Today, what with the horrendous amount of knife crime that seems to go on in this country, some may think this blog post is a little strange; after all, we only seem to hear the words “knives” and "children" mentioned in the same sentence if it's for negative effect, or a newspaper telling us upsetting stories of stabbings.
But what about the days when every child seemed to own a small pocket knife, for country crafts and general boy-scout type use? Times have sadly changed, and I’m certainly not promoting breaking the law by carrying a knife in ones pocket. But what about the pastimes many children used to enjoy, such as whittling, what will happen to these traditional hobbies?
I don't just want to hear these tales from those who are old enough to remember the "good ol' days", but I want to hear future generations talk lovingly about the hobbies, and fun they had when they were growing up in modern times, using carving tools to create memories using natural resources from nature, such a hazel or willow poles.
As a teacher of outdoor skills, I have been asked countless times about my thoughts on the current state of outdoor education for children, and what my feelings are about them not being able to express themselves in the ways that our parents and grandparents were able to. This is mainly due to the "culture of blame" and the fear of being sued if a child trips, grazes a knee or gets stung by a wasp, all things that can, and very often will happen when outside. But these light hazards are all part of learning.
Recently, within the past few years there have been some great steps towards positive outdoor education for children, namely in form of Forest Schools, but there is still one subject that usually (not always) evokes more fear in the heart of the majority of parents and teachers alike, and that's the one of carving, and use of hand tools by young hands.
Most children experience there first use of knives at a very young age, usually chopping up a fruit salad with a plastic knife, or whilst playing around with modelling clay. It is then that we can begin to promote the safe use of tools, such as how to hold the knife safely, don't carry a knife when walking and to also be aware of their surroundings, so not to injure others.
By the age of 5 or 6, most children are comfortable to use small kitchen knives when helping their parents cook, and it is also about this age when children first experience outdoor education, often through interactive parent/teacher days with educational companies or organisations.
What makes a good carving knife for children?
The answer here will of course vary slightly from child to child, depending on how confident they are. My advice would be to start with a knife that is of a good quality, as poor quality or baldly made knives are to blame for more accidents than those of well-made and sharp knives.
Firstly, a must for all in my opinion is a "fixed blade" knife. Many are often under the impression that folding knives are best, but in all honesty they are not that great for carving, and often cause injury if not used correctly, and whilst fixed blades often appear quite menacing, they are usually of a better quality.
Secondly, look out for the handle of the knife. How small are your Child's hands? This is a really important factor, as small hands need a small handle. It's far safer to use a knife that is the right size for the person who will be using the tool, than a knife with a handle that is too large, as the user will have far less control of the knife.
Another important thing of note is that of the blade size. Shorter blades tend to be safer because the user has more control over the knife. This also makes carving easier for learners.
The Brusletto Balder is a very popular choice for first time carvers. It not only has a small handle, but a short fixed blade, and comes complete with a leather sheath. Click Here to view the knife.
The Mora Scout knife is an excellent option too, and very well made. You will notice this knife has a finger guard, and whilst this makes for safe use, it can get in the way at times, but regardless of this they are an excellent choice of tool. Click Here to view the knife.
Another option is the Opinel Round-tip whittling knife. It does offer a folding blade, but, it does provide a twist lock to keep the blade in an open position. These are very good knives, but the rounded tip is still sharp, so some users may prefer this to be filed down a little. The knife comes in three colours, natural, blue or red. To view the entire range, please click here.
One last option that I find is a good choice for the slightly older knife user, is the round-tip Hultafors Safety knife. These offer a larger adult-sized handle, but still keep the safety features at the forefront of the design. Click here to view these.
Once the knife has been chosen, it is of course vital to continue to teach safe and responsible use of knives and tools in general, such as cutting away from one’s self, and to be sitting in a safe and stable position to carve from. I won’t cover the general safety procedures here, as it’s easier to teach this than try to describe it at distance.
Hopefully with the current trend of getting back to nature, some of the current day's youngsters will once again be able to take up the delightful and satisfying craft of whittling.
Catch you on the trail.