Emerson Sheepdog Bowie Review
by Matt, 24/9/2016
Over the years I’ve had numerous Emersons pass through my hands (my current collection includes three variants of the CQC7, two SPECWARs and an A100), and I must admit that I am a big fan of his blades.
Emerson’s no-nonsense function focused design formula (liner lock, wave opening, thumb disc, 154cm, black g10, nylatron washers, ergonomic handle design, chisel ground edge, functional blade shape, strong clip, etc. etc.) for a hard use knife just works damn well. He doesn’t need to depart from it too much, and he doesn’t…. normally. So, when Emerson announced his first flipper, with ball bearings no less, I was both excited and somewhat interested in how the breaking of the usual mould would go.
Like most Emersons, this knife fits nicely in the category of a heavy duty EDC. Also, if the marketing is to be believed, would be quite capable for self defence.
I purchased this knife from Action Concepts on eBay for around $215 USD.
- Overall Length: 21.2 cm
- Blade Length: 9 cm
- Closed Length: 12.5 cm
- Blade Thickness: 3 mm
- Handle: Black G-10
- Pivot hardware: GTC stainless bearings
- Blade: 154CM bowie clip point
- Hardness: RC 57-59
- Weight: 158 g (5.5 oz)
- Lock: Titanium liner lock
Out of the box it appears like any other Emerson knife, black rough G10, perfectly ground blade, same old clip, wave and thumb disc. It is just an ugly wart of steel hanging out the back which is the only indication of something different.
On opening this the first time… damn... It is apparent that this is most certainly something different to any other Emerson.
One word… awesome. In bowie form the Sheepdog blade is nigh on perfection (it also comes in a spearpoint which looks good, just not as good as the bowie).
The blade is made from a 3mm thick slab of good old 154CM, just like almost every other Emerson (although I understand the Sheepdog is also available in S35VN). I quite like the classic stainless steels and this is right up there IMO. The heat treat has proved to be spot on, it holds a nice working edge all week and is easy to touch up.
My example is the SF variant, which is finished with the flat section of the blade being stonewashed and vertical striations on the primary grind andthe swedge. Minus a few scratches visible on the vertical striations in certain lighting, the finish has proven to hide wear well and looks great. One sour note is the crapload of logos on the blade… hopefully they will wear off eventually as I think the blade would look better with a few less.
The sabre grind allows the blade to retain good thickness all the way to the tip even with the swedge thinning it out some. This means the blade retains good strength at the tip. Due to the ‘thinner’ (well when compared to other hard-use folders these days) 3mm blade stock, while not a slicer like a PM2, the Sheepdog doesn’t bind up significantly when cutting sheets of material.
It should be noted that the blade does have a chisel ground (i.e. single sided) edge. This is one of those Emerson design quirks that polarises people. The argument goes that the one sided edge grind makes the knife easier to sharpen in the field. Personally, I have no problem with this grind and found it no trouble to get razor sharp when I’m out and about with a little ceramic rod. However, I don't think there is much advantage over the standard symmetrical edge.
On a side note, the tip of this thing is bloody sharp. I don’t think I’ve stabbed myself with a knife more than I have with this one (a combo of unintentional wavings and the bowie tip).
Mr Emerson knows ergonomics, that is for sure. I don’t think I’ve held one of his knives yet that wasn’t great and the Sheepdog follows this tradition. It is perfectly contoured for the hand and excels in multiple grips.
The grippy black G10 sits over a steel liner on the mark side and a titanium liner on the pile/ locking side. Personally I have pondered more than once as to why they do this. Surely the cost savings can't be significant over having both liners in titanium like the old days. Part of me also wonders why they don't do the liner lock side out of steel, surely it would be tougher than titanium. Any way I digress.
Fresh out of the box the g10 was a pocket shredder, as my now frayed jean pocket can attest. After a week or so of carry the g10 mellowed some, retaining its grippiness in hand but without that sandpaper effect.
The Sheepdog uses standoffs in-lieu of the old school Emerson back spacer. I am fairly certain that the standoffs are becoming standard across most of the line. I prefer the standoffs to the old backspace construction for the ease of cleaning it allows. Additionally, I am less worried about stripping a screw in a steel standoff than I was in a g10 back spacer.
The flipper tab forms a nice guard when the knife is open. With the knife closed, the flipper tab is large, accessible and easy to actuate. The flipper tab is well designed and easy to operate, however, personally, I do find the look of the flipper a bit jarring in terms of aesthetics. Part of me wonders if the flipper tab could have been made smaller so as to integrate better with the guard when the blade is opened. I appreciate how Mr Emerson designed the flipper area of the spine so there is no jimping in behind it. No callused fingers from this flipper.
