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Emerson Commander Folding Knife Review

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Emerson E3-A - Commander

Another tactical one in my collection. As Emerson - The #1 Hard Use Knife In The World, I sortta disagree on that one, but I'll discuss it a little bit later :) High end, quality(which sometimes is not a match to its retail price), rather expensive production knife. Materials used in Commander are pretty much standard in today's high-end knives, such as ATS-34 steel (now 154CM steel) steel blade, G-10 scales & titanium liners, and of course the price tag, with retail at hefty 220$ :), As usual, you can get one much cheaper on the net - around 150$, though you're out of luck if you wanted a left handed model, my understanding is Emerson doesn't allow dealers to sell left handed version. By now, which is 2001 you can get roughly the same package (G10+ATS-34/154CM/Ti LinerLock) a lot cheaper, but it obviously won't be The Emerson, in case that is important to you.

Blade

- I like Commander's recurve blade. It is rather wide. Matter of fact, out of all my folding knives, Commander has the widest one, even though the blade itself is relatively short, only 3.75 inches long, it is thick & it is wide. It sure looks impressive :). At the base it is has the same thickness as BM 710 Axis Lock, but closer to the tip it is still thick unlike 710, although for example Cold Steel Gunsite has even thicker base. Given all that, I think the blade has to be quite strong, and will probably withstand significant loads, not so sure about the handle the liner lock. In general recurve blade improves cutting ability, although they are more difficult to sharpen, but Edge-Pro Apex, Spyderco Sharpmaker 204, or a simple ceramic sharpening rod will do the job.

One well known problem is that the pivot screw has a tendency to get loose over time. Happens on many other folders as well, but on the Emerson seems to be more frequent, and part of the design. The fix is theoretically easy, adjust it and apply the loctite. BTW applying loctite doesn't seem to be a good solution for the Commander at least. According to EKI the slotted screws are used for ease of maintenance and field stripping. In short either that pivot screw gets loose occasionally, or you give up the field striping ability. Although, to be honest, I am not entirely convinced, well, rather suspicious about the usefulness of the folding knife field stripping ability at all. During the time this site has been up, that's over 12 years by now, I've had numerous email exchanges with deployed servicemen, LEOs and other knife collectors and enthusiasts, don't really remember anyone giving prize to any folder for the ease of field stripping, simply because it's really unusual to do that with a folding knife. The need of the field stripping is highly unlikely in other words. I agree, it's very easy to loosen that screw without proper tools, but the only thing you will remove is the blade, and in the field conditions putting those washers back, plus you can't remove the smaller screws without a screwdriver anyway. My Commander has another problem too. Whenever I adjust the pivot to eliminate horizontal blade play, it becomes difficult to open with one hand. That problem has its solution as well, which was covered on Bladeforums, to overcome the opening difficulties and have no blade play you'll have to adjust second ball detent. I haven't tried that one, too much hassle for a knife that I don't use.

What I dislike the most is the chisel edge on the Commander's blade. EKI website states that the blade is V ground, which is correct, but somewhat misleading to many. The edge is a chisel ground, in other words only one side (unfortunately left) is sharpened. Back then, in 2001 when I wrote the initial review, I was quite unhappy with the chisel grind edges. Since then, I've learned how to use them properly, thanks to my interest in Japanese Kitchen Knives, since most and the best of them do sport chisel grind edges. However, my initial assessment and complaint still stands. While chisel grind itself is not a real problem, even though there is a learning curve, it's not neither steep nor long, mainly making straight cuts is an issue, but EKI puts the edge on the wrong side. And we're back to square one. It doesn't make much difference if you are using this knife for stabbing type motions, but for cutting, it is a problem. Outdoor knife as usual means something used mainly for cutting, not just stabbing/fighting.

I don't want to discuss here pros and cons of a chisel grind. This topic has been discussed numerous times on the Bladeforums. Most of the chisel opponents agree that when the chisel grind is on the proper side for the user(that'd be your working hand side), it can be very useful for certain cutting applications, e.g. Japanese chef's knives with right sided chisel blades used for slicing fish etc. Otherwise chisel edges are in general weaker, and more importantly, it's more difficult to make straight cuts with chisel edges. Quoting the famous knifemaker R.J. Martin: For a right handed user, the grind should be on the Right hand side of the blade. This is based on the fact that most cutting is done away from the user, holding the item being cut in the left hand. For food preparation, a chisel grind done on the right hand side is ideal, because the flat side of the blade goes up against the fingertips of the left hand, and the slices of food being cut are pushed off to the right. I think that summarizes chisel thing very well. Unfortunately, in many production and non production chisel ground blades the picture is exactly the opposite - the edge is on the left side, thus making it very inconvenient for the right handed public. As of why it is there, explanations vary ;)

And finally the Emerson Knife company in their FAQ states their opinion:
Q. Why do you put the chisel on the front or left side of the blade?
This is an Emerson signature. Being the knifemaker who brought the chisel grind to worldwide recognition, we are often asked; Why do you put the grind on the opposite side of a traditional Japanese Chef's knife? The answer is simple....We are not making chef's knives. Our knives are hard knives meant for hard users. We do not cut many tomatoes. Our tests and those of a major government agency determined that there was no difference between right and left side grinds for use as a tool or weapon. The left side was chosen for purposes of visual cue and reference.

