Nothing about Scouting would be the same without pocket knives. Even today, in a PC world where a pocket knife gets a boy suspended or expelled, a pocket knife is an official item of Scout equipment. In camp it is used for everything from spreading peanut butter to carving a neckerchief slide.
Every Scout has to earn his Totin’ Chip. No longer an actual chip, it is a card, signed by the current Senior Patrol Leader, that serves as documentation that the Scout has learned and demonstrated safety with pocket knives, axes, hatchets, and saws. It can be taken away, and then earned all over again.
We kept our pocket knives sharp. After a while you learn, sharp is better. If you’re cutting rope or wood, a dull knife won’t do much of a job, and it will still cut you. Learning to sharpen correctly and safely is part of Totin’ Chip as well.
A Boy scout knife is a tool, one sharp blade, an awl to bore a hole, a screwdriver, and a can opener. Sort of a mini survival kit. I carried mine all through high school. So much a part of me, it was in my pocket when I arrived at Parris Island. It was taken, along with the remainder of my civilian life, and never returned.
Since 9/11, you can’t carry a pocket knife on an airplane. It would make more sense to simply require a Totin’ Chip that you could show to the TSA, but they aren’t asking me.
Meanwhile, back at Scout camp, we are providing training. Boys are buying knives at the Trading Post. In spite of our best efforts, not every rule is followed all the time, and first aid opportunities occasionally accompany those breakdowns in the learning process.
Think of the basic rules for knives like a modification of the 4 rules of gun safety.
1. All guns are always loaded.
1. All knives are sharp enough to cut you.
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction at all times: on the range, at home, loading, or unloading.
2. Never let the blade come in contact with anything you are not willing to slice open. Keep your knife pointed in a safe direction and at a safe distance at all times: in the campsite, at home, and when opening or closing it.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you are ready to shoot.
3. Keep your knife closed and in your pocket until you are in a safe area and you are ready to use it.
4. Be sure of your target. Know what it is, what is in line with it and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you haven’t positively identified.
4. Be sure of what you are cutting. Know what it is, what is in line with it and what is behind it. Never cut anything that you haven’t positively identified.
If this, or something close to it, was rigorously followed, as the Totin’ Chip training would expect, no one would get cut in camp. I need only look down at the big knuckle on the forefinger of my left hand to remember a time when I was less than absolute in my adherence to training.
I still remember what I was whittling, and how this difficult little corner caused me to turn the knife back and try to dig out that spot. There is a lot of blood available to help emphasize the nature of mistakes like this. I knew immediately that if I had placed the piece of wood on the table, I could have made that cut without risking the outcome I was currently appreciating.
You can’t put a price on that kind of learning.
Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.
–James Russell Lowell