In the pocket, the Sheepdog rides nicely. It is on the thick side, but it isn't ridiculous. The standard Emerson clip is utilised here, and in my opinion this clip is just about perfect. It has great retention, sits at just the right height in the pocket to make drawing the knife easy but not too obvious. The clip is nice and wide and has a flattened tip, meaning that in hand the clip never feels offensive.
The handle makes the sheepdog really feels solid and confidence inspiring in the hand. This is accentuated because the pivot point is set well back into the handle when compared to many other knives. While sacrificing some blade length it does seem to give a feeling of solidity when prying and/ or twisting the blade.
In terms of lock-up the Sheepdog employs a titanium liner lock as per almost all other Emersons. A liner lock is a good choice for a flipper as there is no chance of pressing the lock bar in and making the knife harder to open like with a frame lock. The lock is easy to disengage thanks to the generous cut out in the mark side handle slab.
Funnily enough I did have concern that lock-up was very early out of the box (5-10%). However, after a couple of days it had already travelled quite considerably (60%) and had a lot of stick. The lock stick subsided over a week, but the lock has kept travelling. It now locks up at bang on 100%, and occasionally even more if the pivot is loose. Due to the late lock-up, sometimes, when opened gently there is now a tiny bit of lock rock as the liner doesn’t go far enough across to really lock in.
The pivot does seem to have a habit of loosening itself up quite considerably over a couple of days’ use. When this happens the liner lock travels all the way to the opposite liner and squeezing the handle results in a slight flex and an audible creaking. Tightening the pivot is easy via the flat head screw and quickly resolves this.
Now this knifes claim to fame! The Sheepdog gives you an opening method for any occasion (thumb disc, wave and flipper). Regardless of which method one uses, the action is dialled in perfectly. To be honest I was pleasantly surprised, especially when other high end manufacturers (Hinderer anyone??) can’t seem to get it right with only two opening methods!
Firstly, the thumb disc works well, although sometimes when trying to open the knife slowly I grip the the flipper tab hits against the base of my index finger (see pic). The action does feel really smooth but with a hint of feedback, kind of like a lead pencil across nice paper.
Secondly, bar none this is the best waving Emerson I’ve ever owned. I had very few incomplete waved openings (at least when I meant to use the wave). Part of me wonders if the rapid waving contributed to the accelerated lock wear I experienced (more on that later).
Thirdly, the main event! The first time I flipped this knife open, all I thought was, damn that’s quick! Running on those bearings the knife flips damn quick and damn smooth, a real delight and very addictive.
Interestingly unlike all other Emersons I have, this one lacks the little secondary detent thing on the non-locking liner. I assume this is something to do with the flipper action (maybe more complicated to dial in two detents?).
All up it is a good knife, well built, well designed and I can’t really fault it objectively (other than the quick wearing lock). However, I personally think the flipper looks awkward, and to be honest, I think it loses some of that soul that makes an Emerson just a bit different. It may be blasphemy, but I think I would like the knife more if it had no flipper, washers instead of bearings and just stuck to the Emerson formula.
I must admit that it is a bit disappointing for a knife of this price that within a month the lock had worn across past the end of the blade. That being said, I am not as concerned about it as I would be with other brands. Emerson’s great warranty gives me the confidence to continue to use the knife with the knowledge it will be made right if it ever wears to the point it is an issue.
In the months following this review the Sheepdog developed some pretty serious lock rock. It got to the point in the end that it sounded like a child's rattle when it was shaken. After putting it off for a while, I bit the bullet and emailed Emerson customer service regarding the issue. After a few emails back and forward and filling in a form, the Sheepdog was jet setting its way back to the good old US of A.
Fast forward to yesterday, and after a 2 month hiatus, a small cardboard box containing the Sheepdog arrived on my doorstep. I am pleased to report that the lock-up is now fixed and the action is smoother than ever. I'm assuming that they changed the locking liner as the stop pin looks like it is the same size (unless there is another way to fix a lock up issue?). One thing I will note is that there is now a slightly larger gap on the locking side of the blade. Initially I thought there must be a thicker spacer behind the bearing, but on disassembly everything is still the same. For the life of me I can't work out what is causing the larger gap, but hey it works so I won't complain.
All in all, big props to Emerson, their customer service was great and reminds me why I don't mind paying a bit more for a knife with a great warranty.
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