Do you know how to handle bladed tools? After earning your Scouts BSA Totin’ Chip, you will! Since pocket knives, saws, and axes are such a core part of Scouting, you’ll need to learn how to use these tools safely and skillfully if you ever want to become an Eagle Scout.
In this guide, I’ll be teaching you everything you’ll need to know about blade care, safety, and handling. Afterward, you’ll be equipped with the skills necessary to use any bladed tool for survival, and even earn your Totin’ Chip!
While blades can be extremely helpful, they can also be extremely dangerous. Knowing how to pass knives, set up a Blood Circle, and properly handle axes are all important lessons you’ll be learning in this guide.
Before we get started, my #1 tip is to be careful and stay focused. No need to rush. Once you learn these crucial knife safety basics, they’ll serve you well for the rest of your life!
First, take a minute to read through each of the requirements for earning your Totin’ Chip. You should always be prepared by knowing what you’ll be learning before getting started. Once you’re finished, I’ll help you to complete each Totin’ Chip requirement and master blade safety! 🙂
What Are The Totin’ Chip Requirements?
The Totin’ Chip certification grants a Scout the right to carry and use woods tools. The Scout must show their Scout leader, or someone designated by their leader, that the Scout understands their responsibility to do the following:
- Read and understand woods tools use and safety rules from the Scouts BSA handbooks.
- Demonstrate proper handling, care, and use of the pocket knife, ax, and saw.
- Use knife, ax, and saw as tools, not playthings.
- Respect all safety rules to protect others.
- Respect property. Cut living and dead trees only with permission and good reason.
- Subscribe to the Outdoor Code.
The Scout’s “Totin’ Rights” can be taken away if they fail in their responsibility.
For most BSA Scouts, I’d highly recommend getting a pocketknife with a locking blade (Amazon link to a blade similar to what I used). This design prevents accidents with the blade snapping shut, and makes for much safer knife usage. The pocketknife I linked even comes with other helpful tools, such as a whistle and fire starter!
1) Read and understand woods tools use and safety rules from the Scouts BSA handbooks.
There are three main woods tools in the Scouts BSA Handbook where use and safety are discussed: pocket knives, camp saws, and axes. As a Scout, you’ll be using each of these tools regularly during your campouts, meetings, and service projects — which is why it’s crucial to learn blade safety!
To get you started, we’ll first go over the use and safety rules for each type of bladed tool you’ll commonly be using in Scouting. Safety is the foundation of earning your Totin’ Chip, so pay extra-close attention throughout this section. Now, let’s get into it!
Pocket Knife Use
Use: A pocket knife is every Scout’s favorite tool — and for good reason. In just one small pocket knife, you can have a blade, can opener, screwdriver, saw, file, and sometimes even pliers! This makes pocket knives one of the most useful tools in all of Scouting. 😀
Below are a few common uses for pocket knives. However, I challenge you to come up with some pocket knife uses of your own as well:
- Whittling extra stakes out of sticks to secure your tent in heavy winds
- Cutting cloth to use as bandages
- Opening cans
- Tightening/loosening screws
- Shaving small strips into sticks to use as fire starter
Pocket Knife Safety
Safety: There are many safety rules for handling pocket knives that are mentioned in your Scout Handbook. I’d highly encourage you to read through the full section and review the table later on. However, below are the main pocket knife safety rules that you absolutely need to know:
- Always keep your knife’s blade closed when you’re not using it.
- When using your knife, only ever have one blade open at a time.
- Cut facing away from your hands and body to prevent injury.
- Never use a knife near another person.
- (We’ll be covering this in more detail in the Blood/Safety Circle section!)
- Fully close any blades before handing off your pocket knife.
- In Scouting, when passing a blade, you should wait for the receiver to get a good hold before you let go.
- To signal this, the receiver should say “thank you.” After hearing this, you should reply, “you’re welcome” and release the knife.
- Keep your blade sharp and clean.
- Never carry a knife with the blade open — when moving, sheath or close your knife first.
- Take your time when cutting anything.
- Remember, go slow, steady, and always in control.
- Never throw a knife.
- A falling knife is sharp on all sides. If you drop your knife, never try to catch it.
- Never use the cutting blade as a prying tool.
- Obey all the local regulations about carrying blades in public places.
Now that you know the 10 main tips for knife safety, you should also see proper knife handling in action! I’d recommend watching the following helpful video (5:34) for a few more essential safety tips tailored to folding pocket knives:
Camp Saw Use
Use: A camp saw is typically the most common tool for wood cutting. Saws can be used for anything — from clearing the sides of a branch to be used as a hiking pole, to cutting firewood into smaller pieces.
My #1 Saw Use Tip: When cutting, try to keep your elbow as close to your body as possible with your wrist and arm in alignment with the saw’s blade. This will prevent the blade from tilting or shifting, and help you to stay safe while easily using your saw!
