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Last Updated: August 5, 2019
I’ve mentioned a couple times before that every now and then I get the urge to pick up an Emerson, and make it my EDC. I know the knife is going to be too large for me to comfortably carry, and way overboard when I stop to consider my actual needs for a daily carry knife. But still, like a moth to flame I convince myself that this time things will be different as I hit the “buy” button on yet another Emerson. This is probably like a gal that brings home the guy with bad credit and a pack a day habit, thinking that she will “change” him to one day become the man of her dreams.
Buy the Emerson Roadhouse at BladeHQ
Well this time around I have no such delusions of grandeur. I bought the Emerson Roadhouse not because I intend to carry it in the pocket of my skinny jeans next to my mustache wax and Starbucks card, but because I really dig the design and wanted to add it to the collection. I know the knife is going to be too big for me to actually want to carry and use, and I could care less.
At least this time around I’m being honest with myself. This is a beastly blade and I have always been drawn to the low slung modified tanto design. Frankly, it’s about damn time I reviewed the Emerson Roadhouse and I’m not going to apologize for it.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Roadhouse has an overall length of 8.90″, a 3.80″ blade, and weighs 6.2 ounces. This is a full size folder and was likely designed with law enforcement and military personnel in mind. I’m just a guy with a website and a day job, so my perspective on the knife will be limited to daily carry and use as a tool, rather than a defensive option. The design has proven popular enough for Emerson to roll the Roadhouse out in a variety of sizes. We have the regular (shown here) the Super Roadhouse (4.2″ blade), and the Mini Roadhouse (3.4″ blade).
The blade of the Roadhouse is a modified tanto and is one of my favorite shapes from Ernie. I’m not a tanto guy, but I really like this modified tanto. There is a little belly and something of a harpoon and swedge that give the knife some extra attitude. In the product description Ernie tells you to think about Jack Daniels and Harley Davidson’s. I can almost see Patrick Swazye in a dusty corner, the glint of the Roadhouse flitting through thick cigarette smoke and half empty bottles. Oh yeah. I really like this one. Mine blade is a two tone satin finish with stonewashed flats. Like all my other Ermersons, this knife is ground beautifully with a v grind and chisel edge. The blades are the best part of these knives although I see a fair amount of tooling marks on the spine around the wave and jimping.
The steel is tried and true 154CM. If it works why mess with it? I certainly don’t have a problem with 154CM, and Emerson has always done a good job heat treating it. People who actually use their knives will tell you that the chisel edge is ground on the wrong side for right handed users, but I don’t let that get in the way of a good time or a cardboard box. I have found the 154CM to be a serviceable steel, but if you don’t believe me feel free to read through my handful of other Emerson reviews.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
The Roadhouse’s handle is standard black peel ply G10 over a titanium locking liner, and a steel non-locking liner. My knife has a thick partial G10 backspacer. I am pretty sure if you were to buy one new Emerson now offers their knives with standoffs over a backspacer. We have been trained to think that flow through construction is better, but there is something endearing about the G10 backspacer. The hardware is Emerson’s signature phillips head fasteners for the body screws and oversized slotted pivot. There are some tooling marks on the edges of the liners, but beyond that everything is nicely finished.
In hand is where the Roadhouse really shines. This is a full size knife and it provides ample room for all your standard grips. In addition to being a long handle, it’s also quite thick. Much like every other Emerson I’ve handled the knife is extremely comfortable. The black G10 offers plenty of traction, and the jimping on the thumb ramp holds your thumb but isn’t overly aggressive. If you can get away with carrying a big knife it’s hard to beat Emerson’s offerings from an ergonomic standpoint.
For the same reasons the Roadhouse feels so good in hand, it will be noticed in the pocket. It’s a large knife and there is no getting around that. Even small Emersons have a way of feeling big. The Roadhouse has been outfitted with Emerson’s standard black parkerized clip. It rides low, but not so low that you can’t access it easily. This is a proven clip design and is very comparable to Benchmade’s offerings. As always the knife comes drilled and tapped for right side tip up carry only.
Deployment and Lockup
For deployment you have a choice of thumb disk or wave feature. I’ve never been a huge fan of thumb disks. They always seem awkward to me. But they are low profile and stay out of the way when you are waving the knife open. The nylatron washers aren’t amazingly smooth, but they get the job done. I’d prefer good ole phosphor bronze, but this isn’t Burger King. I can’t have it my way. I can flick open the Roadhouse with a little effort, but for rapid fail-safe deployment the wave is the way to go.
For lock up you have a thick titanium liner. The locking liner is visibly thicker than the non-locking steel liner and I find that reassuring. Lock up on my knife is early and secure. There is a little bit of lock stick, but nothing bad. I prefer a steel locking liner over titanium, but it is what it is. Apparently Emerson’s warranty service is good if you manage to wear down the titanium. I have never had to use their warranty service personally.
Emerson Roadhouse Review – Final Thoughts
It’s big, it’s bad, it’s surprisingly expensive. I have always enjoyed the look of the Roadhouse on paper and am happy to report the knife looks just as good in hand. It’s a solid tool, with Emerson’s signature quirks. Despite some tooling marks on the back of the blade and liners, the knife has been carefully put together. The parts line up, the blade is centered, the lock doesn’t stick (badly) and everything feels sturdy and secure. The super nice blade and comfortable handle are high points. The steep price tag and impracticality of the knife (for my suburban purposes) are low points. Regardless, I am pleased to add this one to my collection and recommend the knife if you are a fan of Emerson’s offerings or if the allure of the Roadhouse is just too strong to resist.
