Wednesday, September 18, 2019

It’s time to get dangerous. Teaching kids knife and woodcarving skills is aiding in their development and exploration, an essential part of growing up. So If you’re interested in getting your kids a knife and getting them started on this fun and empowering activity, we’ve got a few recommendations for you.

Why Carving is Appropriate for Kids

A knife is a tool, not a toy. And we all need to learn to use tools. After all, not everything will be made by Fisher Price with safety scissors. Kids will eventually encounter sharp objects, and instead of seeing it with fear, we can teach them to greet the knife as a tool that can be useful. 

Plus, wood carving is a great way to enhance kids’ manual dexterity. It teaches fine motor skills, and asks them to gain control over their extremities. It encourages hand-eye coordination. And, it’s a full body activity that requires constant focus and attention.

Finally, introducing your child to a knife does so much to demystify the fear of scary things. The more we can use “dangerous” tools like fire and knives responsibly, the more we can empower kids to be in control and remove the sense of dread. Kids get excited about doing “adult” tasks. They want to feel responsible, like we trust them. And we can trust them, if we give them tasks that have a perceived high risk and actual low risk.

So How Do We Do That?

First, we need to lay some ground rules for parents. Here are the things you should keep in mind as you get your kid started on wood carving:

  1. Supervise kids at all times. This can taper off as you notice them becoming more adept at handling and using the knife, but it’s super important to keep a vigilant eye. 
  2. Grip the knife and piece of wood with a fist, wrapping your thumb around the rest of your fingers. Think of holding ice cream cones—thumb tucked back and away so the blade never crosses any fingers. After all, no one likes thumbs in their ice cream. No thumb dies!
  3. Carve away! Seriously, away from yourself, and never in your lap. Remember that the blade is moving in one direction and remove all things in its path, including your body parts. This means yours, too, as the parent helping.

Choose Your Tool

There are so many kinds of knives out there that it begs the question of where to start. For young ones, we recommend a smaller blade with a handle that fits comfortably in their hand. We like to get kids started with the Mora 120, but any sharp and sturdy knife will do. And yes, I mean sharp. More accidents happen with a dull knife than a sharp one, as a dull knife requires more force to make a cut. A sharp knife will allow for more fluid motion as it moves through the wood. 

And Now We Carve

To get started, use only forward cuts. That means any cut moving away from your body. There are many other techniques that you can learn and grow into, but forward cuts are all you need for whittling, and allow kids to complete many projects from start to finish. 

How to Make a Cut:

  1. Pay attention to what you’re cutting. Watch the blade at all times to be aware of where it’s going. 
  2. Protect the inner and outer blood circle. That means you take care of your body (the inner circle) and other bodies in your path (the outer circle). Don’t let the blade pierce the inner or the outer blood circles. 
  3. Let the knife do the work. Take a shallow angle and don’t try to muscle through cuts. Rather, rely on the sharpness of your tool to find the correct path through the wood. When you reach a tough spot, like a knot, make smaller cuts to chip away. The less force you exert, the more control you have.

Giving a knife to your child can feel like a big step. But encouraging your kid to use tools—and teaching them to use tools properly—will instill a sense of empowerment and respect. These basics should be enough to get your child starting on a whittling project, but for more information, check out the Trackers Earth Guide to Knives and Wood Carving. So grab a knife. Get carving. 

Trackers Earth summer camps are like nothing else in the known universe. Explore all our 2019 summer camp themes: Wilderness Survival, Farming, Fishing, Archery, Wizards, Ninjas, Secret Agents, Blacksmithing, Rock Climbing, Biking & more!

Humans can be a healthy part of the natural world in ways that increase biodiversity for wildlife. While the proper practices of Bushcraft often caretake for the land, Leave No Trace is meant to lessen our impact, it is not meant to steward it.

Of course, varying levels of leaving no trace prove vital for certain areas that see dramatic human impact and recreation—such as many of our national and public parks. Yet, depending on the area, living with the land through seasonal rounds and thoughtful harvest can be beneficial for local flora and fauna.

A true Bushcraft practitioner does not act solely for their own survival. Every act of harvesting and crafting must also tend to the wild and more-than-human-world. For example, burning small diameter, wild harvested firewood (for camp and cooking fires) can decrease fuel loads and fuel ladders in specific areas. This in turn significantly decreases wildfire danger. Properly harvesting/coppicing willow shoots for basketry increases density for bird habitat. And harvesting invasive species for food, such as purple varnish clams, carp, and Japanese knotweed, reopens territory for native species.

When visiting areas where varying degrees of leave no trace is essential, such as heavily used recreation and public areas, awareness-based Bushcraft skills from tracking and bird language (the art of identifying animal movements based on the mapped sequence of multiple bird calls and alarms), are also beneficial in truly getting to know such places. Also, Bushcraft of Stewardship teaches us to travel through the land as softly as possible. You learn to walk in a way where you leave barely any tracks. Silence and deliberate movement is a strategy of survival and Bushcraft, especially minimizing the disturbance of songbirds to not interrupt their feeding and baseline routines. As you become less of a disruption to the immediate avian environment, you are seen as less of a foreign invader by all wildlife (they often adjust their movements based on bird alarms). As a result, you see more animals wherever you go.

Finally, there is even greater outdoor educational value with truly hands-on wilderness skills. When we are profoundly dependent on what is often viewed as “wild” for our shelter, water, fire, and food, this fosters communal, social, and even familial relationships with the more-than-human world. Such humbling connections can prove difficult to replicate when we only perceive nature as a recreational luxury and privilege. Putting nature ONLY in parks is what possibly leads to the blithe social indifference towards the wilderness, an attitude so pervasive in the modern world where every convenience can be ordered online.

Through our everyday teaching at Trackers Earth, while educating thousands of children and adults each year, we observe the stewardship and educational value of Bushcraft. Bringing what is wild back into our everyday lives helps us remember the following: we must preserve the wilderness we have left, but we also must make what has once been domesticated, wild once again.