Camp Saw Safety
Safety: Once again, I’ll be summarizing the main points from your Scout Handbook around camp saw safety. However, be sure to check out the full table at least once when you can:
- Sheath a saw when not in use and carry it with the blade away from your body.
- Replace dull blades as they have a greater likelihood of slipping and causing accidents.
- Don’t let the blade cut into rocks or the ground, as this will cause it to dull really fast.
- Be safe when passing a saw to another person, ideally setting it down for them to pick up.
- Always wear protective gear (gloves, eyewear).
- Don’t leave a saw lying on its own in camp or on the ground.
- Avoid distractions and always keep a close eye on what you’re cutting.
Ax And Hatchet Use
Use: An ax is your ultimate tool for chopping down trees, preparing firewood, and sharpening sticks. Hatchets are smaller and wielded with one hand, but basically serve the same purpose. Scouts use axes and hatchets for anything from conservation projects to splitting wood for a fire.
My #1 Ax Use Tip: While it’s tempting to swing your ax with all you got, make sure to prioritize accuracy over power. Axes cut by hitting the same spot of wood over and over. Plus, having an exact swing lowers your risk of accidents!
Ax And Hatchet Safety
Safety: An ax is an incredibly useful but potentially dangerous tool in any Scout’s arsenal. The Scout Handbook has 7 safe use tips you should follow when handling an ax. Take the time to read through each one, listed below:
- Safe Tool: Check to ensure your tool is safe before using it. If anything is loose, dull, or damaged, bring it to your Scout leaders to either repair or retire.
- Safe Shoes, Eyewear, Gloves: Always wear protective gear when using an ax.
- Safe Working Area: Be certain that all people are at least 10 feet away while you are cutting.
- Traditionally, an ax yard is set up so that the woodcutting area is separated from passerby’s and safe .
- Safe Technique: Set your feet firmly and find your balance before swinging your ax.
- Safe Carrying: Always palace a sheath over an ax blade whenever not in use. Carry the blade facing away from your body and with a grip set close to the head of the ax.
- If you stumble while carrying an ax, hold or throw it (safely) away from your body as you fall.
- Safe Handling: To pass another person an ax, hold the hand with the head facing down with the head turned away from you. When they say “thank you” and grip the ax shaft, you can release your grip.
- Safe Storage: Sheath your ax and store it in a dry, secure area when it’s not in use.
- Make sure it can’t be easily accessed by young children or anyone else who isn’t able to use it safely.
Before we move on to requirement 2, I wanted to take a minute to cover Blood Circles (also called Safety Circles). The point of the BloodCircle method is to create a safe area within which you can use your knife. It’s very simple to set up a BloodCircle/SafetyCircle:
- With your knife still closed, hold it in your hand and fully extend your arm straight ahead of you.
- Turn your body in a 360-degree ark, making sure that no person or thing is nearby or overhead (this is your “BloodCircle).
- After you’ve established your BloodCircle, make sure that nothing enters and interferes with you using your knife.
- If someone or something approaches, you should immediately close your knife. Make sure to re-do your blood circle after reopening your knife.
While BloodCircles take almost no time to set up, they’ll help you to be prepared for any potential hazards while using your knife. With the SafetyCircle/BloodCircle method, there’s almost no way you could accidentally cut anyone else, which is the essence of blade safety! 🙂
I know we just covered quite a bit, but there’s still a lot more to learn — especially about ax and saw safety! Below is an excellent video (9:30) covering all of the extra info on saws and axes that you definitely should know. It’s a bit long, but you should definitely give it a watch:
2) Demonstrate proper handling, care, and use of the pocket knife, ax, and saw.
To complete this requirement, you’ll need to put everything you just learned into action! That’s why I’d highly recommend watching the video included above if you haven’t already. With your Scoutmaster, you’ll be tasked with showcasing your bladed tool skills!
As we’ve already covered proper handling and use, in this section we’ll be learning how to care for pocket knives, axes, and saws! I’d also encourage you to reread the bullet points above, as for this requirement you’ll probably get “ax-ed” about the safety rules for each tool. 😉
Care For A Pocket Knife
To avoid dust, dirt, and lint from collecting, you’ll want to clean your pocket knife regularly. Use a toothpick with a small bit of cloth to wipe the inside of the knife after individually opening each section. If sticky, wash with hot, soapy water and apply a little oil to lubricate the joints.
A sharp knife is much safer (and easier to use) than a dull knife, as the sharpness will give you more control over your cuts and lower your chances of slipping. You can use a whetstone or handheld sharpener (Amazon referral links to show you what they look like) to keep your knife sharp:
Since using a handheld sharpener is pretty self-explanatory, below I’ll be telling you how to properly use a whetstone:
- Make sure you’re holding the stone with your fingers below the whetstone’s surface (or behind the knife)
- Position the blade at a 20-degree angle
- To find the right angle, position your knife at 90-degrees. Rotate your knife, halving the distance while keeping the blade pointing away from you (that’s 45-degrees).
