Learning how to use a knife safely is an essential step in starting a carving project with Wilderness Youth Project. Kids of all ages (and adults!) must demonstrate these skills to keep themselves and others safe.
With this great responsibility comes the ability to have lots of fun, satisfaction, and creativity with plant materials that we find outdoors. Below is a short list of tips for how to stay safe and what types of equipment to use. Be sure to check out the cute video “Whittle Kids” from our friends at Trackers Earth as well.
***First Step – Make sure you have permission from an adult to use a knife***
What kind of knife to use?
- Potato Peeler – these are great if you have never carved before or if you just want to peel the bark off of a stick. For the young child who is learning fine motor skills, carving with potato peelers is a great training tool. Making a blood circle is still a good idea since these tools are sharp.
- Fixed Blade Knife – This is a strong and reliable knife for carving. Fixed blade means that the blade of the knife has a backbone of metal that extends inside the handle called “the tang”.
- Folding Knife – Pocket knives, Swiss Army knives or Opinel knives like the one pictured have the ability to fold into the handle. This can be convenient and take up less space than a fixed blade knife. If the knife does not have the ability to lock the blade so that it can not fold back in on itself, it is not a wise choice to be using for carving. Many times the user can accidentally fold the knife on their finger when carving and hurt themselves. Better to save these knives for small tasks like cutting string.
A sharp knife is a safe knife
- Keeping your knife clean, free of rust, and sharp is the best way to stay safe.
- Knife care and how to sharpen a knife is beyond the scope of this write-up but there are many other resources on the internet if you are curious.
Create a safe carving area (AKA Blood Circle or Blood Bubble)
- Find an area that is easy to mark a line (sand or soft dirt) or gather materials (sticks, bark, rocks, grasses, etc.) to make the outline of a circle.
- Make the area big enough that if you pointed your sheathed knife around it with your arm extended, you could not reach the outside of your circle.
- Imagine where others are most likely to walk, then find an area that has a lot of space away from trails or walkways.
- If the weather is hot, find a spot in the shade
Check in with your mental state or attitude
- Do you feel calm and ready to focus?
- If you feel distracted or need to move your body, do so and come back to your project later
Always cut away from yourself
- Holding your project in front of you allows you to carve into the open space out in front of you.
- You can rest your forearm that is holding your project on your knee but make sure that your carving project is still out in front of you. Otherwise, you might turn your leg into your carving project.
Angle your knife at 45 degrees or less
- This will ensure that your knife strokes are light, long, and easy and not hard, short, and requiring lots of effort
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Keep your knife sheathed when not in use
- When someone comes near your blood circle, they may not be aware that you are using a knife (especially curious kittens!). Stop carving until your blood circle is clear of any unaware creatures.
- If you need to get up to do something else, always sheath your knife first, then either take it with you or put it in a place where it will not be tampered with (e.g. off the ground on a table).
Passing a knife safely
- The best way to pass a knife is to sheath it or close it, then pass it on.
- If you must pass your knife without a sheath, turn the knife around so the handle is facing towards the person you are passing it to, and the blade is facing outwards from the palm of your hand.
Here are some simple beginning project ideas
- Sharpen a stick to a point
- Sharpen your pencil
- Make Chopsticks
- Whittle a Magic Wand
- Carve out a Butter Knife
- Create a throwing Spear
- Alan Kaufman (the knife guy) – notes on knife safety
- Tracker’s Earth – Whittle Kids – wood carving with trackers