Ask the Expert: Is cutting corners off the Totin’ Chip allowed?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?Play around with a knife, lose a corner on your Totin’ Chip. In my troop growing up, it was that simple.

If a Scout lost all four corners of his Totin’ Chip (essentially a Scout’s license to carry pocketknives, axes and saws), his blade-carrying privileges were revoked until he re-earned the card.

It’s all part of Boy Scouting’s well-reasoned approach to teaching boys to see pocketknives, axes and saws as tools, not toys.

But it’s the corner-cutting business that was on the mind of a Scouter who asked to remain anonymous. He sent me this email: 


I just got back from [Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills training], and in the ax, saw and knife section of the class, the topic of Totin’ Chip came up. Participants and staff mentioned how in their troops, they cut the corner off the card when a Scout commits an infraction.

It was my impression before attending this session that, although popular procedure before, that this is no longer allowed in the Boy Scouts of America.

What do today’s official rules say on this matter?

Yours in Cheerful Service,


Great question, Anonymous. And thanks for the email.

I checked with Bill Evans, the BSA’s subject-matter expert on all awards and recognitions. He pointed me to the last line of the BSA’s Totin’ Chip guidelines: “The Scout’s ‘Totin’ Rights’ can be taken from him if he fails in his responsibility.”

“This is all we say,” Bill said. “Period.”

In other words, the BSA doesn’t tell troops they must cut corners off for Totin’ Chip violations, but it doesn’t prohibit the practice either.

This is a decision for troop leaders, and I’d recommend including your senior patrol leader in the discussion as well. Set a standard, and enforce it.

See also

The Whittling Chip, which is for Cub Scouts

Ask your question

I can’t track down all the answers, but send your Ask the Expert questions to me and I’ll do my best.

Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by herzogbr

54 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: Is cutting corners off the Totin’ Chip allowed?

  1. I have been the course director for seven IOLS’s and during that block of instruction we teach that the “cutting the corners” method teaches the boys that it is OK to “cut the corners of safety”. At the same time we also stress the point that it is up to the UNIT whether or not they support the cutting of the corners or the one time infraction, but all of the leaders in the UNIT should agree and enforce the same policy and not have half or your leaders do it one way and the other half do it differently.

  2. I’m Committee Chair of T948 in the Los Angeles Council, and we use the corner-cutting practice. Our Scouts rarely have more than one cut because the first usually gets the message across.

    My one caveat is that if the infraction is bad enough, e.g. even “playing” at a knife fight, I think it constitutes grounds for immediately revoking To tin’ Chip!

    Redondo Beach, CA

  3. I deal with Cubs and Whittlin’ Chip, and our policy is your first infraction will be your only infraction; the card is revoked, the parent informed, and they’re not given the opportunity to earn it again. They need to wait until they cross over to earn their knife rights back.

  4. We follow the corner cutting approach, unless the violation is such that we revoke the whole card. In addition to retaking the course to get their privileges back, we also have some “violaters” who have had to help teach the course to younger scouts as part of their reinstatement.

  5. Another interesting tradition that never seems to die – here’s why I dont do it: If the Scout knows that unsafe behavior only has cumulative negative consequences, then in effect, he has 3 opportunities to practice unsafe behavior with no consequences. Then, it becomes a never ending game of “catch me, cut my corner” by youth and adult leaders alike. Is that game really any fun? And more importantly, have I really taught the Scout anything about personal responsibility or personal ACCOUNTABILITY? Does anyone really want to spend their campout being the Totin Chip Patrolman? Isnt the real goal to teach the Scout to behave like a Scout when no one else is around? Of course.

    Teach the Totin Chip. Award the Totin Chip in case your Scout wants to carry a knife at some event outside the unit (because in his unit the card is redundant : his patrol leader and senior patrol already know if he has been trained). If the Scout makes an error or wasnt trained properly, let the SPL address it. If he is obviously unsafe with his equipment, take it away – that’s not an SPL job, that’s a Scoutmaster job. Woe betide the Scoutmaster in this litigious society that says “Well, Johnny was observed being unsafe on at least two occasions, but we never took his knife away or retrained him on expectations becuase, well, he still had a corner left on his Totin Chip,

    I think we got off track here around the time folks started calling it a “chip” instead of a “chit” which is what it really is.

    • We maintain that you have to have your card any time you are carrying a knife at any Scout function. Our Scouts will even ask each other where their cards are as they might not know if a given Scout had theirs taken away or not.

      The totin chip block of instruction doesn’t take long and our older Scouts will sometimes use it as an opportunity to teach using the EDGE method.

