Introducing young people to knives involves parental guidance and familiarity with the important aspects of ownership.
By Mike Haskew
The knife is one of the world’s oldest tools. It is practically indispensable in daily living. Every home has one – either in the kitchen, the work room, or the desk drawer. Introducing children to knives may be a challenging proposition; however, it is a necessity, and responsible adults can make the process a worthwhile learning experience.
“The first and most important point a parent or adult leader should emphasize is that a knife is a valuable and essential tool,” related Jan Billeb, Executive Director of the American Knife & Tool Institute (AKTI). “It requires proper use and care. It can be dangerous if not used carefully or treated properly. Young people should be told to never take a knife of any kind anywhere it might not be allowed, such as to school or school activities.”
Several considerations weigh in when a parent or adult considers allowing a child to handle a knife, and the most basic of these involves the appropriate age. Such a decision comes above any other, and the elements of safety, appropriate usage, care and maintenance, and others subsequently fall into line.
“I was always taught that the age of reason was seven, and I do believe that to this day, which is also Cub Scout age, when I got my first knife,” offered Dan Piergallini, President of the Gator Cutlery Club. “Safety was always stressed, and supervised use of a knife is a must. Also, one must insist that the knife never be taken to school no matter how much you want to show it off.”
Of course, the appropriate age to place a knife in the hands of a child may vary, depending on the individual and the circumstances. Becky Reid, co-owner of Shepherd Hills Cutlery, a major dealer of housewares including Chicago Cutlery and with a primary emphasis on Case Knives with four locations in Missouri and Kentucky, has organized and hosted Camp Case, an hour-long program for kids ages 6-16 to learn about knives and their proper use, since 1997.
“The appropriate age is really a matter of maturity and responsibility which can’t be defined by a specific age,” commented Reid. “Parents are the best judges of when a child is ready to learn how to handle and use a knife. With kids, the most important aspect has to be safety – learning how to hold a knife, cutting away from one’s self, not running with a knife, and much to their surprise, learning that a sharp knife is safer than a dull one.”
The legendary A.G. Russell remembers his first knife experience at the tender age of five. That knife was lost for more than a year, and he recommends waiting a little longer to give a knife to a child these days, considering the issues surrounding appropriate places to carry and use such a tool.
“My kids were six or seven years old when they got their first knives,” said Russell, “and the present generation probably should not have knives until they are at least seven or eight. I see too many incidents of kids slinging knives around irresponsibly. It is important to explain to a kid just how easy it is to cut yourself with a knife and that if they do cut themselves that they should tell an adult.
“When I got my first knife I was cutting an apple in half and actually cut the tendon in my thumb,” recalled A.G. “I didn’t tell anybody for fear that my mom would take the knife away. Now, years later, there is no bend in that thumb. I tell this story to kids that come in my store. I tell them that a knife is not a toy. We need to show kids how to sharpen knives using a ceramic sharpener and a whetstone and how to keep their fingers safe. It is easy to cut the end of your finger off when you are sharpening with a small stone.”
When a young person is ready to own a knife, Russell recommends that the parent or responsible adult consider a modest purchase for that first tool. He suggests that something basic, such as the Swiss Army Soldier, which includes 10 implements, may be practical. A reasonable investment of about $30 is adequate.
According to Piergallini, there are organizations supporting programs that provide knife education and safety instruction for young people, including the National Knife Collectors Association and the Boy Scouts of America. “As far as I am concerned, AKTI is the most prominent program going,” he commented. “We at the Gator Club support AKTI as much as we can and serve as advocates on their behalf. At most of the shows we attend, there are always one or two boys or girls that show a real interest in knives and their beauty. We request the permission of the parents to allow us to give their child a knife, but always hand the knife to the parents. We read the child the riot act about safety and to respect the knife always. I still believe in the parent’s rights and duties to teach their young properly about all things, including the responsibility of owning a knife.”
Since its inception, AKTI has been prominent in the effort to educate young people in the safe enjoyment of knives. Billeb observes that as soon as a child starts helping with the dishes or eating with a knife it is a good time to talk with them about knife safety and care. AKTI also stresses that each parent must decide when it is appropriate to allow their child to handle and care for knives.
“One of the first things AKTI did as an organization was to publish a pamphlet titled ‘My First Knife’ to help introduce youth to outdoor activities and the safe use of knives,” Billeb noted. “AKTI has partnered with the Mule Deer Foundation and their M.U.L.E.Y. program to introduce more young people to the utility of knives and safe use and proper maintenance. ‘My First Knife’ was redesigned, and over 15,000 copies are being distributed by the Mule Deer Foundation. It is available on the AKTI website as a PDF or printed copies may be requested at no charge by contacting us .”
The Camp Case model has proven successful at Shepherd Hills Cutlery, providing a learning experience in an atmosphere of safety and fun, while young people interact with experts in the field and with their own family members.
“The program is held at our annual Case Celebration in the Ozarks,” said Reid, “and the session is taught by a variety of Case Knife experts and enthusiasts. Youth learn knife basics such as safety, knife construction, types of handle materials, pattern names, ‘dating’ a Case knife, collecting, and more. We know the knife knowledge gained is valuable, but of equal importance in our eyes is providing the kids with a way of participating in and sharing a common interest with the role models in their lives, be it a grandparent, parent, or mentor – and in the process making memories that will last a lifetime.”
Knives are a common, everyday tool in the home. Like any other implement, they must be handled safely and competently. Providing young people with the knowledge and experience necessary develops skills that will serve them well as adults.