In the late 1900s, Harold “Kit” Carson, an iconic figure in the knife community, created a new knife design in collaboration with CRKT. Dubbed the M16, this new design popularized a distinct method of opening a folding knife with one hand that is both fast and reliable. Such knives are now known simply as “flippers.”
In the past couple of decades, many knife companies have gotten into the flipper game, and just about every style, steel and price range is covered in today’s market. So, after the 2018 Blade Show, we contacted a few different companies to see what’s currently available in this niche.
For this article, we didn’t look at the least expensive folders available, nor did we shoot for the moon and look only at high-end custom pieces. We took the middle ground and tried to find quality models that were still relatively affordable. Let’s dive in.
Emerson Mini CQC-7 Flipper
When it comes to the number of ways to open a knife with one hand, Emerson Knives has got them all beat with the Mini CQC-7 Flipper. This knife has Emerson’s proprietary “Wave” feature, a thumb disc and even a flipper fin, giving you three different ways to open the blade in a hurry with just one hand.
For those with a tactical bent who live in a jurisdiction where large pocket knives are frowned upon, the Mini CQC-7 Flipper is a perfect choice for EDC. And though it’s a scaled-down version of its larger brethren, it gives up nothing in strength or build quality.
The 154CM steel blade is 2.9 inches long, so it will conform to all but the most draconian jurisdictions. It’s also 0.125 inches thick and sports Emerson’s signature chisel grind for more tip strength and better penetration. The handle is 4.3 inches long, providing ample real estate for a strong grip and bringing the knife’s overall length to 7.2 inches when locked open.
If you’re a lefty, one thing to keep an eye on when purchasing a knife of this type is whether its built for left-handed carry. The Mini CQC-7 Flipper is not—at least not in pure production form. Left-handed users will have to pay an extra $25 to have the handle drilled and tapped for such carry, but at least that’s an available option.
Despites its compact form factor, there’s no doubting its rugged build quality in hand. Its construction consists of a titanium liner lock that is extremely durable and secure. The outer slabs are made of a very grippy G10 composite that gives the user exceptional traction even in wet conditions. For added security, the grip also includes a hole for your lanyard of choice. MSRP is $243.95. For more information, please visit emersonknives.com.
Hogue X5 Button Lock
After staking a dominant position in the aftermarket grip sector of the gun industry, Hogue branched out into several other areas, including knives. If you peruse the company’s website, you’ll find that Hogue is particularly fond of tactical knives, and one model that stands out from the lot is the X5 Button Lock flipper.
The standard X5 is offered with a 4-inch blade, but versions with shorter 3.5-inch blades are also available for stricter jurisdictions or easier portability. Additionally, the X5 is available with either a spear-point or Wharncliffe blade profile. The Wharncliffe profile on my test model has gained a lot of traction in the tactical community this past decade because of its strength and cutting power.
The X5 has 6061-T6 aluminum handle scales and a CPM 154 steel blade. This steel is tough, holds an edge well and resists corrosion, and my test model had a black Cerakote finish for even greater durability.
One small quibble I had with the X5 was the design of the clip. It is curved at the bottom, and the end curves back up and out like a spoon. I found the clip was more prone to snagging on things than the clips of other knives I’ve used. For a quick fix, aftermarket clips are available to remedy this minor issue.
The X5 flipper does not utilize a liner or frame lock. Instead, it makes use of a push-button lock like those often found on automatic knives—though the X-5 does not open automatically. The push button must be depressed to unlock and close the folder. To avoid inadvertently unlocking the blade, the X5 comes with a safety switch that can be employed while the knife is being used.
Select models, like my test model, come with Hogue’s G-Mascus inserts, each of which has its own color and personality. I found that the inserts provided great traction and had a more organic feel than plain aluminum slabs. The X5 also had an extra-positive detent, but the action was extremely smooth, and the blade powered open with little effort. MSRP ranges from $209.95 to $259.95. For more information, please visit hogueinc.com.
Looking for something a little more extreme? Spyderco ticks the box with the Advocate, which was designed by Gayle Bradley. The hard-as-nails appearance belies the subtle touches that went into this folder’s features and overall design.
The handle is fashioned from titanium scales that wear an orange-peel texture for a little extra eye candy. Also, the edges of the scales are radiused along the entire length, providing for a very comfortable grip. Lefties can rejoice as well since the Advocate is set up for both right- and left-handed carry, making it a contender for my personal list.
The Advocate uses ball-bearing washers that Spyderco promotes for their low-drag actuation. However, the action of this particular knife was not as slick or positive as a couple of the others, and it required a little more effort to get it to quickly lock open. But fear not, as the blade also sports Spyderco’s trademark thumb hole for easy one-handed operation as well.
Aside from the terrific machining and titanium scales, the Advocate features a blade made of CPM M4, which is considered one of the best steels available for cutting because of its superior edge retention. The blade is 3.49 inches long, falling just under the 3.5-inch limit for many jurisdictions, and it locks in place via an integral frame lock. MSRP is $380. For more information, please visit spyderco.com.