      • That was really my point – is it really constructive to have Scouts doing license checks on other Scouts? What authority does a fellow Scout have to ask such a thing if he is not the PL or the SPL of that Scout? And, if he is, why doesnt he already know if that Scout is a trained and safe user of those tools? After all, the PL should probably be poignantly aware of any Scout in his patrol that has not been trained and/or lost his privilege because he should be directly involved in both things, right? If I was a young Scout, would I feel the need to constantly re-affirm that others have their license based on a sense of safety………or a sense that I could catch my some guy slipping and expose his error? The baser side of human nature is the latter and much more common in my experience.

        You are correct that the class is fairly short and if taught correctly, tends to stick with the Scout, especially if he has the opportunity to practice his skills on a regular basis. But, do I want my Scouts primarily concerned with developing safe habits or in developing a sense of legalism surrounding basic skills? In adult terms: I have a job that requires national certification in several core skill sets. I earned the certification by completing the training and demonstrating competency. But, the only time I have ever touched my certificates are the day I received them in the mail and the day I gave my administration a copy. If someone one the job observed me performing below standard, they wouldnt say “Show me your certification so I can run a hole punch over it.” They would say “Hey, Chet. That is substandard work. Did you forget your training? Here’s how you do it right, remember buddy?” And, if I was deliberately unsafe, they would say “Hey, I am your supervisor and you are no longer going to perform that function because you are unsafe. There may be some remedial action you can take later, but for now, you are done.”

        We should train our Scouts to operate within that paradigm because that is what they will experience in dealing with the rest of the world.

  6. Cutting the corners of the Totin’ Chip has been deemed as hazing by the psychology folk at National. Boys do stupid things and cutting the corners off a little rectangle of cardstock isn’t going to change that (one not-so-bright Scout cut his own corners with the knife!). People continue to drive when their licenses are suspended, so what’s to stop boys from using knives even if their Totin’ Chip is suspended? If a leader catches a Scout doing something against the rules he needs to explain to the Scout why the action is not allowed, citing worst case results if needed. Proper instruction, not penalty, is the way to go with it. If the action results in the knife being confiscated, well that’s a learned lesson.

    • Jim Kangas we have a honor code in scouting if we don’t practice it then we are not scouting. I have cut the corners of a very few scouts Totin’ Chip and all learned from it. Rules are rules we cannot risk the safety of others just because some may consider it hazing. Besides proper instruction has already been given to that scout that is why he passed his Totin’ Chip course and received his Totin ‘Chip. I once took a Totin’ Chip and a knife from a scout even though there were no corners removed his card. The reason he was lunging at other scouts with his knife as if he was trying to stab them sorry Safety comes first.
      Trenton Spears

  7. If ANYONE in ANYWAY feels for a moment that cutting a corner is cutting Safety, I seriously suggest that person rethink the purpose of the chip and the card. I have absolutely no doubt that silly notion was thought up by some manby, panby person who did not want to hurt some scouts emotional feelings. Better their emotional feelings than their or someone else’s physical feelings. Got it? Now go do the right thing.

  8. @Jim Kangas Do you have a source for this: “deemed as hazing by the psychology folk at National”? That claim seems to be exactly the rumor this article was addressing, but I can’t find backing for that claim from anything resembling an official source. Is there some reason other than hearsay why we should not take Scouting Magazine citing Bill Evans who himself quotes the official guidelines as the actual current position of National?

  9. I guess the “psychology folk” at National need to get with Bill Evans, “the BSA’s subject-matter expert on all awards and recognitions” and figure out what’s what. Wouldn’t taking the whole card be more “hazing” than cutting a small corner? The expert said either method was acceptable. Whether or not it is considered “hazing” would be the manner and intent that the punishment for violating the knife safety rules is carried out.

  10. As a Cubmaster, I do not “cut the corners” of the card. I give them correct instruction on the spot for minor violations and revoke the card and inform the parent for something serious. All our Cub Scouts must have their card in their possession if they are going to carry a knife at an approved event. No problems so far……………….

  11. My two cents: If a troop does choose to cut off a corner for Totin’ Chip violations, there would be an appropriate way to do so without humiliating the Scout. With some Scouts, a public reminder would be OK. With others, the best approach might be pulling the Scout aside — while maintaing two-deep leadership, of course. Use your judgment, I say.

    • My theory is always to praise in public, criticize in public. Thus, negative counseling should be done away from other Scouts but maintaining YP standards.

  12. IMHO… Cutting the corner is not hazing. Holding it up for the whole patrol to see and making a scene about it, is. I like Glenn’s methid too.

  13. I don’t think most boys get the symbolism of cutting off the corners of the card as Cutting the Corners of Safety… but they do get the visual impact of cutting off a corner, counting down 3 strikes your out. In our Pack, we tell the boys, you can only lose 3 corners because the fourth you have to hold on to… My husband still remembers this from when he was a child.

