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


  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.

    • Sorry SM James, you couldn’t be more wrong !
      Removing the corners of the Tote-N-Chip card teaches that a “Scout CANNOT CUT CORNERS of blade safety w/o consequences”.
      The loss of the “privilege” to carry or use a blade is significant.

  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.

    • Hank, that is such an intolerant policy. These are kids and mistakes are going to happen. How is a child going to learn. Please reconsider.

    • Hank, an infraction is a serious matter and needs to be delt with appropriately such as revoking their card. But to not give them the opportunity to learn from their mistake and earn the card again is not what Scouting is about. That may turn the boy away from Scouts all together, and then we lose the opportunity to positively influence the boy. Scouting should be safe place to fail and learn from mistakes, for both youth and adults.

    • I understand one infraction you lose it. I don’t have a problem with that. But not to earn it back can be a little harsh. His friends can use a knife but he has to wait till he bridges two years later and up to a year later when a troop gets to it.

    • How will the kids learn? I’m in cubscouts, and tomorrow I cross over, I saw one of my friends get his whittlin’ chip revoked after he lost his corners and it him a year to earn it back and I still think that wasn’t fair. You should give everyone a chance to earn their knife rights back so they can learn from the experience and make better choices in life with their second whittlin’ chip.

    • It seems that a “one and done” policy isn’t very helpful for the scout. They need to learn and being able to start over is ok too. My favorite thing about scouts, were a safe place to fail.

  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.

    • ChetNC, I think your missing the point. Serious infractions are viewed, in our Troop at least, as separate from “corner cutting violations”. We don’t actually cut off a corner, but the Scouts all know what we mean: a safety circle just a little too small, passing a knife in a just-outside-of-acceptable manner, not holding the wood as safely as should be when whittling, etc. It’s a way of communicating “this is important”…

  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

    • I’d be interested in the citation for the “hazing” you mention. It would be interesting reading. BTW, as others have said, it isn’t the paper that matters, not one particular knife. Using a knife without permission is just plain not allowed. The card is just an outward sign of the permission, but we’re still small enough that all adult leaders would know if a Scout had lost his carry rights.

      • Also the scouts themselves know this is not “hazing”. Having a corner cut is them not following the rules and therefore must live with the consequences of their actions.

    • Yes, it can be hazing. Corner tearing was a common practice when I was a Scout back in the early 70’s. When I got my Totin’ Chip, the troop bullies made sure to catch me doing something less than perfect and then exact their punishment. It wasn’t anything stupid or even exceptionally dangerous, but I nearly left Scouting.

      So my advice is that if a troop chooses to follow the ancient corner cutting practice that it be done only by an adult.

  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.

        • Every adult scouter and scout in our troop earns their chip. How else could we teach it. And SPL can and will cut corners. No one is above the rules. But there is common sense like when someone steps into your circle everyone is reminded about safety. I have cut corners off for serious safety issues and had to re-earn mine just like everyone else when I left it in my shirt and washed it for the second time. By the way, the scouts love the opportunity to instruct an adult about knife or hatchet safety, So we all tend to know our stuff a little better. After twelve years at Committee Chair, we have only had one who lost it completely.

    • I think your missing the point……this is a tried and true tradition…..I lost a corner off mine when I was young and it carried with me my whole scout career and it was done in front of the whole troop……I guarantee I did not lose a second and that is the point….”this is not hazing”…..hazing would have been if I had gotten teased about it afterwards…..I’m sorry folks discipline is discipline and if it comes in a visual form such as losing a corner that is a reminder every time you pull your card out then so be it….also that lets the person inspecting the card the knowledge that this scout has been prone to fooling around with dangerous tools so you might want to pay closer attention to them….we are trying to raise good men with scouting….so why is it bad to teach that if you express bad behavior there will be consequences… people in this discussion are trying to say candy coat it because the boys have little feelings…..when the national pres says basically says they don’t care one way or the other leave it up to the troops…..would it not be better to teach the boys real life examples of consequences… play with knives stupidly in real you can go to jail…. losing a corner off a “totin chip” is pretty mild……and can some one tell me when scouting became so PC because nature and real life are not

    • Yes! I want the grandfather or father to pull out his chit with the missing corner and share with them how he too made mistakes, how he grew in scouting and how he succeeded! I think it represents scouting well. We make mistakes, we learn from them and we carry on.

