The Emerson Knife: My Guide To Old Skool

Emerson CQC
May 23, 2023  
Categories: Knives and Axes

Nothing defines an old skool Emerson Knife like a waveless six. Especially a rare diamond logoed one. One of two made back in 2004, Ernie Emerson only used this logo for about one year; 2004, An excellent year.

When people first find an Emerson Knife, there is a full-on rush to see everything. Tons of models, options, and special editions. Then there are the customs which even Ernie Emerson can’t keep track of every option and version after over almost 40 years of custom knife making and running a successful and busy knife-making business. Eventually, most collectors deep dive, often with deep pockets searching for the old skool goodness. It usually happens after people get past “CQC-6 blindness,” or the trend collectors have to not be able to see past the history, the legend, the crazy high demand, and ultimately the price tag commonly attached to the CQC-6. They discover a world of PreTacs (pre-tactical), experimental designs, and even one-off customs likely built for some operator back in the day. If you are searching for some of this old skool flavor for your Emerson Collection (like I am), here are a few tips to help you find something that will make all the cool kids freak out and pee their pants just a little.

First off, what defines old skool? Well, it’s pretty simple. Like all people, we long for the good old days. Back when a CQC-6 would set you back $450 and Ernie was taking orders. The Garage Era (when Ernie was literally making customs in his garage), the Prefactory days (obviously before EKI), and the Early EKI Days (98 and 99 Commanders, Ravens, SpecWars, and CQC-7s).

Why? Some of it has to do with nostalgia, some of it because you could find knives, Ernie, himself basically hand-built, or hand ground or hand fitted. Most of it comes down to “we just like what we like.” I guess what old skool means is an older knife from “back in the day,” or at least a knife with that feel or flavor of those long-gone threaded bolsters, double-domed pivots, buff lines, and black oxide blades of yore. 

  So, if you want to shift your collecting to have more of that Vintage Emerson taste and flavor… here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned from friends.

1. Go Waveless

When the wave came out, people lost their minds. A knife that opens when you pull it from your pocket? Magic. Yet before Ernie E. made that crazy popular pocket-destroying feature, he was already building hard use tools out of steel, g10, and titanium that rivaled anything on the market. A waveless CQC-7 feels as good closed as it does open. If you have large hands (like I do), a wave-like feature can bite your hand a bit. Models that were initially built waveless have a very different feel to them than their waved counterparts. For example, the CQC-8. Lots of differences between the two. 

Emerson tends to make a few waveless models for lotteries, and EKI does waveless runs, which are a great throwback to the old skool feel of classic 90s. A new waveless production CQC-7 can be found for a price, and the custom waveless models run the same as the waved models. You can also find fun production models like the Persian (PTAC), which has always been a waveless model, or models like a waveless CQC-8, which is about as classic as it gets. Just for shits and giggles, let’s say you get called early in a lottery and get to choose between a waveless CQC-6 and a waved CQC-6….choose the waveless. It will not disappoint.

Pimped MV3, Custom Diamond Logo CQC-6, Tom Krein Regrind Persian, Poboyed Benchmade 970, and the Custom Viper 3 from the 2021 Emerson Blade Show Lottery. All Waveless, all old school, all badass.

2. The Benchmade x Emerson Knife 970 series

Before EKI, Ernest Emerson collaborated with Benchmade to release the now legendary CQC-7, which got some 90% (scientifically accurate number based on personal research and anecdotal data) of Emerson collectors started. There are a ton of versions, and they have a light, airy feel to them that defines old skool. The titanium-bladed version (970ST) weighed next to nothing and was just a little groundbreaking back in the 90s. My personal Benchmade x Emerson 970 has lasted me for years and is still in the rotation. As far as old skool credit goes for Benchmade 970s… I’ve been at the Blade show at the Emerson Booth talking to a cop, a retired spook, and an active SF soldier, and all three of them had their own Benchmade CQC-7 story.

Benchmade 975 (longer version), 970 ST (titanium blade), My Poboy 970, A like new 970, Custom CQC-6, EKI Early trainer (Basically an unground blade!), and an EKI Super Waved 7. Just a couple of decades between them all.

3. EKI Early Birds

When EKI was a startup company, their first knife was the Raven. The polymer handled liner lock folder was offered in multiple colors, tanto or spear point, serrated or plain, and a variety of finishes. There were so many different options offered that collectors are still, over 20 years later, discovering versions no one knew about. A friend and fellow collector found a titanium-bladed variant I never even knew about! The Raven is a true blue old skool Emerson that scores cool points even with the most hardened collector. Plus, they can often be had for a reasonable price. Be warned those rare or perfect models may be pricey!

The SpecWars. You can get several versions if you can find them. This collection and the photo are courtesy of Fred Scotti.

Rare Titanium Bladed Specwar and Raven (Blue Handle). Hard to find? Yeah. Photos by Fred Scotti.

