Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kershaw Emerson CQC6K Review

There is a fine line between imitation and innovation.

For many folks Emersons are the very definition of a hard use knife.  It is hard to dispute this, having owned two.  They are truly simple, overbuilt tools.  They have beefy liners, no-nonsense G10, and thick blades.  But for the average person, they are hard to carry around, and as I pointed out in the Mini CQC7 review, they are chisel ground on the WRONG side (we know an Emerson's handedness based on the clip placement and the need for the knife to be tip up and we know the proper side to grind a chisel based on...well...real chisels).  They are not tools for the masses and I think Emerson fans dig them more because of that. 

When Kershaw announced the collaboration there were a lot of strong reactions.  From a business point of view it makes a ton of sense for both Kershaw and Emerson.  Kershaw gets the benefit of the collaboration and the use of the Wave.  Ernie gets the royalties from the use of the Wave in what is probably one of the two or three last years the patent is valid (patents generally last about 17 years from the date of issue and the Wave patent was granted in 1999 meaning it is likely going to expire in 2016).  But there was also a lot of grumbling about the Kershaw Emerson's being "fake" Emersons.  Emerson fans loudly proclaimed that they were nothing more than a way to migrate new folks to the Emerson brand.


To be frank, this claim is a little silly.  It echoes what you hear and read online about the difference between production Emersons and the very hard to get custom Emersons.  With waitlists years long, most folks have to "settle" for a production.  Really, aren't the production Emersons just mass produced versions of the customs?  And if that is true, aren't they another form of simulacrum?  


So is the CQC6K an imitation of the true Emerson or is it an innovation on an Emerson--a knife with the functionality of an Emerson but the features needed for more everyday use?

Here is the product page. The Kershaw/Emerson CQC6K costs $35. Here is a written review (More than Just Surviving is one of my favorite new sites, BTW). Here is a video review.  Here is Edge Observer's overview of the entire Kershaw/Emerson line.  Here is an amazing Reddit review of the knife.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Emerson CQC6K, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money):


Twitter Review Summary: An Emerson for the rest of us.

Design: 2

In my experience with "true" Emersons I have found the simplicity of the knife to be a huge boon.  There is nothing frivolous or extra to screw up how the knife works and feels in your hand.  Such simplicity is often missing in Kershaw knives where they seem to think that an extra flourish here or a pattern there (see: "K Pattern handle") will make the knife feel more expensive than it is.  The reality is that Kershaw knives feel more expensive than they are because they are well made, but the temptation for adornment is hard to resist.  And yet, when forced by the tastes of the collaborator, to go simple Kershaw pulls it off very well. The Kershaw/Emerson CQC6K is just great.  The blade shape is simple yet useful.  The handle is simple yet grippy.  The entire knife is like this--simple and great because of it.  Watch and learn fellow production companies (Quartermaster I am looking first at you): simple is best.  

The size of the CQC6K is really nice.  Its out of my sweet spot of under 3 inches, but thanks to well proportioned materials it is easily carried and used.  It is not as thick as a production Emerson, but for EDC use that is a good thing.  This knife carries like you hope the smaller Emersons would but never do.  Here is a size comparison shot using the classic Zippo as a size comparison:


Here is the Zippo and the Emerson:


The performance ratios are average.  The blade:weight is .65 and the blade:handle is .72.  The blade:handle is slightly better than average and the blade:weight is slightly to moderately worse.  Even though this is a thinned out Emerson its still chunky.

Fit and Finish: 2

Kershaw's Chinese OEMs are, as a rule very good.  The fit and finish here is just a step above good.  Everything was spot on and even the relatively complex stuff, like the two different finishes on the blade, was well done.  Here is the lock up on the frame lock:


Simply put, there is nothing to complain about whatsoever. Really, really great.

Grip: 2

The combination of a good size finger choil, a thumb ramp, and and excellent shape to the rear of the handle makes the CQC6K very good in the hand.  I would note that the G10 here is virtually texture free, being the mildest G10 I have ever had the chance to touch.


Worse yet, given the ready comparison, it is nothing like the production Emerson G10, which is perfect in its grippiness in my opinion.  Its less grippy than the offensively grippy stuff on Cold Steel knives, but more grippy than the stuff here.  Its not a big deal because of the other things this knife have going for it, but it is worth nothing.

Carry: 2

With its slimmer dimensions and exceptional rounding of all major points on the handle, the CQC6K is great in the pocket.  Having just owned an Emerson Horseman I can tell you this carries better. You are, of course, giving up some durability, but in an EDC role that won't matter as much as easy carry does.