      • Man do I wish I could show my boys my stuff from when I was in Scouts. Mistakes and all. Unfortunately between a rood leak, and Hurricane Katrina, a lot of things that were saved, but I didn’t think about really hard, are gone forever. My Totin Chip is one of them.

  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!

    • Other then the cost of public embarrassment, I am not sure what the scout learned here. This was a teachable moment list.

    • 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.

  29. For “minor infractions,” you make an appropriately firm, on-the-spot correction and make it a teachable moment. For major infractions (and one would hope these would be very uncommon), the adult leader should take reasonable steps to address the situation, which typically means telling the youth that he no longer has permission to handle cutting tools until he completes training.

    What is the value of asking the Scout for a card so that you can permanently deface it, memorializing their minor transgression so long as they possess the card? Cutting corners off the card serves no legitimate purpose other than to reinforce martinet-like behavior among those youth or adult leaders engaged in the cutting.

  30. “Martinet-like behavior”??

    Actions have consequences and the potential for harm when woods tools are used improperly can be great. A couple of things are needed to make corner-cutting an effective teaching tool.

    1. The procedure should be spelled out at the time a Scout is awarded the card.
    2. Those leaders – youth and adult – authorized to clip the corners have to have a clear understanding of what constitutes a “clippable” event. In our Troop it has to be something clearly dangerous. (Running with an open knife, for instance.)
    3. You get the “teachable moment” when you explain what you saw that was wrong and clip the corner of the card. It should start with, “What was wrong or right with the way you were handling …?”
    4. Since, in my experience, many boys are very excited bytheir ability to carry and use woods tools; they get careless in their handling of the tools an d need a firm reminder of procedure. Some will quickly demonstrate they do not have the maturity to use woods tools properly and the corners will dissappear quickly.
    5. The procedure should also include a policy that (name your criteria) after a corner is clipped, the Scout can be issued a new card without having to go through your Units Tot’n Chip procedure.
    6. In my Unit, youth leaders can clip the cards of careless adults. This engenders a sense of fairness and prevents adults from getting sloppy.

  31. I can see the need for addressing safety with boys when they behave in an unsafe manner and certainly repeated transgressions should require some kind of reteaching/re-earning of the right to carry a knife.

    Here is a situation, thought, that highlights why I have an issue with the corner clipping:
    A Scout was goofing around at a district event with the butter knife from his mess kit (playing like it was a sword but not within arms reach of anyone else) when an adult leader from another unit took his totin’ chip and clipped a corner. Was the Scout in the wrong? Yes. But was this the correct kind of action for the infraction? Did it reinforce correct knife handling in a positive way or did it serve to embarass and belittle the Scout? Too often this kind of correction is punitive rather than focused on positive teaching.

    • File under: “Why my scouts avoid district events.”

      If SM and SPL feel like it, just discreetly give the boy a new card! Life really isn’t that traumatic.

    • Maybe I’m being territorial. What right does someone from another troop have to make ANY decisions regarding yours unless the boy’s ‘sword’ fighting was aimed at or with one of HIS boys.

      Even then, it should have been addressed to you, and between the two of you a decision made. I would have been hard pressed to hold my tongue in front of the boys. They would probably have had to walk up push my lower jaw back up to my upper jaw! Unbelievable!

      I would definitely have taken that leader aside and given him a few words, then went to my boys and try to correct a horrible situation. SAFETY IS FIRST AND FOREMOST, but the situation you are describing is ludicrous…you said it was a BUTTER knife.

      Yes, inappropriate, but not dangerous. Now steak knife with a point and serrated edges would be different. But still not the business of the other unit leadership. Ok, let me use a caveat….unless your troop (not saying you specifically – any troop) was known to let dangerous things occur with no repercussions.

      But I can honestly say I do not know any troops who do that, but I’m sure there are somewhere.

      • It makes no difference if it is a butter knife, or a plastic knife from some fast food restaurant. All knives should be treated the same, if not then it can lead to scout not learning how to handle a knife. I still use proper knife etiquette to this day regardless of what kind it is. Butter knives can still penetrate the skin if someone is stabbed with them. In our troop we not allow that kind of goofing around with it. I think other SM was fully justified in his actions.

