Top 5 merit badges to help you create handmade gifts for family and friends

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You won’t find this adjective in the Scout Law, but it might as well be sculpted in stone, painted on a wall or embroidered in the finest thread.

A Scout is creative.

Yes, this means Scouts find unique ways to solve problems, serve others and explore the outdoors. But it also means they find more tangible ways to express their creativity. For members of Scouts BSA, this often happens while earning one of a surprisingly diverse group of merit badges designed to channel that imaginative spirit.

These merit badges — five of which we’ve outlined below — turn Scouts into makers. Scouts who earn any of the merit badges below won’t just gain a new skill. They’ll leave with some sort of physical manifestation of that skill.

With a big gift-giving season approaching fast, it’s worth noting that this thing Scouts create, whatever it may be, would make a thoughtful, one-of-a-kind gift for a family member or friend.

In other words, before you hit up Etsy or eBay, consult the list below. Most recipients will agree a handcrafted gift beats anything you could find at the store.

Let’s unwrap the “Top 5 merit badges to help you create handmade gifts for family and friends.”

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Basketry

There’s a saying in my family, passed down from generation to generation: You can never have too many baskets.

With so many uses, both practical (storing household items like towels, toys or toilet paper) and decorative (holding things like potpourri, ornaments or smaller baskets), baskets help you contain some of the chaos in your home.

Baskets can also help Scouts earn a merit badge as they create these plaited, coiled, ribbed or wicker containers from scratch.

The list of requirements for the Basketry merit badge is one of the shortest in the BSA’s entire menu of merit badges. There are just three requirements to earn this one. But don’t confuse short with simple.

To earn the merit badge, a Scout must complete three projects: a square basket, a round basket and a campstool seat (like the one pictured here).

Like anything in Scouting, there’s just as much value in the journey as the destination. That means that even if the finished product doesn’t end up in the Museum of Modern Art, it’s still a functional creation that can declutter your home without a trip to the Container Store.

Links: See the requirements | Buy the pamphlet | Find supplies

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Pottery

There’s one sure thing that’ll improve Mom or Dad’s morning bowl of Grape-Nuts. (And no, I don’t mean replacing the Grape-Nuts with a cereal that doesn’t resemble driveway gravel, although that wouldn’t hurt.)

I’m talking about eating that cereal out of a handmade bowl, thereby ensuring that Mom or Dad will think of the bowl’s creator as they start each day.

Clay creations have long been a go-to gift for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. But Scouts who earn the Pottery merit badge take those hand-shaped pieces to the next level. Under the direction of a qualified merit badge counselor, Scouts take time to sketch out their design on paper before their hands ever touch clay or a potter’s wheel.

After that, they learn essential pottery terms (like the difference between earthenware, greenware and stoneware), discuss different kinds of kilns, and learn about career opportunities in pottery.

Requirement 5 is where the Pottery merit badge really heats up. Scouts must create five pieces and paint, glaze or otherwise decorate each one.

  • A slab pot
  • A coil pot
  • A pinch pot
  • A human or animal figurine or decorative sculpture
  • A functional form thrown on a potter’s wheel

Five pieces could mean five gifts for the holidays. Perhaps a vase for Grandma, a coffee mug for Grandpa and a figurine of Fido for dog-loving Aunt Em.

Links: See the requirements | Buy the pamphlet | Find supplies

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Art

Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 fetched $44.4 million.

But ask any parent to name the most valuable piece of art they own, and they’ll probably point to something hanging on the refrigerator.

There’s just something special about artwork created by your kid. Whether it’s a 3-year-old’s abstract finger painting or a 15-year-old’s watercolor landscape, parents wouldn’t part with those masterpieces for any price. (OK, maybe they’d listen to a bid of $44.4 million. That would be a great start to any college fund.)

To earn the Art merit badge, Scouts learn to create pieces worthy of upgrading from the fridge to a frame.

They learn the elements of art, including line, value, shape, form, space, color and texture. And then, as with every merit badge, they get to put those lessons into action.

