Monday, December 9, 2013

Emerson Mini CQC7 Review

I get it.  Now, I totally get it.

The cult following Emerson knives has is one of the most powerful in all of the gear world.  For quite a few people the only kind of knives that matter come in two versions: hard use and fancy Emersons (that is, production and custom Emersons).  From the outside looking in, it was hard to see why, especially with pretty strong rumors of below par fit and finish.  But then a new knife store, Merrimack Knife and Tool, opened up near my work and I recently spent a lunch hour oogling over their insane selection.  It was the first time I had seen the entire Emerson line in person and it was really helpful.  The Mini CQC7 was an easy choice.  First, it had the right size, with a blade at or just under 3 inches.  Second, I wanted to try the most "Emerson" of Emersons and there are few knives in Ernie's line that are more representative of the brand.  It has a wave, of course; it is chisel ground (meaning one side is a complete zero grind and the other had the bevels on it); and it was a tanto.  I don't normally like tantos and I have never had a chisel ground knife, so it was time to venture out of my comfort zone.

In the few days that I have had the knife before I wrote this intro (I usually write intros before the main review), I can see quite easily why people get obsessed with Emersons.  This is a dead simple, super solid, sharp knife.  Its not the prettiest thing in the world, but like big construction equipment, there is a beauty to its ruggedness.  What it lacks in traditional aesthetic appeal it makes up for in its feeling in the hand.  Emersons are the tools of BAMFs and it is, itself a BAMF tool.  This is as solid a knife as I have ever carried.  

One thing before the review starts in earnest (oh yes, I did that on purpose), the brand Emerson is as much about knives as it is about Ernie Emerson himself.  He is quite vocal in his opinions.  Here is an excellent interview with him by Nutnfancy.  Lots and lots of folks love Emerson knives in no small part because of Ernie himself.  I can see why that is the case (preaching to the choir is a valuable marketing approach, not that that is what he is doing, but bear that in mind), but that sort of "soft factors" stuff adds up to zero for me.  Just like I don't care about Mick Strider's past when reviewing the PT CC, I don't care about Ernie's "patriotism" or "family-values" approach.  I just don't give a shit.  I listen and pay attention the knife maker's opinions about knives, but that is it.  I could care less if they have opinions about war or politics.  It drives me batty when George Clooney or Angelina Jolie talk about politics.  Why should their opinions matter at all?  Or at least more than random dude down the street?  Because they are celebrity?  Because they are wealthy?  I just don't care.  The same is true with Ernie. I understand that stuff matters to him and he has every right to say what he wants (and I'd defend his right to do so in court, even if I disagreed with him), but the opinions themselves don't make the knives better.  If it matters to you, if it is a plus factor in favor of the Emerson brand, great.  It just doesn't matter to me and I wanted to state that up front so you know about and can factor it in when evaluating the validity of my opinion and this review.

Here is the product page. The Mini CQC7 costs $134.95, but this is street pricing.  Here is a written review.  Here is a quite decent video review.  This review sample was purchased at my NEW local knife store, Merrimack Knife and Tool, in Nashua, NH.  Here is my review sample (purchased with site money for giveaway):

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Here is my video overview:


Twitter Review Summary: Simplicity that works, but chisel ground on the wrong side.

Design: 2

There is very little here that is wasted, excessive, or unnecessary.  The handle is thick, but not too thick.  Curve and palm swell are quick nice.  The wave is really, truly an amazing innovation, and the thumb disk is better than I thought it would be.  This knife is a first for me in so many ways--the first Emerson, the first thumb disk, the first chisel grind, and by in large I like it.  Andrew has long been a proponent of trying new things and I was worried a while back that all I was doing was reviewing knives that were competitors for my beloved Dragonfly.  I am not so worried about that anymore, and I am truly glad I ventured out of my comfort zone.  This is a knife and company that is easy to recommend.  These are excellent hard use knives and quite solidly built.  Think of the design as Cold Steel, with better materials, better design chops, and liner locks.  Its not all bulky overbuilt stuff though--there is some real subtlety here, like the stabilizing detent on the side of the blade opposite the liner lock. Oh and made in the USA.  That matters to me and I am sure it matters to some of you too. Overall, very, very solid design.  