        • I see your point. But I think the issue for me is that if they are playing (or not playing) in such a manner that a butter knife could cause physical harm (as in pretending to STAB someone)…I would be more concerned with the MENTAL issues of that child more than the item they are using. It would take tremendous force – especially for a child – to do physical harm with a butter knife – it could later be a ball bat or tree limb which DOESN’T take a great deal of force if they are mentally ill as in WANTING to cause physical harm.

          I don’t say that lightly. I did the research. A nurse was stabbed 39 times with one in an ER and only had minor injuries – and that was to the arm, back and neck. Lots of discussions out there on this, but one example given over and over is 100 psi and that was with a SHARP instrument. Would take more with a dull one. Again, a wound is a wound. It’ just the difference between lethal and non-lethal.

          NO INJURIES IS EVER OK – NO AMOUNT OF PRETEND fighting is ok, My only point is that it isn’t the same. And I still think, in this particular situation only, the current SM should have been approached FIRST. If the SM did nothing, then that’s a whole different story. If there was imminent danger, that is a different story.

          I think inconsistency between troops confuses kids greatly, especially if they have friends in different troops. It really comes to light at camps and camporees. I’m not for demanding all troops be alike, but it does get confusing. Here’s a few examples:

          Our troop HATES the camp tents. We bring our own as do many others. However, there are many troops who require the boys to use the camp tents. Some let the boys have phones (we do – when used only in their tents at night or for contacting them if need be throughout the day – not for games, or contacting momma), but many do not. Some let the boys bring food and keep it in the troop trailers NOT THE TENTS, lol…. (ours do), many don’t. Some allow their boys to ‘visit’ or attend things with other troops (we do if we know about it and exactly where they are at all times – safety reasons of course AND if it doesn’t conflict with our troop activities or their badge work … in other words – free time)….some cause the boys not to make friends outside of the troop because they DON’T allow other troop interaction.

          Sorry, got off topic. But it comes down to the issue of the knife thing, too. Knife safety should and is taught in our troop. We don’t allow ‘playing’ with knives at all. This knife would have been removed from the child. My issue is the other SM stepping in without even approaching the troop’s SM……or any other leader there.

          According to the story, he was not being aggressive, so there was no immediate danger that needed to be addressed that couldn’t have been addressed 5 minutes later after talking to the troop SM. That’s my only issue. It appears from the story that the other SM is power hungry.

          Do not think for one minute that safety takes a back seat in our troop. It absolutely does NOT. But unless there is imminent danger, we don’t react with hysteria…well, we don’t then either…serves no purpose other than to panic the boys. Safety first. Period.

        • A bit harsh and inflexible. Scouts are boys and boys play fight with anything they can get their hands on.

      • I had a young man pick up an axe and take it into the woods without authorization. he wound up cutting off two fingers. All tools should be treated with respect be it a butter knife or an double headed axe. I would not have cut a corner. I would have taken the card and returned it to th SM with a message about knife safety.

  32. Now, if we could only get BSA Supply to change the Totin’ Chip, Fireman Chit, and Whittlin’ Chip patches from the current shapes to something else in order to make it clear that these are not to be worn on the pocket flaps.

  33. We found it more of a learning tool when the adult does not remove the corner. After the scout is educated on what was done wrong and the correct way it should have been done, the scout is then asked to give the adult one of his corners. If the scout has to remove the corner himself, it makes him think about what he did and learn from his mistake. The rate of problems have slowed down doing this.

  34. In my troop we don’t use the card. When we detect improper behavior we ritualistically parade the young man to the front of the meeting, let him pick a finger and then, with a meat cleaver, we chop off that finger, down to the first knuckle so he’ll have a permanent reminder of his mistake and a symbol of his shame for all too see. We then let the kids learning fire skills, cauterize the wound, and the kids learning first aid skills bandage the wound to prevent nasty things like infection, gangrene, etc. It serves as a pretty effecient deterrent. Most of the troublesome kids never usually have to lose more than two or three fingertips before they learn.

    • At first I was going to ‘berate’ you for humiliating the kid, and then realized where this was going. Now I’m laughing my head off. YEP, wouldn’t take but a few for them to learn, lol.

  35. What would Baden-Powell do? Yes it matters. Scouting has been setting social standards in America for over 100 years. Softening and diluting them hurts everyone.

