Like many knife makers, Ernest Emerson began making custom knives in his garage. Starting in 1979, he gained notice as a knife maker for the quality of his work, his unique designs and his operational influence as one of the most sought-after and respected hand-to-hand fighting instructors.
Emerson Knives formed in 1996 in Torrance, California, and the company prides itself on products that are made or manufactured in the U.S. and the high-quality materials used in all its product lines. All Emerson models are designed with tactical applications at their foundation.
Emerson’s designs have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Museum, a feat not many living artisans can claim. As a respected instructor in edged-weapon close combat, Ernest Emerson has worked with elite units worldwide, such as U.S. Naval Special Warfare and international diplomatic protection details.
Emerson has authored a number of articles, books and videos on tactics, combat and training topics. He is in regular demand for seminars and lectures to civilian, military and law enforcement agencies.
Emerson is the only knife maker with his own training facility, the Black Shamrock Combat Academy Gym in Los Angeles. An inducted member of The Martial Arts Hall of Fame, he shares the honor with names like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
Although the Emerson lineup includes fixed blades and a variety of designs, the main focus of Emerson Knives is its folding knives, upon which the company has built its reputation.
Emerson Knives has enjoyed a strong affiliation with the U.S. military. Ernest Emerson attributes much of his success to his Naval Special Warfare clients, as having such a demanding customer early in his development as a knife maker forced him to evolve his designs into a reliable tool that would withstand the hard use his clients were exposed to.
Design and Characteristics
Emerson does not chase mechanical innovations from model to model. Most feature the standard Titanium Walker liner lock mechanism, frequently paired with Emerson’s patented wave-shaped opening mechanism. This rapid deployment system is a protrusion on the blade’s spine that is used for one-handed opening as the knife is being drawn from the pocket. Emerson has licensed this design to select a number of knife manufacturers, and it is a mainstay feature on Emerson folders.
Emerson’s conservative approach leads to consistency throughout the product lineup. This is a positive in the sense that the successful elements become a recurring theme. When other manufacturers’ knives are designed by young industrial artists who have had zero operational experience with edged weapons, the Emerson name stands out as the choice of those at the sharp end of the spear.
Emerson’s conservative approach applies to materials as well. G-10 is their reliable choice for handle material, and with few exceptions Emerson has adhered to Crucible’s 154CM stainless steel for blades. This choice is not without controversy; some in the knife community suggest that Emerson’s price point requires a blade material upgrade.
A traditionalist in most respects, Ernest Emerson waits to see what represents true innovation — versus what is merely a fad — before incorporating a design feature into one of his knives. The downside is that if there is a feature you don’t like about a particular Emerson model, there is a good chance that feature is going to reappear over and over. Because of this, Emerson Knives, while of very high quality, can polarize potential customers. They are either dedicated fans or those who respect the brand but opt to go with a different manufacturer.
Best Emerson Knives
Emerson Combat Karambit
The Emerson Karambit blade design is vastly different from your EDC blade. Although it can be used for some utility tasks, its true calling is as a defensive edged weapon. The benefit of this design is that it allows you to work the force continuum, starting with non-lethal impacts. Holding the Karambit closed with your index finger in the ring, you can use the knife as an impact weapon. Escalate to lethal force by using the wave opening feature to deploy the blade from quickly and easily.
Emerson Super Karambit
Shaped like a Tiger claw, this vicious blade can require some practice to become proficient with. Enter the training Karambit, a safe-edged option for students to master this blade without needing a transfusion. Students can also benefit from Emerson’s training video to get the most out of this design.
Emerson named this smaller version of the CQC-8 “the Horseman” because it was allegedly designed to be used while riding a horse. With an overall length of 8.35 inches, a 3.54-inch blade and a weight of 4.8 ounces, this is a smaller knife for Emerson.
In typical Emerson fashion, this blade has been V-ground but is left with a chisel-ground edge that Ernest claims is for ease of sharpening. The 154CM steel sharpens easily and holds a good edge.
The Horseman’s handle design mimics Emerson’s other knives: Black G10 scales over a steel non-locking liner, and a titanium locking liner with a black G10 back spacer. Like most gear intended for military use, it is all held together with Phillips and flat-head hardware.
The pocket clip is the same on all Emerson knives: a plain black phosphate piece that allows the Horseman to ride relatively low and discretely in the pocket. The Emerson Horseman incorporates Emerson’s patented wave deployment feature.
Another thoughtful offering from Emerson, the Horseman will satisfy Emerson fans that want something more manageable for EDC. For customers in the market for a field folder, the Emerson Super Commander may be a better fit with its 4-inch blade and hefty 7-ounce weight.
Tried and Tested
There are no higher accolades for a weapon maker than to have their product sought after by elite military units with unlimited budgets. The time-tested designs of Ernest Emerson may seem simplistic, but they are the blades regularly carried into the field by those who have no use for fancy and only value reliability.