Keen Insight: Emerson CQC-6, Origins and Story

Known by many simply as “The Six,” it is the stuff that Emerson Knives legends are made of. Among fans, the Emerson CQC-6, or just the 6, is quite possibly the most sought-after model of any knife that Emerson makes. We’ll explore why, but first, let’s take a look at this history, and how this came to be.

CQC-6 History

Sometime back in the 1990s, the Navy SEALs approached Phill Hartsfield and asked him to build them a folding knife. Hartsfield, at the time, was only making fixed blade knives, so he sent them to Ernest Emerson. The SEALs took Hartsfield’s advice and approached Emerson to request that he make a knife for them.

Emerson had already been making a line of knives that he called the “Viper,” which comprised several different models of knives. The SEALs wanted something with a chisel grind, but Phill Hartsfield was the one who pioneered the chisel grind. Emerson asked Hartsfield if he was okay with him using the chisel grind, and Hartsfield gave his blessing.

The initial meeting, according to Mr. Emerson, was rather like a scene out of a spy movie, with the SEALs coming to see him at his shop, which, unless I’m mistaken, was still in his garage at the time. He agreed to make the knife, and the CQC-6 was born, to make a long story short. Among the SEALs who sought out Emerson was none other than Dick Marcinko, who went on to be the founder of SEAL Team Six (which later became DEVGRU or Development Group).

Emerson CQC-6 knife and drawing of Navy SEAL Trident, autographed by Dick Marcinko.
The 6 and the SEAL Trident go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The artwork was autographed by Dick Marcinko.

What makes a CQC-6

They were seeking certain qualities in the knives, including corrosion resistance, as they’d be operating in a maritime environment. Obviously, durability was a must, since the operational environments were going to be brutal, to say the least. It was primarily intended as a tool but needed to function as a last-ditch weapon.

Many other Special Operations units from various countries also use the 6, including members from the SAS, Army Special Forces, and a host of others. It has become a status symbol among operators.

The chisel grind was selected because the knife was designed to be used to scrape the hull of a ship so that magnetic mines could be attached. Also, the chisel grind is easier to sharpen and fairly durable. On Emerson customs, a “Zero” grind is used, which means that there is no bevel; the edge of the blade is simply flat.

It feels great in the hand, with the micarta of the handle giving a “warm” purchase, and resists slipping. Opening is accomplished via thumb disk (the sample I reviewed did not have the Emerson Wave feature).

The locking bar on the CQC-6 is very thick. The knife is solidly built and made for maritime environments.
The locking bar on the CQC-6 is very thick. The knife is solidly built and made for maritime environments.

The CQC-6 is not a general issue item in any military unit, but most often a privately purchased piece. Units such as the SEALs are allotted funds and have the latitude to purchase certain items for their members, and specialized knives are often among such items.

The specs

The above information is what I’ve been able to piece together from talking to Mr. Emerson and certain folks who are in the industry. The history of this knife is somewhat cloaked in mystique, so it’s possible that I’m a bit off on certain points, but I know I’m pretty darn close.

The weight of the CQC-6 that I reviewed is 4.9 ounces, and the blade length is about 3.5 inches, with the overall length approximately 8.5 inches. Blade steel is 154CM, and the action is buttery smooth and a real joy to experience.

Emerson CQC-6 knife shown in hand. Not a huge knife but fits well.
The Emerson CQC-6 is not a huge knife, but fits well into the hand. The action is exquisitely smooth!

If you’re someone who enjoys beautiful grind lines on your blades, then you won’t be disappointed with a 6; the grinds are just pure artwork, and to me, are breathtaking. The bolsters are made from Titanium (so is the frame), and the grip scales are made from Green Canvas Micarta. Sometimes he uses other handle materials to add variety.

Emerson CQC-6 knife in hand.
The canvas micarta handle offers a wonderful feel in the hand.

Years ago, when I spoke with Mr. Emerson at the New York City Custom Knife Show about his customs, he told me that each day he walks into his custom knife shop, he is excited and cannot wait to get at the work. As he talked, his eyes lit up, and I could easily see he was brimming over with excitement just explaining it to me. The man truly does love creating knives.

How does one obtain one of these remarkable knives?

Well, I have some bad news for you. Everyone who is into Emersons wants one, and to own a 6 is normally the crowning jewel of a collection, which is why they are so sought after.

The first way to get a 6 is to attend a knife show where Mr. Emerson is having a lottery. You don’t simply order a 6 these days; you enter your name into a drawing and pray that you are chosen for the chance of purchasing an Emerson custom. If chosen, then you fork over your cash (at the time of this writing, I believe most of his customs go for $750, unless it’s a “full dress” custom, then it will be more).

In case you think $750 is salty, brace yourself for what they sell for on the secondary market. A CQC-6 will usually sell for between $3,000 and $6,000 currently.

Occasionally, Mr. Emerson will hold an online lottery, which offers another opportunity to purchase a custom. I believe these occur twice per year.

As I said, everyone and his brother wants a 6, so people go wild and are often willing to spend exorbitant sums of money on one. Personally, I do not have the ability to spend that much on a knife, but I admire people who can (I know a few fellows who have several, with one owning over a dozen of them).

Most people are aware that Mr. Emerson’s line of knives has many production folders, which are priced far more reasonably. More sad news: Emerson announced years ago that the 6 will never be included in the production line of knives, it will always be a custom model. If you are not able to pony up the cash for one…well, you won’t be enjoying a 6.

What about the CQC-7?

Now the good news: there are a few production knives that rival the Emerson CQC-6 (in my opinion) in quality and effectiveness. The CQC-7, Roadhouse, and others in the Emerson line are similar to the 6 and equal it in performance. In fact, I believe Mr. Emerson created the CQC-7 to be a sort of production “equivalent” to the CQC-6; its blade shape is somewhat similar, although the handle is different than the 6’s.

Emerson CQC-7 above, CQC-6 below.
The CQC-7 (above) and its counterpart, the CQC-6. The lineage is obvious, with both sharing many attributes.

It’s going to piss some people off that I even vaguely hinted at the fact that another knife can come close to equaling the CQC-6, but there it is. The 6 is exquisite and more refined than the production knives by leaps and bounds, and that cannot be taken away from it. But in a hostile environment, none of that really matters and I suspect they will all perform about the same.

Emerson CQC-6 as part of a tactical kit.
A perfect addition to tactical kit, the CQC-6 rounds out the package.

If you have the resources and opportunity to obtain an Emerson CQC-6, you’ll very likely be elated with it. It is an iconic symbol of Special Operations and their history. The craftsmanship and quality that are put into these customs are truly extraordinary, and you can feel it immediately upon holding one in your hand. Each one is handmade, the components are hand-fitted until they fit perfectly together and work in complete concert. Should you decide to embark on the adventure of obtaining one, good luck! I’m told that the hunt is as satisfying as finding one.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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