The size and ratios are better than you'd think given the hard use heritage.  Here is the knife up against the Zippo:

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The blade:handle is .67 (2.9 inches:4.3 inches).  This is roughly equal to the Delica.  Additionally I am willing to budge a little on the blade:handle in hard use knives.  The extra handle provides extra grip, always a good thing.  The blade:weight is .69.  This is not great and there is no way around it.  The Cold Steel Mini Recon, with the same or slightly larger blade size and G10 handles was a .82.  Here I think the thick stock is one issue, which I am willing to accept, but the non-milled out liners are really a waste of weight savings.  The milling out would drop weight and have nearly zero impact on lateral strength and stability. 

Fit and Finish: 2

When people complain about Emerson's it is almost always about a subpar fit and finish.  I found this criticism wholly misplaced.  This is not a mechanically complex knife.  It is not, for example, the poised, tuned machine that my XM-18 is.  But there is a difference between simple and crude.  A cantilever chair is simple.  A chopped log as a chair is crude.  For example, not the radius around the entire handle scale.

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That is a very nice touch.  And the knife is full of these things.  The spine is clean and the jimping is purposeful but not shreddy (as is the finish on the G10).  The blade centering is excellent and there is no blade play in any direction even after batonning through dry oak and stabbing the knife through metal (yup, I did it and the tip is perfectly fine).  I am sure there are people out there that got lemons.  Lemons are a result of the manufacturing process.  All manufactured products have lemon examples.  But one lemon does not mean the entire line or brand is junk.  I loved the fit and finish on my Emerson and it was representative of all the Emersons I handled at Merrimack Knife and Tool, which was about four or five.  I will note that the pivot was stiff when I got the knife, but three or four days of very good and hard use has made it quite smooth.  Smooth, but not loose.  Also, there is a secondary detent on the liner opposite the lock.  It both helps suck the blade into place and it keeps the blade centered through the arc of the pivot.  Bottom line: don't listen to the whiners.  The fit and finish here is fine, especially when compared to the hard-use knife darling of the moment, the Paramilitary 2.  That is a fine knife, one of my favorites, but the review sample I had, which seemed to be on par with those others had, was pretty crudely finished.  Not bad, but certainly not better than the Mini CQC7 I had a review sample.  

Grip: 2

Oh sweet mutha'  I love this knife in the hand.  Love it.  Here it is, doing its sweet siren's song thing...

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It breaks down like this--great G10 texturing, good shape, and ample thickness (insert: that's what she said joke here).  I am really impressed at how simple the shape the handle is, a small palm swell in the middle and a very mild hook at the end to hold your fingers in place.  The simplicity, again, works.  

Carry: 2

The G10 is grippy enough to worry about carry in dress pants, but this really isn't a dress knife.  In jeans or other pants (like in this picture, TAD RS Covert pants):

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the G10 is fine.  Though it feels chunky in the hand, in the pocket it is actually pretty slim and compact.  This is one reason I prefer the Emerson over a knife like the ZT0350.  That knife was too wide.  It felt like I was carrying a paperback book around in my pocket.  Here, it feels like, well, a knife.  Note that the wave feature forces tip up, right handed carry.  You can get the knife tapped by Emerson for left handed carry, but that will cost you an extra $20.  Tip down carry on a waved Emerson is not possible, or at least it shouldn't be.  That would be like getting a Ferrari with an automatic transmission--a grevious sin against the gods of badassery.  

Steel: 2

I have gotten over my phobia regarding 154CM.  This is an excellent steel, especially for the money.  It also makes an especially good choice for a hard use folder--hard and tough with sufficient stain resistance.  Ernie's no dumby and his choice of steels proves why.