We Knife Chimera
Some of the most beautiful production knives I’ve come across in a while are made by We Knife. But those looks are backed up with quality materials and outstanding design execution. Take, for instance, the Chimera, one of We Knife’s latest flippers for 2018.
As good as it looks, it’s even better in the hand. The titanium frame has a distressed finish, adding a little apocalyptic zest to the package. It incorporates a strong integral frame lock with a steel lock bar for added durability. The knife also uses a ceramic bearing for silky-smooth deployments. The lockup is fast and positive, part of which is due to the extra mass of the 3.9-inch, flat-ground blade.
The blade uses S35VN steel, which is one of the best options for a knife of this type. It offers great edge retention yet allows for easier sharpening compared to its S30V predecessor. At 0.16 inches, the blade is a good bit thicker than some of the others reviewed for this article, adding to its strength.
Finally, if I weren’t fairly ambidextrous when it comes to knife handling, I would’ve been disappointed to find that the Chimera is only set up for right-handed users. While the flipper is usable with either hand, the titanium handle is only drilled and tapped for right-hand pocket carry. MSRP is $298. For more information, please visit weknife.com.
Zero Tolerance 0609
Fans of tactical blades need no introduction to Zero Tolerance. The company’s products have earned a great reputation for smooth operation and excellent quality. We received one of ZT’s more elegant offerings in the form of the new 0609; this is a smaller version of the company’s original 0606CF.
The 0609 is a sleek package that looks like it was crafted more for a dinner party than EDC. But don’t let its good looks fool you. Its high-speed, low-drag design leaves nothing on the table when it comes to performance.
The 0609 starts with a bronze anodized titanium frame, giving it real eye appeal, with different-sized chevrons and flowing lines. The 0609 also features an integral frame lock, ZT’s KVT ball-bearing system and the oversized See-Through Pivot (STP) designed by R.J. Martin.
Unlike a few others in this review, the 0609 is a very slim knife. And though the action is buttery smooth and positive, keeping a grip on the handle while deploying the blade is a bit tricky for me with my thicker fingers. The machining on the handle is quite attractive, but it doesn’t add much traction for a positive purchase. This isn’t a huge deal for a non-tactical EDC knife since you’ve got the time to pay attention to what you’re doing.
The 0609 sports a lot of blade for its size, with a 3.4-inch CPM 20V blade and a 4-inch handle. Zero Tolerance built the blade for top-tier corrosion resistance, edge retention and a good degree of toughness as well. MSRP is $325. For more information, please visit zt.kaiusaltd.com.
And the Verdict on the Best Flipper Knives?
For the sake of word count — we first published this article in a magazine — it’s impossible to give a complete point-for-point comparison of these flippers. Because they all differ in terms of steel, profile, size and intended use, each one is going to be chosen for different reasons. For instance, the Hogue X5’s modified Wharncliffe blade profile provides excellent leverage for power cutting. Meanwhile, the chisel grind on Emerson’s Mini CQC-7 Flipper makes it better for penetrating thrusts. Similarly, one could extoll the benefits of Spydero’s use of CPM M4 for its superior edge retention while, on the other hand, another person might be swayed by the Chimera’s relative ease of sharpening thanks to its S35VN blade. Some may eschew the bulky size of the X5 or Chimera and prefer the slim lines and aesthetics of ZT’s 0609. These kinds of things are in the eye of the beholder.
However, I did try to make some judgements on the very basics of the knives. For example, flipper knives should be able to open easily with the flick of a finger. In that regard, the Chimera had the smoothest and most positive action, with the X5 coming in second. In terms of sharpness, all five knives were excellent right out of the box. They each shaved arm hair and cut free-hanging newsprint with ease.
Comfort during use is a bit more subjective. However, I did notice that the Chimera and X5 had a few edges that dug into the hand, especially when bearing down on harder work. Conversely, I found the Advocate and Mini CQC-7 Flipper to be the most comfortable; the Advocate because of its soap-bar-like radiused edges and the CQC-7 because of its handle-to-blade length ratio. Additionally, the Mini CQC-7 Flipper provided the best traction with its textured G10 scales.
So, do I have a favorite or two out of the bunch? Yes, but I’m not going to tell you. My preferences come from what I use folding knives for on a daily basis. My choices also stem from balancing features like edge retention versus ease of sharpening, or cutting edge length versus portability. And, of course, visual impact plays a part as well. So, what’s important to me might not matter that much to you.
Ultimately, these flipper knives are excellent representatives of the different classes and design philosophies for which they were built. While each has its particular strong suit, none of them have any significant downside. It’s a great time in the knife industry. Never before has there been a wider variety of quality products to suit each user’s particular needs. It all boils down to deciding which features and aesthetics are most important to you. No matter what you decide, you’re sure to pick a winner.
This article is from the winter 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Grab physical and digital copies at OutdoorGroupStore.com.