I have been carrying one for years, but only today am I thinking of reviewing it. An every-day-carry knife should not be an impulse-buy. You will use it for countless tasks, from opening letters and boxes to saving your life in an emergency. How many times have I heard “Hey, someone got a knife?” How come you don’t have one? Is my answer, as I pull my Emerson Commander out of my jeans pocket. The day you need to cut yourself free of a sinking car, or stop someone from choking you to death, I probably won’t be there to hand you mine. A knife is a tool, the simplest one of all, and we have been carrying them since we earned the name “humans.” They are as vital today as they were back then. What type of knife to carry? You already know what my favorite is, let’s see why.
Folding or fixed blade. Any fixed-blade knife that isn’t junk is stronger than a folding one. Your choice might be a legal one. Most states or countries do not allow carrying fixed-blade knives. Open-carry raises eyebrows. My friend Kolyma, who works at a farm was once shopping at Whole Foods with his knife on his belt. He was promptly surrounded by police officers who politely asked him not to carry it in the store, even though it was perfectly legal. Next time you go out, pay attention to the little metal clip of a folding knife on people’s pants. Nobody pays attention to that, but many do carry them. The legal limit is usually four inches for the blade, single-edge. If you can carry a strong fixed-blade knife, do it. Otherwise, keep in mind that the most important part of a folder is the lock. Since this article is about folders, let’s see what makes a good one.
The lock prevents the knife from folding on your fingers while you use it. These days, because one of America’s favorite sports is litigation, folders made in the United States have decent locks for normal use. The same can’t be said of cheap imitations from China. Stay away from unknown brands, Ebay deals and dubious cheap folders. Your life or your fingers may never depend on it, but why take the risk. I usually shop from three reputable brands, Emerson, Cold Steel and Spyderco. You can read all about locks and watch a great video on Bob’s Knife Town locks page.
The grip: I was once looking for a folder at a Manatee Civic Center gun-show. I came upon a large table full of knives and started handling them one by one to find the best fitting one for my hand. This is where hands-on shopping beats the Internet. The salesman was getting impatient, as I took my sweet time to find the best model. I grabbed an Emerson Mini Commander. Love at first grab! The handle was perfect, both in standard and reverse grip. I had never handled a folder that fit my hand so well. It wasn’t only my hand actually, since many friends trying my knife made the same comment. Next came the bad surprise, the $175 price tag. I looked at it more closely. The quality was obvious. The knife is very strongly built and looks like it would survive pretty much anything. Five years ago I had a bad motorcycle accident, and while I lay on the asphalt with a broken femur and dislocated shoulder, someone stole my Mini Commander. As soon as I recovered, I immediately ordered the full-size model. I hear they have a super-size one now, guess what I’m going to buy next.. I also own the Commander Trainer for Systema practice. This knife is worth every penny they charge for it.
The blade will most likely be stainless steel. There is no need for a strong carbon steel blade of less than four inches. I prefer straight edges, as they are easier to sharpen without special tools. Spyderco has nice short, serrated blades like the Co-Pilot (not sure if they still make that one), which I used to carry on flights before 9/11. I unfortunately lost it in the snow near the Lille (France) train station more than a decade ago. The blade should be thick enough to be strong, but thin enough to cut efficiently all the way through. Buying from a reputable brand will assure you that it won’t be brittle and keep a decent edge. My Emerson Commander had a chisel grind, meaning that it was ground on one side only. I gave it to a friend once for resharpening, and he suggested to turn it into a regular “V” grind, I agreed. The problem was, 154CM steel is pretty hard, and it took forever to get it to cut again. I finally took it to a grinder and at last, it shaves hair again. Fortunately, Emerson listened to it’s customers, and the new Commanders do have a conventional V Grind.
Opening your knife is a very important function. You must be able to open your folder with one hand, left or right. Read my story about having to cut a banner towline during a tricky go-around with an ultralight. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to practice pulling your knife out of your pocket and opening it. Practice without looking at it, with your knife in any position in your hand. You must get a feel for it, and get proficient at opening it quickly in any circumstances. The Emerson Commander has the advantage here, with it’s wave feature:
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You can make your own “poor man’s wave feature” on knives which have a hole for blade opening, like Spydercos. Simply put a tie-wrap around the hole (those ties used for electric wires), et voila! Instant wave feature. Some people cut one into their knives, but you must be careful not to overheat the blade with power tools, which destroys the hardening process. Unless you know how to re-harden a blade and have the tools, your knife is junk.
Self-defense with a knife is a touchy subject. Never pull your knife out of your pocket unless not doing so will result in your death. That might not always be true, so use your best judgment. I once saw a man pull a knife on another in a bar, when the other guy also pulled his. They then looked at each-other with an expression that said “What the hell are we getting into here..” and they simultaneously pocketed their folders, exchanged a few more insults, and the incident was over. That took but three seconds. The outcome could have been much different, but the fear of injury cooled them down. Whether to draw or not is a difficult decision, most of the time, in my opinion, don’t. Training is most important here. Pulling a knife without knowing how to use it is not a wise option. Get some Systema or Filipino martial art instruction, it will be time well spent. Keep in mind that no matter who’s right, if you use a knife against an unarmed attacker, you will go to jail. Avoid buying a knife that looks too “tactical” or has a name like “Combat Skinner” or anything aggressive. Avoid black-coating blades. Judges and jury do not like tactical looking weapons. If the Commander came in pink, I might be tempted, just for that reason. A Karambit might be a great weapon, but it isn’t anything else. Make sure your knife looks somewhat like a regular pocket knife, not a weapon someone looking for trouble would carry.
My best advise to you is, carry a knife. Buy a good one. Ask one for Christmas, it’s coming.. I feel naked if I don’t have my knife with me, and never leave the house without it. Many times I was happy to have one for simple tasks that would have been a hassle without it. It sucks not to have one when you need it most. Hopefully you’d never need to defend or save your life with it, but if need be, it should be there for you.