Make it a habit!Don’t leave your knife lying around – not even for just one second as you turn away to grab something out of your backpack. All of a sudden you get called to do something else and you forget about the knife. Then your kid runs into it! If it's not in your hand, it's in your sheath! Make it a habit!
Children and knife safety! The subject is almost taboo…
Should my children be using knives? When should they start? What should I watch out for? A sharp knife or a dull one? Is it even legal to carry a knife?
Our society has a rather negative association with knives, especially when the word ‘child’ comes into play. But think for a second about knives in your life. Chances are that you use a very sharp knife everyday, and there are likely several knives lying around the house at all times – whether in the kitchen, the garage, the toolbox, or even your razor in the bathroom. Doesn’t it make sense to teach your children early on about using knives safely and prevent a few stiches along the way?
At TheHikingChild we don’t simply encourage to teach your children about using knives; on the contrary, we think it’s your parental responsibility to do so. Hiking with your children is a great time to learn about knife safety. Out in the forest you can carve hiking sticks, build fires, or perform a wide variety of knife exercises. But before you do, you yourself need to learn how to handle a knife safely and teach your children a few knife safety rules while you are at it. In this article we will teach you the basics of knife safety. When you are finished reading you should also refer to our article on Knife Techniques For Safe Cutting to learn a few safe and effective methods of using your knife. Teach your children the rules, demonstrate the techniques, give them the knife and supervise the daylights out of them. Soon enough your kid will be knife competent and most importantly, knife safe. So let’s cut to the chase.
Law and order for knife use
Before we even talk about knife safety you may want to ensure that carrying knives is legal wherever you’re travelling. Search “US knife laws”, “Canada knife laws”, or “knife legislation” and a plethora of info will come up regarding the subject, including a state-by-state, provincial, and country-by-country breakup of knife legislation. Don’t forget to verify the situation with your airline if you intend on taking your knife for a flight, and clearly don’t take the knife in your carry-on luggage. Most legislators seem to target and prohibit the types of knives closely associated with violence. Switchblades are a great example – you know, when you’re walking down a dark alley and some dude in full leather pops a knife out of his sleeve – that’s a switchblade, and most places require a permit for you to own one. Generally, any automatically opening knife is not too good – automatic meaning a knife that opens by itself with the push of a button or by the use of gravity or spring. A dagger is also not good, nor is a stiletto (and we’re not talking about the shoes). That said, when you and your family are going to the forest with a bushcraft knife or a Swiss Army knife, you’re going to have to do something really stupid to get yourself into trouble with the law.
Your knife is legal, but is it safe?
Ok. Having verified that you are within your local jurisdiction, let’s take a look at some safety rules associated with knives and children (btw. they also apply to adults). The first is so obvious that it shouldn’t even be said, but we will say it anyways: Please, please, NEVER run with an open knife. In fact, you shouldn’t even be walking with it. If you need to walk, place the knife in its sheath or close it if it’s a folder. Follow that one like the word of god. The second rule should also not be said, but again… The area around you MUST be clear before you pull your knife out of its sheath. If it’s not clear, don’t pull the knife out! Period! Finally, remember that the person with the knife is the one responsible or the supervising authority if the person handling the knife is a child. Treat the issue seriously. The person using the knife and any person supervising must be concentrated on the task at hand. If there are other kids running around in the area (even if it’s far away), other people, dogs, horseplay, whatever… none of that should distract the person (people) with the knife. Inform the others that you are using blades and have them stay a safe distance away. At the same time teach your child to FOCUS on cutting, and not on anything else around them. Safety will be the result.
If it’s not in your hand, it’s in your sheath!
Simple? Don’t leave your knife lying around – not even for just one second as you turn away to grab something out of your backpack. All of a sudden you get called to do something else and you forget about the knife. Then your kid runs into it! If it’s not in your hand, it’s in your sheath. No ‘buts’.
This may sound ridiculous, but cutting your hand when unsheathing a knife is not as uncommon as you may think. Specifically, it concerns holding the sheath in one hand, and pulling on the knife handle with the other.
In the photo the boy is pulling the knife out of its sheath; notice how the fingers are positioned? They are just below the seam that separates the sheath from the knife handle. An inch closer to the handle and they would be overlapping the blade, which ultimately means first aid kit for a rather nasty cut. It’s an easy mistake to make. Point it out to your children, demonstrate, and they should remember.
Closing a folding knife: reverse closing technique
Most folding knives use a spring to help the knife snap back into its slot in the handle. If your child’s fingers are covering the slot when the knife snaps into place, that’s a potential trip to the first aid kit. Teach your children the reverse closing technique: instead of holding the knife by the handle and closing the blade onto its slot, do the reverse, hold the knife by the blade and close the handle OVER the blade. First of all, this makes it very unlikely that your child will cover the slot with their fingers; and second, a snapping handle is less dangerous than a snapping blade. It’s an easy trick to follow.
Passing the knife safely
This picture demonstrates the proper way to pass a knife from one person to another. Hold the blade tilted slightly away from you (not upright – you don’t want the tip pointed towards you). You can brace your index finger against the handle to prevent it from getting nicked by the blade. Make eye contact with the person receiving the knife – like that bluebird is doing. It’s also good if the receiving person confirms that they are holding the knife: “got it” should be good enough.