I batonned with the knife, cut up a few metal cans, and the edge was still sharp enough.  It was never a laser, but the steel held a utility edge for a very long time, which I think is the point.  If you want a slicer, this probably not your best choice--paper cutting tests are not the ideal use of your new Emerson.  But if you are buying an Emerson, you already know that.

Blade Shape: 2

The tanto shape is good for hard use tasks.  I jabbed this thing through a few cans and it was not just fine, but identical to what it was before.  The tanto shape is so reinforced, with lots and lots of steel brought right up to the tip.  Moving outside of hard use tasks, the tanto was better than I thought it would be in utility tasks.

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That's not to say it is my favorite EDC shape, but it is not that bad.  It can be a bitch to sharpen and I think that no matter what I did, over time, the secondary point would get worn down (if someone knows the Japanese name for the secondary tip, let me know).  I'd still probably prefer a drop point, but after actually using the tanto tip in hard use tasks I can't say it was bad.  In fact, it was actually quite darn good.

Grind: 0

I know this is controversial.  Lots of people love the chisel grind.  I don't and here is why:

If you look at the Emerson website they will tell you the benefits of a chisel grind (over and over again)--its sharp, its durable, and it is easy to sharpen.  True, true, and true.  What they fail to acknowledge is that it is difficult to use, especially as ground on their knives.  In essence, they have ground the WRONG side.

Here is the angle I like to use in push cuts:

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The low approach gives me good long slices.  Here I am using a piece of scrap poplar to make kindling and the Emerson, because of the chisel on the wrong side, forces me out of this angle to something like this:

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The knife will cut, and cut for a long time, but these are more chops than slices or push cuts.

This is a way of illustrating the problem with pictures.  Here is what's happening.  Emerson claims: ...for any of you who have ever used a correctly sharpened wood chisel for woodworking, you know what a chisel can do..." See here for full quote.  I am guessing by the complete lack of discussion on this point anywhere on the Internet that very few Emerson users HAVE used a wood chisel.  Using one for five seconds will tell you why this is a false or at least poor analogy.  I have used a wood chisel, pretty extensively in fact, and I can tell you the problem both with the analogy and the chisel grind Emerson uses.

When using a chisel, the flat edge "references" the cut.  That is, you are cutting to the flat edge and this allows you to precisely cut things.  When a right handed user is using an Emerson the flat edge is not the "referencing edge".  Instead, the beveled edge is.  This means that unless you are taking very shallow, chopping cuts, the edge is hidden from your view or worse, glancing off the material because of the bevels.

I think it might be possible to learn how to use this grind over time, but coming from purely conventional knife grinds and the world of wood chisels I can tell you, this grind is a hassle.  In short, it may be sharp, durable, and easy to sharpen, but it is difficult to use.  And using it is the whole point (I did that on purpose too).  My humble suggestion to Emerson would be to allow the user to choose which side is ground.  Long time users probably have this down pat, but people coming to the product new or people coming from a woodworking background (like myself), would almost certainly prefer the grind set up differently. On a right handed knife, if the wood chisel is the model for the blade shape (and that is a good model to use, no doubt), the flat should be on the left hand side of the blade and the grind on the right, not the reverse.  That's what I'd prefer and allowing that as an option would be easy, as they already make left handed knives where the grind is on the side I'd prefer.  It would just be a matter of fitting those blades into a right handed knife handle.    

Deployment Method: 2 

The thumb disk worked fine.  It allowed you to slow roll the knife open and it did so quite easily.  I strongly prefer the thumb disk over a thumb stud, but probably not quite as much as a thumb hole or a flipper.  If the Mini CQC7 had just a thumb stud it would be on the border between a 1 and a 2.  Fortunately, I don't need to resolve this dilemma because of this:

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The wave feature is all it is cracked up to be.  It is one of the best deployment methods on the planet, faster than anything else, even a switchblade, as retrival and deployment are the same motion.  I have used a waved knife before, in the HEST 2, but the wave on the Emerson just works better.  I have no real use for a wave deployment, but gosh it is fun to play with, even if the tail of my jacket is now terrified of the Mini CQC7.