  36. Wow, I know I’m somewhat late in what seems fairly controversial in discussion.
    As a prior Scoutmaster, Asst. Scoutmaster, involved patent and now Asst. district commissioner, the one thing I have noticed over the years, to include when I was a scout myself was the lack of training and adult knowledge from those teaching how to handle these tools. Many times I have seen adults reading from the handbook while holding the tool in the other hand. That doesn’t really instill confidence in me. Also, are these 11 and 12 year old boys being taught in an defined axe yard? If you’re having the boys learn at camp, have you taken the steps to ensure that the camp is teaching them properly as well? Find out if the kids teaching are knowledgable and using the proper methods.
    As a veteran, we always trained for any potential situation. Just because I qualified as an Expert Marksman didn’t ensure I could be in six months unless we returned to the rifle range regularly. On your camping trips or at a troop meeting, set up an axe yard and retrain EVERYONE. Don’t forget, you are teaching children between the ages of 11 – 18. Do you remember when you were that age and how you acted? I’ll bet you didn’t act like a 45 – 50 year old.
    Only once did I ever have to consider clipping a corner, and in the end I confiscated the knife, returned at the end of the event and provided remedial training. The offending scout never offended again. Just as two other scouts were making flame throwers with bug spray and matches at camp. Their fireman chit cards were revoked, they were immediately taken to remedial classes, by the SPL, while the rest of the troop enjoyed waterfront activities. They never offended again.
    Finally, we all know that you can never retest a scout, but you can re-review the material. Have the boys who have earned the badge to help review the material. It’s the same thing with the totin chip and fireman chit cards.

  37. Depending on the severity of the offense, we determine if it is a cut corner or we tear up the whole card. My old Scoutmaster used to tear up the whole card and he would warn us ahead of time once we earned our Totin’ Chip. I think he tore up one card during my time in Scouting.

  38. As an assistant Scoutmaster and a past Webelos II leader as well as 14yrs part of the cubs and Boyscouts, I feel that cutting corners for the totin chip card or the whittling chip is like a police officer adding points to your drivers license and giving you a ticket. It’s a warning and an example of what could happen if you misused your knife, ax or saw.
    It is nothing to be goofing off with and is for their safety. So giving them warnings by taking corners off is a good thing.
    I had one boy show his card to another boy who wasn’t in Boyscouts and saw that one corner was missing. The non Scout boy asked why and he had to tell him that he didn’t use his knife properly. It was a good experience for the Scout because he admitted his mistake.

  39. I have to say I am squarely in the cutting corner’s group here. Yes, there are some infractions that constitute mire then 1 corner. In that case you lose 2,3 or even 4 corners. For example, threatening someone or throwing at another. However, sometimes “boys will be boys,” that is make a dumb, inappropriate decision based on their inexperience. It doesn’t warrent a complete loss of privilege, just a “kick in the pants” reminder. For example, cutting towards you as opposed to away from you. I’ll cut a corner, not take his card. Remember, good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.

    • By the way, I gave to say I love the idea that a scout can ” ask for a corner” of an adult leaders chit. For Boy Scouts and above, I see that as a real learning experience for all involved.

  40. In our Troop if it is a safety violation or someone being careless the leader will warn the scout and explain what he was doing wrong. The scout will loose one corner of his card. If it is a major infraction like threatening another scouts safety then the card and the knife are taken away and the knife is only given back to the parents after a conversation. At this point the Scout has to earn his card back. If a Scout would ever have three corners cut off that also results in the lose of the card and you have to earn it back. That’s just the way we have always done it. I don’t remember ever going past 2 cuts and have never had to take a card or knife from one of the boys.

  41. The biggest problem with this thread is that the Totin Chit is NOT a BSA requirement, it is a piece of paper containing a pledge to use cutting tools safely that the scout signs. Nowhere in a Scout’s advancement or in any other BSA policy, procedure, or guideline does it say a Scout must have a TotinChit or Fire’em Chit. It is not in 2nd Class requirement 3c. It is not in the Guide to Safe Scouting. It is not a “license.” So adding to the requirements and making up rules doesn’t make any sense to me. Talk to your scouts and train them, if they willfully disobey, provide proportionate consequences, which could include restrictions and retraining, but I fail to see how cutting a piece of paper does anything. Present the program, Don’t try to reinvent it.

