Understanding BSA awards that help teach knife safety


“A pocketknife is a useful tool to have for Scouting activities,” the Bear Handbook says. “It can also be dangerous if you don’t use it the right way.”

That wisdom, which also applies to saws and axes, is the reason smart Scouters emphasize the Whittling Chip, Totin’ Chip and Paul Bunyan Woodsman award in their units. Here’s an introduction to these important safety programs.

WHAT IS THE WHITTLING CHIP? The Whittling Chip (No. 34398; No. 34223 for a sheet of eight) is a card Bear Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts can earn by learning about knife safety. It gives them the approval to carry pocketknives on designated Cub Scout activities.

WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS? To earn the Whittling Chip, a boy must learn knife safety rules, show that he can care for and use a pocketknife, make a carving with a pocketknife, and promise to abide by safety rules and the pocketknife pledge.

HOW DOES THE WHITTLING CHIP RELATE TO CUB SCOUT ADVANCEMENT? Earning the Whittling Chip is part of the Bear Claws adventure (Bear) and the Scouting adventure (Arrow of Light).

WHAT IS THE TOTIN’ CHIP? The Totin’ Chip (No. 34397; No. 34234 for a sheet of eight) is a card Boy Scouts can earn for learning about the proper use of pocketknives, axes and saws. It gives them the approval to carry pocketknives on designated Boy Scout activities.

WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS? To earn the Totin’ Chip, a Boy Scout must read and understand the information in the Boy Scout Handbook about woods tools use and safety, demonstrate proper handling of woods tools, respect safety rules, respect property and subscribe to the Outdoor Code.

HOW DOES THE TOTIN’ CHIP RELATE TO BOY SCOUT ADVANCEMENT? Scouts don’t have to earn the Totin’ Chip to advance.

I’VE SEEN WHITTLING CHIP AND TOTIN’ CHIP PATCHES ON UNIFORMS. WHAT ARE THESE FOR? Units can present the Whittling Chip emblem (No. 8598) and the Totin’ Chip emblem (No. 8597), but these are not intended for uniform wear.

IS IT OK TO CUT CORNERS ON A TOTIN’ CHIP WHEN A SCOUT MISUSES A KNIFE? Each pack and troop sets its own standard for violations of safety rules. The important thing is to correct unsafe behavior, not to embarrass a Scout.

WHAT IS THE PAUL BUNYAN WOODSMAN? The Paul Bunyan Woodsman is an award Boy Scouts can earn for excelling in the use of woods tools.

WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS? The Scout must earn the Totin’ Chip, help another Scout or patrol earn the Totin’ Chip, demonstrate the value of proper tool use on a troop camping trip and complete a conservation project that involves the use of tools.

WHAT RECOGNITION ITEMS ARE AVAILABLE FOR THE PAUL BUNYAN WOODSMAN? Scouts can receive a pocket certificate (No. 34395) and an emblem (No. 98). The emblem is not intended for uniform wear.

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION? For complete requirements and to learn about other BSA awards, visit Awards Central at bit.ly/BSAawardscentral.


  1. The way it is set up the Totin Chip is a defacto requirement. You have to hike and camp to advance. You have to show up with proper equipment, which includes the knife. I wish the BSA would adopt the Whittling chip as a requirement for the new Scout Rank. My thoughts are the new scout needs to know the basics to go camping. The taut line and two half hitch get the tent set up, but how do you cut the rope for rigging the tent? Because they are so young I don’t like the pressure of forcing 10 1/2 years old to learn how to use an axe and saw just to use a knife, but I do expect a knife in their pocket and it is one of the Outdoor Essentials.

    • Wise man once said, ” Train ’em. Trust ’em. LET THEM LEAD!.

      A 10 year old can handle a saw and a hand axe. Heck my 7 year old has used my camp saw and hand axe around the yard.

      The secret is to teach them and get them the correct size equipment.

      • I agree on trusting most kids, but my issue is forcing the axe and saw training on someone not ready. I have kids who have never been allowed to touch a real knife let alone an axe and saw or parents who need eased into the scouting ways. So as the guidelines stand I either cross a parent’s wish or I have a boy that cannot use a pocket knife. We teach firstaid in metered steps, as we do others. It just seems funny that we go all-in on something that takes a limb or finger off.