Retention Method: 2 

The Emerson clip is dead simple and it is all the better for it.

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The tension was amazing and the clip shape, perfected over time, was not a snag magnet.  Even with grippy than average G10, the clip still worked well.  Love it.

Lock: 2 

Okay, can we dispense with the notion that liner locks stink?  The Mini CQC7 proved to me that a well done liner lock is as good as any other lock.  Lock design, I have come to learn, is not as important as the fit and finish on the lock and here, you get a great version of the liner lock.  There is enough stick to keep the lock in place when open, but not so sticky that I can't get it closed.  Even when batonning, I didn't get a whole lot of lock movement.  Great, simple lock.  Just like this knife.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

This was my first Emerson, but it will not be my last.  This is a simple, durable, and capable knife.  The grind is not my favorite, but everything else is simple, accessible genius. 

The Competition:

Though the score is only one point better than the benchmark Mini Aegis, it is not really a good comparison.  The knives to fundamentally different things.  One is a large-ish but light EDC knife and the other is a compact hard use folder.  For me, there is no question here, I'd rather have the Mini CQC7.  It can do everything the Mini Aegis can and much more.  Conversely, there is nothing the Mini Aegis can do that the Mini CQC7 can't.  

The better competition would be other hard use knives like the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1, the Spyderco Paramilitary 2, and the ZT0350 (Hard Use Shootout between these three knives found here). The Mini Recon 1 is a good competitor, something of a budget Emerson and so if money is an issue, you get probably 60% of the functionality of the Mini CQC7 in the Mini Recon 1 at half or less the price.  The two big upgrades, and they are pretty big for me, are the wave feature and the clearly superior steel.  No question that the Emerson is a better knife.  As for a better value, that is up to you.  I actually like it better than the stock PM2.  S30V, especially that thinly ground, gets more chips than Tollhouse cookies.  I like the ergos and the lock on the PM2 better, but it is not a huge difference.  The wave, again, is a substantial upgrade.  Plus, right now with the PM2 shortage, the prices are the same.  The ZT0350 is a good knife, but I dislike the recurve, the assist, and how wide the knife is, especially in the pocket. I'd prefer the Emerson for all of those reasons.  This is a truly superior compact, hard use knife.

Giveaway Bonus:

I know that this will bum out folks out of the area, but I really do appreciate having a local knife shop and want to support them.  So, here is how this going to work.  The first person to go to Merrimack Knife and Tool in Nashua with a print out of this review will win the Emerson Mini CQC7.  Simply, go to the store, show them the review, and you get the knife.  Free.  That's its.  Its there right now.  I dropped it off in the middle of a snow storm this morning.  Tell Josh and Jeremiah I said hello.  Now, while your there, it might be nice to do your part and buy something, but purchase is not required to win. Oh and in case you need ANOTHER reason to go here is one:  in New Hampshire there is no sales tax.  Go crazy you libertarian loving knife knuts.

I know this in-person only is a bit unfair to readers not in New England, so here is the second part of the contest.  Simply comment below and in one week I will pick a person at random that individual will win a Kershaw Leek that I bought in person at Kittery Trading Post earlier this year.

Remember to go local if you can.    

41 comments:

  1. The CQC-7 (mini or regular) is definitely the Emerson I wanna get (although I do like the A-100 and the CQC-15). Good to know they're the real deal, and not just all internet hype.

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  2. Couldn't be MORE jealous of your local readers! Been considering the mini cqc7 for a whilr.

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  3. So jealous of your local readers. Guess I'll have to track one down with Christmas money.

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  4. Sounds like a good knife from a great shop but I don't think I'll be making the 14 hour drive anytime soon.