Some of it sounds quite entertaining :) Our Tests, and that mysterious major government agency... I have no idea, who was testing and in what manner is was done, so that he(or they) couldn't tell the chisel grind edge was on the wrong side :), especially when referring to the use of a knife as a tool. Anyways, in the end it says it, for visual cue. Since the maker's logo is on the left side traditionally, you put the edge there and make look good on the pictures. Obviously that will not add anything to knife's cutting ability and overall performance. Well, until it sells and has it's customers why not :). In the end, it's up to you to decide, for more info check the Bladeforums. And last, but not the least, for the maker the chisel edges are easier and cheaper to produce. Only one side to grind.

Lock

- For the tactical knife (or fighting, or whatever marketing term you use for it) one would definitely want a stronger locking mechanism than the liner lock Commander has. IMHO the knife which is marketed as a tactical should perform according to certain requirements. Potentially that includes strong impacts, excessive lateral loads, torqueing, etc. I mean, if you engage in knife fight you can't really predict what's gonna happen. Unfortunately the liners are too thin(0.050" or 1.15 mm) on the Commander, which compromises the strength of the lock. Considering that a lot of folks consider liner locks excessively failure prune(and there are too many reports of all sorts of liner lock failures too prove the point), the overall picture doesn't look promising. Here's Emerson knives official position: "... 0.050" is the industry standard...". Personally I have hard time believing in that. None of my folders have liners that thin. Even 40$ Beretta Airlight folder has thicker, hardened steel liners, let alone Benchmade Ares, 710 Axis Strider, REKAT, MT SOCOM etc. Most of the folders listed have hardened steel liners thicker than 0.050" (bear in mind to make something as strong from Titanium you'll need approx. twice as much of Ti), and some even have aluminum handles. Anyway, your fingers are your business, so don't take my word for it, check different knife forums to hear all sides :)

Coating

 - Some claim that the Teflon coating on the Commander blade is better than Benchmade BT-2. I have no idea why would that be, theoretically, it's something based on the same teflon. I haven't used my Commander as much as my Benchmade folding knives, so no direct comparison. Got some stains on it after piercing a can of coke with my Commander, that's it.

Handle

- One of the good things of this knife is the handle ergonomics :) Very, very good. Really comfortable, provides excellent grip. The finger groove & the notched thumb ramp(which is the wave, or a part of it) are really nice additions. G10 scales have no sharp edges, and the texture is well defined, yet very comfortable(not excessively abrasive like e.g. Strider Buck). On the downside have to mention the thin liners. Haven't seen myself but 98/99 Commanders had the thicker liners and in general, 0.062" vs. 0.050". Therefore stronger handles. Not sure why Emerson choose to thin the liners, probably to resolve the thick handle issue, if there was one. Here's a quote from the thread linked below: the liners are so thin you can easily bend the knife with your bare hands. During a trip visiting a huge knife wholesaler, I inspected over a dozen of them and the blade scraped the liner when opening with the thumbstud on every one due to the flimsy construction.

Wave

- And the best part of this knife, the Wave. Quoting Emerson: The Emerson Wave (patent pending) makes it the fastest deploying knife ever., basically what it does is allows you to deploy your knife using your pocket, or a sheath, looks like a bottle cap opener, but does the job very well. BTW frequently Waving while being addictive, is very destructive to your pockets ;). Some question what advantage does those milliseconds give in the combat situation, considering that you still have to get the proper grip etc. If you are interested, I guess you should check out one of the many tactical forums. Anyway, it's a cool feature :). If you don't want to use the Wave or flick, then there's a disk opener. Many find it more comfortable than studs and opening hole. The stud on my Commander got loose after wave openings, nothing lethal, the problem can be fixed with a drop of the loctite, but anyway. There were other reports with the same issue, you can check bladeforums and rec.knives newsgroup for that matter. According to Emerson enthusiasts the problem has been fixed since then.

Summary

- Well, in the end I am not exactly excited about Commander. It was not a good idea to buy it before handling it. On the other hand, it's ok for the collection and for learning ;) I have several reasons that make Commander not suitable for everyday carry to me:
  • Size - Commander is some wide piece for a folding knife, wearing it in your jeans pocket is quite inconvenient.
  • Blade grind- Chisel grind, that Commander is featuring, is not exactly suited for the utility use, although it's good for self defense, still normal V grind would've been more preferable.
  • Lock - I do not like linerlocks. I've discussed other issues with Commander locks above. The complaint is about liner locks in general, and multiples reports regarding liner lock failures on different knives including Emerson's, do not inspire any confidence in them.
  • Length - One more thing about the blade, IMHO 3.75 inches is too small for the blade length. some extra .20-.25 inches at least could make a good difference.

Well, basically that's all regarding Emerson Commander as my personal EDC issues, obviously you will have yours, not necessarily matching mine :). Overall, personally to me, it is a cool looking knife, but practically useless for utility purposes(which are primary for me). For some people Emerson knives are #1 hard use knives, and Emerson is the most respected knifemaker on the earth as he declared himself ;) I don't believe in either, IMHO it's mainly hype. I like several of Emerson designs a lot, but then again, liner locks, chisel grind edges on the wrong side, thin liners :(((

Specifications:

  • Model: E3-A - COMMANDER
  • Blade - 95.25mm(3.75")
  • Thickness - 3.04mm
  • OAL - 222.25mm(8.75")
  • Lock Mechanism: Side Lock
  • Steel - ATS-34 steel at 58HRC
  • Handle: G-10 scales/titanium liners
  • Acquired - 02/2000 Price - 170.00$
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime

Last updated - 09/01/11

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