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Last Updated: August 3, 2019
As Dan wrote in his review of the full-size model, the CQC-7 is one of the very first and most influential tactical knives in the world. Ernie Emerson’s influence on the perception and use of folding knives for self-defense is incalculable. I had wanted an Emerson knife for a long time, but my general reluctance to carry a blade over 3” meant that most of their standard models, the CQC-7 included, were a no-go. I had my eye on the Mini CQC-7 for a long time before it came back into production and I was able to pick one up.
Buy the Emerson Mini CQC-7 at BladeHQ
History aside, my thoughts on this design are mixed. I think that the CQC-7’s pedigree has made EKI loathe to futz with the design of the knife, and users loathe to criticize it. This is a shame, because I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. Like the Delica, the Mini CQC-7 is an outdated knife. When it first released, it must have seemed like a revelation, but in 2016, it is neither the best design around, nor worth the price it is being sold at.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Mini CQC-7 has a blade length of 2.9”, a handle length of 4 1/8”, and an overall length of 7.25”. It weighs 4.4 oz. This is a fat knife, but one that feels quite balanced in the hand. The exact weight of a knife isn’t as important as the distribution of that weight: that’s why some light knives, like the Clipitool, can feel heavier than they are, and chunky knives like the Mini CQC-7 lighter.
The 2.9” blade, on my Mini CQC-7, is a chisel ground tanto. This is a real one-two punch in terms of things I have grown to dislike. There’s an unwarranted reverence for the tanto blade shape. I appreciate a run of straight edge on my blades but I want some belly too, and the stylized, angular shape of the American tanto lacks any at all.
Of course, it’s the tanto’s reputation as an ideal tactical blade shape that gives it its cachet. And it is a good piercer, with a quite a robust tip. But a good drop point or clip point blade would have excellent piercing capability and more than adequate tip strength, as well as a significantly more useful overall shape. I don’t carry a knife with the intention of using it for self-defense, but even if I did, I would prefer another blade shape: the tanto doesn’t do anything significantly better than a drop point or a clip point, and many things worse.
The Mini CQC-7 is chisel ground. The argument for the chisel grind is as follows: better strength, better edge retention, and it’s easier to sharpen. There have been long and articulate counterpoints made against these arguments, but for me it comes down to the simple fact that a chisel grind just cuts worse.
So much control is lost. Cuts track terribly through material. Approaching thin material like paper is a chore. I understand that some knives are made for hard use, and in these cases durability is more desirable than finesse, but here’s the thing: you can have both. The well-executed, traditional v-grind of the Paramilitary 2 can take a beating and slices like a dream.
Maybe, maybe, in the vacuum of theory, a chisel grind can withstand more abuse than a traditional V-grind, but I would bet it isn’t much more, and in what real-life scenario is it going to matter? And as far as sharpening goes: well, I guess it takes less time to sharpen one edge bevel than two, although you still need to maintain the unsharpened side of a chisel-ground knife, so you’re only saved a modicum of effort.
The steel on the Mini CQC-7 is 154CM. This is one of my favorite steels, and one I think can compete with N690Co for the title of Most Underrated Steel in the World. It is a solid upper-mid-tier steel that responds to sharpening as well as something like 8Cr13MoV, but holds an edge longer. No complaints about 154CM itself.
But the Mini CQC-7 costs about $165. As much as I’m sad to see the middle of the market drop out, one good thing that’s come from it is that we can expect a lot from knives in $150 – $200 price point. The Benchmade Valet costs $170 and has M390. The Zero Tolerance 0770 comes in Elmax for $120. You can get the Spyderco Mantra comes in M4 for $167. The Native 5 LW is half the price of the Mini CQC-7 and comes with S35VN.
This segment of the market is so competitive that I feel alright harping on the price a bit. Amidst such company, at such a price, 154CM is unacceptable – even more so when you consider that CPM-154, the powder metallurgy variant of 154CM, has been around for a while now. I think that, like the chisel grind and the tanto blade, EKI’s steel choice has been given a pass because of the historical significance of the brand and its blades, and the Mini CQC-7 suffers as a knife for it.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Carry
The Mini CQC-7’s handle is wonderful. The thickness of the knife and the swell in the middle of the handle work to make the Mini CQC-7 very comfortable in hand. The jimping is mild, really better for indexing than for locking your hand in place. The real grippiness comes from the G-10, which is very coarse without being overly aggressive like Cold Steel G-10. Superbly executed all around.