  14. We do tear corners off. It’s inline with real life. If I get pulled over for unsafe driving – I get a ticket, and points on my license. I get enough tickets, they revoke my license. There are consequences for misbehaviour. But not every violation requires the nuclear option of taking their knife privileges. If a kid forgets and leaves an open knife on a table – he gets a verbal warning. If he’s mindlessly carving circles in a picnic table – he gets a talking and we take a corner. (Assuming he’s sorry about it and we believe he wasn’t being malicious.) But the kid who threw an open knife at a tree? Yeah – Totin Chip and knife were both MINE. And we had a discussion with his parents over the phone.

  15. Cutiing I love to bite off a corner, this really impresses upon the scouts andd if he loses all 4 he must go back through the training again

  16. I vaguely remember 4 corners and then the card was torn!
    Regardless, we make this the responsibility of the PL/SPL. (In our troop, only youth are to sign any requirements for trail to first class. So “unsigning” the chit seems to be a reasonable extension.) If they think the whole card process is stupid, they don’t do it.

    So, if the boys are working in a safe manner we would never ask for their cards. But if an SPL/PL is having problems maintaining discipline, we might show them how to work the chit.

    And we always teach our boys how to deliver negative reinforcement in a kind and courteous manner.

  17. “In other words, the BSA doesn’t tell troops they must cut corners off for Totin’ Chip violations, but it doesn’t prohibit the practice either.” I disagree with this comment. It’s not OK to cut off corners just because BSA doesn’t specifically say we shouldn’t. Assuming something is allowed because BSA doesn’t say it isn’t allowed is crazy. Do we really expect BSA is going to list all of the things we can’t do? Doesn’t it make more sense to just assume we can and should do only what they say is allowed?

    Look at it another way: if a scout does something bad enough to make us want to cut off a corner, shouldn’t the card be pulled until he can be retrained? It’s for his saftey and that of others. Also, what if we cut off 1, 2 or even 3 corners over time, but never all 4 so that he loses the card. Do we really want him to have a cut up card for the rest of his life? How well does that represent scouting? Nice to think he can look at it with his grandkids and remember the mistakes he made in Scouting!

    I know he doesn’t speak for BSA, but Ask Andy is well respected and a member of the BSA’s National Advancement Advisory Panel. Check out some posts he’s made on the subject:


    • I read through, and completely lost what I thought he was driving at when I got to the one where he proposed “Scoutmaster Chips” for paperwork failures by the Scoutmaster as essentially equivalent to tracking safety violations by Scouts as a straw man to try to make the corner cutting method look unreasonable. Paperwork failures are not and never will be equivalent to unsafe behavior as far as the level of concern we should have about them; the safety of the youth should be above and beyond our primary concern.

    • The question is “does BSA prohibit the practice of cutting corners?” The answer is “This is the only thing BSA says on the matter.” The extrapolation that you’re making is a mile-long reach.

      • Not a stretch at all, ECJ and Andy are on the money.

        I wonder how many units that use some contrived corner cutting system and aggressively enforce it, also force the adults to earn and keep the same card, and give Scouts the opportunity to “catch and tattle” on an adult. Not many I am guessing.

  18. Like so many things in Scouting, it comes down to caring adults using their best judgement in helping youth in the program learn from mistakes. An over-the-top officious adult can berate a young person and create a humiliating experience, or a skilled adult leader can counsel the young person on their mistake, take a corner of the Tote ‘N Chit card as a visual reminder, and that youth can grow from the experience.

    Whether a corner is taken or not isn’t as important as the way in which we instruct the youth and enforce discipline to ensure safety.

  19. I have noticed over the past 30 years that cutting a corner off a totin chip card does little. In my old troop, if a scout was caught being unsafe with a knife, we confiscated the knife and told him he could have it back when his parents ask for it. That usually did the trick. I am not sure if that would work with today’s people. Some parents bring their angels to scouts and we see them turn into devils.

    If they were using a saw unsafely, they got re-educated on its use and had to saw a good quantity of wood for exercise. That way, the lazy boy that wanted to get out of wood duty, would not get their way (no totin chip, I can’t us a saw mentality). Of course if they can’t use a saw, they can use another safe tool, like a scrub pad for dishes!.

    As far as hand axes, we didn’t allow them to be used in the troop. We had too many hand injuries and you can cut more with a bow saw. Using it as a hammer is not to swift since swinging a blade at your face is unwise, that is why there are hammers.

    I guess what worked in my old troop worked for us. We only had a few instances of problems and they were taken care of immediately. Usually a new scout or a transfer scout.

    If a scout pulled a knife at someone else – easy decision…they cease to be a scout in my troop. Zero tolerance. If a scout is just not thinking, then that is another issue to deal with.

