At TheHikingChild we believe that hiking and camping are excellent opportunities to teach your kids about using a knife; in fact, it’s your parental responsibility to teach them how to use one safely. In How To Use A Knife Safely we teach you a few knife safety rules that you should learn, teach your children, and then follow religiously. In this article we discuss a few knife techniques that may be applied in the woods. You will learn how to achieve either powerful cuts or precise cuts depending on your requirements and how to use a knife in the safest way possible. Don’t have a knife? Check out our article The Best Knife For Hiking And Camping and get yourself one. Ready? Let’s go!
Brace For It
We begin by addressing a major misconception about using knives: that you use your arm to make a cut. That may be true in the kitchen, but when carving against wood it’s far more effective to brace your knife (keep it motionless) than it is to be moving it in a sliding motion away from your body. The reason is that your arms are weak and will tire quickly, and you will make more powerful cuts when using your back and shoulder muscles as opposed to your arms. Braced cuts are also safer, and they deliver cleaner cuts. Most bracing techniques involve holding the knife with your arm locked out in the ‘straight’ position, and making the cut by pulling on the material (most likely a piece of wood) against the knife – not the other way around. Of course, you can also make cuts using your arm in the ‘traditional’ sense (arm bent at the elbow sliding out), but the brace technique is much more effective. There are several ‘bracing’ techniques for carving, so let’s get into them below.
The Straight Arm Technique
This technique is likely the most common method of cutting or carving material with your knife. Most people refer to this as whittling. Lock your arm to the side of your body to avoid the ‘triangle of death’ (read How To Use A Knife Safely if you don’t know what the triangle of death is). Hold the knife at a 900 angle. Place the wood against the blade and pull back using your arm, shoulder and back muscles. Use the part of the blade that is closest to the handle to avoid excessive movement of the knife and your wrist.
Notice the locked arm in the picture? The boy is pulling the stick with his left arm, and only bracing the knife with his right.
The Shoulder Technique
Place the material that you intend to cut on top of a firm object, such as a tree stump. With your arm locked and knife at 900 angle, use your upper body and shoulder muscle to push the knife down and make a cut. It is easier if you use the part of the blade that’s closer to the handle. When performed to the side of your body this technique is very safe and can be used for making powerful cuts that remove a lot of material. It can also be used for making fine items, such as feathersticks to light a fire.
In this picture the boy’s arm is locked properly and he is pushing down on the knife with his shoulder. That’s good! It would be even better if he angled the knife 900 and used the part of the blade closer to the knife’s handle.
The Knee Brace Technique
The knee brace cut is another safe and powerful technique because the knife is locked into a sturdy position pointing away from your body. Squat down on one knee and ‘brace’ the spine of the knife against the upright knee. Hold the knife tight in a locked position. Place the material that you intend to cut against the knife and pull back using your shoulder and back muscles. As opposed to the straight arm and shoulder techniques, you can use more of the tip-end of the blade as opposed to the handle end.
The Chest Lever Technique
Another powerful technique that is also more precise than those outlined above. Hold the material that you intend to cut and your knife at chest level and turn the knife 1800 so that the blade is facing outwards. Keep your thumb on the knife handle, not on the spine of the blade. Rest your hands against your chest, and point your elbows 450 down. Placing the blade against the stick make the cut as you breathe out – as your chest expands. Once again, you’re using your back muscles to make the cut, not your arm muscles.
Using this technique has two advantages: first, the material that you are cutting is closer to your eyes, so you can pay more attention to detail; second, your two hands (the one holding the knife and the other holding the material) are relatively close together, which further increases agility and precision. Because you are cutting away from yourself, this is a very safe technique.
Fine Cut Technique
This technique, often referred to as the thumb on blade technique or the push cut, is used to make precision cuts. Holding the knife in one hand place the blade on the material that you are going to cut. Next, place the thumb of your opposite hand onto the spine of the blade and push forward. For this cut it is ideal if only the thumb is pushing – not the hand holding the knife – which results in a very fine, precise cut. However, children are often too weak to make the cut pushing on the thumb alone, in which case both thumbs can be used as demonstrated in the photo.
Drilling With Your Knife
Holding the knife at a 450 angle insert the tip of the knife into the object that you intend to drill, and begin rotations. Have the knife at an angle so that the blade will be cutting away at the wood rather than the tip ‘puncturing’ it. This may seem obvious, but it’s a common mistake resulting in injury: do not use this technique while holding the object that you are drilling in your hand. Place it on a flat surface such as a tree stump or against a tree trunk. You will avoid a trip to the first aid kit.
Batoning With A Knife
A very useful technique for splitting small logs, or more importantly cutting away dry splints of wood for lighting a fire. Place the log vertically on a hard surface and position the knife along the outer perimeter. Hold the knife handle tightly and use a baton – a sturdy stick or smaller sized log – to strike the spine of the knife, driving it into the material. If possible, the baton should be hardwood, approximately 15 – 19“ (38 – 48 cm) in length and 5 – 7” (12 – 18 cm) in diameter at the striking end, narrower at the handle (but please don’t pull out your measuring tape in the forest :-). Using this technique you can create much thicker splints than would be possible using slicing alone and you can quickly reach the dry sections of a log that are most useful for lighting a fire. However, this technique requires a strong knife, minimum ¾ to full tang, otherwise the handle will come apart from the blade.
So that’s it – 7 techniques that will help you stay in control of your knife and most importantly, keep it safe. Learn them yourself and teach them to your children. You can begin practicing these techniques by making small projects in the forest: a wooden dagger, a wooden knife, hiking sticks, campfires, a cooking tripod, etc. They are all fun activities that your kids will love to take part in. Keep it simple at first, use small pieces of wood and begin with softwood rather than hardwood. It’s simply easier to carve. Move on to bigger and better projects as your child progresses. Cut away!