The clip is the same clip you see on almost every Emerson, and like the ergonomics it is an unqualified win. And, as thick as the knife is, I don’t mind it in the pocket. It stays out of the way and isn’t so bulky as to be noticeable when I’m walking around – again, showing how important distribution of weight is with pocket knives.
The Mini CQC-7 isn’t tapped for left hand carry. Emerson can tap it for you, but A) you have to get the knife from EKI or send it in, and B) it will cost you $25. There are a lot of knives with non-repositionable clips, even at this price point, but given how integral the wave opening is to the design of the Mini CQC-7 it should come drilled for righties and lefties out of the box. For reference, the Emerson/Kershaw collabs are all drilled for both.
Deployment and Lockup
The Mini CQC-7 can be deployed via two different methods: either by the thumb disk or by the Emerson wave opener.
The thumb disk works but is slow – pretty smooth, admittedly, but slow. It almost feels like the knife is pivoting between two layers of cloth. From what I understand the Nylatron washers here are another Emerson standby. I don’t mind them, and if they are supposedly lower-maintenance than phosphor bronze or Teflon washers then that’s fine. Just know that you’re never going to flick this knife open.
Of course, the way you’re supposed to deploy the Mini CQC-7 is with the wave opening feature. The wave is a small hook on the end of the thumb ramp that, when you pull the knife from your pocket, catches on your pants seam, opening the knife as you are retrieving it. It’s…fine, I guess? I’ve had multiple wave opening knives and I don’t really buy into the utility. I’m not good at it. I get a lot of misfires. It makes traditional retrieval a bit complicated; the wave will catch a lot of the time and half-open the knife; I’ve cut myself more than once because I pulled a half-open Mini CQC-7 out of my pocket.
It’s also not a ‘polite’ way of opening a knife around folks who may not be comfortable around edged tools. I wouldn’t fault it for that if it were a larger, more distinctly tactical knife, but even the Emerson literature implies that the Mini CQC-7 is something you can take with you anywhere. If subtlety or politeness is a concern, then you may find the wave opening method a little theatrical for the non-knife people around you.
The Mini CQC-7 has a titanium liner lock. It works. Like any lock made of titanium, I worry about wear over time, but the worst thing I can say for it over two years of ownership is that it doesn’t always lock up at the same point against the tang. If I deploy it hard it travels far across, but if I roll it slowly it just barely slides underneath. To be expected? Probably. I don’t recall noticing this happening on any steel liner lock knives I own, but regardless lockup is very good.
Emerson Mini CQC-7 Review – Final Thoughts
I’ve been hard on the Mini CQC-7. I want to stress that, in a vacuum, it’s a fine blade. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and not even years of accreted Emerson mythology and reputation can save it from looking hopelessly out of step and overpriced in today’s market.
A Mini CQC-7 with CPM-154, a slimmer handle, a conventionally-ground drop point blade, and tapped for both left- and right-handed carry would be an interesting proposition at the price it’s being offered at.
But that isn’t the knife we have. We have the same blade, more or less, that Emerson was selling a decade ago, and probably the same blade they’ll be selling five years from now. I know that Ernie Emerson and his team are probably working on new designs instead of trying to update old ones, but if there were one in the lineup that deserves an update, it’s the CQC-7. This pioneering tactical knife has been left in the dust. I’d like to see it be at the vanguard again.
I recommend purchasing the Emerson Mini CQC-7 at Amazon or BladeHQ. Thanks for checking out the review.
Editor’s Note: This is a fairly critical review from Ben, but I think it is well reasoned and ultimately fair. The value proposition for knives like this Mini CQC-7 continues to shrink in light of all the advancements in the marketplace. Also, the price point of these Emersons are just painful. If this was a $100-120 knife, I think a lot of the CQC-7’s perceived shortcomings could be overlooked. Still, the CQC-7 remains a classic, and if you are curious about Emerson knives or can find a nice deal then I think this is a good place to start.
Excellent review. The idea that this would be a “regular” EDC knife is a bit silly to me, if you can’t open it easily without using the Wave, and if the Wave is that easily snagged unintentionally.
