Let’s be blunt about pocket knife safety

A sharp blade can be a useful tool when setting up camp, fishing or cooking. It can also be dangerous when used carelessly.

Policies vary among packs, troops, councils and camps when it comes to what blade types and lengths are allowed. The BSA sets no official standard on knife length.

But there’s one rule everyone agrees on: pocket knife use requires responsibility.

A tool, not a toy

Bears can start carrying a pocket knife after completing the Whittling Chip requirements. Scouts in Scouts BSA must earn their Totin’ Chip, which also gives them the right to carry and use axes and saws.

Another important point to remember: the Whittling Chip is a Cub Scout certification and is not equivalent to the Totin’ Chip. It cannot be applied to Scouts BSA — Scouts must earn the proper certification to the appropriate program to earn the rights to carry and use knives on Scout outings.

These rights, however, can be revoked if the Scout fails to be responsible. When it comes to cutting corners off these cards, here’s the word on that practice.

Some big no-no’s:

  • Throwing a knife
  • Using a dull or dirty blade
  • Handing a knife to someone blade first
  • Cutting while others are within your “safety circle” (arm’s length)
  • Carrying an open pocket knife
  • Carving into something that doesn’t belong to you
  • Cutting toward your body

Treating pocket knives with respect and using them accordingly not only ensures the Scout’s safety but also keeps others safe.

Sharp and clean

Part of pocket knife safety means maintaining the blade’s cleanliness and sharpness. To clean, open all the tools and use a toothpick or moist cloth to wipe dust and lint from inside the pocket knife. If you used any water for cleaning, apply a little light oil to the knife’s joints afterward.

Normal use can dull a blade, so get a whetstone. Hold the knife at a 25-degree angle against the stone and push the blade along it or move the blade in a circular motion. Sharpen both sides and wipe the blade. Check its sharpness by holding it under a bright light. If the edge of the blade doesn’t shine, it’s sharp.

A sharp knife is safer than a dull one because a dull blade can slip while cutting. Here’s how to clean a dirty knife.

The right blade

The BSA recommends picking the right knife for the job. Here are some tips for determining which knife might be right for the job at hand.

Your Scout Shop has many knives to choose from, including single-bladed models and ones with all the bells and whistles. (OK, none has literal bells and whistles, but they have everything else you’d need.) Click here to find pocketknives, sharpeners, axes, saws and multitools.

Scouts who want to explore the proper use of woods tools can earn the Paul Bunyan Award. There’s no official restriction on ax size, either. For guidelines on other tools, click here.

About Michael Freeman 132 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.