Looking for a Great Holiday Gift for Your Kid? Get Them A Knife!
As the gift-giving season approaches, consider giving your kids one of the most useful tools on the planet: a knife! Carving is an awesome activity for kids to do when they are stuck at home. They can carve indoors or outside in the yard, alone or with friends. They can create useful tools or purely imaginative works of art.
Kids crave a connection to nature and knife carving can provide that connection, leading to powerful results. What other tools can a kid use to make their own fishing pole and hook to catch a fish, then gut the fish, then shave feather sticks to build a fire and cook that fish?
To tell you more about why a knife is a wonderful gift idea for kids, I talked to Ryan Johnson, Director of Trackers Spark Online programs and our resident knife and wood carving expert.
Why give a kid a knife?
Ryan: Carving allows kids to take ownership of a tool that feels uniquely useful and transformative. They get to imagine something and then make it, which is great for their creative expression and confidence. And carving is also just a lot of fun. Carving will improve a kid’s:
- Artistic creativity
- Fine motor skills and dexterity with other tools
How does owning a knife teach kids to be responsible?
Ryan: Responsibility is crucial to owning a knife. Knife ownership requires kids to practice safety, maintenance, and conscientiousness:
- Kids have to learn awareness to stay safe while carving. They learn to keep safe boundaries and protocols while using a knife so they don’t hurt themselves or others. This awareness carries over to other activities.
- Kids have to maintain their knife or it won’t work. They have to clean it, keep it sharp, and store it safely.
Kids have to be conscientious and plan ahead for what they will carve, where they will carve, when they will carve, and all the materials they will need to complete a project.
How does owning a knife encourage kids to connect with nature?
Ryan: Humans have used knives and other tools for hundreds of thousands of years. A knife is arguably one of humankind’s oldest and most essential tools. In fact, we are here today because our ancestors figured out how to use knives. They used knives to make shelter, clothing, and food for themselves, to live by and with nature. Through carving, kids can learn and connect to those same ancestral outdoor skills. Carving will encourage them to:
- Identify which trees and plants will work best for what they want to carve. To carve a bow, ash, locust, or osage orange are best. But to make a spoon, birch or cherry are better.
- Go out in nature to find where those plants grow and how to sustainably harvest them.
- Do countless outdoor tasks: gut a fish, carve stakes for a shelter, make a digger bopper for plant harvesting, or cut and strip blackberry canes to weave rope.
What’s the right age to give your kid a knife? How can you tell if they are ready?
Ryan: That depends because every kid is different. I’ve seen kids as young as four years old handling knives safely. But getting a knife is a responsibility and even teens need training and supervision to get started. Before giving your child their first knife, it’s important to have a conversation about what knife ownership means. It’s like when your kid begs for a puppy and you have the “puppy talk” about the responsibilities of pet ownership. Here are the points you want to make sure your kids understand:
- A knife is a tool, not a toy, and must be treated with respect.
- You are responsible for taking care of it.
- You must communicate with an adult whenever you want to use it.
Check to see if your child is ready to agree to the following list. When a student tells me they are ready and want their own knife, this is what I suggest they tell their parents they are ready to do:
- I will have first aid equipment close at hand whenever I carve.
- I will assess the place I want to carve in to determine that it’s safe. I will ask: Am I in the middle of a walking path or other high-traffic areas? Could a person or pet come around a corner and crash into me?
- For first-time carvers: I will always have an adult supervising when I carve.
- For more experienced carvers: I will always tell an adult when I am starting to carve, where I will be carving, and when I am finished.
- I will clean up after myself: pick up all my stuff, sweep the floor, sheath knives, and other carving tools when I’m not using them.
Choosing A Knife
Fixed or Folding
A fixed (non-folding) knife has more strength and leverage for carving. A folding knife is easier to carry, but make sure it has a locking mechanism that prevents the blade from pinching back on your fingers. Either will work, depending on your child’s needs.
A plain-edged blade is most useful. Serrated (toothed) blades are unsafe for wood carving. A knife with an edge on just one side is safer and more practical than a double-edged blade.
Knives can be made of stone, bone, or steel. The best all-around material for carving is high-quality carbon steel because it sharpens efficiently and holds an edge.
The shape of your knife affects how you use it. Look for an edge that starts near to the handle and a point that aligns close to the centerline of the entire knife. The blade width should feel sturdy, but not too cumbersome for finer work.
Make sure the handle is attached securely to the blade. The handle should fit comfortably in your child’s hand and allow for a solid grip. An oval-shaped handle means fewer blisters than a circle or square handle. Avoid handles with a handguard, which can interfere with many cuts while not really improving safety.
A smaller knife can work as well or better than a big one. A knife that is 3 to 7 inches long will be small enough for fine carving and large enough for heavier tasks. Your child’s comfort and what they are interested in carving will determine the size of the knife you need.
Don't Forget the Dang Tang
The tang is the metal part of the knife blade that extends into the handle, holding the blade in place. A full tang runs through the entire handle. A partial tang runs partway through it. A slab tang runs through the width of the handle, visibly sandwiched between two halves. A full tang/slab tang is the sturdiest blade.
Trackers students learn to carve with Mora knives. These Swedish blades are sturdy, well-made, good for survival and crafting, and reasonably priced.
How can parents help their kids carve safely?
If you want to teach your child to carve but don’t know-how, there are guidebooks where you can find step-by-step instruction. We have our own guidebook for families called Trackers Earth Guide to Knives & Wood Carving. An even better way for your kids to learn how to use a knife safely and responsibly is by taking a carving class. Trackers offers woodworking classes for all ages, from kindergarten through high school, and also for adults. Your kids can learn knife safety and carving skills from the experts, including Ryan.
A Penny for Your… Knife?
Did you know that cultures across many continents consider giving a knife bad luck, symbolizing the “cutting” of friendship between giver and receiver? To counteract the bad luck, people give a coin along with the knife. The receiver of the knife then pays the coin back to the giver and restores the friendship. Although the origins of this superstition have been lost with time, people around the world still give a coin when gifting a knife. In fact, Japanese knife-maker Masakage includes a five-yen coin with every knife purchase.