The blood circle
This is an old favorite of scouts around the world. If you extend your arm directly in front of you, and make a 3600 circle, that entire area is called the ‘blood circle’. It basically means that when using your knife, anyone within that ‘circle’ has the potential to get cut. You can extend the ‘blood circle’ to approximately two times the length of your arm. The rule is that if anyone is within the ‘blood circle’ (obviously other than the supervisor), you put your knife away into the sheath and stop what you are doing. Look, the bluebird knows this one too!
The knife slipped
When you are setting up your cutting position – the position that you will be in when using your knife – always think about how the knife is going to ‘slip out’. Once in a while you will make a careless cut, and the knife will slip off the material that you are cutting. If it does, where is it going to go? Envision it and perform a practice ‘slip’. Line yourself up for the cut, but instead of digging the blade into the material, let the blade slide away in the direction that your cutting hand wants it to go. What are you going to hit? Your leg, your foot, your supervisor that is standing beside you? The proper answer is NOTHING! Only then can you move forward with making the actual cut.
One final word on the knife ‘slipping’ form your friends at TheHikingChild. Remember that the knife WILL slip out. It may happen once out of every 20, 30 or 100 cuts, but sooner or later it WILL. Don’t ever find yourself unprepared and teach your children to always keep this in mind.
Slice away from the triangle of death
When slicing, as a rule, always slice away from your body not towards it. There are cutting techniques that require the opposite – they mostly concern fine detail carving – but we will not get into those in this article. For now, away from the body, always!
Most of the time that you are using your knife the slicing takes place in front of your body. Picture a triangle that extends from the right knee toward your groin, and from your groin out toward your left knee. This area is called the ‘triangle of death’. The reason is that scouts like to give scary sounding names to almost everything. Just kidding. The real reason is that there are major arteries running along the inside of your legs. If you cut them, your first aid kit will not be enough – especially if you are in the middle of the woods. So all cuts are to be made outside the ‘triangle of death’, and you need to teach your kids to be extra careful to follow this very important rule. If for any reason you do need to make cuts directly in front of you, place your elbows on your knees – this makes it impossible to strike your inner thighs. Our article Knife Techniques For Safe Cutting shows you some methods of cutting without coming close to the ‘triangle of death’.
Sharpen your dulls away
There is NO discussion about it: a sharp knife is SAFER than a dull one, even if your mother-in-law disagrees. That’s because a sharp knife cuts with less effort. It means that you don’t have to push as hard to make a cut, and that means you have more control and agility over what you are doing. With a sharp knife you are limiting the risk of having a powerful stroke ‘slip’ and cut you. The same goes for your children when they are using a knife. Sharpen your knives! If the ‘sharp’ knife in your household cuts more like a butter spreader than a samurai sword, you should be happy to know that an article on knife sharpening is right around the corner. You will become so good that even the Slasher will come over to sharpen his blades.
When should your kids begin using knives?
So at what age should you begin teaching your child how to use a knife?
In our opinion, as soon as your child is old enough to stand at the kitchen counter and ‘help’ you with cooking, he or she is old enough to learn about knives. Now don’t panic, we’re not that crazy! Begin with a butter knife. Teach them how to butter a toast or spread cream cheese, or to scoop jelly out of a jar and spread it evenly. Eventually move forward and have them cut the toast. Work them up slowly and when you see that their knife handling skills are improving you can introduce a knife intended for small children, such as this Curious Chef nylon knife. The nylon knife is serrated and does a decent job cutting (even tomatoes), but at the same time it is not sharp enough to cause any great damage to your child’s hands (which does not mean you shouldn’t be supervising when your child is using it!!).
Begin with a banana, first peeled, later with the peel. Teach your child how to hold the material that they are cutting. Show them that a knife must slide back and forth in order to make a cut; pressing down is not enough. Step-by-step to bigger and better jobs like a pear, cucumber, and so on. Eventually you can move on to a knife with a sharper blade, such as this Opinel Le Petit Chef stainless steel model. It provides a much more accurate cutting experience than the nylon knife, yet with its rounded tip, finger guard and educational ring it is still much safer than conventional kitchen knives. And when your kids are good enough to slice an apple, they are good enough to take a knife outdoors to begin carving sticks. So as the saying goes:
It’s not the age, it’s the mileage!
That’s it. These are the basics. Do they guarantee that your child will never cut him or herself with a knife? Of course not! We all make careless mistakes sometimes and your children will as well. However, following the rules described in this article greatly lowers the chances of a mistake; more importantly, it lowers the severity of an accident if it does take place. Once again, take a look at our article Knife Techniques For Safe Cutting. Lots of useful info in there as well. It will teach you how to use a knife properly and develop your (and your child’s) knife competence. Happy cutting.
 An automatic knife does NOT mean a folding knife (aka. assisted opening knife). They are two different things. A folding knife, like a Swiss Army knife, is simply a knife that folds. You need to use your own ‘effort’ to open or close it. A switchblade is a knife that by its design ‘wants’ to remain in the open position, but a lock mechanism keeps it closed (in other words, a switchblade would never remain in the closed position if there was no ‘lock’ to keep it that way). As such, all you have to do to open a switchblade is push a trigger (or other means), and the knife opens by itself. In most cases folding knives are legal, but switchblades are not.