I just gave my 5-year-old daughter her first knife. As a budding outdoors kid, she was absolutely thrilled.
Yes, my wife was absolutely thrilled too (insert sacasm).
But, of course — a first knife comes with first responsibilities, and I vowed to make her tender fingers and hands safe from a bloody, high-carbon fate. I know it’s going to happen, though. I distinctly remember my first pocket knife because I immediately took it out to the woods and cut the crap out of my finger while closing it. Some people learn the hard way.
I tell my daughter that even her little fixed blade is a master tool — a tool that can create other tools that are limited mostly by the imagination. With her knife, she can feed, clothe, and shelter herself. It is the most amazing tool ever conceived once combined with the human mentality.
Here are a few things to consider for yourself or as you pass on your own knowledge to a new generation of outdoorsmen and women.
1. Situational Awareness.
Maybe you were expecting me to lead out with something more concrete? No. Situational awareness is the hallmark of wilderness survival and safety, and if this can be cemented at 5 years old, then everybody is better off. With my daughter, I constantly stress distraction free cutting with her new knife, and she practices in a controlled environment (usually the kitchen) for a limited time.
Why? Because she’s got more confidence than sense and because she’s easily distracted. She’s not alone.
Have you ever been so good at something or spent so much time doing it that you almost drifted off from the danger? I definitely have. Years ago, I was a sawyer on a trail crew, and nearly cut my leg open about 25 miles from the closest vehicle. I did this because I had been running a chain say for 12-15 hours per day for weeks, and I got so used to it I pretty much forgot it was even running as I went to lay it down.
Stupid? You bet – but you’d be amazed how common that type of story is.
Bottom line: lack of situational awareness can kill or injure you severely – especially under stress. With a good, sharp knife you can do damage very quickly.
2. Support Hand Placement.
Whether chopping, slicing, or drilling the support hand plays a critical roll in providing leverage and balance. Kids especially can benefit from creative thinking when it comes to using a knife safely because of their limited hand strength. The key here, obviously is to never put them in a position where if a knife slips, then is cuts anywhere on the body.
By placing a hand of finger on the spine of the knife, you instantly gain a degree of control – depending on the task. Instead of holding work in the support hand, the work can be supported on a hard surface so that more leverage can be applied to the cutting edge itself. The size and strength of your hands is going to be a big determining factor in HOW you support your blade.
Also, the size of the blade is going to change everything. If you are used to accomplishing a wide variety of chores with a 4.5″ scandi grind blade, then heading out in the forest with a 9-inch KaBar Becker BK9.
There are many ways to gain experience and comfort using even a big bushcraft knife. I would start in the kitchen then graduate to whittling projects outside using less refined material. By constantly adhering to best knife handling practices, you gain skill and comfort handling your knife to the degree that you will be able to use if effectively on jobs that are out of reach for most people.
The importance of controlled practice especially for newbies or children cannot be overstated. For most of us, wilderness backpacking and navigating is an unusual event that cannot be imitated in your backyard. The last thing you want is throwing in another unknown variable with somebody unfamiliar with a sharp knife. Practice often and early makes for a much more stable and enjoyable experience in the outdoors.
4. Sharpening and Maintenance.
A sharp knife is a safe knife. The reason being is that a sharp knife will be able to handle your material with ease – thereby elimating the need to overpower the project or gain an unsafe level of leverage. There are about 27 million videos on the youtube for knife sharpening, or you can visit my page on the best knife sharpeners.