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Les Baer Custom/Emerson Knives CQC-45 Matched Set

Les Baer Custom/Emerson Knives CQC-45 Matched Set

Collaborations by virtuosos are rare things. Rafael would have never painted a statue by Michelangelo, and I have yet to see a duet album by Yo-Yo Ma and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Often possessed of rather strong opinions, most talented artists and craftsmen see their work as stand-alone pieces and seldom do two arts share paths of convergence. But two legendary craftsmen recently converged to produce an extraordinary collaboration. The canvas, stage, or genre? Close-quarters fighting tools.

Les Baer and Ernest Emerson are well-known names in the world of 1911s and tactical knives, and both started serious study of their respective arts just a few years apart, Baer in 1976 and Emerson in 1979. The two have built cult followings, products of their efforts to produce some of the world's highest quality fighting tools. A year ago Emerson decided he wanted a custom pistol/knife set, and the 1911 was the only pistol he considered. A mutual friend put him in touch with Baer.

"I knew he was a straight shooter and a no B.S. guy," Emerson said. "That's the kind of guy I wanted to build the pistol. We needed to work with someone who had that kind of reputation but could make more than one gun a month. It's a rare thing. Les has carried an amazing attention to detail to every gun." And like Emerson's knives, Baer's pistols are made in America with American parts.

The Pistol
The CQC-45 1911 starts life as two forgings. The steel is a proprietary blend that took Baer over a year to develop in conjunction with his forging house.

"The slide steel is close to a 4140, and the frame is softer so that it is workable and doesn't crack under the stress of firing," Baer said. "The slide is heat-treated, then machined. That really eats up cutters left and right, but that's the only way you can keep them straight."

Certain frame parts, like the rails, are left oversized so they can be hand-fitted. Baer's craftsmen use draw files to shape and size the steel. The sear, hammer, and disconnector are all hand-fitted as well.


"We never use a lapping compound because you can never get the compound completely out of the steel," Baer said. "Eventually, you will get a sloppy fit as the traces come out of the steel's pores."

One of the most critical steps is fitting the slide bushing and barrel to the slide and frame. Baer starts with forged barrels from Fred Kart. Kart cuts the chamber and rifling using a proprietary process that leaves the interior surface uniform and perfectly smooth. Hard fitting the bushing to the slide and the barrel to the bushing with lug cutters and reamers by hand is a complex, tedious operation, but Baer is adamant that it should be done that way.

"This is what makes the guns so accurate," Baer said. "It takes two to 2½ hours per pistol, but with match ammunition my guns shoot 3 inches or less at 50 yards and less than an inch at 25 yards."

All of the other parts are produced by Baer, with the exception of the Wolff springs that power the pistol. Baer uses forgings only and gets nauseous at the mere mention of metal injection molded (MIM) parts. He is a purist, and that suited Emerson's vision of the perfect fighting pistol.

"I really made just a few suggestions and leaned on Les's experience," Emerson said. "I wanted a dressed-down, straight-ahead working pistol. I don't like gadgets, stippling, or serrations. I wanted it clean--basic black and as close to what John Browning designed as possible."

The knife wears the same serial number as the pistol and is etched with the Emerson logo. The blade's hook allows a user to open the knife when withdrawing it from a sheath or pocket in a smooth, lightning fast motion.

That suited Baer just fine. While shortening the slide and frame does not necessarily mean a pistol will not shoot, he guarantees 100-percent reliability with 5-inch pistols with almost any ammo. The CQC-45 also uses Series 70 trigger parts--there is no firing pin block. The slide wears rear cocking serrations only and the frontstrap is hand-checkered to 30 lines per inch. The flat mainspring housing has serrations. The CQC-45 has a slight dehorning job because Baer or Emerson did not like the looks of a "melted" pistol. Other parts include a match trigger with stainless-steel bow, a slightly extended tactical magazine release, finely checkered slide stop, and fixed sights produced by Baer and powered with Trijicon tritium lamps.

