Last Updated: July 30, 2019
Having reviewed many Emerson knives over the years, and reaching largely the same conclusions, you would think I am a glutton for punishment in selecting the Emerson Sheep Dog for review. However, the Sheepdog brings something new to the table. This is the first Emerson flipper I have reviewed, and it features their new ball bearing system. Plus the handle has been drilled and tapped for ambidextrous carry. This is big news from a company that is very much set in their ways.
This isn’t the only flipper Emerson has done. They also released the CQC-7 flipper. The CQC-7 flipper seems interesting on paper, as flippers have been in vogue for years now and the CQC-7 is the knife that put Emerson on the map, but the design is uninspired and the end result is literally a CQC-7 with a gigantic shark fin flipper pasted onto it. I can understand the appeal to some, but personally I wasn’t interested.
In contrast the Sheepdog isn’t a model where the flipper was an afterthought. The knife was designed to be a flipper, per the specifications of Lt. Col. David Grossman, the man who approached Ernest Emerson about collaborating on a knife and designing something for David’s company Sheepdog Knife and Gun.
David Grossman is the author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, a seminal text on the psychology of the act of killing, how most men are reluctant to kill, and how law enforcement and military have trained people to overcome this reluctance. I’m sure On Killing makes for stimulating beach reading, but I didn’t pick up the Sheepdog to write a book report.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Sheepdog has an overall length of 8.4″, a 3.5″ blade, and it weighs 5.54 ounces. This knife is made in the USA. This is a purpose built utility and self defense knife geared towards law enforcement (hence the name). Grossman wanted something functional for a Police officer’s daily work, yet relatively non-threatening. The handle is generous, while the blade is big enough to get work done without being over the top. As usual this won’t be practical for your average urban or suburban EDC, but no Emerson is. I have carried my knife primarily on evenings and weekends.
The Sheepdog comes with your choice of a clip point or spear point blade. Personally, I like the look of the spear point a little more. I think that visually the spear point blade it balances out the handle a little better. It’s also a little less aggressive looking than the clip point. Both designs provide good all round utility and come with partial flat grinds. Both blade shapes are cut from 1/8″ thick blade stock.
As usual the blade on this Emerson is immaculate. Crisp lines, beautiful satin grinds, a generous sharpening choil, and sparkling stonewashed flats. The tip on my clip point is needle fine, while the spear point version appears to have a little more meat behind it. The primary grind is “V” ground, while the edge is only applied to the show side.
Like all the other Emerson’s I have reviewed, the Sheepdog comes in 154CM. At this point the 154CM stainless steel is a known quality. It comes sharp and stays sharp for a good while. Maintenance is easy. You sharpen the bevel side as you normally would, and that quickly raises a prominent burr. I then knock the burr off with a single swipe on a ceramic rod, and the blade is good to go. I have a suspicion that Emerson heat treats their 154CM on the softer side. It makes it an easy knife to sharpen, but you lose a little edge retention and the blade shows wear without much effort.
The Sheepdog takes a nice toothy edge, and has no problem with boxes, and I broke down plenty in the wake of assembling furniture and appliances for my rental house. I also used the knife on wood and for some mild food prep. The clip point is a practical blade shape, although it’s a little aggressive for use in public. It slices well, but also offers excellent penetration ability. Corrosion resistance is pretty good, but 154CM will stain if you aren’t careful with it.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
The handle is classic Emerson: coarse peel-ply black G10 scales over a stainless steel non-locking liner, a titanium locking liner, black stand offs, Phillips head body screws, and a slotted pivot. Fit and finish is good on my knife. Emerson got a bad rap for their knives a few years ago for off-centered blades, tooling marks on the liners, late lockups, etc. These days those issues have largely disappeared. All the parts line up, the body screws are counter sunk, the edges are chamferred, and the pocket clip screws don’t stick out past the liners. If I had to nit-pick, I’d say that one of my liners is about .1 mm proud on one spot of the handle, but beyond that I can’t complain. This is a solid knife and it isn’t horrible to look at either.
