As I get more into knives, I’m starting to sort out what I like and don’t like. For instance, above all else I prioritize function over form. A beautiful knife that isn’t ergonomic, doesn’t cut well, or open smoothly with minimal blade play is dead to me. I prefer flat or hollow grinds for their cutting ability. Blade shape is all about the job-at-hand. I generally don’t like coated blades because they don’t wear well (OK, maybe that’s a form thing). I bring all of this up because this is the lens through which I’m evaluating folders these days including the new Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K.
I pre-ordered the CQC-7K from Blade HQ and received it a week ago. As the name would indicate, it’s a collaboration between Ernie Emerson and Kershaw knives. For more details including specs, read the First Look I posted back in January. Here I will jump right into the review.
I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one because you’ve probably already read a bunch of reviews saying how awesome these knives are. Well, mine wasn’t. No issue with the quality of construction. Unlike my first experience with the Emerson brand, this Kershaw version had excellent fit and finish. The modified 8Cr13MoV Tanto blade is precisely ground and was extremely sharp out of the box. It featured a nice stonewashed/satin combo finish.
Side note: Be aware that the modified Tanto blade geometry is by design a compromise. The advantage of a Tanto is tip strength and the tapered spine of a modified Tanto negates that to an extent. It improves the blades utility at the expense of it’s best attribute. I was OK with the trade-off but some avoid them for that reason. If you want an inexpensive, hard use traditional Tanto folder then check out Cold Steel. They make some of the best in the business.
The G-10 scales on the CQC-7K were smoother than on an Emerson. I’ve read some complaints about them being too slick but I thought the scales were “grippy” enough to be functional without being a pocket shredding nightmare.
The frame is stainless steel and so the CQC-7K is a pretty heavy knife for its size at 5.1 ounces. To put that into perspective, the FRN version of the Spyderco Native weighs 2.65 ounces. I like heavier knives so that didn’t bother me but you’ll definitely know this one is in your pocket and if weight is important to you then take that into account before you buy.
I would have preferred a blacked out pocket clip. I don’t understand why manufacturers feel the need to make shiny pocket clips. I don’t want attention being drawn to the fact that I’m carrying a knife – EVER. Along that theme, the pocket clip isn’t particularly deep carry but none of the Kershaws I’ve owned have deep carry clips so that wasn’t unexpected.
What was unexpected was the difficulty I had opening the CQC-7K. The detent is so strong that any slight pressure on the frame, either by resting your finger on the pocket clip or any part of the upper frame, made the knife extremely difficult to open with one hand using the knurled thumb disk (killing my thumb in the process).
I tried shifting my grip but there isn’t a lot of real estate to work with. I had more success left-handed with most of my fingers resting on the scales versus the frame. The wave feature also worked as advertised. But, workarounds aside, I need to be able to open my folders with my strong hand. It’s a requirement that is non-negotiable. Strike One. Next I tried adjusting the pivot screw to free things up. However, I couldn’t adjust it to the point that it solved the detent problem without introducing a decent amount of blade play – the absence of which Emerson knives are known for. Strike Two.
The last straw was the late lock-up. Out of the box, the lock up was very strong but the lock bar was already at about 60%. Even with a steel lock bar, that doesn’t bode well for the life of the lock once it wears in. And by the way, waving is really hard on lock bars. Compare the lock-up on the CQC-7K to the lock-up on my Spyderco Techno and the difference was pretty striking.
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but the Techno is a much more expensive knife”. I realize that the CQC-7K is a less expensive knife but I go back to my function over form criteria. I don’t care how cheap and pretty a knife is. It has to reliably perform certain basic functions. Yes, I could have received a dud from the factory, but if that’s the case, then it’s an indictment on quality control and Emerson fans were already pissed that this knife was being made overseas to keep the cost down.
Up to this point, every Kershaw knife I’ve purchased has been flawless so I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt but it’s hard to recommend the CQC-7K on the assumption that this is a one-off. Kershaw remains my favorite knife brand but the Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K was a major disappointment. If you still want to try a knife in the Kershaw Emerson line then hopefully your mileage will vary.