  20. Our troop does not cut the corner off the Scout’s totin’ chip card. We have him get out his book and reread the pages on knife safety for his first offense if it is not a serious safety issue and go over it with the totin’ chip instructor. The few times it was a safety issue, the knife was taken away and while we are at summer camp, he takes the totin’ chip instructor course. It works the same way with the firem’n chit card if a scout is not safe either making a campfire or is not safe in the axe yard or with the tools used.

  21. At camp the “Ax Yard” was scared ground, and part of the ambience, i.e. Wood Stacked, Pioneering Projects, etc. Any violation for what ever reason, and the Scout was barred from entree. The Scout was required to give his patrol a class on the the ‘Totin Chip’ before he could get back in the ‘Yard’.
    You can always give the Scout a pat on the back for a good presentation. That way your making lemonade out of lemons. As we all know……..

    For a ‘Boy’ 1 hour of chopping wood is like 10 hours of therapy for an Adult Scouter.


    • I would be pretty annoyed as a scout if I sit through a Totin’ Chip class because someone else didn’t know what he was doing. That’s the silent lunch approach that makes everyone suffer because of the few, it makes no sense.

  22. Reblogged this on Scouting Nation and commented:
    I think this is a great idea and one that was practiced in my troop growing up. Rising through the ranks, the scouts were much more responsible with blades after on would have a corner cut so that they did not have to deal with the embarrassment of not having a perfect blade record.

  23. An amusing take on this; a young scout, with his Totin Chip card in hand, asked to borrow a leader’s personal axe to cut some kindling. Noticing that the boy was having difficulty, the leader moved in to observe that the scout had not removed the sheath from the axe. The leader asked the boy for the axe, and his Totin Chip card; he removed the sheath from the axe and chopped the card cleanly in half!

    • Here’s how I think about it …
      A “chit” is the paper with a checklist of principles of knife and axe safety.
      By adhering to the principles laid out on the “chit”, you qualify to be “Totin” a tool and “Chip” some lumber.

      It’s just a fun little game to represent the ideal way of learning a scout skill.
      1. Reference your handbook and read about the skill.
      2. Talk about what you read to an expert scout.
      3. Try the skill under careful supervision of said scout.
      4. Do the skill with a buddy until you are an expert too!

  24. Minor infraction, i.e. sharpening by pulling the blade toward oneself or not properly handing the closed pocketknife off to another with eye contact and “thank you” are good safety standards but hardly arise to the level of high likelihood of tragedy. For such infractions, cut off a corner. Four corners suggests that the scout never learned the skills properly or forgot them or has limited executive function. These are teaching moments.

    Major infraction, i.e. throwing a knife, cutting something that should not be cut intentionally, entering ax-yard without clearance, are all reasons to take the card and knife immediately. These are safety moments.

  25. When I was a Scout in the 60s, my council (and apparently also the one in San Francisco) made our own Totin’ Chip patches. It wasn’t until I went to Philmont on the National JLT staff that I learned those patches had no place on the Boy Scout uniform (though they were clearly made with the pocket flap in mind). Somewhere along the line, BSA got into the act and started making pocket-flap-shaped patches for Totin’ Chip, and later others. Although the catalog over the years has stated that the patches are for patch vests only, and the Uniform and Insignia Guide says that the pocket flap is for OA patches (Outdoor Activity Award for Cub Scouts), try telling that to a leader or trainer who KNOWS the Totin’ Chip patch goes on the pocket flap! (Because it always has?)

    Maybe BSA should clear up its message and say the Totin’ Chip patch is not for uniform wear, and the pocket flap is for OA patches only. (And yes, I’ve heard that the patch is temporary and can be worn on the pocket itself, but that’s not really satisfactory, is it?) Better yet, BSA, show some integrity and stop manufacturing and selling (for profit) a patch that is redundant at best, and promotes improper uniforming at worst.

    Totin’ Chip is a privilege, not a patch.

  26. Oh, and take Totin’ Chip off Internet Advancement as an award. It’s a license, not an award. And once it’s listed, it can’t be removed, which defeats the whole purpose of its being revocable.

  27. I teach the whittling chip for the cubs and use the cut corner method.. the knife is confiscated and given to the parent.. I also let the parents decide whether the scout will be allowed to carry because we all know age does not equal maturity level. my typical class takes about 2 hours plus paractical hands on (over a few den meetings) to really drive home the importance but I go as far as covering proper care, sharpening, handling, and use.

  28. C.G. One of the keys to Scouting is developing “Leadership Skills”. By having that Scout get up in front of his patrol will help in develop his . The next time he handles an ax or knife he will think about his presentation. Keep in mind every time you have to sit through a class, and your bored, because you got it, that doesn’t mean the Scout on your left or right gets it. Being reminded of the rules doesn’t hurt.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s