I’d like to respond a bit about the comparison to the Delica. I think that it’s an unfair comparison, because the Delica isn’t just the “Delica” anymore, it’s the “Delica 4”. They’ve updated it over and over since it first came out. Yes, you could say the overall design is outdated, but it’s also highly refined, and you can get it in an excellent basic steel(VG-10) and an excellent upgrade steel(ZDP-189), not to mention the sprint runs in even better steels(Super Blue, HAP40 for example). This Emerson hasn’t been updated in 10 years, and has some very serious shortcomings, and then a price that doesn’t negate them; the very much updated Delica is $65, and is a fantastic value even now(unlike the Emerson per your review). I’m not saying it’s a modern design or that it hasn’t easily been passed by knives in Spyderco’s own lineup(much less those from other companies). But “outdated” seems a harsh description if you’re also going to use it for this Emerson that’s apparently never been updated at all. Even within the Delica 4 generation they changed from a Sabre grind to a FFG, making it an even better cutter than before and certainly better than the Emerson.
I’d bet that if you had a friend who asked you to recommend a good first EDC knife, you’d be ok recommending the Delica alongside several other <$100 knives. You said that if it were cheaper one might overlook the shortcomings, but even at a comparable price, you'd still be better off buying the Delica or several other knives instead, both in terms of value and performance; in other words, there's not a price point right now where this knife compares well enough to be worth buying(personal design preference aside). In comparison, the Delica is, to me at least, still a competitive knife at $65-100.
Benjamin L Schwartz says
Thanks for the comments. The wave feature has always been problematic for me, on any knife. Maybe in specialized situations it’s handy, but in day-to-day use it’s a pain, making me think about knife deployment in a way that a thumb stud, thumb hole, or flipper don’t.
You make a good point about the Delica. Since I wrote this review I’ve been carrying my sabre-ground Delica 4 around a lot (comparing it to the Kizer Vanguard Gemini), and I think I have been a little hard on the knife. It isn’t perfect by any means, but as you say it is very refined, and indisputably an enduring design.
I will say though, that I think the Delica 4 really needs to be, like, exactly $50 to be truly competitive. At $65, you’re at the price of the Dragonfly 2 in ZDP-189; at $85 (about the price of the ZDP-189 Delica), you can get the awesome Native 5 with S35VN. At $100 you’re knocking on the door of things like the PM2, the Chaparral, and plenty of awesome stuff outside the Spyderco corral.
But at $50 the Delica is very compelling; at any other price, even if I don’t think it’s the best option, it’s never the worst.
Insipid Moniker says
I agree with 90% of what you say, but there are definitely things an American tanto does better than a drop point. The subtip grabs material much more aggressively that many more conventional bladeshapes, which is very handy when cutting things that tend to bunch, as that can make the edge of the blade slide off them. It also offers excellent control when scoring material without cutting all the way through it. There’s also utility in the ability to push cut, like a chisel, with the secondary edge. Not something you need to do often, but it can certainly be very hand if you need to cut something in a tight space.
I actually, like you, prefer a good drop point, but I’ve generally found almost every blade shape has unique strengths and weaknesses.
Benjamin L Schwartz says
You’re probably right clearing the tanto’s name a bit. Every blade shape has strengths and weaknesses, but I think the tanto’s strengths are comparatively limited against a drop point or a clip point blade, and I would say the degree to which it is better than a drop/clip point in those roles is less than the degree to which it is bested by them in other, more common cutting tasks.
And I think it’s interesting that the things it excels in aren’t explicitly ‘tactical,’ given how ubiquitous the tanto blade shape is in tactical knife design language. But point taken, the tanto definitely has its uses. Thanks for stopping by.
In 2013 I owned a CQC 7 B no wave, and it was kind its cutting performance really disappointed me. I already posted on Dan’s review of the full size one, but a lot has changed and I’ve learned a few things regarding the philosophy and use of the 7 for both guys who are armed professionals and regular people like us.
For normal guys, the 7’s blade shape seems to be good for that guy that just needs something cut. Perfect symmetrical cuts not going to happen with this knife and its going to piss you off if you’re arts and craft or you’re building something and you need something cut a certain way. The secondary tip on the tanto before it goes to the main point is excellent at draw cutting, but nothing a spear point knife can do if sharpened properly. I’ve learned that if I just push hard enough, the same results will happen.
For guys who are armed professionals or like to be more defensive minded, the point will pierce a human the same way a spear point will. The more needle like the point is, and the less steel there is behind the edge, the better it will be penetrating through clothing and flesh. I think the tanto is for bizarre tasks like breaching and digging, and that’s why theres so much steel behind that point. The chisel grind additionally creates asymmetrical wounds which is harder for a doctor or medical professional to perform life saving surgeries on and increase the success of fatalities. Note, this is in the context of war or life and death situations.
As for the ergonomics, it felt more like a knife for thrusting and tearing things to pieces, not really utility or for fighting.
