01 May 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Makers II

Cold Steel: Cold Steel is a love-‘em-or-hate-‘em company. Part of that comes from the fact that their founder and president, Lynn Thompson, is an obnoxious and offensive blowhard. Also, most of their products are designed, or at least marketed, as combat/defensive knives, which alarms the alarmists and delights redneck wannabe warriors everywhere (and maybe a few real warriors, too). Adding to this alarm and delight are promotional videos of Thompson slicing the arms off meat-filled biker jackets with his blood-drinkers. (I refuse to link, but you can easily find them online.)

While Cold Steel collaborates with some custom makers, the flamboyant Thompson is himself involved with product designs, and it clearly shows. Many of their knives are big, scary-looking and impractical, and have a certain fantasy knife flair. Admittedly they are high-quality, though you pay for it. Cold Steel makes a few knives that I would certainly love to own (especially the Hatamoto), but they are overpriced. Nevertheless, as the chief popularizer of the ubiquitous tanto blade, Cold Steel has certainly been influential and they produce a number of quality of EDC knives among their tamer offerings.

CRKT: Columbia River Knife and Tool is a relative newcomer, started by two former Kershaw employees in 1994. From the beginning CRKT collaborated with custom designers to produce very innovative knives, in terms both of technology and design. Many companies cultivate a unique niche and style, but CRKT produces a very wide range of products, most quite distinctive. All of their knives are made in Asia and most use mid-grade materials, but their prices suitably reflect that. In this sense they are a value maker. Most of their knives can be had for less than $60 and several for less than $20. But their designs are very fresh and their quality ranges from good to excellent.

Like Kershaw and SOG, CRKT are leaders in assisted-opening knives. But their very popular Kit Carson-designed M16/M21 line is all manual, though these knives are still innovative. They feature CRKT’s AutoLAWKS dual-locking system that prevents accidental disengagement of the blade’s linerlock. CRKT may not have the diehard fan base of the upmarket brands, but I think they are a great bang for the buck.

Emerson: I’ve mentioned previously that custom knife maker Ernest Emerson was an early innovator and trendsetter whose knives became archetypes of the modern tactical. His earliest blades were art knives, but being a martial artist, he observed that while fellow martial artists trained with fixed blades they of course carried folders day to day. To create a combat folder, he stripped down and modified his art designs while continuing to use the highest quality materials. The resulting Viper combat folders went through several iterations. The sixth version, renamed the CQC6, was commissioned by the US Navy SEALs in the mid-80s and was adopted both by them and many other Special Forces units worldwide. Thus his knives became both standards and status symbols among the military.

Emerson CQC-11

Demand soon far outstripped one knife maker's capacity, and Emerson collaborated with Benchmade and other commercial makers to create production versions of his knives. In 1996 he and his wife started their own production knifeworks, Emerson Knives, Inc. While Emerson does carry a couple of value, foreign-made models, most of their knives are made at their Torrance, CA, factory and are priced in the $200-$250 range. Many models serve very well as EDC knives, but as true tacticals, they are on the large size. Emersons do not use the latest wondersteels or employ the latest superlocks. They are simple workhorses, but to own one is to own an icon.

Next up: Tactical Knife Makers III

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