If knives could be created in the same way we choose players for fantasy football league teams, every hardcore knife knut would recruit features and characteristics they like best from different knife companies and combine them into their favorite knife. Spyderco will undoubtedly fulfill many knife knuts knife fantasy picks with the introduction of the Delica and Endura with Emerson’s opening feature. These models combine all that’s functional and performance-based in a Spyderco folder with the blade-opening feature made popular and patented by Ernest Emerson of Emerson Knives.
The Emerson opening feature is a hook curving out the top of the knife’s blade. When removing the knife from a front pocket it catches the pocket’s edge quickly opening the knife blade ready to use. The knife can also be taken out of the pocket without engaging the opening feature by pulling it straight up and out with your fingers on top of the closed blade.
Delicas and Enduras with Emerson’s opening feature have screw construction making cleaning and adjusting easier. Their gray fiberglass reinforced nylon handles are molded with Bi-Directional Texturing® for traction and improved ergonomics. Inside the handle dual skeletonized stainless steel liners strengthen the knife without additional weight and create an anchor for external and internal components to attach through for more sturdiness and rigidity. Their VG-10 blades are flat saber-ground with a stronger tip and larger 13mm opening hole. Added to the blade’s spine is slip resistant jimping. Phosphor bronze washers smooth out the open/close action and the clip is upgraded to a four-way tip-up, tip-down, left- or right-handed clip.
The Emerson Opener
Ernest Emerson has had a profound impact on the cutlery industry and both the form and function of the modern tactical folding knife. Although the scope of his influence is extremely broad, perhaps his most revolutionary innovation was the “Emerson Opener.” Also known as the “Wave-Shaped Feature” or more colloquially—and inaccurately—the “Wave,” it consists of a small integral hook on the spine of a folding knife blade. When the closed knife is carried tip-up and drawn from the pocket, the hook snags on the lip of the pocket and swiftly rotates the blade into the open position. If you need to use your folding knife in a hurry, the Emerson Opener is hands down your quickest option.
Ernest Emerson’s Knifemaking Journey
A native of northern Wisconsin, Ernest Emerson was born on March 7, 1955. He was a gifted athlete in high school and began his lifelong obsession with the martial arts at age 16 by training in Yudo, the Korean version of Judo. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and earned degrees in physical education and world history, as well as a brown belt in Kyokushinkai Karate and a black belt in Shotokan Karate.
Immediately after graduating, Emerson moved to Southern California with the sole purpose of furthering his martial arts education at the famed Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts under Bruce Lee’s protégés Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo. There he studied the Filipino art of Kali and Bruce Lee’s systems of Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do. Later, he also trained in Brazilian Jujitsu under the acclaimed Royce and Rorion Gracie. During this time, Emerson made his living as a machine operator and design engineer for Hughes Aircraft.
In 1978, as part of his study of the Filipino martial arts, Emerson found himself in need of a balisong, or butterfly knife. Balisongs were not widely available back then, so he opted to make his own. When his fellow students saw it, they asked Emerson to make knives for them as well. Balisongs quickly led to fixed-blade knives and, after seeing a Michael Walker custom LinerLock folder at a gun show, ultimately folding knives. With Walker’s blessing, Emerson began making LinerLock folding knives and soon found himself a full-time knifemaker. Drawing inspiration from his work in the aerospace industry, he incorporated state-of-the-art, high-performance materials and concentrated on meticulously crafted, investment-quality knives.
In the mid-1980s, Emerson shifted his focus to more spartan, tactically oriented designs. He also adopted the single-sided chisel grind—a signature element of the knives of fellow custom knifemaker Phil Hartsfield, who had been making knives for members of the West Coast U.S. Navy SEALs. When the SEALs asked Hartsfield to make folding knives, he explained that he only made fixed blades and introduced them to Emerson. Emerson’s folders quickly became must-have kit among the SEALs, and that popularity soon spread to other U.S. and foreign special operations units and elite law enforcement agencies. It later led to collaborations with several leading commercial knife manufacturers and ultimately to Emerson Knives, Inc., Emerson’s own production knife company, which he founded with his wife Mary.
Emerson’s legendary designs have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Museum—an unprecedented achievement for a knifemaker—and his knives continue to be trusted by some of the world’s most elite warriors.
The Birth of the Emerson Opener
The Emerson Opener is one of the most dynamic knife-related innovations ever developed and has been used—both with and without Emerson’s blessing—on countless knives over the years. The actual invention of this feature, however, was an accident. According to Emerson, the instructors of the U.S. Navy SEALs Combat Fighting Course wanted to develop a specific knife for combat use. One of the features they wanted on the design was a “blade catcher” on the spine of the blade to protect the user’s hand. Emerson incorporated the feature on his iconic Commander model and decided to shape it like a small ocean wave. When he had finished the initial prototypes of the design, several SEALs from U.S. Naval Base Coronado drove up to his shop to pick them up for test and evaluation. Emerson delivered the knives to them but kept one for his own testing.
Shortly after the SEALs left, Emerson drew his prototype knife and suddenly realized that, as it cleared his pocket, the “blade catcher” snagged and partially opened the blade. At first, he was concerned that it might be a safety issue, but as he repeated the experiment with more vigor, he realized that the feature opened the blade reliably and very quickly. Just as he had this epiphany, the phone in his shop rang. It was the SEALs from Coronado, who had just returned to base, started evaluating the knife, and discovered the same amazing auto-opening function of the “blade catcher.”