Steel: 1

8Cr13MoV is a mid-tier steel.  In some instances it is better than others--in particular I find the AG Russell knives with 8Cr13MoV are great at taking an edge.  In the CQC6K it was utterly unremarkable, both in a good and bad sense. It is perfectly average, better than 440A, 440B, and all but Buck's version of 420HC.  I also have always liked the 8Cr13MoV as used by Kershaw better than the same steel used by Spyderco.  I don't know it if is a different heat treat or if it is attributable the finish given, but whatever it is, Kershaw's 8Cr13MoV is better.  Not good, not bad, just average.

Blade Shape: 2

Clip point.  Perfect belly.  No recurve.  No bullshit.  Thanks Ernie.  Done.


Grind: 2 

All right, I know Emerson fans, members of the Order of the Black Shamrock, as they call themsevles, love the chisel grind.  And I do to.  They love its keen edge and simple straightforward sharpenability.  The problem is, for close work, its hard to use.  For example, in making firestarts and feather sticks, it is uncannily difficult to register the cutting bevel to start a cut.  The reason is simple--the chisel is ground on the wrong side.  In a woodworking chisel, which Emerson discusses when hailing the benefits of a chisel grind, the flat side of the cutting tool is placed at the line and then the cut is made ABOVE.  Here, on an Emerson chisel grind, the flat is on the top, forcing the angled part of the blade to register the cut.  This is very, very difficult to do.  Because we know Emerson knives are handed, we know this isn't an issue of user error.  Simply put, the grind on a right handed, chisel ground blade on a production Emerson is best set up for a left handed person.  The edge is still super keen and easy to maintain, but you lose the ability to performa great deal of precision work.  The chisel ground cutting bevel on the "v-grind" Emersons is better, but the problem still persists.

In the end, I can't say the chisel grind is done correctly.  Its just not. It is, in my opinion, a problem and one there is no fix for--except for buying a collab (to be fair there are a few sources for waved knives with correctly ground blades: a few Spydercos, a Southern Grind Bad Monkey, the Kershaw collabs and the ZT collabs; then there are the "wave like" blades which includes DPx's HEST/F).  The traditional grind on this knife is much better than the "chisel" grind on the Mini CQC7 I had and better (though not significantly so) than the grindon my Horseman.  Now, if the grind on the Emerson chisel grind was on the correct side of the blade, well, then we'd have a real competition.  As it is, this is the biggest reason to avoid the production Emerson and opt for one of his many collabs and licensed blades, including this one.

Deployment Method: 2

We all know the Wave is awesome and here it works exceptionally well (I would note that my experience tells me you need a liner or frame lock to make the Wave work optimally well, otherwise you get jumping where the force of the wave action bounces the blade off the lock face before it can engage).  This is no surprise.


What is a surprise is how much I have come to appreciate thumb plates.  I like them quite a bit more than the average thumb stud.  Not only do they not mar the blade's appearance as much, but they are also a bit easier to use.  Bernard over on the original Everyday Carry Tumblr once explained why he liked the Spyderco hole better than thumb studs. His point was this--with a thumb stud you have focus on keeping your finger on the thumb stud, but with a hole, your thumb is "captured" and thus you have very little to focus on when opening the knife.  This makes it eaiser to open a knife with a thumb hole. Much the same can be said of thumb plates.  Your thumb is essentially just butting up against the plate.  Push and the knife opens.  Its not a easy as thumb hole, you do have to think about it a bit, but I found it worked with less effort than the thumb stud opener.

Retention Method: 2

The Emerson clip is, like virtually everything else on an Emerson--simple and very useful.  The clip here is virtually identical.  There are three differences--first the material is not as robust, second the edges are rounded, and third the clip is bead blades with the logo lasered in.  None of these small changes alter the clip too much.  Sure, I'd like it not to have some garish skull on it, but whatever.  The little changes don't take away from the clip's function--its still great.


Also, if you have ever used the Wave you know that a deep carry clip wouldn't work (or work as well).  By giving you some space at the top of the blade you can grab the tip of the handle and pull the blade out activating the Wave.  A deep carry clip would make that much more difficult.

Lock: 2

You know the frame lock has gone totally mainstream when it shows up on a budget version of a liner lock knife.  Who would have thought, ten years ago at the peak of Sebenza mania, that the frame lock would reach the point where its a cost savings feature--eliminating the need for a second G10 handle scale?  That's speculation, but it doesn't seem to far off.