  42. I cut corners for my boys only, and made it a learning moment for them as a group. “Sorry I have to do this, but I am keeping you safe.” Only had to do it a couple of times, and they knew I was serious about their safety. I never cut other troop’s boys chip corners, but when I saw unsafe behavior, I would ask to see the boy’s chip, then take boy and chip to their leader and report the unsafe behavior. This is not hazing, this is how you protect them.

  43. Being “licensed” for an activity is normal in modern society. We demonstrate our skill and knowledge for the privilege of driving a vehicle on the public roads. We demonstrate our knowledge and skill to practice professionally as a doctor or lawyer. Our buildings have to be built by folks that must pass tests and inspections of their skill . Why not Scouts?
    Totin Chip is a license attesting to a demonstrated skill. The Scout should be imbued with the pride of tool skill. Can he say “I made that steel sharp” ? Hefting an axe (rated for size?) is a fun thing, a satisfaction only available in seeing the chips fly , the logs pile up, the tree fall. Our insistence that this be done SAFELY is inherent in the activity.
    As adult leaders, we must set the example of safe, skillful use. We must be consistant . The modern Scout often is met with adults, even their parents, that say one thing and allow another. We “Akelas” (there’s a term doomed for obsolescence) must say and mean and demonstrate the same standard all along the way. If we say THIS is unsafe and will result in your loss of this activity (privilege), then we must not be afraid to really take it away.
    Scoutson revels in my tales about his grandfather who was a one armed master carpenter. Tools and their use were his pride. I knew I would never be as skilled as he with my
    hand(s), but I learned to take pride in whatever I attempted and succeeded in. Teach your Scouts the same pride of tool use. It will leak over into the other activities in their life.

  44. So many things have been brought up here and the discussion is so extremely varied. There are many things in Scouting that are not written down as hard and fast rules. Until recently, tucking in your shirt was one of them. It was an in or out, as you wish thing. But so much discussion was put out about it they made a rule. Just like any organization, just like the civil law, you cannot have a rule for everything or you will choke to death on rules. The Scoutmaster has to have some wiggle room in order to deal with things. Zero tolerance has proved to be a miserable failure in schools and would be so in Scouting.

    Once my Scoutmaster not only took a boy’s knife away but sent him home from summer camp for threatening another camper with his knife. The knife was apparently closed but the boy told the other camper he could flip it open and harm the camper at any moment. That was way more than a corner off your card as it should be but would you do something like that for leaving your knife open on a table? One size doesn’t fit all. I have seen our boys remind each other about their knife safety if they are the one to see it. I’ve seen PL’s, ASPL’s and SPL’s take corners if they see it. Our leadership always asks the boy if they know what rule they have broken and what they should have done instead. Every moment needs to be a teaching moment and we usually learn the most when we mess up.

  45. Corner cutting is cutting corners. If a Scout is mishandling a sharp implement, take the time to work with him on fixing the problem. Situation addressed. If it’s willful disobedience, take the implement and the Chip away and have him earn it again.

  46. Absolutely believe in the cutting off of corners, simply as a mark for others to recognize. I may not be the next to witness the unsafe behaviour. My scout leaves his open knife out on the table….I take a corner. Later another adult witnesses unsafe behaviour….asks to see the card and sort of like a cop looking up a license sees evidence of prior poor judgement. While I wouldn’t expect the other adult to pull a corner and would appreciate the respect of them bringing my scout to me to handle it, I absolutely believe the card should speak for itself when presented.

    I’ve only had to pull a card on the first offense once….The scout (my son) whittled the corner off of my solid cherrywood dresser.

  47. Cutting off corners allows for a learning experience. It gives them 3 chances to follow the rules when the last corner is cut off they lose their card and have to retake the class. When there is unsafe behavior some kids just forget when they get down there they usually know better but made an error in judgment. 10, 11, 12 year old kids are expected to know information that most people never learn and what many scouts did not learn until older. Now we push kids to have there first class in one year. how much do they really retain at a young age. Why are we pushing these kids so hard because they may not become eagle scouts. Yes it would be nice for everyone to be an eagle scout. I think we need to focus more on the quality of instruction rather than the quantity.

