Emerson makes some of the most highly-regarded and respected tactical knives in the industry. The simple and dependable designs perform great for utility tasks as well as self-defense. These knives are incredibly durable and are great for muddy, dusty, dirty environments. Among my favorites is the Emerson CQC-7.
Background on Ernest Emerson & Company
Ernest Emerson has experience with various forms of martial arts from Asia and Europe, and has trained elite military and law enforcement units from around the globe. He started his knife career in 1979 by making customs in his garage. Later, in 1994, Benchmade worked with him to start production models, and they tweaked the design of his custom CQC-6 to create the CQC-7.
In 1996, he founded his company Emerson Knives, and in 1999, started producing his own production CQC-7. Today, Emerson produces some of the most sought-after production and custom knives that are used by military units, law enforcement officials, and civilians all over the world.
The Emerson CQC-7
Emerson’s most popular — and my favorite — model is the CQC-7. The standard CQC-7 features a 3.3-inch blade and is available in either a tanto or drop point blade shape. The CQC-7, like all Emerson knives, utilizes a chisel grind, meaning the blade is only ground on one side. This makes it easier to resharpen, especially in the field with limited equipment. A chisel grind creates a more durable working edge that is less likely to chip. However, it also tends to cut towards one side due to the asymmetrical edge.
The CQC-7 can be found in a number of different variations. The standard model features black G10 handle scales with either a black-coated or stonewashed blade finish. You can get a blade with a plain edge or partial serrations.
There are also special editions with different colors of G10 or micarta handle scales. If you’re looking for something a bit more heavy-duty, Emerson offers the Super CQC-7 and XHD (Extra Heavy Duty) models. The XHD features thicker titanium liners, a lock-bar insert, and upgraded S35VN blade steel, while the Super hosts a longer 3.75” blade. Additionally, Emerson makes custom models with titanium bolsters and all kinds of different handle materials.
I think the thing that draws me to the Emerson CQC-7 the most is the rugged simplicity. The blade is not only a great size and shape for self-defense, it also works well for opening packages, cutting rope, and other utility tasks. The neutral handle shape fits the majority of hands well and the knife has an overall feeling of solidity and durability. This is a knife that I picked up on a whim one day, that I’ve grown to love and admire as I’ve used it.
One of the few issues I find with most Emerson knives is that the high-traction G10 can tear up your pockets. It works great for military and law enforcement officials using the knife in muddy, wet, and high-stress environments, but can be a little much for the average joe just looking for an EDC blade. You may need to sand down the G10 a bit underneath the clip.
The CQC-7 is also available both with and without the Emerson Wave feature. The Emerson “Wave” is a feature that was originally developed as a sort of guard that would catch an opponent’s blade if they became locked in combat. This was later discovered to rapidly open the knife and deploy the blade as you pulled the knife from your pocket.
The Wave catches on the back end of your pocket and flips the blade out as you pull. This is not only great for defensive use, it also makes retrieving the knife with one hand for utility tasks a breeze. Closing the knife is similar to other liner lock models, and can be done one-handed.
If you pull the knife without dragging it toward the edge of your pocket, the Wave will not deploy the blade, and you can open the knife the more traditional way with the thumb disc.
Another reason to get hooked on Emerson knives is the sheer amount of customization options available. You can replace the scales, thumb disc, screws, standoffs, pocket clips, and backspacers with aftermarket options. If you want, you can go even further down the rabbit hole and have your knife turned into a “PoBoy” custom by a knife pimper.
They can change the configuration of your scales, add titanium bolsters, and even regrind your blade or add more serrations. This can make your knife look like one of Ernest Emerson’s custom knives for a price tag more people can stomach. The only limit is your imagination and, of course, your wallet.
Emerson’s designs have also influenced other knife makers who have introduced excellent collaboration models. Kershaw, Spyderco, and Zero Tolerance make models with the Emerson Wave. The Kershaw CQC series is a great budget alternative to Emerson’s line. They don’t come with the same build quality or materials, but they are solid knives that offer fine performance. Pro-Tech even makes an automatic version of the CQC-7. All in all, Emerson knife designs make excellent EDC and defensive blades.
Defense with a Knife
The high-traction G10 scales, Wave opening feature, and versatile blade shapes make Emerson knives great for defensive use. However, just having the right knife does not make you prepared to get in a fight for your life with a blade. Well before you enter a knife fight, you need to be mentally prepared to get cut — and it will hurt. Using a knife for self-defense is a last resort sort of affair. If you’re serious about defense with an edged weapon, you should get proper training from an experienced professional.
Having said that, I understand that some may not have the time or finances to receive formal training. Practicing at home with training blades that don’t have an edge is better than nothing and will help you get a feel for things.
Emerson offers training versions of its popular models so you can practice with a replica of the exact knife you carry. You can find plenty of self-defense instruction on the internet. Again, I still recommend getting formal, in-person training by an experienced professional, if you can.
Conclusion: Emerson Knives
It took me a while on my knife collecting journey to gain an appreciation for Emerson knives, but I’m sure glad I did. They may not feature the latest and greatest blade steel of the month, but they’re robust, working, and defensive knives with excellent fit and finish. If you haven’t tried an Emerson design, I’d challenge you to give one a shot.