- Do it again, going a bit more than half the remaining distance. There you have it, a 20-degree angle!
- Push the blade along the stone as if you were cutting a layer off the top of it, keeping a consistent angle at all times
- Move your blade in a very small arc so that you can sharpen the entire blade in one motion.
- Sharpen each side of the blade similarly.
- A good sharpness test is if your knife can easily cut through paper using a sawing motion and no pressure.
Sorry if this description is a bit tricky to follow! If you’re still confused, check out the video (3:02) below for a visual demonstration of how to properly sharpen a knife using a whetstone:
Care For A Saw
There are many different models of saws, so specific care and storage will depend on the type of saw you own. I’d suggest Googling the type of saw you own to see the manufacturer’s instructions. When storing any saw though, you’ll want to make sure the blade is covered and protected.
If your saw blade is beginning to dull, know that “toothed” blades are very tricky and unsafe (for untrained people) to sharpen, as they point in different directions. For bow and folding saws, I’d simply recommend getting a replacement blade. Here are other tips for caring for your saw:
- Always clean your blades after use so that they don’t corrode.
- First, remove any chunks of debris caught in the teeth, and wash the blade under running water.
- Then, scrub the sides of the blade with a brush covered in warm, soapy water to remove sap. Rinse.
- Carefully dry with a towel and allow time for any remaining water to evaporate before storing.
- Optional: You can also coat the blade in a bit of oil, WD-40, or grease to prevent rusting.
- Avoid cutting into the ground, or anything other than wood. Hitting rocks is a surefire way to ruin a saw blade.
- Store saws and other tools in dry, covered areas to protect the blade (and avoid accidentally cutting someone).
- You can protect the blade of a saw even more by creating a sheath from something like an old garden hose cut to the saw’s length.
If your saw becomes dull and isn’t cutting well, don’t try to force it by sawing faster or with more pressure. This is how accidents happen! Instead, simply switch out the blade or borrow a different saw to finish up the task. Avoiding accidents is your #1 concern when using any bladed tool! 🙂
Care For An Ax
Always place a sheath over the ax blade whenever it’s not in use, and store it under a covering of some sort, like a tent. Much like pocket knives, axes are safer to use when sharp, so make sure that your ax is regularly sharpened with the following technique:
- Wearing gloves to protect your hands, use an ax file to sharpen your ax blade.
- Brace the ax head on the ground so that it’s very stable. Usually, wedging it between two logs works well.
- Push the file on the edge of the ax with enough pressure to feel the file cutting the ax metal
- Lift the file as you draw back for another stroke, as dragging it the wrong direction can break the file
- With sharp, firm, and even strokes, file one side of the ax blade, then turn over the ax, and do the other side.
- Make sure you about the same number of strokes for each side
3) Use knife, ax, and saw as tools, not playthings.
As you already know, bladed tools can cause unintended injuries, even when used properly. However, by following all of the safety rules we mentioned earlier and making sure your blade is properly maintained, we can reduce the risk of accidents.
The #1 way to lower your risk of accidents around blades though, is to treat them with caution and respect. Remember: Blades are tools, not playthings. One wrong move could cause irreversible harm to yourself or a Scouting buddy, so be extra cautious at all times.
While I know how cool it is to be trusted using a knife or other blades, you need to remain in control and focused at all times. Never use bladed tools for anything else but the job at hand. Say it with me: BLADES ARE TOOLS, NOT PLAYTHINGS!!
At this point, you should understand the level of care and caution you should have around blades. However, to drive the message home, it may also be beneficial for you and your adult leader to discuss the following:
- What does it look like to use bladed tools as playthings?
- Why should you not use blades as playthings, and what are some of the potential risks of misusing tools, in general?
- How should it look when you’re using bladed tools as tools?
Remember, your adult leader is tasked with keeping you safe and helping you to understand the core values of Scouting. They’re there to help, so work with them! By having honest, productive discussions, you’re on the right path to becoming the best Scout you can be. 😀
Also, if you’d like some help understanding tool safety and each requirement for Tenderfoot, be sure to check out my Guide to Earning Your Tenderfoot Rank. Hope this helps you to get a jump start on your Scouting adventures!
4) Respect all safety rules to protect others.
Respecting safety rules go hand in hand with requirement 3 as well as the Scout Law. By being trustworthy while using bladed tools as tools and not playthings, you’ll be able to act safely and protect others while doing so! This all begins with seriousness.