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  5. I'm still on the lookout for a decent knife shop here in AZ.

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    1. Bladerunner in Tucson?

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  6. Perfect gift for my nephew, I'm the 'cool Uncle' who gets to give him the stuff he really wants that my brother would get crushed for by his wife.

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  7. I'm curious, how do you feel about the knife's weight in comparison to the PM2? For me weight is very big factor of whether I'll actually carry a knife, and it's something you usually value pretty heavily as well.

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  8. Damn, if I didn't have to work tomorrow, I'd have a new knife as soon as they opened!

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  9. Good luck to your local readers! Alas, I'll have to hope I'm just internet lucky.

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  10. Great review. Emerson also has a fringe following from his earlier years of providing knives to U. S. Special forces. I was able to buy and try out a overseas made budget Emerson (hard wear) and it is one of the few Emerson knives without the wave action on the blade. It is a great EDC knife.

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  11. stanmog@hotmail.comDecember 10, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    Thanks, great review

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  12. Great review, the chisel grind on these has always put it out of the running for me too... I love the way they look personally, but for anything where I'm putting a lot of pressure into the blade I'd be hard-pressed to use my left hand. I have a couple Japanese veneer knives that are chisel ground for a righty and they're some of the sharpest things I've ever handled.

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  13. Ah, too bad I'm nowhere near NH!

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  14. Tony I know you're not into bigger knives but maybe this peaked your interest in Emerson a little. I recommend the horseman. Its still on the small side and the blade shape is far more conventional. Wouldn't mind seeing a review on that at all. Also I like that style of giveaway. It sucks if you're not local but its still cool.

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  15. Great review. Saw a Benchmade Emerson when I was about 10 years old, and fell in love. Got my first CQC7 about 5 years ago, and a variant of CQC7 is all I've stuck with carrying. I don't think I'm an Emerson fanboy, but I just haven't found anything that much better to switch to.
    Never thought about the grind problems until you brought them up. Overall, always been very impressed by the 3 Emersons I've had.

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  16. The whole vibe of EKI and its online persona convince me that these knives simply aren't for me. That dismissive Bladeforums ramble by Ernie was more off-putting than anything Lynn Thompson ever said.

    It's a purely subjective/aesthetic conviction. I have nothing objective to contribute by way of commentary to this thoughtful review. But I would like a Leek, and I think your local giveaway is great too even though I'm a looong ways away.

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  17. Interesting review. Never had a chisel grind knife and not sure I want one but the CQC-7 mini would interest me in the right grind.

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  18. Well, i check this blog every day and would love to get a Leek for a christmas gift for my little brother. so here's my comment

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  19. After many Opinels and Victorinox knifes the Emerson CQC 14 (snubby) was my first modern folder. Under 3 inches, very comfortable and strong. I would love to try the Mini CQC 7, but her in SA they are not available at "street price"

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  20. I am so jealous that you have a knife store where you can actually see them in person and try out new things. And good for you trying something outside your comfort zone.

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  21. The only emerson knife that I've been lusting after is the Emerson Multitasker EDC-1. I think that I probably wont like it due to it's thickness and weight, but it's the closest thing to what I would design if I were making my own "perfect" multitool.

    Sign me up for a leek please.

    Love the blog.

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  22. Is it sad that I can't even imagine a store just for knives, outside a couple of small mall cutlery stores I've seen? I would love a Kershaw.

    -Jacob
    Ballard_st@yahoo.com

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  23. Nice review :D
    I would also like to win a Leek ;)

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  24. ever think of the mini roadhouse? seems to have all the features you like about emersons with a "v" grind.

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  25. Well, since I have read all the comments, I might as well, too. But I don't need the Leek, so will be anonymous. I have enough knives I like. I do have a great Kickstarter copper flashlight coming in the mail, so that is enough to make me happy. Merry Christmas to somebody else.