  48. Darn right we cut em off. When I was an ASM one of my jobs was teaching blade safety along another ASM who was a former SEAL. It was our troops policy to clip corners. Lose the corners, lose the chit and recertify. Not carrying your chit, surrender the blade.
    Safety first! Worry about little Johnny’s delicate sensibilities later. Blades and political correctness don’t mix.

  49. Those opposed to cutting off a corner as warning should consider the following:
    When you receive a ticket (and regardless how long since the last one) you received a ticket or warning for an infraction. You did not get your driving privilege revoked for going 5 miles over, making an illegal U-turn or rolling through a stop sign.

    If you are against giving the scout chances please turn
    in your drivers license at your next infraction and set an example of the no-tolerance policy.

    • I had a youth once that sliced his hand open with carving a block of wood. Instead of cutting a corner, like most would have done, I asked him about knife safety. He had the thumb buddy on, he was being careful. He simply misjudged the grain of the wood. Instead of cutting a corner, I explained that he had take the correct precautions and had he not, then his card would have been taken away.

      In my Unit, we either take the card away with a soon to follow retrain session or we go over the safety checklist. If they passed the safety checklist then they keep the card. Growing up in Scouts I did some stupid things with my knife. Well actually three stupid things because the forth would have resulted in my card taken away. Which is why we do not cut the corners of the card.

  50. A long time ago — when this question first arose in this column — I commented teh cutting of corners was deemed “hazing” by the Youth Protection folks at National. Having found no formal statement in the Guide to Safe Scouting, I apologize for making my opinion without the facts to back it up, and apologize to anyone who does believe this practice of card-cutting is hazing.

    From, the following test:

    If you’re not sure whether or not something happening to you or to someone else is hazing, ask yourself these questions (the responses are mine):

    Q: Would I feel comfortable participating in this activity if my parents were watching?
    A; Yes.

    Q: Would we get in trouble if a school/college administrator walked by and saw us?
    A: Probably not.

    Q: Am I being asked to keep these activities a secret?
    A: While I would not cut the corners in front of the whole troop, I would have no reason to deny it if someone asked.

    Q: Am I doing anything illegal?
    A: No.

    Q: Does participation in this activity violate my values or those of this organization?
    A: No, it is a graphic demonstration that we honor the values.

    Q: Is this causing emotional or physical distress or stress to myself or to others?
    A: A possible “Yes”, but if the Scout had not violated the rules there would be no reason to cut the corner. It is a lesson that there are consequences for negative actions.

    Q: Am I going to be able to get a job if I have to put a criminal arrest on my application?
    A: For trimming a piece of cardboard? I seriously doubt it.

    While I will leave cutting the Totin’ Chip card to the Scout’s leader, I will amend this by saying regardless if the card is cut or not, some remedial retraining for the young man would be in order, only so he recognizes what he has done is wrong and will know not to repeat the violation. If sufficient time passes and there is no repeat offense, I would reward the Scout by presenting him with a brand new Totin’ Chip card, and let the matter rest.

  51. In our Troop the privilege to carry a knife, or work in an axe yard, is just that… A privilege that must be earned and then maintained. Scouts are taught that safety is the goal and that everyone must adhere to the rules or loose the privilege of the knife. I tell them that ” it’s not baseball, and you don’t get 3 strikes”. I may allow two minor infractions but major ones will result in the loss of privilege until the safety course is retaken. Any future major infraction will result in never being able to have knife privileges again. While it may seem harsh I’ve never had a Scout argue that I was wrong about being a protective Scoutmaster.

  52. I do not cut corners, I take their knife for an infraction. I hand the knife to a parent, next time I see them, with an explanation of what happened. Plain and simple and it has worked for years.
    My one problem is that I see boys in other troops wearing the tot n chip patch on their R uniform pocket flap. Why are the patches shaped like a pocket flap in the first place?

    • The old style pockets actually used to be pointed. so it made sense at the time to make them pointed like the pocket. I share the same pet peeve as you do as I am in the Order of the Arrow and every time I see one on the Right pocket flap it reminds me that there are to many leaders that either do not read the uniform guidelines or are not in the Order.

  53. I had read the same thing regarding hazing by cutting corners but unfortunately cannot recall from where. One alternate to cutting is blacking out the corners. Cutting corners might not be a big thing for older scouts but younger scouts tend to take it harder as seeing an award they worked for be damaged. Depending on the severity, more than one corner can be ‘cut.’ One leader would reteach at the moment of the infraction. I felt that was a great way of correcting the action instead of hoping the youth learned from one torn corner.