4. The A100, the Super A-100, and the mini A100

If you want to go for an old skool design, the A100 is about as throwback as it gets. Before the CQC- Series he’s famous for, Ernie made the Viper series (we will get to those). Before the Vipers, Ernie made the A100. It’s smooth, it’s sleek, and it’s full-on badass. An A100 is a handful of a knife that, when closed, almost entirely encloses the blade. It has a neutral handle that fits the bill for nearly anything you want to do. It doesn’t scream “TACTICAL” or “WEAPON” as a PTAC does.

The A100 is available as a production version or a custom and is still offered both ways. And it comes in three sizes, Standard, Super, and Mini. The Standard, especially the mini, comes with old skool cool points galore and the Super… There are lots of people who love the super. My wife, who could have any knife she wanted, carries a modded Mini A100. But, the A-100 is a knife even non-knife people love. I can’t find a better endorsement than that.

Ernie Emerson slipped in a delicious old skool flavored Super A-100 at the 2021 Blade Show Lottery.

5. The Viper Series

Again, before the CQC series and the infamous CQC-6 were even a twinkle in EE’s eye, he was building five designs and variations on a theme, so to speak. The theme was folding-edged weapons. The designs were the Viper Series. 

The Viper 1 is an obvious descendant of the A100, and it was built to be a soldier, sailor, or cop’s back pocket weapon/ tool. Notice weapon was first. It was a weapon first. The Viper 2 was an even smaller, less noticeable version and was often offered sans pocket clip. 

The Viper 3… Well, the Viper 3 wasn’t small. Hell, it’s practically a super! In EE’s words, the Viper 3 is a street fighter. In fact, the First Lady of EKI, Mrs. Mary Emerson herself, has been rumored to have carried a very special MV-3 back in the day! 

The Viper 4 was a more compact version of the 3, and the Viper 5 had a distinct crook bottom. Emerson collectors still try to get a Viper straight, all five Vipers models, just like a Poker straight. 

The upside of hunting Vipers is that many people don’t understand the Viper series is the epitome of old skool cool and are (insanely) refined designs rivaling anything Emerson has designed since. Unfortunately, Emerson officially ceased making the Vipers a while back. Lucky for us, Ernie occasionally pulls an old custom out of the safe and tosses it into the lottery. 

A full Viper Straight in reverse order. Note the 3, 2, and 1 are chisel ground. The 2 is clipless and has a thumb stud instead of Emerson’s usual thumb disc. These were designed as fighters from day 1. 

6. Emerson Knife: Ultimate Safe Knives

So, you go to the Emerson lottery, and Ernie has 58 knives on the table. Your name gets drawn, and you step up and decide which Emerson knife to buy… but they aren’t all newly made knives. Don’t get me wrong. Most of them are newly made since the last lottery. But a special few can be the custom equivalent of new old stock. These are Safe Knives. Knives Ernie made years and even decades ago and tossed into the safe for whatever reason. So, at the Blade Show or Gathering Lotteries or even in an online draw, you may find a true old skool custom knife right there for table price in a sea of a brand new, freshly built custom Emerson Knife direct from the man himself. Possibly the best thing shy of being willed one by your long-lost Navy SEAL or CIA operative uncle.

Like, say, the Blade 2021 lottery where the first knife to get picked was a Diamond Logo (2004) rare CQC-9. While the Diamond-9 went early, other safe knives are harder to spot. Like, say, the Viper-3 I wound up with! Judging by the thin liners, the soft bead blast, the double-domed pivots, the grind, and other small details, my best guess is this Viper-3 was made around 2000. Think of it like walking into a Porche dealer and finding a brand new, never-owned, zero miles vintage classic roadster hiding in the new cars. You have to love Ernie for spicing it up and throwing in something just to make even the hardest core, well-versed collector go wow. He did it to me. I’m still smiling!

As heavily as the demand for CQC-6 is, the demand for a CQC-9 is that much heavier. Designed originally as a specialty knife for the DEA (made to cut certain plant stalks) it was a fighter in disguise. It’s also a bitch to grind, and Ernie rarely makes them. Rumor is one collector out there owns half the 9’s ever made. Reality is one guy started collecting these before everyone else figured out how cool they were. Now, they often command a $10k and up price, without the rare diamond logo! Ernie had this gem at the Blade 2021 Lottery.

7. Fixed Blades

Emerson makes some badass folders, but people forget the man was a wizard with a fixed blade. You can pick up a production EKI fixed 7, a custom neck knife, or even a Timberline Specwar collaboration from way back for the old skool flavor on a budget. Or you can jump straight into the pool’s deep end (defined often by deep pockets) and hunt for old black oxide fixed blade fighters originally custom-made for special forces groups or other special customers of Ernie’s. They are out there, but they are few and far between and often carry prices that will make a secondary market CQC-6 seem…. affordable. On the upside, I picked up a fine Timberline Specwar for about $100. It’s about as badass as anything, and I can use it without fear. The fixed blades are an often forgotten about niche of Emersons, and it can be an excellent avenue for expanding your old skool collection.