Because of its shape, Emerson called his invention the “Wave” and applied for a utility patent on it in 1997. That patent, #5,878,500, was granted in March 1999, but since another knife and tool company, Leatherman, had trademarked the name “Wave” as it applied to knives, Emerson changed the official term for it to the “wave-shaped opening feature.” He also made it a required element of all the knives his company produced for military and law enforcement contracts.
Spyderco co-founder Sal Glesser, a keen follower of all new developments in the knife industry, appreciated the brilliance of Emerson’s invention and approached him about the possibility of licensing it for use on select Spyderco designs. In 2006, we released versions of the popular Delica 4 and Endura 4 Lightweights that proudly incorporated our expression of the Emerson Opener. To acknowledge Spyderco’s formal licensing of the feature, they engraved Emerson’s patent number on the reverse side of the blade.
Since then, the “wave-shaped opening feature” has been showcased on a number of other Spyderco models, including the Rescue 93mm, Endura and Delica Trainers, the Matriarch 2, the Karahawk, the Tropen, and the P’Kal and P’Kal Trainer, which are unique in that they include a removeable Emerson Opener that screws into the spine of the blade. More recently, Emerson’s invention has been incorporated on the Endela Lightweight, Dragonfly 2, and byrd Cara Cara 2 Lightweight, as well as several limited-edition Exclusive models, including expressions of the popular Paramilitary 2.
In January 2016, Ernest Emerson was granted U.S. registered trademark #4,879,356 for the iconic, proprietary design of his “Wave Shaped Feature.” His utility patent expired in 2017, and since then many knives have been produced using the Emerson Opener without attribution to Emerson or his revolutionary innovation. There are also countless improvised devices, blade modifications, and aftermarket accessories out there that emulate the function of the Emerson Opener. Nothing, however, beats the original. To that end, Spyderco continues to officially license this unique feature from Emerson—even after the patent expiration—and is extremely proud of the longstanding friendship we have enjoyed with this legendary knifemaker.
PROPER USE OF THE EMERSON OPENER
Unlike conventional one-hand-opening folding knives or even automatic knives, which allow the blade to be opened quickly after the knife is drawn, the Emerson Opener deploys the blade as it clears the pocket and is therefore the fastest opening method available. Achieving that speed, however, still requires proper carry and good technique.
Like learning any new skill, it’s best to start off slowly. If possible, use a trainer version of your Emerson Opener knife at first and then progress to a live blade when you feel you’re ready. To prevent property damage or injury to others, always ensure that the area around you is clear of people and obstructions before attempting to open your knife. Also, because the Emerson Opener hooks onto the pocket mouth, it works best with pants made from sturdy fabric. Dress pants and other pants made from light fabrics are not suitable for use with this opening method.
To draw and open your knife to a standard grip—so the blade extends from the thumb side of your hand—first ensure that it is configured for tip-up carry by mounting the clip to the butt end of the handle. Clip the closed knife to your pocket with the body of the knife inside the pocket and knife positioned all the way to the back of the pocket. The spine of the blade should face to the rear.
Reach your thumb into the pocket as deeply as possible and index it firmly against the side of the knife’s handle. At the same time, curl your fingers so your index finger hooks under the tip of the clip. Apply a pinching pressure between your thumb and fingers to establish a secure grip on the knife. As you lift the knife upward, apply slight rearward pressure to keep the spine of the blade against the rear of your pocket. As the Emerson Opener hooks on the pocket mouth, continue your draw so your arm extends slightly behind you and the blade clears your body safely to lock in the fully opened position.
Practice these movements slowly and carefully until you are thoroughly comfortable with them. Then, gradually increase your speed while maintaining your focus on safety.
Spyderco knives with Emerson Openers can also be configured so they can be drawn into a reverse grip, with the blade extending from the little-finger side of the hand. To configure your knife for this type of draw, mount the clip to the butt end of the handle so the spine of the closed blade faces forward when the knife is clipped in your pocket. For best results, clip the knife further forward in your pocket, closer to your body’s centerline.
To draw from this position, reach your thumb deep into your pocket and index it against the handle of the knife. As you do, ensure that the web of your thumb is to the rear of the butt of the handle. Place the fingertips of your index and middle fingers on the base of the clip and apply a pinching pressure between them and your thumb. Maintain a firm grip on the handle and lift the knife out of your pocket. As you do, apply forward pressure to slide the spine of the closed blade against the front portion of your pocket. As the knife clears the pocket, the Emerson Opener will snag the pocket edge to pivot the blade into the open position.
Again, practice these movements slowly and carefully and become thoroughly comfortable with them before you increase your speed. In the process, you’ll find that al least a moderate degree of speed will be necessary to deploy and lock the blade fully.
Drawing without Opening:
If you don’t need to open your Emerson Opener-equipped knife in a hurry, you can also draw it without automatically opening the blade. To do this, use the same grip and mechanics described previously, but draw the knife through the middle of the pocket without allowing the hook to snag the pocket mouth. You can also use your index finger to apply pressure against the spine of the blade, holding it closed as you draw the knife.
The Emerson Opener is a unique feature that significantly enhances the speed and ease of deployment of our knives. To make the most of it, remember the Navy SEAL adage: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Take the time to get smooth and fast will come naturally.
Blade Length: 2-7/8″ (74 mm)
Cutting Edge: 2-9/16″ (65 mm)
Overall Length: 7-1/8″ (182 mm)
Closed Length: 4-1/4″ (108 mm)
Blade Thickness: 3/32″ (2.5 mm)
Blade Steel: VG-10 Stainless Steel
Weight: 2.55 oz. (72 g)
Made in Seki-City, Japan