The lock here is quite good--no play in any direction, easy to engage and disengage, and wonderfully easy to use with the Wave.  Some knives with Wave features, like the Delica and Endura, have lockbacks and when waved vigorously, have been known to not engage.  I was accutely aware of this and tried on a number of occasions to get the frame lock to fail to engage.  No luck. The lock works exceptionally well,especially given the price point.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

Is it heresy to say I like this better than a "real" Emerson?  I think the hard use traits of an Emerson just don't suit my uses and needs.  For me, this is a better knife.  Its easier to use, more functional, and vastly more affordable but still possesses many of the traits that make production Emerson's great (not the least of which is the Wave feature).  This is an awesome knife and for the money you'd be hard pressed to find better.  I am not a huge fan of the bulky look and the skull aesthetic, but I know a lot of people are.  And even if you aren't this is just a solid knife.  Kershaw's Chinese OEMs are very good.  This is a damn good knife, regardless of price.

The Competition

Against the readily available benchmark, the SOG Mini Aegis, this is a substantially better knife.  It is not lighter (few knives are), but it is better designed and has much better features.  It feels like a real knife compared to the Mini Aegis which sometimes feels like a toy.  That one point is a big deal at the top end of the scale and here this is just a better blade.  It is every bit the winner that the Blade Show trumpeted it to be.  It also achieves that final bit of design innovation that has evaded Emersons for so long--financial accessibility.  



  1. I agree 100% about the nonsense that is the endless debate of what constitutes a "real" Emerson. As far as I am concerned this is just as much an Emerson as any of the production ones!

    I wonder if they will ever release a chisel ground version of the CQC-6K, it would certainly be quite interesting. I have never really used an Emerson chisel ground blade so I can't comment on its EDC viability.

    Thanks for the shoutout btw! Huge fan of yours!

    1. The Kershaw Emerson CQC8K is a chisel grind.

  2. A good review. I was stoked for this knife after you talked about it on Gear Geeks Live. Though I had nothing but bad luck with it.

    My first one had loose scales and the lock wouldn't engage so I sent it back. The second one (Actually a 7K as they ran out of 6Ks) was a bust as the holes weren't threaded for the screws on the pocket clip on the left hand side. As such no left hand carry (and so the wave was no good). Apparently I'm not then only one to have the problem with the clip being right hand only as I saw other people with the same complaint.

    In the end I just got a refund.

    1. The Kershaw Emerson CQC5K may be the only to work with the reversible clip as it is G10 on both sides. All the others have clip screws which are too short for the G10 side. They are coming out with replacement screws for left side carry in mid to late Fall.

    2. Oh yeah - the Kershaw Emerson CQC8K may work as well for the reversible clip as it is G10 on both sides.

    3. I might pick up a G10 version like the 5K, but it's so stupid that they would release these knives advertising reversible clips, but them not working. Major blunder. You thought at least one person would test them before they were released.

      Lefties have it tough enough in the knife world with locks and handles made for right handed carry without things like this. It's particularly important on these knives as it has to be in your pocket a particular way for the wave to work. To carry it in your left pocket you HAVE to switch the clip around.

  3. Oops I posted this as a reply. Sorry about that. Anyway I was wondering about your choice of the 6k over the 5k since you seem to lean on the smaller side for EDC blades?

  4. Hi Tony,

    Another great review, thanks! I have a similar question to Ed: what are your thoughts on the 1K versus the 6K? The 1K's 3" blade and 2.65oz weight might make it better for EDC use, but I really like the 6K's blade shape.

    Thanks again!

  5. Just a quick update. I'm left-handed and picked up one of these knives. Yeah, The pocket clip has the same issues as other Kershaw knives - the G10 side is drilled and tapped, but the screws on the right hand side are way too short to work on the G10 side. The screws simply fell into the holes in the G10. I've asked Kershaw (like many others) for a set of long screws.

    If you want to carry a Kershaw knife in your left pocket, odds are that you'll have to join this song and dance with anything having a G10 scale. (I'm looking at you, Cryo G10) I wish that Kershaw was more honest in their advertizing. They claim that the knife is ambidextrous, but I wouldn't call it that if you can't carry it left-handed OUT OF THE BOX. This whole slight-of-hand kinda puts me off. Spyderco doesn't pull this crap (that I'm aware of...) with their reposition-able pocket clips.

  6. Am I the ONLY one who received a package of EXTRA "long" screws with my CQC-6K?
    After seeing all these posts, I just opened them up, and threaded them into the G10 scale. Tightened right down, and they certainly seem as though they are long enough to snug down over the clip metal.