  2. Actually Totin Chip is now required for advancement.

    Current Second Class requirement 3c states : “Demonstrate proper care, sharpening, and use of the knife, saw, and ax, and describe when they should be used.” and 3d states
    “Use the tools listed in requirement 3c to prepare tinder, kindling, and fuel for a cooking fire.”

    2016 Tenderfoot requirement 3d states: “Demonstrate proper care, sharpening, and use of the knife, saw, and ax. Describe when each should be used.”

  3. I want to know why a boy who has earned Whittling Chip as a Cub Scout has to earn Totin Chip to carry a pocket knife as a Boy Scout. It minimizes the things he has learned as a Cub. NO one has given me a reasonable answer the this. Ax and Saw work and an Ax Yard are all important but a boy should be able to carry the pocket knife he was allowed to carry since being a Bear.

    • They don’t REALLY need the card to carry a pocket knife. They need the scoutmaster’s approval. This is a structured way of formalizing that approval.
      It also gives patrol leaders a way to provide negative reinforcement without being mean or bullying. (Instead of yelling at, or requesting push-ups or a song, politely ask for the card, chip away a corner and say “Hopefully this will the last corner you’ll ever lose from this card. I know you can be safer next time.”)
      As soon as they cross-over, we want our boys to be comfortable and safe with knives, saws, and axes. That’s why the card covers all of them. It’s not just about the boy’s knife, it’s about the patrol’s entire collection of cutting tools.

    • Here is my understanding of why the Totin Chip is “re-required” for boys who cross over. Having just had son who asked me this same question and then having taught his younger brother’s den their whittling chip, I think I have a good reason for you…
      The main difference between the two sets of training:
      1. A Cub Scout MUST have parent supervision to cary and use a knife at scouting functions.
      2. A Boy Scouts is usually more on their own and do not always have a parent or scoutmaster in their near proximity when they are using a knife.

      So in my opinion, retraining them is a great thing. I wanted to know that my new scout who would be camping away from me on occasion now was getting re-trained in knife safety along with adding the Ax and Saw stuff (which he already uses occasionally on family camp outs).
      Sometimes boys “will” actually be boys and even smart responsible boys can act stupid… especially with a possible new found freedom of being in boy scouts rather than cub scouts.

      As boys grow they forget somethings (heck we all forget somethings… why do things like Adult Youth Protection Training and CPR certification expire? One thought is so that we can be forced to get that refresher to make sure we’re doing things the right way. I think the same with pocket knife safety.

      In Cub Scouts the Parent should be there to make sure the kid is being safe. In Boy Scouts, I honestly wouldn’t have a problem having them go back through Totin Chip a couple times, just to be safe. As a former Boy Scout and Eagle Scout, I know I saw some boys (and probably at times was one) who could have used a mandatory “safety reminder” class.
      So don’t think of it as “minimizing” the things he earned as a Cub scout, but maximizing the fact that he’ll get to Eagle (or at least adulthood) with minimal stitches in his fingers and maximum safety on his mind.

      (Oh, and to whoever said that it needs to be a requirement for advancement – earning the Whittling chip is definitely required for Bear Rank since the 2015 revisions. I want to think it was before also, but maybe not… )

    • Totally agree Charlie Murphy !! BSA should let Boy Scouts that have attained Whittlng Chip to continue carrying a knife while camping. Then, let them get Totin Chip for the rest of the outdoor cutting tools !!!!
      BSA, Do this now !!

  4. I did a session at Round Table which focused on the new Scouting Around adventure in Webelos and how it impacts the Scout rank when they cross over. Since the adventure is very much in line with the new Scout rank requirements, most Scoutmasters agreed they would do a review of the skills with the newly crossed over Scouts. As far as the pocket knife requirements, they all felt that if a Scout has a Whittling Chip card they would accept that. They would still do a quick review to verify the Scout still understands knife safety. All agreed that unless a Scout was really deficient in these skills, reteaching them would not be necessary.

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Bardsley. Accepting an already-earned Whittling Chip card with a quick review of skills respects the Scout’s accomplishments, acts as a refresher course and becomes a firs step toward their Totin’ Chip. Why bother to train Cub Scouts if what they learned and accomplished is going to be throw out likes so much trash when they advance to Boy Scouts.

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