Why seriousness? Well, in life you’ll find there are times where it’s great to be relaxed and have fun, but there are also times where it’s necessary to be serious and reverent. When it comes to safety, you should always be incredibly careful and serious.
Learning these requirements means becoming safer around blades so that you can keep the people around you protected. By not using blades near others, sectioning off hazardous areas, and treating blades as tools (not playthings), you’ll do your part to reduce any accidents!
5) Respect property. Cut living and dead trees only with permission and good reason
It’s easy to get carried away after first earning your Totin’ Chip. You may want to start whittling and cutting everything you see, but definitely don’t do that! Respecting property means only using your tools to cut tree wood — and that’s if you have permission and a good reason. 😉
Remember our Scout pledge to Leave No Trace? Cutting every piece of wood around you unfortunately goes against that. You’re trying to keep campsites beautiful for future visitors too, so keep the number of branches you cut to a minimum.
You definitely can whittle, but focus on carving 1 or 2 pieces really well, instead of cutting everything you can. Also, you could also potentially destroy someone’s property if you rush into things. Don’t cut the Scoutmaster’s hiking stick — if you’re unsure, ask!
Always have a good reason to cut wood, rather than doing it “just because.” These reasons could include preparing branches, shaving a stick for a fire, or participating in artistic whittling activities such as the Wood Carving merit badge.
It’s better to limit your use of potentially-dangerous tools to only when you need them (for safety reasons). Remember, the best way to avoid getting cut by a sharp tool is to not use the tool in the first place. If you would like to practice though, do so in a safe and controlled way!
6) Subscribe to the Outdoor Code.
As your final requirement, one of the most important parts of earning your Totin’ Chip is to have a thorough understanding of the Outdoor Code. Remember, Scouts leave no trace! Let’s take a second to revisit the Outdoor Code, written below:
As an American, I will do my best to—
Be clean in my outdoor manners.
Be careful with fire.
Be considerate in the outdoors.
Below, I’ll briefly break down each section of the Outdoor Code so that you can explain it to your Scoutmaster. However, to really learn the Outdoor Code and easily practice it in your everyday life, I’d suggest checking out my article on Fully Understanding Scouting’s 4-Point Outdoor Code!
As an American, I will do my best to—
To be Clean in my Outdoor Manners
As a Scout, you’re using the wilderness to have exciting adventures and grow as a human being. It’s a blessing to be in nature and, because of this, you must treat the outdoors with the respect! This means picking up litter, not cutting or taking things unnecessarily, and leaving no trace.
Be Careful with Fire
Every year, wildfires ravage parts of the world because people don’t follow the simple rule of being careful with fire. Obviously, they haven’t been following the lessons learned in earning the Firem’n Chit 😛 (for those lessons, check out my Guide to the Scouts BSA Firem’n Chit)!
Relating to your Totin’ Chip, you should also cut up your firewood branches so that they don’t stick out and present fire hazards. Other points to remember are to only build fires when needed, make sure that fires are completely put out, and clean your fire ring before leaving a campsite.
Be Considerate in the Outdoors
Being considerate in the outdoors starts with realizing that there are other people around you. You should remember to keep the noise down if you’re in a shared area, and not present unnecessary dangers with your knife use.
Also, never deface trees or other people’s property with a bladed tool. Leaving permanent markings is extremely inconsiderate and goes against the Scouting ethic of leaving no trace! With just a little thoughtfulness though, I’m sure you’ll do a great job of being considerate in nature. 🙂
Be Conservation Minded
Conservation is the practice of avoiding waste so that a resource is preserved. In Scouting, this means having as little an impact on a campsite as possible. If you’re acting with conservation in mind, try to avoid leaving unnecessary cuts on trees and branches.
One of the main ideas behind conservation is Sustainability. While it might be easier to dump your dishwater at your campsite or make messy pruning cuts during a service project, it’s important to think about the big picture. Being conservation-minded helps you do that!
Congrats on Finishing Your Totin’ Chip!
Awesome work, Scout! Blade safety is a huge part of Scouting. Remember what you learned here, because you’ll be using knives and other sharp tools for campouts, cleanups, and even your Eagle Scout Service Project! Now you’re prepared for all of that and more. 🙂
If you’re in the process of earning your Totin’ Chip, that means you’ve been in Scouting for some time and are about ready to start thinking about earning some Eagle-required merit badges. That’s a huge accomplishment, seriously!!
To help clear up some of the confusion that all Scouts have on how to get started, I’d definitely recommend checking out my comprehensive Difficulty Rankings for Every Eagle-required merit badge. There, I’ll even tell you my ideal order for earning these badges!
I hope you found my article helpful, and want to wish you tons of fun, safe campouts ahead. Remember these rules around blade safety, because they really do prevent accidents. Hope to see you back at ScoutSmarts soon and, until then, best of luck on your Scouting journey! 😀