 or 3 times as long, is stainless and is just as tough or tougher. In short the only excuse for using D2 in this day and age is price, so I knife with D2 should sell for $100 or so. Paying top dollar (almost $200) for an Adamas with D2 doesn't make much sense; Benchmade should upgrade it to use M4 or some other steel, especially at the price.

And then there is the question of the Adamas and the opening stud. In general I hate studs, but on some knives (like the Contego) they work perfectly. On a tactical knife, you want to get the knife open the first time every time without any brain cells getting involved. So for the money, I would absolutely choose the Benchmade Contego over the Adamas. Maybe if I get an Adamas in hand I would change my mind, but I doubt it. With that knife you get a 3.98 inch blade in M4 steel! And you get an ergonomic design with an aggressively textured handle. I'll keep my eyes out for a plain edge version with a black blade.

"Emersons are made to be used and lack the finer aesthetic details found on other knives like Spyderco, Benchmade."
"They are rugged as a barn cat and they all come very sharp. If you are looking for a tool that you can abuse, these make good knives."

"Every knife has a personality; every knife has a following."

"The proof is when you pick that knife up in your hand."

"Every year there is a new super steel and we don't jump on the bandwagon."

"My customers are not concerned about edge holding, they are concerned about breakage."
(he uses 154CM heat treated to 57-69 Rockwell).

Be sure and watch this video:

About 26 minutes into the video he discusses the "wave". It was originally designed to prevent objects from sliding up the blade to the operators hand.

He is loyal to Crucible, who hooked him up with 154CM at a time when he was using ATS-34. (154CM is simply American made ATS-34; ATS-34 is made by Hitachi in Japan).

Interestingly, his knives are sharpened with chisel edges. He explains why in the video.

Emersons take some breaking in and people say they "bond" with their knife.

The above link is an interesting article that is authored by Emerson himself. Here is a summary of his key points:

"Design makes the knife. A bad knife with good materials is still a bad knife."

"A dull knife is still a knife. A broken knife is ... well, expensive crap.
One last word on blades. Always, repeat always, get a serrated blade."

W1 tool steel, the stuff files are made of, is perhaps the best knife steel, except that it rusts.

Emerson knives made by ZT

Here is the answer for someone wanting an Emerson knife with fine fit and finish and more sexy blade steels. This a legitimate cooperation between Emerson and Kershaw. (Or Emerson and ZT, depending on how you view all of this). The price is about the same as a genuine Emerson, but you get S35VN steel (or M390 in certain special runs). And you get a polished product, which may appeal to the urban knife collector. Just how the combat veterans feel about all this, I can't say.

People say the ZT versions are heavier than the true Emersons. One fellow called the ZT a "big, beefy, overbuilt knife".

I like the 0630, which is the ZT production of the CQC-8 knife. Others may like the 0620, which is the ZT take on the tanto blade CQC-7 knife. They have produced special exclusive runs with unique blade steels and handle materials to cater to the knife collectors. Note that these knives have conventional double ground edges rather than the single sided chisel grind you find on Emersons from EKI.

What I have heard is that the ergonomics are superior on the Emersons, whereas the ZT knives are, quality-wise, some of the best knives for the money on the current market. Also note that the G10 on the Emersons is very aggressive, and by comparison the ZT knves are smooth in the hand. This may be great for urban use and preserving pants pockets, but if you are trying to hold onto a knife under stress, you might well prefer the Emerson.

Rumor is that ZT Warranty and customer service is stellar. Note that ZT knives is actually owned by the same company that owns Kershaw (and Shun), namely KAI usa. Some say this means that ZT knives are made in the Kershaw factory in the USA. Folks say that ZT is essentially a custom division of Kershaw. Another claim is that ZT knives are "Professional Use" Kershaws, but this sounds like marketing buzz to me. Apparently ZT was hatched as part of Kershaw originally, as I understand the story, not acquired later and being in the process of being "dumbed down" as so often happens.

Most ZT knives (not the Emersons) are flippers, which don't float my boat but are the rage in some circles. As one fellow said:

I do love my ZT flippers for office days more than my Emersons. Office work is boring and playing with a flipper is fun.

Kershaw Emerson knives

The idea here is to sell "clones" of the Emerson Knives made by Kershaw in China. These are legitimate clones (this is a cooperation between Emerson and Kershaw). The key point is that these are 1/5 the price (or less) and "decent". View this as a "light duty" folder with an Emerson angle to it. I see these knives selling for $30 and my thoughts are that if you can get a knife for $30 that isn't a total piece of junk, you have done well. Whether that is true in this case, sort of depends as it turns out.

The steel is 8cr14mov, which is a Chinese stainless. The blades have a normal double grind, not a chisel grind like an authentic Emerson. The G10 on mine is a somewhat slick G10. There are two points of view on G10 texture. Some wish it had more tooth (like me) and others are glad that it won't be tearing up their pants.

I bought a CQC-6K and a CQC-7K (Tanto). Note the "K" and the end of the name denoting a Kershaw version. As near as I can tell, these two knives are absolutely identical except for the blade shape. Both knives arrived quite sharp. Better than most Benchmade knives I have received, which is more of a slam on Benchmade than a compliment towards these Kershaw knives.

The first CQC-6K as it arrived in my hands was actually dangerous with the liner lock barely locking. The knife needed to be disassembled and the liner lock "blade" carefully filed or ground a bit. But instead, I sent it back and got a refund. This was ordered from BladeHQ, who told me that there was nothing wrong with the knife (so they get a black mark, along with Kershaw -- let them use the thing).

I later ordered another CQC-6K -- from a different seller -- this one arrived in a blister pack, indicating that they are selling these to sporting goods stores to be sold by the millions, and to be hung on pegs for people to grab and head to the cash register with. I don't entirely view this as a good sign, but it is what it is and there you have it.

So these knives sit on the bare threshold of acceptability. Anything less would be a worthless piece of junk. The Kershaw warranty should cover your bets in any event.

It is interesting to compare these Kershaw knives with the Ontario RAT-1. In a nutshell, for about the same price the RAT-1 is a much better knife. It doesn't have the "cool factor", but it is crafted to a much higher standard.

Feedback? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's Knife Info / tom@mmto.org