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Is my child old enough for their first knife? By Cairn Survival

A common concern amongst many parents whose children participate on one of our courses is the presence of knives. However, generally most parents have little interest in bushcraft and survival and do not share the same forethought as we do when presented with a knife suitable for bushcraft;


“Isn’t it a bit dangerous to let kids have access to these weapons?”


This was a question I was asked by a parent when demonstrating bushcraft tools and lecturing on knife law at a Secondary School. It was difficult to know where to start – not for my lack of confidence, but more my susceptibility to be dumbfounded. I made comparisons with a bread knife and a carving knife and their respective uses, which was well received. These not regarded as weapons because “that’s not what they were bought for.” Neither were the knives on display, they have their specific uses too. The parent went away seemingly educated and fully accepting these knives were just tools – but looking back writing this now, I can’t help but think I was being humoured.


That being said, if you find yourself reading this you are very likely interested in bushcraft and survival and quite possibly been of that generation who had their own knife as a child. A classic grandfather folding pocket knife, or Swiss Army Knife? – I did. I remember distinctly the shop I bought it from, a hunting and surplus store in Keswick. I still have it. What I don’t remember is being taught the respect needed to own one, seems as though that was a given back then. Nevertheless, owning your first knife should be an important milestone, on par with a key to the house. Each child is given a key to the house at different ages all dependent on the maturity of the individual. The same goes for owning a knife. As a ballpark age, 7 years old is a good age to introduce your child to cutting tools. They may seem less mature than say a 12 year old, but more often than not the younger are much more respectful of the tool (due to a lack of confidence) and more receptive to instructions, whilst the older child is more complacent. Confidence can be gained safely, complacency is lost through injury.


Your child will, more likely than not, nick themselves at some point. There are inherent risks in outdoor activities, I hope that this article serves to limit and control those risks to avoid trips to A&E.


Knife Safety begins with identifying that knives are tools, and you should start by choosing the correct knife for the job. You wouldn’t whittle a spoon with a Parang or clear a path with a pocketknife.


At Cairn Survival, more often than not, we prefer to use fixed blades. A folding Swiss Army Knife can be handy in the outdoors but it is inherently weak at the hinge and can fold on your fingers. We recommend the Hultafors Safety Knife for younger children (it has a rounded point to eliminate the most common injury with knife use) and the Mora Basic Allround range for older children (these have accentuated finger guards).

Hultafors Safety Knife

Hultafors Safety Knife


Below are several topics to cover with your child. Remember – a blunt knife is a dangerous knife!


The Sheath


If you have one – USE IT! The safest place for a knife is securely in its sheath. You must keep it in good repair and regularly check that it is fit for purpose.


Do not be tempted to leave a knife in a tree or stump when not in use, someone could easily trip and walk into it. NEVER LEAVE IT ON THE GROUND and never walk with an unsheathed knife any further than a metre. Ensure you clean any knife used for cutting raw meat before replacing in a sheath.

When unsheathing a knife, be wary of the cutting edge. Hold a sheath well away from where the knife enters.




Don’t use a knife when you are too tired to concentrate. Most cuts happen when users lose concentration, either from distraction or tiredness. Don’t be embarrassed to put the knife away if your hands are tired.


Holding your knife


The grip you will use most often is the forehand grip, this is secure and allows powerful safe cuts.


Cut away from yourself


Never cut towards yourself, even when your opposite hand is on the other side of the piece of wood you are cutting. Most cuts occur by not appreciating where the hand not holding the knife is.


Where will it slip?


Think about where the knife will go if either you or it slips. Before every cut you make, ensure you consider where it will go next. Position yourself so that the next thing the knife hits is not you. Use a stump as a cutting block, the knife will hit this if you cut straight through the piece you are working on.


Know yours and your knife’s limits


Don’t be overambitious. Trying to remove too much material requires more effort and reduced control of the knife.


If you need more power, work with your knife on the outside of your body. You can generate power safely using your shoulder and back muscles.


Triangle of Danger

Never use a knife within the triangle between your groin and knee caps. Doing so increases the risk of cutting a major artery which, more often than not, is fatal.

Instead, work with your elbows on your knees, this reduces the chance of your knife coming into contact with your inner thigh.


Knee Brace


A very safe and powerful cut is to use your knee as a brace for your knife. Your knife is locked, and you move the piece of wood you are working on to make cuts.


Always ensure the cutting edge is pointing away from your knee.


Chest Lever


Another powerful and controlled cut is the chest lever. When done properly you utilise your strong back muscles and your knife should hardly move.


Passing a knife


We always advocate ‘passing sheathed’. As above, if you have a sheath then use it.


However, if for any reason this is not possible then you ought to pass the knife in a way that reduces risk to both yourself and the person you are passing to.


Pivot the knife you are holding so that the handle is presented to the recipient and not the blade, keep your fingers away from the blade at all times.


Note that the cutting edge is facing skyward.


Even if the recipient snatches the knife, you hand is well away from the blade and there is no risk the knife will cut you.


Cuts Kit


Always have a small first aid kit on you, or nearby when working with knives. If you use a knife often you will likely incur a few minor nicks. Treat these as soon as possible to avoid infection.


Keep your knife sharp!


After all, you are only as sharp as your knife and a blunt knife is a dangerous one. If your knife is blunt it is unpredictable and requires excessive force when making a cut, this will increase the risk of an accident.




Take a step, always re-sheath.

Cut towards yourself or your gripping hand.

Try to hide cuts or carry on. Deal with it straight away.

Use a knife within the triangle of danger

Point your knife at anyone, even in jest

Use a knife when tired

Use a blunt knife




Respect knives as tools and nothing more.

Concentrate, fully, when using a knife

Have a cut kit nearby

Follow these rules!



Repeat these safety rules every time you allow a child to use a cutting tool.


Accept that they are children and have limitations. Provide a small project, tent peg is ideal, this will give them tool-time at a controlled and supervised pace. Be prepared to confiscate the knife when concentration is lacking – be strict and consistent.


Children are more prone to blisters given their softer palms, these are inevitable with longer periods of use. If a child has suffered blisters, ask yourself whether they have been using their knife whilst fatigued – remember to stress taking breaks is OK!


In the early days, concentrate on what the child is doing, and not on your own camp duties. If you are needed elsewhere, remove the risk and put the tool away. In time you will loosen the reigns as your child matures.


I hope this article is both of use and encouraging.


Tom Cairney

Managing Instructor




3 thoughts on “Is my child old enough for their first knife? By Cairn Survival

  1. Louis P - 6:38 pm 04/08/15

    I would recommend an xl cold steel espada as their first knife

  2. Malcolm Lee - 11:41 am 05/08/15

    Great article, I started all my kids off at an early age with their first knives, (Opinels). Only point I can think of that you’ve missed is being aware of those around you, including dogs, so they stop whittling as soon as they’re approached.

  3. Anthony - 2:03 pm 09/08/15

    Very concise, Solid advice,

    The public in the UK have been conditioned to react “negatively” to blades,
    (just try showing one of your larger survival knives and watch their reaction, its strange, and something I’ve only seen in the UK, Blades=Scary Bad, something I too often forget, I sympathize with the writer)

    I liked “Concentrate!” something even veterans and experts can run foul of,
    if you are fatigued, hungry, stressed or even dehydrated, these can all play a part in a lake of concentration, when you know you are in any of these states be aware,

    And the “Triangle of Danger” , your legs major artery runs on the in side of your leg,
    one slip, and you are dead in minutes,

    Cheers Louis P, y ou crazy ba—-d, first laugh of the day

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