Emerson Knife History

This Emerson Nealy collaboration by Timberline is an outstanding example of a deal on a vintage Emerson design.

Or you could step completely off the deep end and find yourself an old Black Oxide fixed blade Emerson rumored to have been built as one of a batch for a special forces group “back in the day.” Photo by Fred Scotti.

And back to Older EKI blades like the LaGriffe, which can be found for a little over a C-note.

8. The Emerson Knife Throwbacks

EKI pulls out the stops every once in a while and offers an old skool classic design from way back as a run of new knives. They are often offered as the Emerson Collector’s Association Knife of the Year (ECA KOTY) or even as a collaboration with ZT Knives. The A131, the chisel ground ECA PTAC, and the 2019 ECA KOTY Viper-3 are all kickass throwback knives. The ZT 0640 is practically a mini-Viper-3. If you look, these throwback knives can be found, sometimes at a premium, sometimes for a steal. They are newly made, but from that classic old skool recipe, they offer the discerning collector or user another avenue. And there are even new models that have that old feel like the Elvia, Ed Calderon’s collaboration with Emerson, which is becoming crazy popular.

Emerson Knife History

The Elvia is a reverse edge design that shows how much a small blade can really do. Shown with a CQC-6, it’s a wicked little folding fighter with lots of old skool good looks. This is what you will see copied repeatedly, just like the Six was. 

9. Modded Out Pimp Jobs

There is a whole cottage industry of excellent builders who modify a production Emerson knife into killer versions and visions of the Emersons from way back when. I took an Emerson ECA MV-3 and sent it to one such modder/pimper, Steve Kyle. Steve was up to do anything, limited only by my imagination and budget. In less than two weeks of turnaround time, Steve turned my ECA Viper into a blacked-out Viper-3, which was inspired by the actual MV-3 that is reported to have been Mrs. Mary’s. The final result was a knife that looks like something Ernie made for some old CIA dude in the mid-90s, which was lost to history. 

My custom Emerson Viper MV-3 and my Steve Kyle pimped EKI ECA Viper 3. Steve drilled and tapped the clip for ambi carry, blacked out all the hardware, made a titanium backspacer, swapped the pivot for the vintage style double domed pivot, and cut the bolster line for an index. I added the Pete Gray oversized thumb discs for easier opening and a Dragon Tail Steel Flame clip for the feel as much as the style. Steve really did turn a good EKI into a really nice sterile version of the custom. In record time and reasonable cost. Both of these see pocket time.

With a pimped-out Emerson knife, you get to choose. You aren’t limited to what you can find. You can take a production waveless CQC-8 and have a contoured handle with a tweezer mod installed. Or, you can do like I did and have a full custom handle made for your old Benchmade 970 blade. You can have it made Burger King Style. Your way.

Emerson Knife History

The blade from my Benchmade 970 that I bought when I was 18 now resides in a fully custom-handled, built to last with thick liners and a titanium backspacer. Pimp jobs don’t get any better than saving the first Emerson knife you ever bought and bringing it back to life.

There are just three rules to a respectable pimp job. Rule one- No CQC-6s. The six is the six. Ernie has requested that there be no more Po-Boy sixes built, and the community has agreed out of respect. Rule two- It voids the warranty. Let’s be honest; this is common sense in today’s litigious society. And Rule three- Don’t pass it off as an Ernest Emerson custom knife. Your garage-built Lamborghini is cool in its own right, don’t tell me it was “a rare Italian variant.” Just don’t be that guy. 

So there you have it—Jake’s shortcut guide to getting that old skool flavor from your Emerson experience. First, post pics of yours up. Add details and give credit if it was modded or pimped. Then, let us know where you found that dusty gem, even if it was the back of your safe, a pawn shop, or the -cough- Evilbay. The best part of the old skool experience is either the hunt or telling people about the hunt.

Good luck and happy hunting.

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Jake Bush

Jake Bush

About the Author

Jake is a LEO down Georgia-Florida way. Jake describes himself thusly: I’m a small town deputy sheriff. I’m not special forces, I’m not SWAT, I’m not metro with LAPD or a homicide detective with the NYPD. I’m basically a problem solver. Everyday I handle calls from the mundane car in the roadway, to the worst calls for service, and everything in between. What I write will be from this perspective because I have no other. I hope something I write helps you.” Jake has been a night-shifter for years, and a cop for over a decade and a half. Despite an uncanny resemblance to Peter Griffin (especially when he’s in his uniform shirt), we really like him. In fact, we count ourselves lucky to have him aboard.


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