The ergonomics of the Sheepdog may be inspired by Grossman, but they are pure Emerson. Like most of his designs the handle has an almost orthotic quality to it. The simple shape comes with decades of experience and the end result works great. Your index finger sinks into a deep finger groove while the flared pommel catches your pinky perfectly and the gently sloping spine supports your palm. This handle design would keep your hand in place work without excessive handle texturing, but of course Emerson offers the knife with sandpaper like G-10, and a broad thumb ramp with mild jimping. The end result is an undeniably comfortable and functional handle, but the G-10 will shred your pockets if you aren’t careful.
I know not everyone will share in my excitement, but I think the craziest feature on this knife is the fact that the handle has been drilled and tapped to accept a pocket clip on either side of the handle. Holy shit, what a concept. Some people may be less enthusiastic about this great advance in technology, after all these days you can get a $5 gas station knife that is drilled and tapped for ambidextrous carry, but for Emerson this is a big freaking deal. I’m glad Grossman got more than his company logo on this knife. Congratulations on getting this thing to come ready for ambidextrous placement of the pocket clip.
The clip is the same black parkerized stainless steel spring clip that you will find on every other standard Emerson. It’s a nice functional clip. Here it has been placed on the high on the handle for relatively deep carry. It’s not super deep carry, but you can easily retrieve the knife. The Sheepdog carries pretty well. It’s a relatively big knife, and it is thick, but it’s not going anywhere with this pants-shredding G-10. It carries as you would expect it to.
Deployment and Lockup
While the three extra holes in the handle are a big step forward, the flipper is what truly sells the Sheepdog. Since this is one of Emerson’s first flipper I wasn’t sure how successful of a flipper this would be. I was pleasantly surprised with what arrived. The Sheepdog flips well thanks in part to a large flipper tab, relatively heavy blade, and GTC bearing system. The detent doesn’t feel an stronger than your typical Emerson, and you can use the thumb disk or wave if you want, but it still provides enough resistance for the blade to flip open every time. The blade doesn’t pop like a Zero Tolerance flipper, but it isn’t a wet noodle either. I’d say it’s a solid 6 on a 1-10 scale, with a 5 being a Spyderco Domino, and a 10 being a ZT 454.
The GTC bearing system is worth another paragraph. Regular readers know I am not a fan of the teflon washers found in the regular Emersons. These bearings are like night and day in comparison. While the teflon washers are slow and gritty, these bearings are fast, smooth, and a pleasure to operate. This is is a caged bearing system designed by Brazilian custom knifemaker Gustavo Cecchini of GTC Knives. Gus knows what he is doing, and Emerson has done a great job implementing this bearing system into their knives.
Here is a parting size comparison with my Spyderco Paramilitary 2:
For lockup we have your typical titanium liner lock. As usual I found my lock was sticky out of the box. I applied a little Sharpie marker to the tang of the knife, and it helped tremendously in alleviating the lock stick. I have to re-apply the Sharpie every couple weeks but it makes the knife much more pleasurable to operate.
Blade centering is perfect on my knife.
Emerson Sheepdog Review – Final Thoughts
I think this is the Emerson knife a lot of people have been waiting for. While the company has made minor incremental improvements to their products over the years, the knives have remained largely unchanged. This Sheepdog is still very much a traditional Emerson, but the inclusion of bearings and an ambidextrous pocket clip are big steps. The flipper is successful as well. This isn’t the sleekest flipper design, and the action won’t rival a ZT, but the flipper is functional and less clumsy looking than the CQC-7 flipper. I think they did a good job with it.
I find little to complain about here. I am ecstatic about the switch to bearings. I wish they did this for all their knives. The extra pocket clip holes are nice too. The liner lock still sticks but there is a workaround if you are willing to periodically apply Sharpie marker to the tang of the knife.
I suppose the biggest hangup for me is the bulkiness of this knife. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as Emerson knives are always big and thick. You notice them in the pocket and people will notice you if you use the knife in a public setting. If you already realize that going into the purchase, then I think you will find a lot to like with the Sheepdog. It features significant improvements over past Emerson knives.
I easily recommend the Sheepdog for Emerson fans. But I also recommend it for someone seeking a large folding “tactical” knife. This is my favorite Emerson to date, and is a successful collaboration with Lt. Col. Grossman. I hope it inspires the company to try more new things.
- Overall Length: 8.4 in.
- Hardness: RC 57-59 - Blade Steel 154CM
- Blade Length: 3.5 in.
- Handle: G-10 both sides
- Blade Thickness: .125 in. GTC Stainless Bearings
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