With proper training, many Scouts can use a knife — a valuable tool for camping or working on a whittling project. A multitool provides multiple blades and other tools. Examples are saws, drivers and even forks and spoons.
A knife is not a toy. If you’re a Bear, Webelos or Arrow of Light Cub Scout, earn your Whittling Chip. If you’re in Scouts BSA, earn your Totin’ Chip. Then you will know how to safely carry and use one of these tools.
There are several types of knives.
All-purpose folding pocketknives are common in Scouting. Most come with tools such as a can opener, screwdriver, tweezers and, of course, knife blades — all in one compact package. Though they can be extremely handy, a downside is the knife blade doesn’t lock into place, so it may fold up on your hand while you’re using it.
Lockbacks are simple folding knives with a single blade that can be locked. So you get the benefits of a sturdy fixed blade-style knife but in a convenient pocket-size package that can be folded open with just one hand.
Fixed blades, are no-nonsense knives with a beefy handle and stationary blade. If you need a knife to accomplish the everyday tasks you come across in the outdoors, from whittling on things and cutting materials to spreading peanut butter on your sandwiches, a short, no more than four-inch-long, fixed-blade knife will accomplish all of that. Avoid large sheath knives; they are heavy and awkward to carry.
You’ll also find specialty knives such as river rescue knives with serrated blades for slicing rope, whittling knives designed for carving wood, and multitools, which are compact, handheld tool boxes. Most are built around a pair of folding pliers.
FOLDING OR FIXED KNIFE? KNOW THE POLICY
Knife policies vary among packs, troops, councils and camps when it comes to what blade types and lengths are allowed. Learn your unit’s policy before buying a blade of any kind. When it comes to types of knives, the Guide to Safe Scouting recommends “choosing the right equipment for the job at hand.”
Most blades are made from strong and durable stainless steel. Blades are available in straight edge, serrated (jagged like a saw) or both. Bigger is not always better. A small, sharp four-inch-or-smaller blade can cut just as well as bigger knives but is much safer to handle and easier to maneuver in tight spots.
PRICE AND QUALITY
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a quality tool. Often, an inexpensive knife will do everything you want it to do. As prices go up, you’ll see small improvements in the quality and size of the blade.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Knives and multitools can last your whole life if you care for them. Wipe your pocketknife with a damp cloth to clean it, and add a drop of food-safe oil at pivot points to keep it at its best. Use a sharpener to keep your blade sharp.
“A sharp knife will work for you, while a dull one works against you,” says Kyle Owens of Work Sharp, a company that makes sharpeners.
CARRY IT SAFELY
The smartest, safest place to stash your knife is in an easy-access spot in your backpack. You’re asking for trouble by wearing a fixed-blade knife on your belt. If you fall, the knife could rotate inward and you could land right on the blade.
TREAT YOUR KNIFE WITH RESPECT
Treating pocket knives with respect not only ensures your safety, but also keeps others safe. Here are a few major 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)
- Carving into something that doesn’t belong to you
- Cutting toward your body
Using a knife requires responsibility. Bear Scouts can start carrying a pocketknife after completing the Whittling Chip requirements. Members of Scouts BSA must earn their Totin’ Chip, which also gives them the right to carry and use axes and saws.
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