I can consistently deploy Emerson folders now since they’ve been my primary carry for over a year, but there is something I’m curious about. I’ve read concerns regarding using the wave under attack, but I think if you have a background in wrestling or you’re a blue belt or higher in BJJ, you can deploy the knife using the wave once you’re in a dominant situation. Do note that if someone films you pulling a knife when you’ve mounted someone or taken their back and you execute them, you better be prepared to explain why you did that.
Now if you’re not into that fight stuff, whenever I pull out my Emerson folder (Emerson Apache to be specific), I just put index and thumb around the folder to prevent the knife from waving, and I pull it out; or, I draw away from the seem of my pocket it normally comes out where I can deploy it normally.
As for a stronger sharper edge, 30 degrees is 30 degrees whether its ground on one side or ground two sides. There is no strength increase, and Cliff Stamp argues that it could be more prone to rolling to the flat side. For my experience, I cut a box with the CQC 7 I had in 2013, became disappointed, and sold it for a lost, so I can’t speak for it’s strength.
Now speaking of lock up, I bought an Emerson ETAK A in 2014 and used it nearly every day for a year before replacing with my Apache in January of 2016. The environment I was were primarily construction sites on the weekdays and home on the weekends, and not once did it ever failed. I have done weird things like stab it into a pile of cardboard since I was bored, but unless you do something absurd that would put an insane amount of stress on the knife, I don’t think it should fail. The knife is at 100 percent lock up, and it still functions perfectly fine. I guess this is a personal issue as it doesn’t bother me.
Now as for the price, I agree it’s a tad expensive. But when you’re a business owner in California and you’re paying your employee living wages, and buying American materials there has to be draw backs. As someone who suffered from bad employers underpaying me, it makes me feel pretty good that some people will still treat their subordinates with respect, especially since California is such an expensive place to live in. I wish Ernest could use magic and pop out folding knives like how blacksmiths do in Sword Art Online, and mass produce them to absurd degrees of perfection, but that’s not real life, and since this is what I’ve been given, I think I’ll overlook the price of his knives.
Remember, these knives aren’t for everyone, and I kind of think I’m in a minority. I don’t label myself of a fanboy, but I do believe I’m reasonable and rational criticize stuff, both positive and negative, because I did use my hard earned cash for these products.
Anyway, thanks for sharing, it’s nice to see EKI knives on Blade Reviews.
Benjamin L Schwartz says
Thanks for all the insights. You’re probably right in that something like an Emerson, when it’s being used in day-to-day utility stuff, is for somebody who just needs something cut, without any finesse. And in that role it works well enough – it’s just that I feel like users can get a knife that cuts AND can be better controlled for detail work and the like.
I’m sure I could get used to the wave, and get proficient with it, I just don’t have the patience, and the benefits to me in EDC use are not worth the adjustment period. As for kind of holding the blade closed as I retrieve it to prevent it from waving, that’s what I sometimes do as well; I just don’t like having to work around things like that. Interestingly, I’ve found that the waveable thumb ramp on Cold Steel knives like the AK-47, while I still don’t prefer them, seem to be easier to retrieve both without half-waving and without waving at all.
Value propositions are very subjective, and while I don’t think that EKI is taking advantage of its dedicated user base and overcharging them per se, I do get the sensation that their reputation in the industry, and the sales that reputation generally guarantees, has made them complacent when it comes to ensuring their customers get the most utility out of every dollar they spend.
Damien Harrison says
I am not at all impressed with this offering by EKI. For my money there is just so much better out there. In a tactical role, I prefer my Glock 23 and use a blade strictly as back-up/ last ditch option. Never bring a knife to a gun fight! I look for a knife that is, sharp, solid and easy to retrieve under pressure with gross motor skills . The Silent Soldier gets my seal of approval, $90 on JB’s site. Also I can’t stress enough the importance of training with all equipment you intend to carry in that capacity although some things are just instinctually easier to use in high stress situations IE neck knives and the pistol grip TDI type knives. I don’t think I’ve left the house in the past 20 years without a folding knife clipped on to my pocket but I use folding knives in a completely utilitarian type role even though I do work in Law Enforcement. Lately (past year) I’ve either had my Spyderco Sage or Zero Tolerance 0808. The Sage I picked up for $100 and is my ideal EDC, while not “Tactical” per se it is razor sharp and has a nice point on it, in a pinch I imagine would get the job done in a defensive role and at half the price and twice the quality as the mini CQC in my opinion. CPM S30V is better then non CPM 154 in (Also my opinion) by leaps and bounds, Carbon Fiber is both beautiful and strong, the phosphor bronze washers provide effortless silky smooth opening and it is ” Forgot I had it, light”. The ZT 0808 is what I can only explain as a Luxury Tank, Titanium frame, steel replaceable lockbar, S35VN gorgeous modified drop point blade riding on metal caged bearings. Admittedly I replaced the carry clip with a natural colored orange peel finished true deep carry offering for $20 as the clip that was on it was poop and not at all up to par with the rest of the knife. I would put this knife against ANYTHING in its current configuration and its just a gorgeous jack of all trades for only for a mere 30- 40 bucks more then that archaic CQC. I agree with you 100% there is just WAY to many knives out there at or under the mini CQCs price point that just flat out, out feature, out pretty and plain out perform it in any role tactical or otherwise. Love the site and keep on doing what you do!