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  26. Now I have two reasons for wishing I lived close to a knife store : D

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  27. You've got a keen eye for form & function, Tony. Can't believe nobody had critiqued the upside-down chisel grind on right-handed Emersons before - it's so obvious! Count me in for the leek drawing, and thanks.

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  28. Came across your site a few days ago while researching good EDC knives. I enjoyed the reviews I read. Keep up the good work.

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  29. You have to be a bit careful when buying Emerson because there are quite a few counterfeits on the market these days.

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  30. Great review. Wish we had local knife shops here in SoCal.

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    1. After two attempts to reach people directly, I am just posting here. Won Kim, send me your address. You have a Leek coming.

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  31. I got it! Just got back to work from a drive up to Nashua, and I am now sitting at my desk fondling my first Emerson, feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.
    That shop is awesome! Not only were the guys super cool, but they had more stock of more high quality brands of knives than I have ever seen in one place.
    THANK YOU for this giveaway!

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  32. Emersons always struck me as as a bit odd and way too expensive for what you got. The at times rather aggressive fanboyism didn't help either. Your review at least gave me an idea of what the deal is, and I think I will check one out in person. Too bad about the wrong-side chisel grind though.

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    1. As much as I have tried to tune it out, the aggressive fanboy-ism and Ernie's views are what had really soured me on the knives in the past.
      This review is right on though. This is a badass, built-like-a-tank, hard use, knife. Even my colleague who knows nothing about knives (and was kinda scared of this one) picked up on that before he even held it.

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  33. The Mini 7 was the first "good" knife I ever bought for myself back in 2008 (with my VERY first knife purchase being the abominable SOG Flash II). I happen to be carrying it today and it is still an awesome knife, though over time my lock bar has walked over to about 80%. Bear in mind Tony (and Adrian, congratulations!) that on most Emersons the lock bar will walk, particularly if you Wave or wrist-flick frequently. Evidently this is an unavoidable consequence of the hard heat-treated steel blade tang wearing down the soft non-heat-treated Ti lock bar, and it's also why some makers like CRK heat treat their Ti lock bar faces.

    Re chisel grind, most traditional chisel ground Japanese knives (tanto or otherwise) have the grind on the opposite side as you described, to make them more useful for righties. It's long been a sore spot for Emerson fans that Ernie chooses to grind the "wrong" side of the blade for purely aesthetic reasons, since that's the side where most conventional folders display branding. I've resolved myself to using the knife as a lefty when whittling or making fuzz sticks, but otherwise the grind is generally not a problem for most cutting tasks. Note that ALL Emersons have only a single edge bevel, but SOME Emersons (e.g. Commander series) are V ground, which solves most issues of ambidexterity while still allowing for a stupidly sharp edge.

    Also, minor trivia: the nicely radiused handle scales on your brand-new 2013 Mini 7 are not the same as the scales on my 2008 Mini 7, which are chamfered and not radiused (Emerson didn't offer stonewash back in 08 either). Also, the texture on my G10 scales is a fairly mild checkerboard/brick wall pattern, whereas yours is a more aggressive dimple pattern. Your pivot screw is also slightly flatter and more recessed into the handle scale. My 2010 Mini Commander shares the same characteristics as yours, as this is a change Emerson made a few years back.

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  34. Got and had the first Benchmade one made without the Wave feature in ATS-34 way back when. Paid a premium for it. Sold it to a friend for a loss. He hard used it on his job as an armored car guy. It eventually fell apart on him. It could have been refurbished if he had sent it back to Benchmade but I don't think he ever bothered. It is a show and tell knife and a quirky one at that for sure. But hard to justify the price considering what one can get nowadays. For those who are nostalgic and sentimental fans more power to you.

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  35. My buddy is a big proponent of Emersons and now after your review, I want to check them out. Thanks!

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  36. Thanks for the great review, Tony!

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  37. Well wish I was local. Been looking for a new hard use knife this just might be the thing. I'll take a look at it when exams end.

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  38. Great review as always Tony! Lucky locals...

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