    In regards to the patch, in the Uniform Guide it is listed not as a pocket flap but for the bottom of the right pocket. Older Boy Scout shirts and current Cub Scout shirts have the right shape for the pocket. The newer Boy Scout shirts have curved bottoms so it looks out of place. The good thing is that the card is the more important of the two to carry. The pocket flap has been designated for OA flaps only.

    Even though it is not an earned award it goes on the youths’ advancement records should the youth move or new leaders have come in. As much as we should trust a youth or their parent, there are some that might just purchase the card without proper instruction for safety. Having worked with many military families having records has been a great tool to make sure the youth can get their replacement card even through its packed away in some box.

  54. Do not cut corners! Correct the infraction, i.e. poor form, standing too close to someone, ect, but don’t cut the boys chit, unless he refuses to learn the correct method, or it is a safety issue. Then just take the knife.

    • Thanks, Glenn. You’re right. Whether you cut off corners or not, the key is making sure the boy understands knife safety!

    • It’s no different then lending one to a scout without one, out troop would have kept the knife, given it to mom or dad after the trip, and the buying scout would have had the reason that was a bad idea explained. As Scoutmaster I knew every kid and if they had a card or not.

  55. Re: The comments that say cutting a corner off the Totin’Chit is wrong…..

    Please explain then why doing that is wrong but ticket/fine/demerit points are fine for YOUR driving license!!!! It’s the same principle – add up enough demerits/corners, you lose your license. If the offence is serious enough, you have your license revoked and have to earn it back!

  56. I was under the impression that our troop would allow us as leaders to “cut corners”, but when a knife infraction occurred, the scout’s knife was taken and his toten chip was revoked until he repeated the class.

  57. At one summer camp I staffed, the Scout Master of one troop had the boy who lost the privilege of having a Totin’Chit sit with him at the campsite fire pit and explain that he understood why he was loosing it. Then the boy had to burn his Totin’Chit in the fire. (The boy then had to go through all the steps to re-earn his Totin’Chit.) From around the campsite, other scouts silently sneaked glances at what what was happening.The scoutmaster had a special “stick” used for roasting marshmallows , hotdogs and Totin’Chits. The campsite would get quiet whenever the scoutmaster would ask in a loud voice: “Where’s my stick”? LOL LOL LOL

  58. Cutting the corner off the Tot’n Chit is a figurative thing in our Troop. We don’t physically cut the corner off — just say it. Gross infractions result in not having s valid card and the need to re-take the training. One of our leaders ran a saw into his hand during a service project. In the ER, he gave up his card, then participated in the training with young Scouts. Great example to the Scouts and drive home the point of handling tools safely. By the way, this is not hazing. It is reinforcing behavior.

  59. We did it, sometimes a corner, sometimes two, sometimes took the card. Let the punishment fit the crime. There was no single corner for every rule violation, Senior Patrol Leader or New scout, If the rule break was serious, the card and knife went away and the committee would decide, if it was a simple violation a corner at the time. Sometimes the boy sitting by himself making a pointed stick, has somebody enter the circle uninvited, either they didn’t notice or it didn’t instantly come to him to stop. Both kids lost a corner. These are lessons, and we didn’t just give that class to give the knife back. The refresher for a loss could be a longer class , with a purpose. As far as questioning other scouts, our troop did knife checks and card checks all the time at troop meetings, camp outs, nobody carried without the card, nobody checked a saw or ax out of the trailer without one. Nobody. The safety factor is simple, the procedure and consistency is the game of scouting. Every troop is different, but every troop member and leader should be the same.

  60. My son had his finger sliced open by an ax when a fellow scout was improperly handing it. He had to have surgery to repair the severed nerve…. so, yes, cut the card corner, it’s not shameful, it’s an important reminder to use the tool as intended!!!

  61. Well looks like for Cub Scouts, Cutting Corners from the Whittling Chip is now forbidden. Page 69 of the 2017 BALOO Syllabus states:

    “Describe how the Whittling Chip, if revoked, must be re-earned as a complete unit in order to again carry and use a pocketknife. The corners cannot be cut off from the Whittling Chip for infractions—the certificate must be treated as a single entity.”

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