According to the Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities, boys who are Bear Cub Scouts (third graders or nine years old) and older are allowed to use pocketknives. Although it isn't listed as a requirement in the Guide to Safe Scouting, most councils and/or units require that the Cub Scouts earn their Whittling Chip award to carry and use a pocketknife.
For Bears, it is part of the Bear Claws adventure, and for the Arrow of Light, it is included in the Scouting Adventure adventure.
When and Where to Carry a Pocketknife
Cub Scouts may only carry and use a pocketknife at approved events. Many units limit pocketknife use to campouts or hikes. The boys are told that they may never carry their knives to school or on airplanes.
Whittling Chip Requirements
The purpose of the Whittling Chip award is to promote the safe use of pocket knives by Cub Scouts. It is presented when a Cub Scout demonstrates to his Scout leader that he knows and understands five levels of pocketknife safety. They are:
- Know the safety rules for handling a knife.
- Show that you know how to take care of and use a pocketknife.
- Make a carving with a pocketknife. Work with your den leader or another adult when doing this.
- Read, understand and promise to abide by the "Knives Are Not Toys" guidelines.
- Read, understand and promise to abide by the "Pocketknife Pledge.”
Pocketknife Safety Rules
The safety rules stress that a pocket knife is a tool, not a toy. The boys learn never to carry an open pocketknife and to close and put it away when it isn't being used. Another rule is to establish a "safety circle." Cub Scouts stand up and with their arm outstretched, they turn in a circle to find out if they are touching anyone else.
If they aren't, they can use their pocket knives. Some units call this a "blood circle" to emphasize the importance of it.
Boys are taught how to pass the pocketknife. It should be closed with the Scout holding one end firmly. The person receiving the knife must say "thank you" to indicate that he has a firm grip on the knife. The person passing it will then say "you're welcome" before releasing it.
How to Use and Care for a Pocketknife
To demonstrate to their leader that they know how to take care of and use a pocketknife, the Cub Scouts will open and close it. They should clean and sharpen the knife. Boys also explain why a knife should be kept dry, off the ground, and out of a fire.
The third Whittling Chip requirement is to make a carving. Most Cub Scout units use soap instead of wood for the carving. Some use plastic knives or craft sticks for carving, but it's always good for the boys to be able to handle an actual knife. You can find patterns online. Fish, turtles, butterflies, and bears are good beginner projects.
The fourth and fifth requirements for earning the Whittling Chip are to read, understand and promise to abide by the "Knives Are Not Toys" guidelines and the "Pocketknife Pledge."
The "Knives Are Not Toys" guidelines aren't printed in the current Bear Handbook, so they're listed below.
Knives Are Not Toys Guidelines
- Close the blade with the palm of your hand.
- Never use a knife on something that will dull or break it.
- Be careful that you do not cut yourself or any person nearby.
- Never use a knife to strip the bark from a tree.
- Do not carve your initials into anything that does not belong to you.
The Pocketknife Pledge
The Pocketknife Pledge can be found on page 36 of the 2015 Bear Handbook.
I understand the reason for safety rules.
- I will treat my pocketknife with the respect due a useful tool.
- I will always close my pocketknife and put it away when not in use.
- I will not use my pocketknife when it might injure someone near me.
- I promise never to throw my pocketknife for any reason.
- I will use my pocketknife in a safe manner at all times.
Learning how to safely use a pocketknife is a skill that Cub Scouts can use during their entire lifetime.