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Ten things to consider when choosing a youngster’s first knife

290 209 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness


If your child is going to learn bushcraft and survival skills, they will need a good knife. Here is how to chose it.

by Leon Pantenburg

I got my first pocket knife when I was about nine or 10. I was raised on an Iowa farm, and everybody carried a knife of some sort. For years, I carried a medium-sized three-blade stockman pattern folder daily.

Knives were not a big deal. They were tools. I routinely carried mine to school, as did many of my peers, and nobody ever thought about using one as a weapon.

Today, as a Boy Scout volunteer and known cutlery addict, parents sometimes ask what knife to get for a new scout. There are many considerations, and here are 10 things to think about before buying that first knife.

Safety: Knives can be dangerous in untrained hands. They can cut you. In the scouts, knife handling and safety is taught. No boy gets to carry a knife unless he has earned a “Totin’ Chip” which signifies his ability to use a knife safely.

But for others, the parents will have to decide if the kid is mature enough to carry a knife. Then someone must teach them how to use it safely. Assuming the youngster passes that test, the next choice is about design.

Rigid blade or folder? I always recommend a rigid blade for a first knife. But then the parents generally opt for a folder.

Several years ago, a local scout at camp cut himself severely when the lock on his folder failed. Later that year, our troop bought 40 Mora 840 Clipper knives. Because of the deal we got (Thank you, Ragweed Forge!) we could sell the knives to scouts for $8 each. The kids have used these knives for years now.

This Mora cleaned this limit of trout and was shaving sharp at the end of the job. The soft, non-slip handle was safe to use, even when covered with slime, scales and fish guts.

This Mora 840 Clipper cleaned this limit of trout and was shaving sharp at the end of the job. The soft, non-slip handle was safe to use, even when covered with slime, scales and fish guts.

Any folder can fold on a finger and cause a survival situation. And if a folder is going to break, it will be at the least opportune time and on the hinge. A rigid knife eliminates this issue.

If you decide on a folder, get a lockblade: Then, teach the kid to use the knife as if it didn’t have a locking blade. Any mechanical device can fail. I don’t trust a lock on a blade or a safety on a firearm. You shouldn’t either.

Easy opening – NOT: Any kid with a spring-assist knife will practice a quick draw. Then they will challenge buddies to quick draw competitions. ‘Nuff said.

One-handed opening is fine, but get a folder that requires a deliberate action to open it. Better is a folder that requires both hands to use.

Blade size: A three-to-four-inch blade will do just about anything you can imagine. A seven-inch Bowie or KBar is too big and unwieldy for everyday camp chores. Nor do you need an out-and-out survival or hunting knife.

Good Steel: At some point the edge will need to be sharpened. Get a good, reasonably-priced blade such made with a high carbon 1075 or 1095 steel, or something in 440C or 420HC. These steels won’t break the bank, but will still work just fine for most everyday use. Knife sharpening is a skill that goes with knife use, so make sure the kid learns how to maintain the edge.

Ergonomic handle design: Don’t get a handle that is too big or too small. The handle must fit the youngster’s hand and be safe for them to use. Since they may be doing a lot of whittling or wood carving as they learn bushcraft skills, the handle shouldn’t have hot spots and cause blisters.

Grind: Get a fine grind, and avoid serrated edges. Serrations are a specialty grind, best suited for cutting rope, fibers etc. Your youngster will probably be whittling, and serrated edges are usually located next to the handle. This eliminates the prime whittling area.

Size matters: How big is the knife to carry? A large, bulky knife is inconvenient to carry and likely to be left behind.

How will you carry it? Pocket knives are designed to be carried in pockets. And that is probably where most knives are lost from. Better is a clip on the handle that can be attached to a pants or daypack Pocket. Better is a sheath with a flap that can be worn on a belt.

Cost: That first knife should be inexpensive, because it will be abused, misused and probably lost at some point. Eventually, the kid will grow up and appreciate fine knives, and be careful about using one. Until then, get a knife that will do the job, but won’t cause trauma when it gets lost.

So what knife should you get for a first-timer?

In the rigid blade category, I’d get a Mora Model 840 Clipper. I been using one for several years. It is my canoe knife, and is used for cleaning fish and everything else on a river trip. I’ve already lost one in the river. Cost = about $15, delivered to your door.

Buck Bantam

This Buck Bantam is a good, inexpensive starter knife.

For a folder, I’d recommend the Buck Bantam. I bought one a few months back to test as a potential scout folder. It’s made in Idaho, and has a solid blade lock, a ergonomic handle and good design. A Bantam will set you back about $18.

But right now, your youngster can get one free. KnivesShipFree.com, one of our sponsors, came out with this program for kids last week. And it’s a good deal.

Nobody advertises anything on SurvivalCommonSense.com until the company and their products have been thoroughly checked out. This is a legitimate deal from a reputable company.

Whatever knife you decide upon for your kid, make sure they know how to use and carry it safely!

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