Benjamin L Schwartz says
Thanks for the kind words, and the comments. I’m with you: never really intend to use a knife in a self-defense/tactical situation, but even if I did, tactical knife design has come a long way since the CQC-7 was released. The Silent Soldier, in either its fixed blade or folder folder iteration, is a good example of another, fresher way of thinking about knives designed for self-defense. Even something relatively inexpensive and unassuming like a Cold Steel Recon 1 is much more innovative and effective, to my mind (and also has better steel, these days).
It’s incredible how competitive the segment of the market the Mini CQC-7 nominally belongs to is, and how poorly it stacks up to that competition. That’s different than saying it’s a bad knife, but not different enough, in my mind, to warrant consideration.
I normally dont step into these discussions. Im an infantryman by trade and I prefer the standard size CQC7 to all other folding knives. I find the chisel grind much easier to sharpen with a small crock stick while in the field. I have carried one constantly since Benchmade produced them. I tend to prefer them in the waveless variety. They dont come across to me as a super cool combat knife, but a rock solid tool. I realize that compared to other knives in the price range they can seem a little over priced, but I still have the one I bought in the 1990s that was tip down only. When the Emerson knife company started producing them I bought a couple more of them and they are still going. Emerson is quick to take care of them if I have any kind of issue. I dont disagree that Spyderco, and Zero Tolerance have made some excellent knives I just havent found anything else that meets my cutting needs as well as the CQC7b.
Benjamin L Schwartz says
Thanks for the comment. Using a Sharpmaker, I don’t notice much of a difference, but it’s good to know in the hard-use situations EKI knives are designed for the chisel grind helps with maintenance. With that in mind the choice of steel also makes sense: you probably don’t want to have to wrestle with some super hard, super unresponsive steel when you’re just trying to get a functional edge back on your knife. I still think an upgrade is in order, but not up into anything crazy.
Also interesting to hear is your preference for the waveless version. If I buy another Emerson, I would probably also opt for a model without a wave opener. I understand the idea but I think the waveless models best exemplify the rock solid simplicity you talked about, and that is the real charm of an Emerson knife. No frills, just functionality.
My dream folder is a waveless 7 in Elmax. I dont like the wave because in armor I keep it in a pouch on my chest. In multiple deployments I have never needed the wave feature, i have fixed blades if I need a sharp edge immediately. Its more secure that way in my opinion. I was also able to score a Waveless CQC8 that I am rather partial to. The 7 is just super easy to maintain with pocket carried sharpening equipment.
Benjamin L Schwartz says
I know this is just fantasizing but it would be cool if EKI had a ‘design your CQC-7’ program (like Benchmade does with the Griptilian), where you could pick blade shape, grind, steel, wave or no, left/right hand carry. I think that would broaden the appeal for people on the fence, and also please longtime fans hankering for a few key upgrades.
And yeah, to me the wave falls into the same category as things like the Lionsteel Rotoblock: gadgets/embellishments designed to do the impossible: make a folding knife function the same as a fixed blade. Fixed blades will always be faster than folders, period.
The CQC-8 is up there with the A-100 as Emersons I still am interested in trying, although personally I would opt for a Mini. Haven’t seen any waveless versions of the Mini but that would be awesome.
I want to thank you for taking the time out to get involved here with your thoughts on the CQC-7, because I think your experience here is especially valuable as you appear to be Emerson’s intended audience (rather than desk jockey’s like myself).
It’s great to see that this knife has held up well in its intended application, that the chisel grind actually works in the field, and that the knives have held up in the long term. At the end of the day, what works for you is what really matters, and I am glad to hear the CQC7 works for you. I hope you get many more years of use out of them. Thanks again.