Emerson Roadhouse – $227.66
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Gregg R. says
Great to see that you have added another Emerson. It is kind of sad though IMO that none of the Emersons have been good enough for EDC.
The smaller Roadhouse would even be too big for you? Sadly I had went for years believing a lot of the negative things about Emerson Knives. I am glad I decided to find out for myself. I have wasted years of having never carried one.
They are without a doubt the finest “just use it” knife out there IMO. And I have many to compare them to as do yourself.
Even the regular CQC-7 is too big or the micro for you? The regular 7 is a pretty small knife IMO. Thanks for the review! 🙂
I had a mini Horseman (the subject of my last review) that I enjoyed but still found it too bulky for serious carry. I ended up selling it. I carried it a little on the weekends but I just find myself going to slimmer knives (like the Benchmade Volli, or Paramilitary 2). Even the smaller Emersons are really chunky. I will say Emerson makes a good product, and I love the designs. They just doesn’t really work for me as a true EDC option – doesn’t mean that they won’t work for others. I still like Emersons and will likely have at least one in my collection at all times.
Just can’t get past things like “Yeah, we couldn’t be bothered to drill three clip holes on the other side of our $225 knife, or remember to grind the other edge bevel.”
From a distance, EKI has always struck me as a shuck.
Not to re-open the old “fit & finish” issue, but it’s worth pointing out that that term has two components. Fit AND Finish. Fit means how critical parts fit together. I can see not caring about “finish” on a pure user knife (although there is such a thing as taking a ordinary level of decent pride in one’s craftsmanship; e.g. WWII Garands were well finished tools). But you best believe serious tools need “fit.”
So when Emerson, or any maker, has the chutzpah to say he’s not too worked up about “fit & finish” on his wares, we’re pretty much in instant self-DQ territory.
That said, I got zero problems with this review. They are distinctive and (to some) cool looking knives. The Wave was a brilliant innovation; Emerson deserves his modest place in knife valhalla for that. And it sounds like both fit and finish are actually in good shape on this particular Swayze.
Based on his experiences, Dan is approaching Emerson in the right spirit, I’d say.
Thanks, Anon. As usual you make some great points. I enjoy the Roadhouse for what it is. Fit is pretty good and finish is OK if you can get past the tooling marks on the liners and jimping.
Just to add: The non-positionable clip thing is a damning cheapout. Even the usual Emerson fanboy defense “these knives are for killin’ not for doin’ chores!” etc. falls square on its chin here.
Part of the brilliance of the wave feature is that it lends itself to be ambidexterous. This opens up many appealing defensive carry options for the user — he can carry the knife strong side primary much of the time, then flip the clip and switch it to his offside pocket when desired as a backup or for defense against a gun grab. Awesome! …As long as the maker has the minimal respect for his customers necessary to make the knife’s pocket clip switchable to the other side. But EKI can’t be bothered. That’ll be $225 please. The knives that got Bin Laden! Whooo!
Compare to the Spyderco Endura 4 Wave. If I’m Ernie Emerson, contemplating this knife should be an exercise in humility for me. Same blade length as the Roadhouse, 4-position clip (so you can not only switch sides, you can also “turn off” the wave opening when you want), the wave deploys well (some say better than an Emerson), the knife is 50% lighter, it’s not a pocket hog to carry … and it’s 1/3 the price.*
The Endura Wave has been on the market for years now, showing how it’s supposed to be done, yet EKI is still selling these big, hyped, $200+ waved knives with non-swappable clips. That’s so lazy that it’s disrespectful. I mean, even the new $35 Chinese Kershaw models got this right. /smh
* I await fanboy defenses of how much “tougher” an Emerson is than an Endura 4, as though a single non-heat treated titanium liner were clearly superior to a conventional steel backlock. There ARE waved defense knives that have notably more robust designs than a Spyderco. However, those knives are available from Cold Steel.
You’re just a hater bro. I love the other knives you mentioned too, but EKI is great value for the $ imo. He has a ton of dedicated customers who are very loyal for good reasons. Emerson is one of the greatest knife designers in history as far as I’m concerned. Got my first Benchmade CQC-7 in ’94 or ’95 and loved it. Got tons of Emerson’s now and love them all.
I happen to think it’s a polarizing brand. Emerson is a talented designer, and those who like his work like it a lot, but for many people these are just too quirky or purpose built to the point where they become a turn off.
That said, there is nothing wrong with that. Can’t please everyone all the time, and that is part of what makes the hobby interesting.
Stormy Lntz says
Seriously the Emerson CQC Mini-7 has to be considered the best all around EDC knife extant.Good price point.Excellent deployment,if you need it in a hurry and solid construction!
Thank you, Stormy. Glad to hear you have been enjoying your Mini-7. I might just have to acquire one.
J Strange says
Yeah, the pocket clip thing is pretty much why I don’t own any Emerson’s anymore (except for a Le Griffe). They were not the prettiest made knives, but the ones that I had were mechanically sound, and sharp as the dickens. Just couldn’t get over having to send them in to have the left side tapped. I am a rightly, but usually carry pocket knives on my support side (left).
You raise a very good point, J. This is an issue I have personally and I do wish they would just go ahead and drill 3 extra holes in the handle and tap them. But Emersons are full of quirks so that’s the way it goes.