"We decided to go with our extended safety, not an ambi, but we can install one if that's what the customer wants," Baer said. "The triggers are set to 4.5 pounds but drop down to 4.25 pounds after a few hundred rounds and stay there."

A satin black, Teflon-based finish offers excellent looks and wear and corrosion resistance. The G-10 grip panels are a dark-earth brown and were produced by Emerson in-house. Both the pistol and knife grips have the traditional double-diamond checkering interruptions, giving the set a matched appearance. G-10 is a glass-filled, epoxy resin that is extremely durable, so much so Emerson uses it on nearly all his knives.

"In the last 20 years about the only way we've seen the grips break is to run over them with a humvee," Emerson said.

The Knife
Emerson wanted more than just matching grips, he wanted the knife's lines to match those of the pistol--clean, simple, and American.

"It was back to me to design a knife that reflected the pistol's feel, but it still had to be functional and ergonomic," Emerson said. "I wanted a traditional blade, not some Klingon-looking, space-age deal, and the Bowie knife is the traditional American knife. With a curved clip up front, it's a working man's blade. It's not a skinning knife per se, but it would work in a pinch. It's a tactical knife that will work in a lot of different places."

The knife blades are ground--the first 20 will be hand-ground by Emerson himself--from steel that took Emerson years to find, just like Baer's preferred forging material. Crucible 154 CM stainless tool steel is combat proven and not too brittle or soft.

"You can harden this steel up to 60 or 62 RC, but we don't go that hard," Emerson said. "We found that 57 to 59 RC offers a little more ductility. A broken knife is no knife, but a dull knife is still a knife."

The blade is flat ground and

has a nonconventional one-sided edge of Emerson's own design.

"We chisel grind the blade so you can sharpen it by scraping it on a rock or a pipe and get a working edge in the field," Emerson said. "You don't need stones or sharpeners."

The knife utilizes a simple locking-liner system where the left liner snaps into place behind the blade when it's opened. The liners are made of 6AL-4V titanium--six parts aluminum, four parts vanadium--that offer a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel and a natural spring action that should never wear out. There is no heat-treating; they are just cut and bent to shape. A stainless-steel ball detent matches a dimple in the blade to hold the knife closed. Since the knife and all its parts are manufactured in Torrance, California, if anything breaks, it can be easily repaired.

Years ago Emerson developed a patented, one-handed opening feature that eliminated mechanical parts that might fail. There is a small hook at the blade's base that allows the user to catch the pants pocket or sheath edge and apply a rearward and downward pressure when drawing the knife to open it quickly. According to Emerson, practiced users can beat automatic knives every time. Several videos on Emerson's website deftly demonstrate the technique.

"We developed it for the SEALs so they could open the knife one-handed if injured or hung up in parachute rigging," Emerson said. "Our patent name is the self-deploying opening feature, which is kind of dry sounding, but that's what it is. Customers call it the Emerson wave feature."

The set is exclusive and cannot be purchased separately. Both the knife and pistol wear matching serial numbers, the Baer number begins with "ECS." Three eight-round magazines manufactured by Baer, a bushing wrench, and a manual are included. You will also find an ace-of-spades playing card shot and signed by Emerson and Baer, one of 150 rounds that are put through the pistol before shipping.

Everyday Tools
Fit and finish were what you would expect from a set costing $3,123. Baer's pistol is near perfect. It even sounds different. When the slide is dropped, there is a muted, tight "click" that sounds different from production guns. The accuracy results speak for themselves, and the gun is simply a better shot than most shooters. The knife fits the hand perfectly, and the attention to detail is amazing. Emerson's knife not only looks like a 1911, it feels the same as the pistol. But putting this collector-grade gun and knife in a display box would probably get you in hot water with both Baer and Emerson. They are adamant about using them as everyday fighting tools. They just happen to be very nice everyday fighting tools.

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CQC-45 Accuracy

Ammunition 25-Yard Accuracy (in.)
.45 ACP
Black Hills 230-gr. FMJ 0.90
Black Hills 230-gr. JHP +P 1.10
Remington 230-gr. Golden Saber 1.42
Winchester 230-gr. JHP 1.62
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest.

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