For requirement 4, Scouts use four different types of media to render the same subject — a flower, for example — four times. They can chose from four of the following:

  • Pen and ink
  • Watercolors
  • Pencil
  • Pastels
  • Oil paints
  • Tempera
  • Acrylics
  • Charcoal
  • Computer drawing or painting

For a thoughtful gift idea, Scouts could create each of those four pieces on 5-by-7-inch pieces of art paper. They could then find a frame that holds four pictures and display the pieces together. Flower, Four Ways would be the kind of handmade gift a recipient would remember forever.

Links: See the requirements | Buy the pamphlet

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Cooking

Meaningful handmade gifts aren’t just those that look good. They could also taste good, too.

For the Eagle-required Cooking merit badge, Scouts learn cooking basics before practicing those skills in two locations: at home and at camp. Requirement 5 is about camp cooking, where Scouts plan and prepare meals for their patrol, so there’s not much potential for gifting there.

But requirement 4 covers cooking at home. It challenges Scouts to cook for their family, planning menus for 10 meals: three breakfasts, three lunches, three dinners and one dessert.

See what I’m getting at? What a great gift idea for a hard-working parent used to working a full day and then preparing dinner for their kids.

A Scout could give their mom or dad a custom gift certificate redeemable for an entire weekend off of cooking. Or they could present a booklet of 10 coupons, each redeemable for a Scout-cooked meal. (The meals can be spread across several days; they don’t have to prepared consecutively.)

These aren’t frozen dinners, meaning the preparation involves much more than poking vent holes in plastic and popping something in the microwave. All meals on the requirement 4 menu must:

  • Be created after consulting the MyPlate food guide
  • Include ingredients selected, budgeted and shopped for by the Scouts themselves
  • Use at least five of these 10 cooking methods:
    • Baking
    • Boiling
    • Broiling
    • Pan frying
    • Simmering
    • Steaming
    • Microwaving
    • Grilling
    • Foil cooking
    • Dutch oven

After each meal, the Scout must ask someone they served to “evaluate the meal on presentation and taste.” They’ll discuss the review with their counselor and make adjustments for next time, meaning each subsequent meal should be better than the one before.

It’s a thoughtful, homemade gift that leaves just one question unanswered: Who’s doing the dishes?

Links: See the requirements | Buy the pamphlet | Find supplies

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Wood Carving

How do you create a handcrafted gift out of a block of wood? Work on it whittle by whittle. (If that joke made you smile, head to Boys’ Life for thousands more.)

There’s something extra special about a gift carved from wood. I think it’s because the activity takes so much time. Each curve, edge and notch in the wood requires hours of careful shaping by hand.

Unless you have a laser cutter in the garage, there are no shortcuts here. When you receive a wood carving as a gift, it’s heartwarming to imagine the creator spending hours turning a plain block into the shape in your hand.

To earn the Wood Carving merit badge, Scouts learn to safely use the right tools to make different types of cuts. The pamphlet includes steps for completing a 3D carving, also known as carving in the round.

Scouts can choose from one of the designs in the pamphlet, including an antelope neckerchief slide, a wizard and an eagle walking stick. But they can also complete the requirement with any design they want, meaning they could choose something the recipient would appreciate: a beloved animal, the logo for a sports team or even a favorite food. (If you carve a cheeseburger, be sure to send us a photo!)

The other project-based requirement challenges Scouts to decorate a flat piece of wood by creating a simple low-relief or a chip carving project. The pamphlet includes the design for a mounting board on which Scouts could add a patch, photo or small painting. That sounds like a terrific gift idea. Scouts could create the board and add a patch from a favorite Scouting adventure with Mom or Dad, a family photo, or even a piece created for the Art merit badge.

That latter would mean two homemade gifts in one — truly something to remember.

Links: See the requirements | Buy the pamphlet | Find supplies

Returns and exchanges

Is there a merit badge missing from the list above? I didn’t have room for the Leatherwork merit badge, which seems a natural fit. I also considered including Home Repairs, because what parent wouldn’t want their child to fix that broken screen door?

But this list is a top 5, not a top 6 or 7. Leave a comment below with your suggested replacements, but be sure to say which one you’d remove.

Ready for 5 more?

Click here for other entries in our “Top 5 merit badges” series, including:

About Bryan Wendell 3106 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.